As some of you know, in addition to managing the library’s blog, I also co-moderate our tween book club with my coworker Mary-Esther, which means we’re responsible for picking books, leading discussions about those books, and directing a related craft or activity for a group of 8-12 year olds.
This month marks my one year anniversary of working with the book club, and the experience has been a valuable one for me, not only because it’s fun but also because it’s given me some much-needed knowledge about the current scene of children’s books.
Confession: Before I started working with the tween book club, I always secretly dreaded when someone asked me to help them find books for kids this age. Not because I’m a monster but because I was so out of touch with what was current.
Oh, I remembered stuff I liked at that age and knew what was circulating, but I didn’t feel comfortable making suggestions because I often didn’t have the slightest idea what any of the more recent books were about.
Well, now I don’t have that problem because the process of selecting books for our group means I have to be knowledgeable about what’s available. In addition, because I read our book club’s books, I actually know what these new books are about. And even better, I have anywhere from 8-14 tweens telling me every month what they liked and didn’t like about these books. So, now when people ask me for book suggestions for children this age, instead of panicking, I immediately have some viable suggestions.
I figured to celebrate my 1 year anniversary with the tween club, I’d share some of these suggestions with blog readers. So, this summer, if you have a tween who needs a book to read, consider one of the following titles:
Jeanne Birdsall’s The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy (2005)
The Penderwicks is the first in a series about the four daughters of a widower. The first entry in the series focuses on the four very different sisters and their summer adventures when their family rents a summer house for a couple of months. It’s a good summer read–whimsical without being overbearing and with likable protagonists. If you like it, you can also continue following Penderwick antics by reading the rest of the series.
Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan (2012)
This deceptively simple book is based on a true story–a gorilla kept in a zoo mall for years. (I hadn’t known such a thing existed until I read this book. I must confess, I probably nearly derailed our book club discussion a couple of times wondering how this arrangement wasn’t a major health code violation.). As is befitting the subject matter, the book can be very sad, but it also has some surprisingly funny moments, too. It’s certainly a good book if you want to have a discussion, though, and the kids seemed to really enjoy reading about the story through Ivan’s eyes.
Ann M. Martin’s A Dog’s Life: Autobiography of a Stray (2007)
Ann M. Martin has been popular with the book club. Before I joined, they had read and liked her book The Doll People, so we decided to read another of her books. This one is a touch sad–like pretty much every children’s book about dogs ever written–but it’s ultimately hopeful. Animal stories are big favorites with our group, and they enjoyed this one. It’s also from an animal perspective, so if your tween likes that genre, he or she might enjoy this book, too.
Chris Grabenstein’s Escape from Mr Lemoncello’s Library (2013)
The adult contingent of the tween book club didn’t really enjoy this book–it was okay, but it wasn’t my thing. However, it was a unanimous favorite with all of the kids. They particularly enjoyed all of the puzzles and its sense of humor, and most of them read through it very quickly. It would definitely make for a fast, fun summer read. It also has a puzzle embedded within the book for sharp readers and a recently-released sequel, so it has the potential to keep tweens occupied for awhile!
Heather Vogel Frederick’s Absolutely Truly (2014)
This one might make for odd summer reading, if only because it is set in the middle of winter in New Hampshire. However, this lengthy (350+ pages) read about an awkward protagonist, her quirky family, and the mystery she ends up finding herself and her new friends investigating was well-received by our group. We all agreed that the mystery’s resolution ended up being a bit anticlimactic, but otherwise it’s a fun read with engaging characters. Several of our tweens were excited to learn it’s the first book in a proposed series, which relieved me because I had had a bit of a nervous freak-out before our discussion, wondering if the book was too long and slow for their taste.
Kathi Appelt’s The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp (2013)
This book combines the story of a kid looking to save his beloved swamp from a crazed developer and some young raccoons whose job it is to stand watch over the swamp. Our kids really liked the zany characters and appreciated the book’s sense of humor. The book features a lot of sound effects embedded in the narration, and our group sometimes found that annoying when reading but thought it worked really well as a read-aloud or audiobook for that same reason. (I may also have nearly derailed our discussion wondering about the mechanics of this raccoon watch system. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself from working with the tween book club, it’s that I tend to get overly fixated on logistical questions about children’s books.)
Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures (2013)
A girl and her pet squirrel are the protagonists of this Kate DiCamillo book. DiCamillo has been another popular author with our group. Overall, this one also was liked by pretty much everyone in our group because of its sense of humor and also its hilarious accompanying illustrations. Despite the somewhat silly-sounding premise–a girl finds and rescues a squirrel who just might have superpowers–the book also provides some great fodder for discussion. Personally, Flora was a little too absurdly quirky for my taste, but I loved Ulysses the squirrel.
Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out and Back Again (2011)
This book is my favorite of all the book club books we’ve read, though I initially had another nervous freak-out wondering if a book consisting entirely of free verse poetry would turn off our tweens. Fortunately, I underestimated our group considerably because they enjoyed it and thought that the poetry worked well with the subject matter and was easy to read. (A sentiment I’d agree with.) They even said they wouldn’t mind reading more poetry in future book club books. If that’s not a stamp of approval, I don’t know what is. This story about a young Vietnamese girl moving to America in 1975 is frequently heartbreaking but also often funny. In addition, it provides a great vehicle for discussion of several complex issues but without ever feeling preachy. In fact, I think this book makes for great reading for older readers in general.
Have you or your tween read any of these books? What books do the tweens in your life like to read? Tell us in the comments! As always, if you’re interested in learning more about any of these books or putting them on hold, just follow this link to our online catalog.