So you stayed up all night to read the seventh installment and are coming down off the high. Like an addict, you want another hit, but there is nothing around to satisfy your craving. Worse yet, you are a parent who is watching your twelve-year-old drift listlessly around the house and wondering how you will keep them reading now that the great Harry Potter juggernaut has gone into the west.
Never fear! RevolutionSF (OK, me) is here with a list of suggestions for your child (and you). Each installment I will give you at least three different choices for your child (wink, wink). Each entry will include a summary, suggested reading level and suggested target reader. Don't worry, there won't be any spoilers. Well, no serious ones.
I teach grade 8 in the Great White North. I read huge amounts of children's and young adult fiction each year. My philosophy is that I need to know what the kids are reading, as well as what's out there to recommend or integrate into my lessons. Yes, this means I have read the Gossip Girl franchise and all its horrendous spinoffs and copycats. Yuck.
A quick note: I will include a suggested audience. One of my beefs when it comes to kids and books is the age appropriateness of reading. I often see my colleagues, as well as friends, give books to students who may be able to read and understand the text but aren't emotionally ready to deal with the content. The leads to nightmares, emotional upheaval and awkward questions when your mother-in-law comes to visit. Youth fiction is a broad and deep section of your local bookstore or library. No child will ever run out of reading material, so don't give them books they are not yet ready to read. In short, just because a book is written at a grade four reading level does not mean that it should be read by a grade four student.
Here's the first batch of suggestions:
His Dark Materials
Author: Philip Pullman
Books in the series: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass
Reading Level: Grade 7
Suggested Audience: Grade 7 and above
Target Reader: For likers of a long read
This deliciously rich fantasy tells of the adventures of Lyra, a young girl who lives at Oxford University, who is given a compass that can answer questions. Don't worry about boys being turned off by the female protagonist. There are armored polar bears that talk and fight, and in the second book, Lyra is joined by a boy.
Because this is British children's fiction, not everything is sugar coated. This series will appeal to the Harry Potter crowd due to its child centered universe and that the kids are taking action to save the world.
If you need a scholarly reason to buy the books, they are a retelling of Milton's Paradise Lost, but from the rebel angels' point of view. And it will be a Nicole Kidman movie in December. Hopefully they don't screw it up.
The Bartemaeus Trilogy
Author: Jonathon Stroud
Books in the series: The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem's Eye, Ptolomy's Gate
Reading Level: Grade 6
Suggested Audience: Grade 7 and above, especially the last book
Set in modern-day London, this marvelous series follows Nathanial, a magician's apprentice, as he learns his trade and how to become a member of the English ruling class. In this world, those with magic run the government and hold all the wealth. Those without serve those that do. It is really Grindelwald's plan for the world, perfected. (Notice the Harry Potter reference!) Into this world, Nathaniel summons Bartimaeus, a djinni, hoping to further his training and his power.
Bartimaeus is an old and sarcastic sprite. Every chapter that is narrated by Bartimaeus is punctuated with footnotes that not only give readers a history of the world but also lots of snarky goodness. There is magic galore in these books, so the Potter fans ought to be happy. In later books there is a resistance to overthrow the corrupt powers, leading to intrigue and danger. Sound familiar? But different. Oh, so different. Once again, it is British, so everything isn't all Disneyfied. Hey Hollywood: Snap this one up!
Author: Louis Sachar
Reading Level: Grade 4
Suggested Audience: Grade 7 and above
Target Reader: Struggling readers
Holes is a children's book which you have probably heard of. It is a bit of a publishing superstar and has won a Newbery Medal and has been the subject of tons of novel studies. It was also made into a movie with Sigourney Weaver slapping Jon Voight. And Shia Lebeouf.
Stanley Yelnats has been wrongfully convicted of the theft of a celebrity athlete's running shoes and shipped to Camp Green Lake. He discovers there is very little that is green and the lake has gone dry. Stanley is assigned to a work gang and must dig one hole each day.
On the surface, this novel doesn't really sound like a genre work, but trust me. There is a curse on Stanley's family, one caused by his "no good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather." It is a simple tale of redemption with complex background plots. Like Potter, the main story takes place in a child centered world, where adults have power, but the children take the action. Most boys (especially the non-readers) I know love this book. They also love the non-genre sequel Small Steps. I use this book in my classroom every year.