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Despite everything that has changed in the year 2020, some traditions continue.
One such tradition is The Book Jam’s annual review of perfect summertime reads.
This is the first of two such lists for “summer campers“ and features books for the younger literary set, specifically toddlers through young adults. We sincerely hope these recommendations help you to find the right fit for your favorite children and teens to curl up with in their tents, by the lake, or under the branches of their favorite tree. After all, the temperatures are still warm, the days are still long and we can still camp (and read) - if only in our own backyards for now. If everything else about these months seems turned inside out this year, try turning the page of a great book!
And don’t forget to look to us in two weeks for our adult version of Books for Summer Campers.
Picture Books for the Smallest Campers
Be You by Peter Reynolds (2020) -- Another inspiring and lovingly illustrated book by the talented Peter Reynolds. This one directly inspires us all to just be ourselves. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Field Trip to the Moon by John Hare (2019) - A wordless book about exploration. In it, a young astronaut gets left behind on a school field trip to the moon. The pictures both tell a story and leave plenty of room for readers' imaginations to soar. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Saturday by Oge Mora (2020) - A story of a mother daughter outing gone awry. It may help us all better confront and deal with the cancelled plans and disappointments of COVID-19. ~ Lisa Christie
My Papi Has A Motorcycle by Isable Quintero (2019) - A color-filled motorcycle ride around a small California town illustrates that “home is a feeling you take with you”. Perhaps this sentiment will comfort readers as we traverse these uncertain times. ~ Lisa Christie
Great Books for Kids
Here in the Real World by Sara Pennypacker (2020) - I don't know how to begin to describe this fantastic book. It starts so gently that I wasn't sure what to make of it. Honestly, I wasn't sure I even liked it. (I think I was in the mood for ACTION.) And then it grows. It grows into a book for every kid who feels like they just don't quite fit in. It grows into a book for every adult who loves their kid, but is perhaps unknowingly giving them subtle messages we wish they would be just a little bit different, a little bit more like us/less like us, a little bit more understandable, or as someone says in this rich book "more normal". Luckily in this book, some key and wise adults (and a teen who defies the two young protagonists' expectations of what a rich kid will be in life) know that normal is overrated and that those who stay true to themselves are "going places" as another wise adult says. I didn't cry until page 282 and then I kept crying until it ended. I really hope the real world is as spectacular as the one Ms. Pennypacker's novel provides. Now, a quick plot summary for those of you who need one: Ware spends most of his days and nights "off in his own world" of knights and castles and other thoughts such as how ceilings look. The last thing he needs is to spend his summer at Rec camp. His parents wish he could focus a bit more, or like sports, or have "meaningful social interactions". Most importantly, they need him to be safely in Rec camp while they each work double shifts to create enough money to finally purchase their home; and, his grandmother can't help after she falls and needs both hips replaced. So off to Rec camp Ware goes. Luckily for him he meets Jolene, a tough-to-read girl who is creating a secret garden in the abandoned lot next to the Rec. They spend the rest of the summer together. Ware ditches Rec camp; Jolene accuses Ware of not living in the "Real World" and slowly reveals why the garden is essential. When their sanctuary is threatened, Ware's awareness of the Knight's code of chivalry - "Though shalt do battle against unfairness whenever faced with it. Thou shalt always be the champion of Right and Good..." - comes into play (with some key assists from a camera and those wise adults). Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie
Other Words For Home by Jasmine Warga (2019) - I love books by Jason Reynolds. Thus, the fact he blurbed this novel was the reason I picked it up. In this novel for kids, the main character, Jude, is introduced to us while living in Syria with her family - dad, mom, and an older brother. A few pages in, with her mother pregnant again, only Jude and her mom move to the USA so the baby can be born in a safer place. They land in the home of Jude's uncle, aunt, and cousin who is around Jude's age. The story follows what it is like for Jude to navigate her new school, being Muslim in America, and worrying about the family she left behind. The story is full of moments of sadness and warmth, told with great heart. Bonus -- the book is written in free-verse poetry meaning fewer words per page - helpful with reluctant readers. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie
Look Both Ways: A tale told in ten blocks by Jason Reynolds (2020) - As we mentioned Jason Reynolds in the review above, I should note that he was one of my now high school son's favorite authors from elementary school. His latest book for kids - Look Both Ways explores ordinary walks home, their humor, and how if you pay attention, they can be pretty spectacular - even the inevitable unsuccessful and often painful detours. (We have reviewed books by Mr. Reynolds on multiple posts - most recently this very book two weeks ago; you might want to also look at this 2019 post for additional kids titles.) Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie
The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay (2020) - A blended family in need of a home moves into an atmospheric house and strange things begin to happen, mostly when books are read. Abi, the now middle child of this new family, reads and reads and reads. As she turns the pages, she finds that the books in this new home become real and leave behind traces of each scene (the scent of salt air, damp books when reading about the ocean). Her new older brother Max loses his best friend and survives his first crush. Her younger brother Louis has a visitor in his room that is all too real. Their parents are too busy working (Dad is a nurse, Mom a relief worker) to notice any of this. Read it, escape for a bit and enjoy rooting for this new family. ~ Lisa Christie
Tyrannosaurus Wrecks by Stuart Gibbs (2020) - My sons aged out of this reading category awhile ago. Thus, I have not kept up with Mr. Gibbs's work. After reading his latest novel, I regret that fact. And, I am choosing to see this as an excellent opportunity to catch up on some fun reading. In this outing of Mr. Gibbs's FunJungle series, sixth graders Teddy, Summer, Sage, and Xavier once again brush off their sleuthing skills to discover both who stole a T-Rex fossil from Sage's family ranch and who is smuggling reptiles into Texas to be sold as illegal pets. There is a a lot going on and Mr. Gibbs handles it all with fast paced plotting and loads of humor. ~ Lisa Christie
The One and Only Bob by Katherine Applegate (2020) - This sequel to The One and Only Ivan follows Ivan's (a silver back gorilla) best friend Bob (a dog) as he navigates his new life as a house pet. A life he worries is making him soft. Throw in Bob's need to find his long lost sister Boss and an impending hurricane, and you have another adventure for Ivan, Bob, their friend Ruby (an elephant), and Bob's new humans in these lovingly told pages. Apparently The One and Only Ivan is also a movie scheduled for an August 2020 release; so read this sequel now before the mania commences. ~ Lisa Christie
From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks (2019) - Ms. Marks's debut novel combines social justice issues - the number of black men who are incarcerated - with the more mundane concerns of being a pre-teen girl in this story of a 12-year-old Zoe and her quest to get to know Marcus, the father she has never met. He is incarcerated and her mom forbids contact. But when a letter from Marcus arrives on her 12th birthday, Zoe starts corresponding with him in secret. He says he is innocent and Zoe is determined to discover the truth, while learning to bake deliciousness in her summer internship and managing teen friendships. As Kirkus Reviews stated, “This powerful debut packs both depth and sweetness, tackling a tough topic in a sensitive, compelling way. An extraordinary, timely, must-read debut about love, family, friendship, and justice.” ~ Lisa Christie
The Next Great Jane by KL Going (2020) - A lovely tale about the coast of Maine and following your heart, with a bit of Jane Austen thrown in. Jane's parents divorced. Her mom moved to LA to find fame in Hollywood, leaving Jane with her oceanographer father in their small Maine town. This is fine with her as all she wants to do is write amazing novels, like her favorite novelist Jane Austen. As this novel begins, her mom and her movie producer fiance arrive for a visit and to take her back to LA. Luckily a famous visiting writer and her family just might provide all the answers Jane needs. ~ Lisa Christie
A Few Classics: because every year there are new eight-year-olds who may not yet have read these.
Will In Scarlet by Matthew Cody (2013) - Somehow Here in the Real World reminded me of this older FUN tale of Robin Hood and his merry men before they became famous. In this version of this timeless tale, you meet them as a gang of outlaws and watch them find their mission in life. A superb adventure for any middle grades reader and the adults who love them, or who love English legends. ~ ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
The Boggart by Susan Cooper (1993) – When Emily’s and Jess’s family inherits a Scottish castle, they travel to explore. Unbeknownst to them they also inherit a Boggart — an invisible, mischievous spirit who’s been playing tricks on residents of their castle for generations. When they accidentally trap the boggart in their belongings and take him back to Toronto, nothing will ever be the same. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Anything – and we mean ANYTHING – by E.L. Konigsburg (assorted years) – Ms. Konigsburg was truly a superb gift to young readers everywhere. Her books are fun, well-written, humorous, and help kids work through the issues they face every day. Our favorites – The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler and The View from Saturday. But please have fun discovering your own. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Frindle or Trouble-Maker or other titles by Andrew Clements – Mr. Clements is a former school principal and his love of kids – especially the ones who end up in the principal’s office – comes through in each of his books. He treats kids with humor and compassion and presents many real world dilemmas in each of his books for young readers. Pick one up and enjoy. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Books for Young Adults
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi (2020) - The YA version of Mr. Kendi's National Book Award Winning and bestselling book - Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America - is all you wish it to be. Very clearly and pointedly, Mr. Reynolds retells Mr. Kendi's work and in doing so tells story of racism in the world, the many forms it take, and offers ideas of how to deal with it all. A great book for any kid trying to gain some understanding and a great resource for any adult trying to help kids. As Publishers Weekly stated in their review "Reynolds (Look Both Ways) lends his signature flair to remixing Kendi's award-winning Stamped from the Beginning...Told impressively economically, loaded with historical details that connect clearly to current experiences, and bolstered with suggested reading and listening selected specifically for young readers, Kendi and Reynolds's volume is essential, meaningfully accessible reading." ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Catherine House: A Novel by Elisabeth Thomas (2020) - A gothic thriller about a three year "college" that promises if you spend three years forgetting everything you knew before you arrived when you leave you will be unstoppable. With alumnae in the highest echelons of every industry, the promise seems to be working. It is also a place where past scandal haunts everyone and things are definitely not as they seem. As one of the newest class members, Ines Murillo, trades her previous life of blurry nights of parties, cruel friends, and dangerous men for rigorous intellectual discipline, she discovers success at Catherine House has an unspoken cost. ~ Lisa Christie
If These Wings Could Fly by Kyrie McCauley (2020) - This debut novel unflinchingly illustrates terrifying aspects of domestic violence, the fabulousness of the bonds of sisters, and the refuge school provides many kids. Leighton and her sisters are the only people in Auburn, Pennsylvania unbothered by the thousands of crows that have invaded their town. Leighton's a high school senior and dreaming of the college scholarship that will take her away, and also dreading that same scholarship for taking her away from protecting her sisters from the chaos and harm of life with their abusive father. ~ Lisa Christie
Again Again by e. lockhart (2020) - Adelaide Buchwald's summer finds herself living with her dad on the grounds of the prep school where he teaches and she attends (barely), while her mother is back in Baltimore helping her younger brother survive his addiction issues. Complicating matters, her first love of her life just broke up with her. She finds herself floundering, grounded only by the dogs she walks three times a day for her father's fellow teachers who are away for the summer. Told in the style of "Groundhog Day" with many outcomes for each scenario Adelaide finds herself in, this book has you rooting for everyone, and lovingly shows you the horrific aspects of teen addiction on family members. ~ Lisa Christie
The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert (2020) - Somehow this book manages to squeeze in voting rights, police brutality, gun violence, abortion rights, the problems of budding musicians and their emerging bands, and the trials and tribulations of teen romance all without being preachy or condescending. The romance will bring in the readers looking for a little insight into dating life, the political activism will hopefully attract many others, and the fact all the action unfolds on voting day highlights the importance of that one simple and profound act. (PLEASE VOTE In November and before if your state has primaries coming up.) Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie
Three YA books by Elizabeth Acevedo (assorted years) - Her books - Clap When You Land, With Fire On High, and Poet X are lyrical and infused with current dilemmas (e.g., racism, college applications, teen pregnancy, death, caring for aging relatives) faced by people everywhere, even while firmly grounded in NYC (and the Dominican Republic in the most recent outing). Just pick one and enjoy. ~ Lisa Christie
Some Historical Fiction for Young Adults
The Baker's Secret by Stephen Kiernan (2017) - WII, Normandy Occupation, D-Day and the way a young woman whose hope is absent still helps her neighbors survive. As I discussed when reviewing this for the Virtual Pages in the Pub in June, I feel today's events are particularly awful for teens, and historical fiction provides a way to make sense of them. Mr. Kiernan's (one of the June PiP presenters) work helps. ~ Lisa Christie
The Wolf Hall Trilogy by Hilary Mantel (assorted years) - This fabulous trilogy follows the life of Thomas Cromwell and his service during the reign of Henry the VIII. It is well-written, appears to be impeccably researched and plunges you into England of long ago. Bonus - the three books provide hours and hours of reading entertainment and education; they could consume a student's summer. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier (2009) - To offer another piece of Historical fiction, Remarkable Creatures is a historical fiction based on the life of Mary Anning, a young woman who finds some of the first fossils, and even whole dinosaurs, on the beach at Lyme Regis, England. The story is told by both Mary and another woman in the town who becomes interested in fossils and befriends Mary. When I visited Lyme Regis a few years ago, I had only heard of Mary Anning through kids books or maybe a brief lesson at school. Visiting her town made me see how important she was to natural history and I soon realized that hunting for fossils on the beach was a true talent. When I read this book, Mary Anning came to life as a young, poor girl who spent her days searching for fossils on the beach for money, not realizing the importance of her work. ~ Selected by Lauren Pidgeon in her Guest BOOK JAM post and seconded by Lisa Christie
Some Classics for Young Adults: Fiction and nonfiction
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938) – This was the very first book that kept me up all night reading and for this pleasure I will forever be in its debt. Enter this gothic drama on the shores of Monte Carlo where our unnamed protagonist meets Max, the dashing, wounded, and mysterious millionaire she is swept away by and marries. The following pages whisk readers back to his English country estate “Manderley” where his deceased wife “Rebecca” haunts the characters with her perfect and horrible beauty. Can Max’s new wife ever live up to her memory? Will the lurking, skulking housekeeper Mrs. Danvers drive us all mad? How will the newlyweds and Manderley survive all the pressures pulsing in the mansion’s wings? If finding out the answers to these questions isn’t enough to entice you to curl up with this book right away, it also has one of the most famous first lines in literature. ~ Lisa Cadow
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1988) – Long ago in Colombia, the poet Florentino Ariza meets and falls forever in love with Fermina Daza. She marries Dr. Juvenal Urbino instead. Florentino does not give up easily and decides to wait as long as he has to until Fermina is free. This ends up as 51 years, 9 months and 4 days later, when suddenly, Dr. Juvenal Urbino dies, chasing a parrot up a mango tree. The tale is then told in flashbacks to the time of cholera and then again in present time. The words are perfect, the plot unforgettable, and the novel one you will not regret picking up. ~ Lisa Christie
Into the Beautiful North and The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea (assorted years) – I stumbled upon an interview with Mr. Urrea on NPR as I was linking our selections to the Norwich Bookstore’s Web site and was reminded how much I love Mr. Urrea’s tales, so I added this category to this post. (The Hummingbird’s Daughter made my most meaningful reads list.) Mr. Urrea’s novels are funny, using humor to deflate explorations of horrific things (e.g., dangerous border crossings, poverty), and to explore wonderful things (e.g., love, family, friendships, movies). Into the Beautiful North was reviewed by me previously as “the book Jon Stewart would have written if he ever wrote about crossing the Mexican border into the USA”. The fact these novels depict lives of Mexicans just adds a bonus during these times of immigration conflicts and politically polarizing actions at our southern border. (Yes, this book has appeared often in BOOK JAM posts.) ~ Lisa Christie
East of Eden by John Steinbeck (1952) – While Grapes of Wrath (1939) is probably assigned more often by English teachers everywhere, this book reads like a soap opera told in excellent prose. I also think that one can learn all the nuances of good and evil from this tale of Mr. Steinbeck. And I can say that almost 40 years later, I still remember how I felt reading this book as a teen. ~ Lisa Christie
A Hope In the Unseen by Ron Suskind (1998) – Using actual people, this book clearly illustrates the obstacles faced by bright students from tough neighborhoods. As a Wall Street Journal reporter, Mr. Suskind followed a few students in a high school in a struggling, drug-riddled neighborhood in Washington, D.C. for a few years to see what happens to students in schools that lack the resources to effectively serve them. The true story of one of these students, the heart of this book, will haunt the reader long after the last page is turned. ~ Lisa Christie
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (2004) - As most people in the planet know, this is the biography that inspired the Broadway blockbuster (if musicals can be blockbusters) which will soon be available to all with Disney Plus. In this bestseller, Mr. Chernow outlines Mr. Hamilton's life from his start as an illegitimate, largely self-taught orphan from the Caribbean, following him (and the people around him) as he became George Washington’s aide-de-camp in the Continental Army, coauthored The Federalist Papers, founded the Bank of New York, led the Federalist Party, and served as the first Treasury Secretary of the United States. Read it and learn a bit more about Mr. Hamilton and the people who shaped the United States. This seems especially apt as we approach the Fourth of July. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
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