It’s that time of year again: where I try to convince you to buy books for every child you know this holiday season.
This is my fourth year putting together this list (!!!). It’s always a lot of fun to look back at what I read over the year – like revisiting old friends. I hope you will find some new friends on this list.
I’ve added some codes to help identify particular types of books:
NF = Nonfiction
H = Humor
S = Series
And if you somehow don’t find a book on this list, check out the extra lists at the bottom of the post.
Big news! A couple of weeks ago my second book, I Pray Today, was published by Ancient Faith Press. And next week I’m celebrating with a blog tour. I’ll be visiting blogs of fellow Orthodox writers and bloggers and covering a wide variety of topics:
At the end of 2017, I made a pledge. I challenged myself to review good books every month in 2018, particularly books that haven’t gotten as much love as I feel they deserve. I call it Kidlit Karma because I’m aiming to spread the love for books that I love.
This month’s collection of books are all inspired by my eldest daughter, who is a struggling reader. Yes, children of writers can be struggling readers. So can bookworms. Though I was never diagnosed, I strongly suspect I’m mildly dyslexic.
Yes, writers can be dyslexic, too.
If all of this is throwing you for a loop, I recommend the book The Dyslexic Advantage. Not every struggling student is dyslexic, but for the 1 in 5 students who are dyslexic and the adults that love them, this book is revolutionary.
What if I told you there were books that are easy to read and enjoyable enough that even struggling readers will willingly devour them?
It’s not magic, it’s graphic novels.
So here’s the part where you start telling me that these aren’t real books, etc. Is a child reading a comic getting practice at decoding words? Are they having fun and learning to like reading so they will want to read more in the future? Yes and yes. And that will make them a better and more willing reader later.
It’s about buy-in. My eldest listens to audiobook novels for kids twice her age. So she detests having to read easy readers. Something with a real plot that’s within her ability is very welcome.
Graphic novels have been the gateway for many readers. When you see a child who has struggled for years, picks up a book an inch thick and read it in 5 hours straight – there’s nothing to match their excitement at reading a “BIG” book or your pride at seeing the many hours of hard work come to fruition. And because of that success and excitement, she has read voraciously every since.
Maybe it is magic after all.
So with that in mind, here are some of our favorite graphic novels to get you started.
Graphic Novel: GHOSTS by Raina Telgemeier
Cat is not happy about having to move to a new town, but her little sister Maya is sick and they have to make the move to keep her healthy. Once they move, they discover that the town is haunted. But are the ghosts evil or friendly?
This story weaves together the kind of complex social struggles of a middle grade novel with the Mexican custom of the Day of the Dead. I present this book as a refute to the claim that graphic novels don’t involve brilliant bring-you-to-tears storytelling.
Raina Telgemeier has many more award-winning graphic novels, so make sure to check them all out.
Graphic Novel: PHOEBE AND HER UNICORN by Dana Simpson
Phoebe is out skipping rocks one day and smacks a unicorn, breaking her from the spell of her own reflection. As thanks for freeing her, the unicorn grants her one wish. Phoebe’s wish: to be best friends with a unicorn. But she gets a bit more than she bargained for.
My husband was the one to discover this series. It was originally posted as a webcomic and we both fell in love with the humor and wit. We introduced it to our daughter, and that was that.
Making friends is not easy. It certainly wasn’t for shy little Shannon. And even when she had The Group to play with, she wasn’t sure they were friends worth having. Finding real friends is hard, but ultimately worth it.
This award-winning book is full of humor and heart. And though it’s set in the 70’s, the story is timeless
A miraculous new invention gives young Cece the ability to hear for the first time. But school is hard enough without a bulky hearing aid. She enlists the help of her superhero persona El Deafo to take on the school and make friends.
Graphic Novel: CATSTRONAUTS: MISSION TO THE MOON by Drew Brockington
The world has run out of electricity and it will be a permanent lights-out unless the brave Catstronauts can fix the problem.
What’s cuter than cats? How about cats in space! These books are a delight with a fun narrative, purrfect puns, and gorgeous illustrations. My kids giggled all the way through and eagerly asked for more.
Having a child that loves books is a wonderful thing. But often in the next breath, parents lament “how do I find books for my child?”
Kids in middle to late elementary seem to inhale books. Parents often find that keeping their child supplied with books is an impossible task. How can a parent tell if a book is going to be appropriate? Is it the right reading level? Will there be content that is too mature?
Mature content is especially a problem if your child reads above their grade-level. A child may be capable of reading a book but not have the emotional maturity to handle it. Imagine a sensitive 8-year-old reading the death scenes in the Hunger Games.
So what’s a parent to do?
Most of us can’t quit our day jobs to read children’s novels full-time. (Even if we would like to.)
I’ve gathered together some resources to help you wade through it all.
Help! How do I find books for my child?
First, you can check out lists of book recommendations. I read widely, and every year I made a list of my favorite books from the year. Check out the lists from 2016 and 2015.
Second, I also have a Pinterest board full of book recommendations. Need ideas for a 2nd grader? Or books set in Asia? Or adventure books for girls? Books for reluctant readers? Scroll through, and you’ll probably find something.
Ok, but how can I tell if the reading level is right?
If your child’s reading-level is different from their grade level, then recommendations for their grade may not be a good fit.
The Accelerated Reader website lets you search for books. It tells you the reading level and word count for each book. Not every book is listed, but most often I can find what I need. Let’s look at a recent favorite of mine: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.
Other things to note are the Interest Level and Word Count. The language of this book might be understandable by a 3rd grader, but it is interesting to a much older child – 9th to 12th grade. Plus, I don’t know any 3rd graders that wouldn’t balk at the sheer volume of a 95,000-word book.
Compare this to a book like Wonder by R.J. Palacio:
Here the book is a bit more balanced: The reading level is later in 4th grade, and the interest level is 4th-8th grade. The length is also better for a 4th grader at 73,000 words.
But how do I know what my child’s reading level is?
You have a few options. You could grab a stack of books that your child read recently, and look them up on the Accelerated Reader website. Get an average of the ATOS level, and you’re good to go.
Great. Now how do I tell which books are appropriate for my child?
The Common Sense Media web page rates media designed for children. It will flag any mature content. That means you don’t have to read a whole novel to find out there’s a sex scene in chapter 37. Let’s take a look at our two books:
At the top, there’s a rating of quality (5 stars) and approximate age appropriateness. The age rating takes into account both reading ability and mature content. As we saw before, The Hate U Give has a low readability level, but the high-interest level bumped it up here. Further down, it breaks down mature content by type. You can click on each to get more information. The “What Parents Need to Know” section, gives you an overview.
Reading over this, I could tell that this is a powerful book that would be perfect for a high schooler or mature middle schooler.
Now let’s look at our other book example.
Wonder is a better bet for an elementary school child. The rating of age 11 reflects that there is some minor mature content (bullying and kissing).
Though I read a lot of children’s books, I still have to use these tricks to help my kids. Hopefully, now you feel confident helping your child find books. Do you have any tips or tricks to add?
The holiday season is upon us. Hopefully, you’ll consider gifting the kid in your life with a book or two. But what to get? You can find guidelines online but they’re not the best. A clerk at a big box book store will be even less helpful. Why? Most recommendations are based on a lot of assumptions.
They assume that all kids learn to read at the same time and with the same skill. They assume that younger kids will only get read alouds and older kids will only read independently.
We can do better.
There are two important things to know.
Reading level is different from comprehension level. By the time children start learning to read, they are already speaking fluently. A 5 year old’s reading level might be “The cat sat on the mat” but their comprehension level will be far higher.
What book category do you you want? Children’s interests and abilities change over the course of childhood. The children’s book industry has created categories to reflect this:
Leveled readers or easy readers are for children just learning to read. They have simple sentences and tightly controlled vocabulary. These are written at a child’s reading level. Example: “The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss.
Chapter books are generally written for older children to read themselves. These are longer, with more mature content. There are categories within chapter books, as well. First chapter books are for newly minted readers. Middle grade books are for older elementary kids. Young adult books are for middle and high school students.
Age ratings on easy readers and chapter books assume that a child is going to read the book themselves. A book that is rated for an older child often is suitable for read loud with a younger child.
But be aware: content maturity also goes up. A younger child may not be emotionally ready for a book intended for older kids. If you pick a read aloud book rated for older children, take the time to check out a review or two.
So, here’s my guide to finding the perfect book for the child in your life:
How old is the child? How skilled are they at reading? Do they like to read?
Older children and more skillful readers usually can handle more difficult books.
Not all kids like to read. For these “reluctant readers” shorter, high-interest books are the way to go.
Do you want a read aloud book? Or one to read independently?
Very young children can’t yet read.
Adolescents and teens probably won’t be interested in a read-aloud if you haven’t built the habit. (Sorry.)
Kids in that middle sweet spot can go either way. They can cuddle up for a juicy read aloud chapter book or pick up a shorter book to read alone.