Young Adult Books

Young adult novels are normally for kids 12 and up, but, let’s be honest, everyone reads young adult books nowadays. Perhaps it

Every year, my wife and I have the same problem around Christmastime – “How many books are too many books?”  We’re lucky enough to have a kid that actually, honestly appreciates books as a gift (provided that there are other gifts as well), so she’s come to both expect and love the books she receives on Christmas morning. (Don’t believe me? Check this video out.)

Our only issue is making sure that we’re not overloading her with SO many books that she gets overwhelmed and the really good ones get lost in the crowd. So, this year, we tried to restrain ourselves, but… we still got her some very, very cool books. These are the ones we landed on and, if you somehow run into my daughter between now and the 25th (which would be super-weird), just play along and don’t spoil the surprise, OK? Here’s what we got her:

The Search for WondLa and A Hero for WondLa by Tony DiTerlizzi
wondla

These were my daughter’s most requested books for the year. She’s a HUGE fan of Tony DiTerlizzi, a fantastic author and illustrator who (along with Holly Black) is responsible for The Spiderwick Chronicles, which are among my daughter’s favorite books of all time. AND we checked out The Search for WondLa from the library a few months ago and she LOVED IT. It’s a really cool, very engaging science fiction story about a resourceful girl named Eva Nine, who is raised in an underground sanctuary by a robot and eventually ventures out into the strange outside world. Eva is a great character and it’s a fun, classic quest with beautiful illustrations and, I realized later, it is one of the first sci-fi stories that my kid ever read all the way through. (They make a lot of fantasy for younger readers, but not a lot of science fiction.) She loved the first WondLa book and wanted to know where the story went, so now she’ll have her own copy of the first book along with the second chapter, A Hero for WondLa. I think she’ll adore them.

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The Animal Book by Steve Jenkinsanimal

I’m excited about this one. We discovered The Animal Book at Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor and my wife and I knew we were going to buy it immediately. Steve Jenkins makes some of the coolest nonfiction books I’ve ever seen. He’s a remarkable scientist and artist and his book Never Smile at a Monkey: And 17 Other Important Things to Remember is one of the most read titles in our home library. This encyclopedic look at the “fastest, fiercest, toughest, cleverest, shyest, and most surprising animals on Earth” is BEAUTIFUL and I know my daughter will spent hours combing over every page.

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Queen Victoria’s Bathing Machine by Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Nancy Carpenterqueen

I will be 100% honest with you – I have not read this book. But I can tell you why I bought it. First, my daughter LOVES weird true stories from history. She loves knowing about how President Taft got stuck in the bath, she loves hearing about Annie Taylor, the woman who went over Niagara Falls in a barrel, and, as such, I think she’ll love this true story about Queen Victoria’s real-life bathing machine, which allowed her to swim in sea water in private. The second reason I think she’ll love the book (and the main reason why this title caught my eye) is the fact that it was Nancy Carpenter who illustrated it – Carpenter illustrated two of my daughter’s most beloved picture books, 17 Things I’m Not Allowed to Do Anymore and 11 Experiments That Failed. [read the rest of the post…]

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This looks like a cool one...

This looks like a cool one…

It started simply – I asked myself, “I wonder what new kids’ books are coming out in October.” Two hours later, I was still browsing through publisher catalogs, muttering to myself, “That looks so cool, that looks so cool, that looks so cool…” There just SO many epic kids’ book releasing this month (the number of titles coming out on October 7th alone is ridiculous) and I couldn’t be happier about it.

In an effort to share the amazing, I decided to put together this quick guide to 21 books that are coming out this month that I’m personally EXCITED about and that I think you should be excited about too. Sometimes, it’s because I like the creators’ early work, sometimes, I just like the concept, sometimes, I am literally judging the book by its cover. This is a TOTALLY subjective list. But, at the very least, this should give some of you a heads-up about some very cool books that are on the horizon and, if I missed any fantastic-sounding upcoming titles, PLEASE let me know in the comments section below. Enjoy!

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bean_stalkA Bean, a Stalk and a Boy Named Jack by William Joyce, illustrated by Kenny Callicutt

Format: Picture book
Release Date: October 7th

Why You Should Be Excited: It’s the newest picture book from William Joyce, the creator of A Day With Wilbur Robinson, Dinosaur Bob, and the beautiful, beautiful The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, which Joyce adapted from his Oscar-winning short animated film. So… yeah, there’s some pedigree here.

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creaturefeaturesCreature Features: Twenty-Five Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Release Date: October 7th
Format: Picture book

Why You Should Be Excited: Jenkins makes some of the most consistently beautiful and informative picture books I’ve ever read – my daughter adores his Never Smile at a Monkey: And 17 Other Important Things to Remember – so I can’t imagine this one will be anything less than fascinating.

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eyezoltarThe Eye of Zoltar: The Chronicles of Kazam by Jasper Fforde

Format: Young adult novel
Release Date: October 7th

Why You Should Be Excited: I haven’t read the previous Chronicles of Kazam books, so I’m not speaking from experience, but I love, love, LOVE Fforde’s Thursday Next and Nursery Crime series, which makes it hard for me to deny the potential on this one.

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graveyardbookThe Graveyard Book Graphic Novel: Volume 2 by Neil Gaiman, adapted by P. Craig Russell

Release Date: October 7th                     
Format: Graphic novel

Why You Should Be Excited: Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book is one of my favorite young adult novels of the past ten years and the first volume of Russell’s graphic novel adaptation was impressive. (I really love Russell’s prior comic adaptation of Gaiman’s Murder Mysteries story.) Plus this volume features the conclusion of The Graveyard Book, which I’ve written about before and absolutely adore.

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greatescapeThe Great Escape: Magic Shop Series by Kate Egan and Mike Lane, illustrated by Eric Wight

Release Date: October 7th
Format: Chapter book

Why You Should Be Excited: I haven’t read the early volumes of the Magic Shop series, but the description sounds very cool – I love magic stuff – and the real reason I’m excited is the artwork by Eric Wight, who’s absolutely amazing and who created the totally fantastic Frankie Pickle series of early readers.

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ivangorillaIvan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by G. Brian Karas

Release Date: October 7th
Format: Picture book

Why You Should Be Excited: C’mon, this is Applegate adapting the remarkable story behind her 2013 Newbery Medal-winning YA novel into a gorgeous-looking picture book. A new take on The One and Only Ivan that I can share with even younger readers? No-brainer. I’m in.

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kidsherriffKid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads by Bob Shea, illustrated by Lane Smith

Release Date: October 7th
Format: Picture book

Why You Should Be Excited: Because… Lane Smith. He’s a picture book god and is responsible for SO many of my daughter’s favorite books. And his previous collaboration with Bob Shea, the picture book Big Plans, is super, super funny. I’m looking forward to this one. [read the rest of the post…]

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Hogwarts

You may have read about this place in “Hogwarts: A History”…

Earlier this year, a few days after my daughter finished reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, she came down with a fever and had to stay home from school. I kept her company that day and, by 10 am, we were both fairly bored. As she sat on the couch, listlessly playing with some new Harry Potter Lego mini-figures, out of nowhere, I asked her, “Hey, wanna make them their own Hogwarts?” Her eyes INSTANTLY perked up and that kicked off one of the most purely fun sick days we’d ever shared.

I ran around the house, collecting every appropriately-sized cardboard box that might make a good Great Hall, dormitory, or potions classroom. I then gathered up all the cardboard cylinders I could – paper towel rolls, wrapping paper tubes, a breadcrumbs container, etc. – to make castle towers, tunnels, and, in, at least one case, a Chamber of Secrets. We raided ever dollhouse and Playmobil set my daughter owned for furnishings and, after she insisted on making her own Forbidden Forest, we used an old piece of posterboard to act as our foundation, allowing us to sketch out the perimeter of the grounds and attach a series of plastic trees (mostly old birthday cake toppers) using globs of Play-Doh.

Here are some pictures cataloging our Homemade Hogwarts. (If you click on any of these, it will take you to a bigger version of the picture AND an online album with even more pictures of “the grounds.”)

Homemade Hogwarts

Our homemade, maker, whatever-we-had-handy version of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

We’re not a particularly “crafty” family. We don’t paint murals on our walls or hand-make our own Valentine’s Day cards or anything. But, for whatever reason, my feverish daughter and I embraced this homemade Hogwarts project with both hands, working on it for hours. We geeked out over every detail and even learned to love all of its wonderfully well-intentioned mistakes and imperfections. This isn’t a Pottery Barn Hogwarts. This is a cobbled-together, warts and all, magic-marker-and-scotch-tape Hogwarts, born of discarded Amazon boxes and the love of a six-year-old.

Homemade Hogwarts

A Nimbus 2000-view of our cardboard Hogwarts

We adored building it so much that it remained in the center of our dining room floor for MONTHS (until we eventually carefully transplanted it down to the basement playroom). [read the rest of the post…]

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Do I really need to suggest this book to parents? It’s kind of a gimme, right?

Earlier this year, my six-year-old daughter finally read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. And she loved it, which wasn’t a huge surprise. Her mom and I are big fans of the series ourselves and there’s a reason why so many millions and millions of readers have embraced J.K. Rowling‘s most famous creation. Despite what some lit snobs will tell you, they’re excellent books.

So, to get this out of the way, if you’re building a home library for your kid, go get all seven Harry Potter books. They’re easy to find – heck, the law of averages suggests that you probably already own them. If you personally don’t love the Potter series, there’s a very decent chance your child will, so it’s kind of a no-brainer purchase. (And, even if you’re not up for buying them yourself, there’s a 99.5% chance that every library in a thousand mile radius of your house will have multiple copies of all seven books.)

As such, this isn’t going to be my normal “OHMYGOD, have you heard of this book? You HAVE to read it” review. It is safe to assume that you’ve heard of the Harry Potter books and much, much better writers than I have sung their praises before, so there’s not much point in me adding in my two cents six years after Deathly Hallows was published.

But, as a parent who knew as soon as he found out that he was having a kid that he wanted that kid to one day read the Harry Potter books, I’d like to talk about the three parts of Sorcerer’s Stone, the first chapter in the series, that I was legitimately nervous for my daughter to read.

I was anxious for several reasons. For starters, my daughter had been dancing around the Harry Potter series for almost a year. The books were solidly on her radar before, but she was afraid that they were “scary“, so she didn’t want to read them and I wasn’t going to push the matter. I was fine with waiting until she felt she was ready. However, her attitude towards Harry Potter started to change during her first grade year, largely because so many of her classmates had read and loved the series. My kid suddenly wanted to buy Harry Potter Legos and would come home every week, telling me she’d learned new spoilers about what happened in the books (some were right, others were totally, hilariously wrong).

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

The covers for the new editions of the Harry Potter books are pretty great…

Finally, one day, my daughter came home from school carrying a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone that she’d checked out from the school library. “I think I want to read this,” she told us. After we reminded her that we OWNED all seven books and she didn’t actually need to take them out from the library – kids are gloriously weird sometimes – my wife tenuously started reading her Sorcerer’s Stone at bedtime, with me nervously asking, every night, how it was going.

I’d already had the experience of trying to read my kid a book beloved by her parents only to have it blow up in our faces – i.e. my abortive attempt to introduce her to The Phantom Tollbooth – so the LAST thing I wanted to do was find out too late that we’d forced Harry Potter onto her too soon, tragically coloring her opinion of the series for the rest of her life. Also, I was nervous because my daughter is a very introspective, thoughtful kid and I was afraid that she might be really, really sensitive to some of the darker moments in the book.

If you’re a parent who’s concerned about reading Harry Potter to your child – just in an effort to compare notes – here are the three elements of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone that I was really afraid would land wrong with my daughter: [read the rest of the post…]

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The Princess Bride

You love the movie, right? The book is even better. Well, most of it is…

I’m currently having a minor internal dilemma, dear readers, that I wanted to run past you. The dilemma revolves around my desire to share William Goldman‘s tremendous fairy tale, The Princess Bride, with my six-year-old daughter, and how exactly I should do that. Like a lot of people from my generation, I discovered The Princess Bride thanks to Rob Reiner’s 1987 film adaptation, an epic adaptation that has endured as one of the most rewatchable, quotable, and downright iconic movies of the past thirty years. While I’m still debating when my daughter will be old enough to see the movie, my primary concern is how and when I’m going to read Goldman’s original book to her.

And the operative word in that sentence is “how.” Because, at the moment, I don’t think I want to read her the entire book. I think I only want to read her the “good parts” of The Princess Bride, a statement that anyone who’s read the original book will find funny, ironic, or, at the very least, very, very “meta.”

Now, as a professed “book person”, the idea of selectively reading passages of a book to my daughter feels like a big cheat and a huge violation of the unspoken bond between author and reader – I hate playing backseat editor – but The Princess Bride is a special case. Let me give you some back story…

Even though I adored The Princess Bride movie the first time I saw it in 1987, it never really landed with me that I should seek out the original book that it was based on until I was in college. After a few weeks of hunting, I came across a tattered paperback copy of Goldman‘s The Princess Bride in a used bookstore and quickly devoured it. (It was originally published in 1973 with the eyebrow-raising tagline “A Hot Fairy Tale.”)

What Happens When the Most Beautiful Girl in the World Marries the Handsomest Prince in the World - And He Turns Out to Be a Son-of-a-Bitch?

This might be my favorite back cover copy of all time.

And the book didn’t disappoint. It’s wonderful. When reading the book, you really get an appreciation for how faithful and spot-on Rob Reiner’s adaptation was. Princess Bride the book is INCREDIBLY similar to Princess Bride the movie, right down to the priest mispronouncing “Mawidge” to the now-legendary “Hello, My Name is Inigo Montoya” showdown (which reaches its climax on page 276 of my paperback). While there are little variations in the details here and there, I can only recall two MAJOR differences that stood out when I first read the book. [read the rest of the post…]

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Hey Readers – Remember all those posts back in September where I was so excited about finally reading The Phantom Tollbooth with my daughter? You know, the book that single-handedly inspired this blog and that I’ve been DYING to read to her for almost six years now? I even posted my initial “Phantom Tollbooth First Read” article where I recounted my experience reading the first two chapters with my kid at bedtime. Wasn’t that a fun article – an article that promised to give you a day-by-day breakdown of our joyous experiences reading The Phantom Tollbooth together for weeks to come?

I should’ve smelled the jinx coming a mile away.

Quick aside – Our family does a lot of road-trips together and, almost every time we’re on the last leg of our drive home, if we’ve had an easy day of driving so far, I inevitably say something like, “Boy, we’ve hit no traffic today, have we?” and you know what happens? Five minutes later, we hit construction or an overturned car and BAM – four extra hours are added to our trip. And, like an idiot, I do that almost EVERY single time. I jinx the end of the trip.

This is all a very long-winded way for me to tell you… sigh… we have officially stopped reading The Phantom Tollbooth for the moment.

The Phantom Tollbooth

Yeah, we know, Milo. We’re disappointed too…

And, yes, I am a little bit heartbroken. And, yes, I think I jinxed it. [read the rest of the post…]

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The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth

Perfect for Tollbooth obsessives…

Back on September 20th, we celebrated Building a Library’s first anniversary and announced that, the following week, I was finally going to start reading The Phantom Tollbooth – the book that inspired this blog – to my almost six-year-old daughter. And then… I took the following week off. Anti-climatic, I know, but it was a crazy week with swim classes and TWO soccer games and I was exhausted and blocked and I apologize. But, now that all my excuses are out on the table, I DID start reading The Phantom Tollbooth with my daughter last week and, so far, it’s been a pretty positive experience.

Let me state up front that I was a little worried that my daughter was too young for The Phantom Tollbooth. Norton Juster expertly plays with language and various abstract concepts throughout the book and I was concerned that aspects of the text would go over her head. As far as I can remember, I probably first encountered The Phantom Tollbooth when I was eight or nine, so I will admit that I am (still) concerned that I might be trying to introduce the novel to my daughter at too early an age. But, regardless of those concerns, I wanted to give Phantom Tollbooth a shot in our coveted bedtime reading slot last week and I’m going to periodically give updates on how the reading is going so far.

I’m calling this series “Phantom Tollbooth: First Read” and I’m planning to structure the updates in a similar style to the re-read or rewatch series that you can find on Tor.com or The Onion‘s AV Club. For those unfamiliar, in those series, the websites pick a book or a movie and a person episodically blogs their reaction to revisiting those works. For example, the blogger might post their ongoing reaction to rewatching all three seasons of Arrested Development or re-reading Stephen King’s Dark Tower books, chapter-by-chapter.

For Phantom Tollbooth, I’m going to adopt a chapter-by-chapter model, although some nights, we’ll be reading multiple chapters. For our first week, we started slow, only making it through the first four chapters. In the future, we may be moving through the book at a different pace, largely determined by what we’ve got going on that week. (Fair Warning: A trip to NYC will limit our progress this weekend.) I’ll give a quick summary of the chapter, my thoughts, my daughter’s reactions, and I might even toss in a few pieces of trivia from Leonard S. Marcus’ fantastic The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth as well.

Are we all set? Excuses made and plans delineated? Great. And, with that, let us begin…

THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH FIRST READ: CHAPTERS 1 AND 2 – “Milo” and “Beyond Expectations”

CHAPTER ONE: “MILO”

“I do hope this is an interesting game, otherwise the afternoon will be so terribly dull.” – Milo, The Phantom Tollbooth

The Phantom Tollbooth, Chapter One

Santa got my letter!

The opening passages of The Phantom Tollbooth were what sold me on the book as a kid. In a few short paragraphs, Norton Juster wonderfully captures the itchy, nagging boredom that can easily consume a child in the wrong frame of mind. I love comedian Louis C.K.’s inspired riff on how “Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy” and it shares some nice thematic parallels to initial mindset of Milo, the protagonist of The Phantom Tollbooth. To quote Juster:

There once was a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself – not just sometimes, but always.

When he was in school he longed to be out, and when he was out he longed to be in. On the way he thought about coming home, and coming home he thought about going. Wherever he was he wished he were somewhere else, and when he got there he wondered why he’s bothered. Nothing really interested him – least of all the things that should have.

It’s an incredibly powerful opening and, after reading into it a few paragraphs, I turned to my daughter and asked, “Do you ever feel like that?” “Yes,” she replied. “I get bored a lot.” [read the rest of the post…]

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The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

My daughter has a future date with The Graveyard Book.

As you may have inferred from previous posts, I’m a big fan of Neil Gaiman, so it’s not that surprising that my shelf of “Books My Kid Will Read in the Future” has more than a few Gaiman titles sprinkled throughout. But the Gaiman book that I really want my daughter to start with and embrace, once she starts exploring the ever-growing shelf of titles intended for her future self, is The Graveyard Book.

And there are many reasons why any parent would want their child to read The Graveyard Book. It’s a wonderfully-told tale, one of the few books that I’m legitimately evangelical about. (“Every single person who’s read it on my recommendation has thanked me profusely afterwards,” he said with a painfully swollen head.) It’s a multiple award-winning title, receiving both the Newbery and Carnegie Medals (which is kind of a big deal). It’s just a very, very moving book for me – to the point where I don’t even feel up to writing one of my typical 2,000-word rants about it. Smarter people than I have written some really beautiful odes to The Graveyard Book, and I have this sneaking suspicion that I just can’t do it justice, which is probably a safe assumption.

I’ll just let Gaiman explain what the book is about himself:

Doesn’t that sound intriguing? Nobody Owens is this spectacular young boy being raised by ghosts in a graveyard and his maturation and development as a character and as a real, breathing person (amongst dead, non-breathing spirits) really is something to behold. But, if I’m being honest, that’s still not getting to the real heart of the reason why I’m determined to make my child read The Graveyard Book one day.

What’s my reason for pushing The Graveyard Book ? Fair warning: It’s a pretty dumb reason. [read the rest of the post…]

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The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Cover of The Phantom Tollbooth, illustration by Jules Feiffer

I mention this on the site’s “About” page, but, when I first found out that I was going to be a father, the very next day, I went out and bought a copy of Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth for my kid – my kid who wasn’t going to be born for another nine months. Why? Because, in many ways, I think it’s the perfect children’s book.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Seuss, Silverstein, and Dahl, but there’s just something about the story and the narrative world that Juster puts together in Phantom Tollbooth that just floors me every time I read it.

For those unfamiliar, The Phantom Tollbooth is the story of Milo, a bored, apathetic kid, who, one day, finds a tollbooth that has mysteriously appeared in his bedroom. With nothing better to do, Milo gets in an old toy car, drives through the tollbooth, and finds himself in The Lands Beyond in the Kingdom of Wisdom, a pastiche of a fairy tale-land built around knowledge, wordplay, and mathematical nonsense. Milo makes friends with a watchdog – a pooch named Tock with a real clock in his center – travels through lands like Dictionopolis and The Island of Conclusions, and eventually quests to the Mountains of Ignorance to rescue the princesses Rhyme and Reason. (His travels are expertly illustrated by Jules Feiffer.)

The ironic wordplay and absurdism of The Phantom Tollbooth gets a lot of attention, and it should. My almost five-year-old daughter is currently getting  a lot of laughs out of the verbal misunderstandings in books like Peggy Parish’s Amelia Bedelia series, which I’m hoping will act as gateway drugs for one day introducing her to Tollbooth – in terms of fun with language, Tollbooth is like a nuclear bomb compared to Parish’s firecrackers. (If you want a far more insightful – and better written – take on Juster’s way with words, read the great Michael Chabon’s essay on Phantom Tollbooth, which will accompany a new fiftieth anniversary edition of the book that comes out this October.)

However, while the allusions and puns are fast and furious, they’ve never been my absolute favorite part of the text. For me, The Phantom Tollbooth has, first and foremost, always been about Milo, who, I think, is one of the greatest protagonists in all of children’s literature. [read the rest of the post…]

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