The book that inspired this post, The Mark of Athena, is coming out on October 2, 2012. If you need to contact me on October 2, please don't. I intend to be home sick with a cold.
One of the best things about having kids is rediscovering the joys of children's literature. I read voraciously when I was young, and my love of children's books has not faded one bit. I can still lose myself in the books I read throughout my childhood, like The Chronicles of Narnia, Anne of Green Gables or the Tintin comics, and there are many newer books that I love to read again and again -- Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, Percy Jackson, Twilight, and so on. I'm amazed at how many wonderful books have become available for kids since I was a kid!
I'm constantly on the lookout for a good book, whether it's targeted towards kids or adults. I usually rely on the New York Times Bestseller list or reviews from Time, Newsweek and Rolling Stone for recommendations on adult books. Many kids' books do make the Times list, but for kids' books I tend to look closer to home. I like to ask the librarian at the kids' school for recommendations. She usually steers me towards books on the Newberry, Caldecott or California Young Reader list, and she gives me tips on which books the kids are checking out in droves. It pays to volunteer at your child's school library! Even better, I just pick up one of the books that The Pea is reading and check it out. I love it when one of my kids brings home a book and I fall in love with it!
Thanks to my sources, I've discovered all kinds of great new books, and book series, for kids. Many of the series them haven't even been completed yet, which is both a good and a bad thing. Bad, because I have to wait in frustration for the author's next book (How long does it take these authors to finish writing a book anyway? Don't they know we live in an age of microwave-fast instant gratification? Grrrr...). Good, because whenever a new book in the series does come out, I get to experience the delightful anticipation that comes when you're about to start reading a new book and find out what happens to character you know and love.
For young bookworms, and young-at-heart bookworms like me, here are some as-yet-unfinished kids' book series that I highly recommend:
For younger kids (grades 2-4)
Alvin is a second grader who's afraid of everything. Alvin gets into some funny scrapes, and young kids can really relate to him and his fears. It's a great way to coax reluctant readers into starting a book series: they books are pretty easy reads, but no so easy that he'd think it was a (gasp!) Baby Book. I also like it because the protagonists are Asian American, and you don't see too many book series featuring Asian American families. I've read the first two books, and have yet to read the (recently released) third. I decided to be a good grownup and let all the kids at the school library go first.
Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist
Ten year-old Nathaniel Fludd's parents are lost at sea, and he goes to live with his Aunt Phil and starts training in the family business: discovering and cataloging mythical beasts. It's set in the 1920's so it has a real Casablance/Indiana Jones feel. It's a fairly easy read, especially if your child likes mythical monsters.
How to Train a Dragon
The story of the great viking hero, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, his not-so-heroic childhood, and how he became a hero (the hard way). I first heard of this series from watching the movie, which I loved, but is totally unlike the series. It's full of funny illustrations and great adventures. Cressida Cresswell has written 10 books so far; so far I've read nine, can't wait to start on #10, and crossing my fingers that there are more in the pipeline.
Everyone in Superopolis has a superpower, except Ordinary Boy, who relies on his wits to get the better of the town's supervillians. As the books unfold, OB gets to save the city, capture some villians, unmask some superheroes who turn out to be not-so-heroic, and find out where everyone's superpowers come from. Based on the ending of the 3rd book, the series isn't finished yet (at least, I hope it isn't!), but I cannot for the life of me find any news about whether author William Boniface is working on book #4.
For older kids (grades 4-6)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
An account of middle school life from middle schooler Greg Heffley's perspective. My kids love the handwritten-type font, the lined paper (so it resembles a diary), the hilarious cartoon drawings and Greg's brutally honest way of speaking (or writing) his mind. Once in a while I'll slip into parent mode and wonder if my kids should be reading a book where the hero is a such a selfish, lying little brat, but for the most part I realize I have to chill out and remember that it's meant to be read with a sense of humor -- all the while reminding my kids that there's no way they could get away with half the stuff Greg does.
Heroes of Olympus
Warring Roman and Greek demigods have to work together to save the world from the evil Gaea and her legion of monsters. This is Rick Riordan's second series starring Percy Jackson and his fellow demigods (yes, the Greek gods are alive and well in the modern world, and still sowing their wild oats). I love how he combines ancient myths with contemporary teen characters. Fortunately all 5 books in the first series (Percy Jackson & the Olympians) had been published when I first discovered them, so I was able to tear through all of them in a week. Waiting a whole year for each book in the Heroes of Olympus series (the third, Mark of Athena, is out on October 2!) has been agony, but each one has been well worth the wait.
Everyone in Mibs' family develops a special talent -- a Savvy -- like turning invisible, or making earthquakes -- when they turn thirteen. What will Mibs' talent be, and how will she handle it? It's a great coming-of-age story. The second book, Scumble, is about Mibs' cousin Ledge, and his own savvy, and I like it even better than the first. I've heard rumors of a third book, so I've been stalking author Ingrid Law's blog in the hopes of confirming it.
Story of a mountain girl, Miri, who is taken away from her family along with other girls in her village and made to learn how to become a suitable prospect for the prince's bride. Miri must endure the prejudices of the instructor, who thinks that mountain girls are ignorant bumpkins, as well as the taunts of her classmates, who are amused by her small size and infuriated by her independent spirit. It won a Newberry Honor medal, and in my opinion it was richly deserved. I was delighted to discover that Shannon Hale has just published a sequel, Princess Academy: Palace of Stone -- I signed up on my local library's waiting list, and hopefully my turn will come soon.
If you have any recommendations of your own, let me know about them. I'm always ready and willing to discover a great new book -- or even better, a great new series of books!