It’s not surprising that parents’ child-related focus and concerns evolve in fairly typical ways as their children grow. Remember the early days of parenthood when conversations included commentary about newborn eating, sleeping and other bodily functions? Then, there was a natural progression into the toddler years, with the advent of first movements, first words and first social interactions. Fast-forward to the tween years. Since recent data suggests that the majority of parents would like to change their preteen’s sleep habits and studies show that the majority of children get less sleep than they actually need, the tween years are a perfect time to circle back and take a look at the important topic of sleeping habits and patterns.
How Much Sleep Do Tweens Need?
The easy answer is enough rest to maintain good physical and mental health. But, many influences, including age, stress, physical activity and growth phase affect how much sleep an individual preteen actually requires to function well. Experts suggest that, on average, tweens should sleep 9.5 to 10 hours per night. As a frame of reference, teenagers need about 9 hours and adults can function with 8 hours.
During puberty, tween sleep needs actually increase. The value aspects of sleep change by age, according to James B. Mass, Ph.D, Cornell, sleep researcher and author of Power Sleep. In contrast to babies who spend at least half of their sleep time in a “deep sleep” state, by the age of 7 or 8, children spend more time in a light sleep phase and, as a result, are more likely to be awakened by noises, light, even stress.
A number of sleep-related studies have found that children, from elementary school through high school, get about an hour less sleep each night than they did 30 years ago.
Why Aren’t Tweens Sleeping Enough?
There are many potential causes for reduced sleep among preteens, including:
- Bedtime Schedules — not having a standard bedtime schedule can inhibit the amount of sleep, based on wake-up time needs.
- Non-Conducive Sleep Environments — televisions, cell phones, other media and stimulating activities in bedrooms can offset the benefits of a quiet, soothing sleeping environment.
- Daily Schedule Demands — many schools have early start times (some kids need to catch their bus well before 7:00 am). On top of that, homework, after-school activities and socializing can impact a tween’s time during the day.
- Family Needs — working parents may wish to spend time with their children at the end of the day.
- Sleep Challenges/Disorders — issues such as: insomnia, nightmares, sleep apnea, and others can affect the quality of sleep a preteen gets.
What Is The Impact Of A Lack Of Sleep?
Among other symptoms, a lack of sleep can appear in the form of moodiness, difficulty, forgetfulness, irritability and/or poor judgment.
As important, “Sleep-deprived kids are unable to learn,” says Maas. “Memory, concentration, communication skills as well as critical and creative thinking are all adversely affected.” The brain needs to sleep so that it can process all that was learned during the day and be prepared to absorb new information the next day. Since children’s brains aren’t fully developed until after their teen years, and because a good deal of that work is done while a child is asleep, this daily lost hour (which amounts to nearly one full night’s sleep each week) appears to have a significant impact on children.
On top of that, many experts agree that sleep deprivation at this age can mirror the symptoms associated with attention problems and hyperactivity. And, sleep deprivation also lowers children’s immune systems, so they may be more prone to illness.
Conclusion: Sleep needs to be a priority!
What Can We Do To Help Tweens Get More Sleep?
As children grow, it’s important to help them understand the value of getting good sleep and developing positive sleep habits. Here’s how parents can help.
- Keep your tween’s room a sanctuary, so that it can be associated with comfort. Try to keep the bedroom conducive to sleep by keeping the light out, keeping it at a moderate temperature and ensuring peace and quiet.
- Keep the bedroom media-free to avoid interference with the primary purpose of sleep!
- Set an agreed upon bedtime (i.e., in bed by a certain time, lights out at a certain time) and try to limit drastic changes in bedtimes, even on weekends.
- Reinforce a soothing bedtime routine, much like was done in the early stages, only evolved to include tween needs (i.e., warm bath/shower, quiet reading, audio book, quiet music, even a favorite comfort object!).
- Limit media involvement (i.e., television, computer, hand-held games, etc.) and any form of rough housing at least 30 minutes before bedtime to allow for a wind down period.
- Eliminate caffeine after 2:00 pm; soft drinks and energy drinks offer stimulation that can inhibit sleep.
- Review after-school activities if they’re pushing back your tween’s bedtime. Work together to achieve a reasonable solution.
- Ensure that your preteen eats a healthy diet, cutting back on snacking and junk food, especially before bedtime. And, be aware of what your tween’s healthy weight should be; being overweight can affect your child’s sleep. Studies show that children who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to be overweight, and that being overweight can make sleep problems more likely (around two thirds of children diagnosed with sleep apnea are overweight).
- Encourage physical activity, but not too close to bedtime.
- Teach time-management skills; the use of a planner can help your preteen to be prepared to better manage exceptionally active periods.
- Speak with your tween’s doctor about sleep issues that seem persistent, since most sleep problems are easily treated.
Maybe Benjamin Franklin, in 1758, stated it succinctly and best when he said, “Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
One of the many tightropes we walk as parents of preteens is determining where to draw the line to encourage independence and how much independence to encourage. This challenge can apply to many situations including parental involvement in homework. We can all conjure up the picture of the frantic parent racing to school to bring some coveted item that was inadvertently left at home. Or, taking too key a role in getting a project completed. We might have even embraced an excuse to ensure that our tween wasn’t penalized for an assignment that never quite got finished.
Some would point out that this is giving our tween “too soft of a landing;” others would submit that giving their child every chance to succeed models resourcefulness. Like many choices, it’s personal and likely to be loaded with judgment on all fronts! With even the best of intentions, taken to extremes, involvement can become a hindrance. At what point is that line crossed?
Homework involvement on a parent’s part can vary in scope considerably, ranging from guidance, to co-authoring, to ownership! In the long run, most experts agree that rather than doing their homework for your tween or even over-guiding them, the emphasis should be placed on parents helping children do their own homework. When you think about it, taking over the task and over-directing homework activities may send the wrong message — that getting to the “correct” result is more important than the learning experienced along the way; or more significant, that you don’t have confidence in your preteen.
How Parents Can Be Involved (In a Supporting Role!)
1. Have a conversation with your tween about the importance of homework. Emphasize the purpose – that it’s not just a way of making them miserable! You can point out the value of homework as a means of reviewing what they learned in class; helping them prepare for the next day’s class; learning to use resources, like the internet, to research topics. They might even want to learn more about a topic they didn’t have time to fully engage with at school.
2. Make it relevant. Compare the homework process to work that we do as adults; for instance, “Mom goes to work each day and….” If your child is a sports fan, highlight the amount of practice that goes into becoming a sports success. Point out that few of us have a gift to be good at an endeavor without practice. And the truth is, like some aspects of life, we have to commit to certain activities that aren’t always fun. As we know, cultivating perseverance is a wonderful attribute that will pay off in many of life’s circumstances.
3. Review their assignment(s) with them. Try to resist the temptation to share your strategy, but instead pose the question, “How do you think you’d like to approach this?” Hear what they have to say and make use of the word “Why?” to get at their thinking. If you believe their logic is unfounded, you might pose a possible strategy at that point, “Do you think it would help if you…?” In general, get them on board with the expectation.
4. Make sure to give your tween a great starting point by establishing a homework routine and a distraction-free setting. Set a regular time, have an agreed upon location and have supplies easily accessible. Once they get started, unless you’re staying with them while they complete the assignment, have an agreed upon check-in procedure to monitor progress and offer guidance. Timed right, the payoff of free time can be a nice “carrot”!
5. Speak with your child’s teacher to determine school expectations. Some teachers will appreciate parental involvement; others will want to get a full understanding of where your tween needs help by seeing their independent work. Either way, develop an open discussion with your child’s teacher; determine his/her preferred communication method (i.e., email, phone call, note, etc.) and make use of it.
6. Speak with other parents to get a sense of how involved they are in the homework process. You can exchange points of view and tips to see if there’s something you’ve overlooked. Like many topics, hearing divergent points of view can help us sort out what we believe to be important. You might even suggest a meeting with fellow parents and your child’s teacher to be more efficient in the overall information sharing process.
7. Reinforce school learning by getting a preview of topics to be studied at school. With this information you might dig deeper into the subject matter by pursuing extra-curricular learning activities (e.g., educational games, dvd rentals, book reading, books on tape, trips to the zoo or museum, family excursions, etc.).
8. Make a Homework Calendar available to your preteen to record and structure more comprehensive assignments, especially as their homework encompasses a need for planning (i.e., there might be assignments that are broken into phases with different parts due on different dates). The value of organization can’t be underestimated.
9. Get involved at school to the degree you can by showing an interest in schoolwork, attending school functions and even volunteering on a project. Make a point to ask your tween about school each day and what he/she’s learning and studying. Connecting within the school will help build an informal support network that you can turn to when you need help figuring out a learning dilemma.
10. Set a good example. If you can, join in the homework process by engaging in a quiet activity nearby. That way, you can model the need for focus while your tween is busy with schoolwork. And, you can be available for help when your preteen needs assistance.
On top of everything, be sure to praise your tween’s efforts in getting their homework completed and ready for school!
Is your preteen nervous about making the transition to Middle School? As a parent, you may be asking yourself what you can do to pave the way for a smooth adjustment. In our two part series, TweenParent.com asked mothers of experienced middle school kids for advice to help parents prepare their preteens for the first day and beyond. This article focuses on teaching your kids the skills that they will need to be successful in with their schoolwork.
Getting the Lay of the Land
Familiarity is key and our parent experts have some great suggestions to help preteens get comfortable with their new surroundings before they start school.
- The smartest thing students can do before the first day is to arrange a visit to the school, specifically asking for a tour and map. From there, find your classes before the halls are filled with students. – Cheryl Stahle, former middle school teacher and mother of a 9th grade boy
- Teach you child how to use their combination lock before school starts. Help them memorize the combination and learn how to open it. -Raffi Darrow, mother of 7th and 6th grade girls
- Remind your preteen that they aren’t the only ones getting used to a new school. It helps manage their anxiety knowing everyone isn’t looking at them fumbling around. – Cari Kraft, mother of an 8th grade boy
- Make multiple copies of your preteen’s schedule – one for their locker, their book bag, their main binders, their desk or room at home. – Cari Kraft
- Become involved in an extracurricular activity, such as the yearbook or school newspaper, that fosters getting to know the school. – Michelle Levine, mother of an 8th grade boy
All the parents we talked to agree that a well-organized locker leads to a well-organized student.
- It’s important to organize your books and other materials in your locker in a way that will allow you to pick up things quickly without having to hunt for them. -Cindy Erwin, mother of an 8th Grade boy.
- Managing the demands of multiple teachers and classes becomes a cinch if students color code their classes. I recommend that each class be assigned a color. For that class buy a binder and pocket folder that are close to the same color. That way you can find your materials quickly, both for classes and organizing homework assignments. -Cheryl Stahle
- Get a little locker white board so they can make notes to remind themselves of important assignments and events. – Cari Kraft
- Extra locker shelves can be bought at any discount or office supply store and will help your preteen organize their locker. – Cindy Erwin
- Suggest keeping books organized so that the ones they need next are on top. – Cari Kraft
Almost as important as a well organized locker is having the right supplies available. Our parents recommend:
- Extra pens, pencils, notebook paper, index cards, post it notes, white out, highlighters, scotch tape, a stapler and a calculator
- Hand sanitizer to use before eating and a mirror to check braces and hair.
- For girls, a maxi pad, in a discreet bag – just in case.
- A change of clothes in case of an accident, safety pins for clothing malfunctions, and a sweater for the colder weather.
- A few extra dollars
Organize For Success
Most kids are not naturally organized and homework can easily get lost in the shuffle. Our expert parents suggest teaching your kids a system that will support them in managing all their assignments.
- USE the planner that is given to you by the school, or buy your own. Write down every assignment, its due date, and any specific instructions. – Cindy Erwin
- In your planner, highlight the date when an assignment or test is approaching. Then, allocate time each day to work on a small piece of the project. By learning to assign homework by breaking down bigger projects into smaller ones, there are no last minute rushes or missed assignments. – Cheryl Stahle
- Do homework as soon as it is assigned in the priority order of what is due first. – Cari Kraft
- Review your class notes each night and annotate them with questions to clarify areas of uncertainty with the teacher the following day. The simplest way is to write a question on a post it note and put it on the spot where your notes are not clear. – Cheryl Stahle
- Get a folder for each subject with 2 pockets. Use one for completed work and one for TO DO work. Remind your child to check their folders each day after their homework is done. -Raffi Darrow
- Do a double check before you leave your locker at the end of the day to make sure you have the books you need for homework. – Cari Kraft
- Many schools now post assignments on an Internet website. If yours does, check it frequently. -Cindy Erwin
Teachers, Teachers, Teachers
One of the biggest differences between elementary school and middle school is managing multiple teachers.
- The most important tip I can share is to prepare your child for the fact that there will not be one teacher “watching over” them any longer. They will need to develop relationships with several teachers, and perhaps an office person or counselor who can assist them with any problems or concerns. -Cindy Erwin
- Students need to view their teachers as an ally and ask for help. I have had very shy students leave me notes when they are hesitant to ask questions and that works as well. Just don’t be afraid to approach a teacher. – Cheryl Stahle
- As a parent, make sure you write at least one email to introduce yourself and touch base with each of your preteen’s teachers. It’ll go a long way to show the teacher you’re one of the ‘parents that care.’ -Michelle Levine
- What frustrates me the most as an educator is when a student doesn’t say hello when greeted in the morning. Starting even with this most basic courtesy is a great first step in developing relationships with teachers. -Cheryl Stahle
TweenParent.com asked Bank Street Bookshop to put together a list of books for summer reading that is sure to keep your tween’s nose in a book for hours at a time. Divided by age group, the list includes notable new books and timeless classics. Plus, as a gift to our readers, Bank Street is offering a 20% discount off of anything you purchase (not just tween books). Just enter code TWEEN09 at check out.
After Hamelin by Bill Richardson. Mysteriously struck deaf the day the Pied Piper returns to pipe away Hamelin’s children, Penelope cannot hear his tune and is left behind. It thus becomes her responsibility to enter a fantastical dream world and use her wits and ingenuity to find and rescue her family and friends. After Hamelin is an enchanting story featuring a clever, memorable heroine.
Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry. Precocious 10-year-old Anastasia has some very firm opinions. She’s made a list of things she loves (lists, mounds bars, her goldfish) and things she hates (boys, pumpkin pie, her teacher). As she navigates school, a first crush, and her parents’ shocking announcement that they are having a baby, Anastasia is surprised to see how her loves and hates change. First in a series.
The Birthday Room by Kevin Henkes. “Two of the things Benjamin Hunter received for his twelfth birthday took him completely by surprise: a room and a letter. The room was from his parents. The letter was from his uncle.” The room is Benjamin’s very own art studio. The letter is from an estranged uncle who is blamed for a childhood accident that left Benjamin without a finger. Well-known for his popular picture books, Henkes has written a thought-provoking and memorable coming-of-age story for middle grade readers.
Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything in It by Sundee T. Frazier. Brendan’s grandmother Gladys calls him her chocolate milk – his mother is white, and his father is black, a fact that hasn’t caused him much concern…until now. Brendan is a scientist; he keeps a notebook full of questions and answers he uncovers through scientific research. So when he meets his estranged (white) grandfather by chance, he begins investigating the reasons for the estrangement, disobeying his parents in the process. Frazier handles Brendan’s complicated family history, questions about race and identity, and other thought-provoking topics with finesse. Though it deals with some heavy issues, Brendan’s normal kid interests and activities (Tae Kwon Do, catapulting Groovy Girls out the window) make this an enjoyable and accessible read. Coretta Scott King Book Award.
The Cats of Roxville Station by Jean Craighead George. As much as Mike wants a cat, he knows he can’t have one at home. Instead he tries to win the trust of Rachet, a feral cat with a strong mistrust of humans. Jean Craighead George, acclaimed author of Julie of the Wolves and My Side of the Mountain, fills this story of the complex society of the homeless cats with factual information about wild feline habits and hierarchy.
The reader comes to know and care about Rachet, Queenella, Tatters, Tachometer and all the other cats in a world centered around a train station.
A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban. Zoe dreams of becoming a great concert pianist. So when her quirky but well-meaning father brings home a wheezing, 70s-style electric organ, she is unenthused. Her music teacher (free lessons with purchase) convinces her to enter the Perform-o-Rama, an electric organ competition, which has a surprisingly transformative effect on Zoe. A delightful book, A Crooked Kind of Perfect is an utterly charming story of friendship, family, growing pains, and finding the baby grand hiding in a wheezing Perfectone D-60. Readers will be convinced that they know the finely-drawn characters.
Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis. Of her fellow seventh graders, Emma-Jean Lazarus thinks “their behavior was often irrational. And as a result, their lives were messy. Emma-Jean disliked disorder of any kind, and had thus made it her habit to keep herself separate, to observe from afar.” Though not labeled as such, Emma-Jean displays some characteristics of an individual with Asperger Syndrome, making her a uniquely insightful narrator. When she sets out to help her classmates solve their problems, her lack of understanding of middle school social mores leads to some mix-ups. A memorable, winning narrator and realistic but uplifting look at junior high life make Emma-Jean a new favorite.
The Friskative Dog by Susan Straight. Sharron’s father bought her The Friskative Dog when she was five, and he quickly became her most beloved stuffed animal. When Sharron’s truck-driver father doesn’t come back from a long haul, The Friskative Dog seems more important than ever, a sort of talisman connecting Sharron to her father. But when nine-year-old Sharron brings her dog to school, the too-old-for-stuffed-animals mean girls in her class take him. Readers will empathize with Sharron’s heartbreak and delight in her resilience. With the help of her mother, grandmother, and a new friend, Sharron finds a way to recover The Friskative Dog and begin to deal with her father’s absence.
Lioness Quartet #1: Alanna by Tamora Pierce. Alanna lives in Tortal, a medieval world full of knights, heroes and magic. When her father announces he’s sending her to a convent, Alanna she decides she’d rather not go. She cuts off her hair, dresses like a boy, and goes to try for her knighthood. In this, Pierce’s first story in the magical country of Tortall, Alanna befriends a prince and a magical cat and learns that her destiny is greater than she knew. The gripping story will have readers reading “just one more chapter” after another.
Masterpiece Author by Elise Broach. Narrated by Marvin, a young beetle who lives in 11-year-old James’ NYC apartment, Masterpiece has it all – art history, international art heists, a thrilling mystery, and great characters. When 11-year-old James accidentally leaves the lid off his ink bottle, Marvin draws an extremely detailed, beetle-sized picture and leaves it on James’ desk. When James’ mom finds it, she becomes convinced her son is an artistic genius. This catapults James (and his new best friend Marvin) into a highly-unusual sting operation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Fascinating and thoroughly satisfying, Masterpiece is one of our favorite books of the year.
Molly Moon’s Incredible Book of Hypnotism by Georgia Byng. Orphaned and unpopular, Molly Moon lives in a miserable orphanage in England until she finds a rare book on hypnotism mis-shelved in the public library. Molly hypnotizes herself and orphanage pug Petula to New York City, to a suite in the Waldorf and a starring role in a Broadway show. But a dangerous criminal will stop at nothing to get his hands on the valuable book, and its keeper.
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall. When their father rents a vacation cottage on a large estate, the four Penderwick sisters, who range in age from twelve to four years old, find themselves with the summer vacation of their dreams. But when they discover that the elegant owner of the estate has threatened to send her mischievous son to military school, they decide to intervene. The results are comical (Rabbits, even exceptionally cute ones, really don’t belong anywhere near prize-winning gardens.) but ultimately satisfying. Birdsall skillfully imbues each sister with her own distinct personality, so readers feel like they know each one. Wonderfully old-fashioned, The Penderwicks has the look and feel of a classic. Winner of the National Book Award.
The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright. Bored with rainy Saturdays spent cooped up in the house, the Melendy siblings come up with a brilliant idea. Each week, they pool their allowances and one of them gets to use the entire one dollar and sixty cents to do something extravagant. Children will be enchanted by their visits to the art gallery, the opera, the circus, and even the beauty parlor. First published in 1942 and now back in print, The Saturdays is not to be missed.
The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson. Platform 13 at Kings Cross Railway Station conceals a secret door leading to an island where humans and magical creatures live harmoniously. The island is ruled by a royal family. When the crown prince is kidnapped, a delegation is sent into London to rescue him. Together a fey, a hag, a wizard, and an ogre must navigate the busy city while keeping their identities secret. Ibbotson consistently crafts imaginative fantasies with touches of humor. (Skeptics are assured that Ibbotson’s book was published several years before Harry Potter first stepped onto Platform 9 ¾.)
The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley. After the mysterious disappearance of their parents, Sabrina and Daphne Grimm are sent to live with the grandmother they thought was dead. In fact not dead, but quite unusual, Relda Grimm lives in a large house with lots of locks, even more books, and a weird, but nice, assistant named Mr. Canis. Before they know it, the girls are thrust into a mystery of the most unbelievable nature – a giant has climbed down an enormous beanstalk and kidnapped their grandmother. It turns out that the Grimm sisters are descendants of the famous Brothers Grimm. Their family is entrusted with solving fairy tales mysteries and keeping ancient fairy tale magic out of the reach of ordinary humans. Readers will love figuring out the fairy tale allusions in this series of sophisticated fractured fairy tales.
Skinnybones by Barbara Park. “Everybody knows that just one person can’t make the difference between a winning team and a losing team. After all, every single team I’ve ever been on has come in last place. And I don’t care what anyone says, all those teams didn’t lose just because of me…probably.” Self-described stinky baseball player, Skinnybones may not be a record-breaking pitcher like his classmate T.J., but he’s got a major league sense of humor. An excellent choice for fans of Wimpy Kid or reluctant readers, Skinnybones will have kids laughing out loud and rooting for the beleaguered hero.
Solomon Snow and the Silver Spoon by Kaye Umansky. At the age of ten, the beleaguered Solomon Snow discovers that the people he thought were his Ma and Pa actually found him on their doorstep with a fancy silver spoon in his mouth. The spoon has since been pawned, so Solomon Snow sets off to track it down and find his real parents. Accompanied by the bookish Prudence, he meets a motley crew of characters on the way to a surprising but thoroughly satisfying ending.
Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning by Danette Haworth. Next door neighbors Violet and Lottie are best friends. When ready-to-be-a-teenager, big-city Melissa moves to their rural Florida town, she disrupts their lifelong friendship. As Lottie and Melissa watch soap operas and experiment with makeup and clothes, rough and tumble Violet grows to resent the new girl. But when Lottie’s house is destroyed by lightning, the two frenemies find a way to work together to help out. With its relatable story of a friendship triangle, nuanced, likeable characters, and touch of first romance, Violet Raines is an excellent choice for pre-teens.
All of the Above by Shelley Pearsall. “We know there’s a lot of people out there who think our school is a dead end. And that all the kids inside it are dead ends, too.” Based on the true story of a group of inner-city Cleveland junior high students who attempted to build the world’s largest tetrahedron, All of the Above boasts extremely well-developed characters.
The Agony of Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Alice’s mother died when she was very young. She loves her father and her 19-year-old brother, Lester, but now that she’s about to turn thirteen, they’re floundering a bit. Lester tells her a period is the dot at the end of a sentence, and her father is clueless about bras. As Alice looks for a glamorous female role model, she finds out that becoming a woman is about more than physical changes. Alice is one of the most realistic, relatable, and likeable characters in pre-teen literature. Best of all, Alice is an excellent, age-appropriate choice for those younger tweens who already feel the siren’s call of teen literature. First in a series.
Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Muñoz Ryan. Faced with the prospect of being separated, Naomi, her brother, and the great-grandmother who raised them run away to Mexico to find the only person who can help them – Naomi’s father. In Oaxaca, Naomi learns that her talent for soap carving is part of a family and regional tradition. Her father has never once missed the Night of the Radishes contest during Las Posadas. Becoming Naomi Leòn features well-developed characters readers will remember.
Dave at Night by Gail Carson Levine. After his father dies, Dave is sent from his home on the Lower East Side to the dismal Hebrew Home for Boys on 113th Street. Life looks bleak until Dave sneaks out one night and meets a kind man named Solly. Together, they attend the fabulous salon parties of the Harlem Renaissance and have experiences Dave never imagined. Dave at Night achieves the perfect mix of great characters, adventure, and historical fiction.
The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, is betrayed by her guards and her lady-in-waiting on the way to a kingdom where no one knows her. Her identity stolen, Ani must become a goose girl to survive. Her gift for communicating with animals is her only weapon against the people who plot against her. Beautifully written and surprisingly suspenseful, with a touch of fairy tale romance, The Goose Girl will enthrall.
The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages. In 1943, Dewey Kerrigan, one of the most vibrant “tomboy” protagonists since Scout (No, really, this is not hyperbole.) travels across country by train to join her mathematician father in a town that doesn’t exist – Los Alamos. With extensive research and great writing, Klages manages to craft a haunting historical novel that is also an engrossing story about making friends, fitting in, and growing up. Adults also will find this story compelling, making this an excellent choice for parent-child discussions.
Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins. When New York City kid Gregor follows his little sister down a mysterious shaft in his building’s laundry room, he finds himself in a fantastic underground world populated by giant rats (the bad guys), four-foot cockroaches (the good guys), and race of underground humans who ride bats instead of horses. Or course, Gregor must save himself, the Underland, and his family in a thrilling adventure that will have readers clamoring for the next installment.
The Gypsy Crown by Kate Forsyth. Cousins Emilia and Luka are Rom, raised to value family, tradition, story, music, and magic. But in Cromwell’s Puritan England, the Gypsies are persecuted. When their entire family is imprisoned, Emilia and Luka escape, promising to find help. Emilia fervently believes in the legend of the Gypsy Crown. According to her Baba, each of the gypsy clans possesses one of five powerful charms. United, they will bring luck to the Gypsies. Thus begins a sort of quest: the two children race across the countryside, finding their kin and begging, bargaining, and performing remarkable feats to win the charms. The fast-paced, gripping story will enthrall even those who eschew historical fiction. Readers will get a sense of Cromwell’s reign and the terrible persecution Gypsies have faced throughout history.
Jellaby by Kean Soo. In the graphic novel adaptation of Kean Soo’s online comic of the same name, we are introduced to a strange little girl by the name of Portia Bennett. She has recently moved to a new city and has no friends. One night she looks out her window, sees a purple monster, and decides to befriend it. The next day the two of them stop some bullies from beating up a boy by the name of Jason. Together, the two children and the large purple monster set off a remarkable adventure. Ages 11-13.
The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd. When Ted and Kat’s cousin Salim visits them in London, he asks to go on the London Eye. So Ted and Kat take Salim to the Eye, watch him get on, and wait on the ground for him to get off. But he never appears. Faced with Salim’s mysterious disappearance, it is only Ted, with the unique perspective afforded him by his Asperger Syndrome, who can solve the mystery. A universal favorite among everyone who’s read it, The London Eye Mystery has it all – an intriguing mystery, a skillful exploration of family relationships, wonderful character development, and stellar writing.
A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass. Mia has been keeping a secret for years: she sees colors when reading or hearing numbers, letters, or words. When she finds out that her condition has a name, synesthesia, and that other people have it too, she begins an exciting journey of self-discovery. A Mango-Shaped Space is a fascinating exploration of a little-known neurological condition as well as a well-written story of family, friendship, and growing up.
My Life in Pink and Green by Lisa Greenwald. When 12-year-old Lucy sees a letter addressed to her family’s pharmacy with THREE DELINQUENT MORTGAGE PAYMENTS written across the top, she knows she has to do something. Her family has owned and operated the Old Mill Pharmacy for years; Lucy spends more time there than at home. But with chain stores moving into their Connecticut town, business is slow at the old fashioned, independent drugstore. Soon, Lucy’s pre-teen obsession with makeup, her growing concern for the environment, and her determination to save the pharmacy collide in a bold plan to expand the pharmacy into an eco-spa. Of course, while she’s plotting to save the store, Lucy everyday preteen issues of friendship and first crushes. The ultimately light-hearted story with a spunky, anything-is-possible protagonist makes a great summer read.
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Stewart. “Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?” When some unsuspecting children answer an odd classified ad, they find themselves taking a test that is anything but standard. The unusual band of talented misfits that passes the test becomes the Mysterious Benedict Society, under the tutelage of the mysterious narcoleptic, Mr. Benedict, himself. The four children must go undercover, infiltrate the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, and save the humanity from a diabolical genius using (what else?) television to take over the world.
Samuel Blink and the Forbidden Forest by Matt Haig. When Samuel and his little sister Martha go to live with their nice but mysterious aunt in Norway, they are forbidden to enter the forest near her house. Ten years ago, their Uncle Henrik went into the forest, and he never came back. But one day, Martha runs into the forest, Samuel follows her, and the two find themselves trapped inside the dense woods. It turns out that the forest is populated by creatures from Norse mythology, some of whom are up to no good. The first book in our new favorite series will have readers riveted as Samuel fights to outwit the magical creatures, find a way out of the forest, and solve the mystery of his uncle’s disappearance.
The Shadow Thieves by Anne Ursu. It all starts with the “oddly pale, strangely thin, freakishly tall, yellow-eyed, bald-headed man in the tuxedo,” or perhaps it’s the kitten that seemed to appear from nowhere at all, or Charlotte’s terrifying, vampiresque English teacher, or her oddly polite yet stressed-out English cousin Zee. Well, whatever the origin, all of the kids Charlotte and Zee know are coming down with an un-diagnosable, incurable illness, and it’s up to the two eighth graders to stop it. If that means entering Hades via a service door in the mall, battling harpies, Styx boatman Charon, Hades himself, and a really, really scary guy named, Phil, well, that’s what they’ll do. Perfect for kids suffering withdrawal from the Percy Jackson series, the new Cronus Chronicles series boasts a fast-growing fan base.
Sleepaway Girls by Jen Calonita. Bug Juice, Color War, Peeps: Sam Montgomery doesn’t know what any of these things mean when she impulsively applies to be a CIT (Counselor-In-Training) at Whispering Pines Camp. What at first is just a way to escape the obnoxious sweetness of her best friend Mallory and her new boyfriend Mark (wittily dubbed Mallomark), quickly becomes the most eventful summer of her life, complete with romance, late-night pranks, and a rivalry with the most popular girl at camp. This is the perfect taste of sleep-away life for veterans and the inexperienced alike. Age 11 and up.
Tiger by Jeff Stone. It is the mid 17th century, and 12-year-old Fu is among the youngest pupils training to become warrior monks at the Cangzhen Temple in China. When their Grandmaster is killed in a surprise attack, the five young martial arts experts escape with the intention of avenging his murder. Each student has been trained to adopt the style and characteristics of a particular animal. The first book in the series focuses on Fu, trained to emulate a tiger. Action-packed and fast-paced, the Five Ancestors Series will have kids clamoring to read more.
The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. One of the smartest, most subversive kids’ books ever, Smekday is social satire and historical allegory in the guise of a hilarious adventure (accompanied by cool graphics and comic book-style illustrations). What? Oh, you’ve noticed that we’re not telling you anything about the plot? Hmmm…well, here goes: In 2013, Boovs invade earth. They force all humans to move to Florida and then change their minds and force them all to move to Arizona. Gratuity (Her mom thought gratuity meant something else.) and her cat, Pig, are driving to Florida by themselves (because her mom has been abducted and forced into translating for the Boovs) when they meet AWOL Boov, J.Lo. J.Lo turns out to be totally awesome despite speaking English sort of like Yoda, if Yoda didn’t really speak English all that well. They have madcap adventures, such as hiding in Happy Mouse Kingdom after dark. Then the really bad aliens arrive…. Right, that’s why we weren’t telling you anything about the plot. It’s brilliant. Trust us.
Slob by Ellen Potter. Nothing, and I really mean nothing, is as it seems in this mysterious and moving novel about Owen Birnbaum, the self-described (and statistically verified) fattest and smartest kid around. While kids, and even some teachers, regularly make school miserable for Owen, someone has been taking it too far: stealing Owen’s Oreos from his lunch every day. Prime suspect: Mason Ragg, whose badly scarred face makes him a feared school outcast. While he’s not trying to catch the Oreo thief, Owen and his sister Jeremy are hard at work on an invention that will enable them to watch an event that happened nearly two years ago. Slob is about bullying, and emotional eating, and loss, and gender stereotypes, but it’s about so much more than all those things, too. Just when you think you know what’s going on, Potter hits you with a delicious OH! or AH HA! moment. An absolute delight to read, Slob is the kind of novel makes you immediately wish you could read it again for the first time. Age 11 and up.