Browsing articles in "Tween Life"
Jun 12, 2010

Facebook 101 for Parents of Tweens

We were in the midst of creating an article highlighting Facebook etiquette, for the benefit of parents interacting with their kids and their kid’s friends on Facebook. And while we believe that it’s a topic worth publishing, we realized after speaking with many readers and subscribers, that there are still a fair amount of parents that have managed to avoid the whole Facebook craze! Some even state their lack of knowledge and interest as a source of pride! Others cite technology intimidation as a barrier. So, we decided to first offer a very basic primer on what you need to know and do to get up-to-speed on Facebook! While you may disagree with it’s premise or question it’s value, as the parent of a tween, it’s important to be aware of Facebook’s power and impact. For those of you who are active on Facebook, stay tuned for an upcoming article focused on etiquette!
Brief History of Facebook

Launched in February 2004, “thefacebook” was founded by (then) Harvard Student, Mark Zuckerberg as a social networking tool on campus. The idea quickly spread among students at Harvard, then Stanford and Yale and throughout colleges in the U.S. and Canada. In August 2005, “thefacebook” was officially renamed Facebook and the rest is history in the making!
As a Parent, Why Join Facebook?

If you don’t think your tween is aware of Facebook, think again…with over 250 million active users (and growing exponentially), awareness isn’t an issue! Without a doubt, the vast majority of older tweens (and some younger ones as well, despite the age criteria of needing to be 13 years old) have Facebook accounts. As a parent, it’s hard to debate the importance of knowing where your pre-teen is spending his/her free time. It might help to think of it like this…since you’d most likely want to check out a destination where your tween was going, the same should hold true for the internet. As a bit of a bonus, when using Facebook, connecting with current or past friends from yesteryear can be a trip down memory lane!
What Does Facebook Offer?

The updated, current version of Facebook offers a secure means to interact and connect with friends, relatives and people with similar interests. In order for someone to view your profile, except for the information you choose to share with the overall community, they need to be approved by you; they need you to friendthem. Once you’re friends, you can regularly view the information your friendspost as well as the profile they created about themselves; and they can see your profile and postings as well. You can reach out to find others. Or, you can wait for others to find you.

Not only is Facebook a social network that enables you to share insights and information with friends in a mass way, you can send a private message to afriend. Another outstanding feature is the ability to share photographs through a very simple uploading process. Note: be careful about “tagging” photos (i.e., don’t identify people in photos, especially your children by name). While security is of paramount importance and Facebook pride’s it’s organization on trust and integrity, since there’s little value in doing so, it’s best to avoid “tagging” altogether.

 

Facebook Security

While any public domain is hard-pressed to completely avoid the potential for hacking, security is taken very seriously by Facebook. In fact, there’s a “Chief Privacy Officer” whose team is responsible for staying ahead of the curve in keeping your private information private! And, unlike the first incarnation of Facebook where most everything that you published was for general consumption, now there are plenty of limitations that you can place on your profile. Facebook’s privacy settings allow you filter what information from your profile can be seen when someone searches for you. You can configure your settings so prospective friends can see only your name and photo, or you can choose to include other information, like a list of your current friends. And, you can control what kind of information your friends have access to. While you may want some details to be viewable by all of your friends, you have the option to designate certain aspects of your page (your photos, for example) as viewable by only certain friends or family members. The choice is yours and the options for customizing your page based on privacy settings are plentiful.

 

Sign Up On Facebook

While getting started on Facebook can seem daunting to those unfamiliar with the site and its capabilities, it’s very easy to get started. Once you have your account and profile set up, the rest is fairly straightforward. Exploring Facebook, once signed in, is all you need to do to gain a level of comfort.

1. Go to the Facebook.com website and complete the basic information required to register (e.g., name, email address, gender, password, etc.).

2. Add other personal information to make your account robust and representative of you (paying close attention to what information you want others to have access to).

3. Add a current picture. Make it one you like, since you’ll see it every time you post (as will others)!
Begin Creating Your Network of Friends

Once you explore a little, you’ll find that the site is user friendly and easy to navigate. You can begin to find friends with a search focused on a geographic area, high school, college, hometown or other affiliation. And once you findfriends, you can take a look at their friends to find other past contacts. You may be surprised whom you encounter. While you’re making effort to find friends and build your network, others will likely be simultaneously reaching out to add you to their network. You will periodically receive invitations from others to become theirfriend. When you accept a friend invitation, you are added to your friend’snetwork and they are added to yours.
Facebook Jargon

Friend – someone you’ve invited into your network or whose invitation you accepted to connect with.

Wall – a virtual bulletin board where friends can post comments for you (and others) to see. The postings usually come in the form of quips about your recent postings!)

Messages – between you and a designated friend (like email, only from your Facebook account).

What’s On Your Mind/Share – a text box (with the option of attachments) to create postings informing friends of what you’re doing (or have recently done), as well as thoughts you want to share.

Poke – a silly gesture that let’s the person know that you noticed something on their page or are teasing them.

News Feed – the stream of friend postings that show up on your page.

Apr 28, 2010

Discover Colorful Chinatown on a Family “Staycation”

Is your family’s budget tight? Do vacations seem like a luxury of the past? If so, consider planning a “staycation” – a vacation at home or close to home. Being a tourist with your preteen is a great way to rediscover your city. What better place to start than Chinatown?

Start your day with a Chinatown photo scavenger hunt. Challenge another family for extra fun. The family with the most photos of found objects wins the hunt, and the losers buy dinner! Your scavenger hunt list might include:

  • A Hello Kitty t-shirt (a popular Japanese character – but should be easy to find in Chinatown)
  • Live eels/turtles/crabs (eek!)
  • A golden cat figurine (a symbol of good luck)
  • Green guava candy (delicious!)
  • Dragon fruit (hint: it’s hot pink with green tips)
  • A Chinese magazine (bonus points if you recognize any Chinese celebrities)
  • Dried squid (a pantry essential)
  • A hand-painted scroll (China has a rich tradition of symbolism – locate a scroll with a black dragon for luck and wealth)
  • A kung-fu video (an ancient meditation and art)
  • The number 8 (on a storefront – 8 is lucky in Chinese culture)
  • A bamboo shoot (boil or braise for a stir-fry or a hearty side dish)
  • A historical landmark (bonus points if you uncover some of the history behind it)

Exploring the winding streets of Manhattan’s Chinatown is a vibrant and delicious journey. Chinatown is bustling with crowds and energy and is well suited for tweens, who find the liveliness exciting. If it’s food you’re interested in, you’re in the right place. Within Chinatown is an array of seemingly endless markets and restaurants. If you and your tween are game for something different, try the beef tripe or oxtail – many restaurants and street vendors offer these Chinatown menu staples.

There are a few streets (and treats) that shouldn’t be missed.

  • Mulberry Street is home to Lung Moon Bakery (83 Mulberry, South of Canal); with classic Chinatown treats such as elegant moon cakes, buns, and sticky rice balls that are too good to pass up.
  • Bayard Street will bring out the kid in you. At UiUi Bubble Tea (49 Bayard) Homer Simpson greets you with a smile, and at The Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory (65 Bayard) flavors like Red Bean, Lychee and Peanut Butter and Jelly will pique your youthful curiosity. Find a street vendor for some fish balls – a favorite snack of many Chinatown kids.
  • Mott Street is the soul of Chinatown, with amazing restaurants, bakeries and shops, all worth exploring. If you’re in the market for a set of chopsticks with a back-story, then you can’t miss Yunhong Chopsticks (50 Mott). Off Mott Street is Pell Street, and off Pell Street is the narrow Doyers Street…a secret passageway that will lead you to Chatham Square, the heart of Chinatown.
  • From Chatham Square, wander along East Broadway and check out the offerings at the East Broadway Mall. If you are on the scavenger hunt, you’ll find many of the items here under one roof.
  • Don’t miss Aji Ichiban (23 East Broadway; another location at 37 Mott Street) for endless snacking fun. From wasabi peas to spicy dried shrimp, try as many new munchies as you dare.
  • Dim sum, Chinese cuisine with a wide range of light dishes served with tea, is a good option for sampling. There are great dim sum places all over Chinatown; try The Golden Unicorn (18 East Broadway) where most of the dim sum dishes and desserts are $3.75 each.
  • When you reach Allen Street coming from East Broadway, head North to make your way back to Canal, but before you do, take a Lower East Side detour over to Hester Street (off of Allen; North of Canal) and head East to 63 Hester Street. There you’ll find The Sweet Life, an adorable candy store with a whimsical Wonka-like feel. So if your tween wasn’t thrilled by the assortment at Aji Ichiban, some familiar treats from The Sweet Life might be a nice break.
  • When you finally make your way back onto Canal Street, take one last detour up Bowery, where you can pick up a carbon steel wok at one of the many restaurant supply stores, and then go East on Grand Street. Turn South on Elizabeth Street to find one of Chinatown’s hidden gastronomic gems, Malaysian Beef Jerky (95 Elizabeth).
  • One last stop at the new Hong Kong Supermarket on the corner of Hester and Elizabeth, for some fresh fish to take home for dinner, concludes your Far East Side adventure.

To get to Chinatown, take the N, R, W, J, M, Z or 6 trains to Canal Street, and head East on Canal to Mulberry Street. On your way, you can stop at the intersection of Canal and Baxter, cross over to the big information booth in the middle of Canal to pick up a map for more highlights of Chinatown.

Apr 28, 2010

Interview With Gail Carson Levine

Newbery Award winning author, Gail Carson Levine, talked to TweenParent.com about her experiences as a young adult novelist and shared advice for aspiring writers. As well as penning Ella Enchanted, Fairest, Dave at Night, The Wish, The Two Princesses of Bamarre and the Princess Tales among others, Gail also wrote Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly to help young authors avoid writer’s block and develop a process. If your tween is interested in creative writing or is a fan of Gail’s books, we highly recommend sharing this article with them.

How did you start writing? Did you always want to be a writer?

I wrote as a kid, but I never wanted to be a writer particularly. I had been drawing and painting for years and loved that. And, I meditate. One time when I was meditating, I started thinking, “Gee, Gail, you love stories – you read all the time. How come you never tell yourself a story?” While I should have been saying my mantra to myself, I started telling myself a story. It turned out to be an art appreciation book for kids with reproductions of famous artworks and pencil drawings that I did. I tried to get it published and was rejected wholesale.

That book led me to a class on writing and illustrating for kids, and when I went into it I thought that I would be more interested in illustrating. But I found that I was much more interested in writing and that I didn’t like the illustrating at all. I had always been the hardest on myself when I drew and painted. I am not hard on myself when I write. I like what I write, so it is a much happier process.

That’s how I got started. And then everything I wrote was rejected for nine years.

Wow, that must have been difficult. What was the process of rejection like? Were you able to glean any positive lessons from rejection?

I belonged to critique groups and took classes, and my teachers and fellow students liked my work. It was a happy time for me – I felt supported, so rejections didn’t sting as much as they might have in other circumstances. Some of the rejections were actually quite encouraging, when editors would write little notes to me that they liked my work. Form rejection letters give you no help and are just discouraging, but if an editor writes you a note, it means they believe in you even if they happen to be rejecting that specific piece of yours.

Is rejection something you still have to deal with today?

I just got rejected from an adult poetry class! Getting rejected is not easy no matter when it happens or what circumstance it is.

What is your favorite part about being a writer?

I love it all. I love having written. Sometimes I love writing. I love to revise. Revising is my favorite part of writing. I love working with kids and seeing kids over a real span of time. I am very interested in seeing who they turn into. Getting to know these great kids has been a joy.

Is there anything that the kids you work with have taught you, or ways that working with kids has enriched your writing life?

One of the things that has helped me a lot, and that kind of stunned me when I started teaching kids is how they just leap into writing. I give the kids a writing prompt and they just start. They don’t agonize over it. I find this very freeing.

Some of the kids I’ve known for ten years. I’ve gotten to watch them grow up and fulfill themselves, which is very rewarding. Besides, working with kids is just fun!

What is your most important piece of advice for young writers?

Save everything you write. I think kids abandon stories all the time. They start stories and get frustrated or get a different, better idea. I think that it is more worthwhile to stick with a story and revise it and try to finish it than to abandon ship. Revision, for any writer, is the name of the game.

On your blog you said that revision is your favorite part of the writing process. Do you revise as you go along, or do you write the first draft straight through and then revise later?

My method isn’t methodical. Many, many, many, and more scenes that I start with vanish and new ones take their place. I write notes first. Sometimes I write some of the scene in my notes. Then I copy what I’ve written into my manuscript, which is just story, not a mix of story and notes. If I’m beginning a book, I write notes and then, when I figure out my beginning, I write it in a separate document (the clean page). This isn’t particularly the right way; it’s just my method.

What is your daily writing routine like?

I don’t have much of a daily schedule, to be honest. I have a computer on the kitchen table and I always write while I eat breakfast. But my daily schedule varies depending on what I’m working on at the time. Today, for example, I worked on a speech I am giving in a couple weeks. I am also taking physical therapy because I strained my neck, so I did those exercises. Then I ate lunch, and then I revised my latest manuscript, a fantasy mystery for kids, until I started talking to you! So it varies every day. The point for me is I have to get the work done, and so I get it done.

Your books are so imaginative. How do you come up with your ideas?

I don’t think of myself as someone who has a lot of ideas. I have to work for them. When I get to a point in the story where I don’t know what’s going to happen next, I list all the possibilities that I can think of. Eventually, something pops up. I write a lot of notes – through writing notes, ideas come. When I’m really in the grove, I’m thinking about what I’m doing a great deal. Taking a shower is a good place to get ideas; doing something very repetitive and boring is a good place to get ideas. Your mind is freed through repetition, so new ideas tend to pop up.

What are some of your favorite books for tweens?

The Moorchild by Eloise McGraw
Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff
The Birthday Room by Kevin Henkes
The Ear, The Eye and The Arm by Nancy Farmer

What was it like to see Ella Enchanted made into a movie?

It was great! It brought the book to a lot of new readers, which was very fun. I also got to go to Ireland to watch three days of the shooting! The movie is very different from the book. I had very little to do with making of the movie, though they did talk to me a bit and listened to things I said, about the dialogue for example.

What are some of your favorite moments in your books?

In The Wish, I loved the parts with the dogs – I am especially proud of the dialogue. In Ella Enchanted, I loved the letters between Prince Char and Ella. In Princess Tales, the humor – I always am delighted when I write something funny. And Dave at Night is a very important book to me. The character of Solly in Dave at Night is one of my favorite characters. (Editor’s note: Dave at Night is based upon the childhood experiences of Gail’s father spent in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum in New York City; it was named an ALA Notable Book and Best Book for Young Adults.)

Thank you, Gail! It was a pleasure to speak with you.

Thank you!

For more advice from Gail Carson Levine about creative writing, you can visit her blog or you can contact Tony Hirt at HarperCollins Children’s Books (tony.hirt@harpercollins.com) to arrange for her to speak at an event.

Apr 15, 2010

10 Steps For Helping Your Tween After a Melt-Down or Blow-Up

If your tween is upset and willing to talk to you about what’s going on, these steps can help you help him/her calm down and figure out the next best move. If your teen is not yet ready to talk, respect that and check back with him/her later. If your son/daughter is unwilling to talk to you for whatever reason and your gut tells you they need to talk to someone… get the help of another adult that you and your child trust.

  1. Encourage your tween to ACKNOWLEDGE what he’s feeling and what triggered it. He doesn’t need to tell you, “I’m stressed/pissed/worried, etc. and here’s why.” You certainly don’t want to pressure him by insisting he puts feelings into words. More stress is not what your tween needs right now! What matters most is that your tween tells himself the truth, AKA “I’m upset about _______.” That’s much better than pretending he’s not upset when clearly he is. Also, naming the emotion and the trigger helps to move your child from a purely reactive place into a more reflective (thinking) place. Exactly where you want him to go.
  2. Your tween needs to STOP. Tell her calmly and firmly to put on the brakes. This is especially important if she’s in the middle of an argument on the phone, online, or in the real world. Continuing to fight will only escalate the situation (on both sides). No good will come of it and your tween is more likely to do or say something she will later regret. You are more likely to do the same. So stop yourself from reacting then tell her to STOP. If she won’t, you may have to take away the phone or computer for an enforced time out. If she’s arguing with you, simply remove yourself from the situation by saying, “I need a break. Let’s talk about this later when we’ve both calmed down.” Then make sure you revisit the conversation soon.
  3. Tell your tween to CALM DOWN. Assuming he’s put on the brakes on his behavior, he now needs to chill in the emotion department. If your tween asks “Why should I?!” The simple answer is: “Because it’s the best thing you can do right now for yourself and the people around you.”
  4. Take a BREAK. Or take a walk. Take a nap. Take a shower. Breathe. Count to 50. This advice works for you as well as for your tween. Make sure your tween knows that whatever it takes to calm down is good as long as it’s legal, healthy, respectful, and not against your core values. Make sure you model those rules in your own life. Explain that if your tween won’t calm down, stress will control them and they won’t get to Step #5 where solving their problem really begins.
  5. THINK about your goal. Ask your (now calmer) tween: “What are you trying to do?” In other words: “You’ve got a situation here… what’s your idea for the best outcome?”
  6. Ask: “Does someone need to change in order for you to achieve your goal?” If someone else must start doing something different then your tween’s goal is out of her hands. To pursue it is to set oneself up for more stress! Remind your tween that all we can ever control in life is our own response to what’s going on. When your tween can identify something she personally can work on, she’s ready to proceed to #7…
  7. Ask: “What are your OPTIONS for reaching your goal?” Help your tween make a list of all the options for improving the situation. For each option, encourage him to predict what might happen as a result of choosing that option. Don’t evaluate your tween’s options! Keep your mouth closed unless he asks for your opinion. Guide him by asking: Will what you’re thinking of doing create more or less stress? In you? In a friend? In a group? Important questions to consider before any action is taken! This is an exercise in critical thinking. Let your tween take the lead, think through his options and come to his own conclusions. Your job is to facilitate the process not run it.
  8. Ask your tween to CHOOSE the option that best HELPS the situation.Advise her that options which intentional hurt or embarrass other people, anger them or put you in danger will only make things worse. They’ll also create more stress and will bring your tween back to Step #1. Instead, encourage her to move forward. HINT: The option that makes the best sense for improving the situation is usually accompanied by feelings of empowerment and increased self-respect, if not immediately, then in the long run.
  9. TAKE ACTION. Your tween should be ready to act. A viable (and mature) course of action may be to opt out of an ongoing argument. In other words, to choose “not take the bait.” In many tween social dramas, this is often an excellent move for your child to decide on. On the surface, it may look like doing nothing, but it actually is accomplishing a lot. And it often takes tremendous courage and/or self-control.
  10. CONGRATULATE your tween for calming down and thinking things through. That’s so much healthier and more mature than reacting without thinking.

 

Dec 29, 2009

Why is My Tween Afraid to Leave Home? Understanding Chronic Anxiety

It’s puzzling and scary for Ryan’s parents. It seemed as if overnight their once happy, social 10 year old did not want to leave home to go to school, or go out and play with friends the way he used to. Ryan can’t explain it himself. “I just get nervous about it and then my stomach hurts, I get cramps, and feel like I have to go to the bathroom.” Now Ryan worries about getting a stomachache whenever he’s away from home.

Tiara who is 11 was always a shy, cautious child who had separation anxiety every year when school first started, but managed to eventually adjust. But this year, she’s having a tough time with math and the homework load often overwhelms her. Tiara worries almost all the time about school and that she may be called on to go to the board to do a math problem, or that she’ll never be able to understand the homework. Though she goes to school without complaint, Tiara suffers in silence.

Symptoms of Anxiety Pack a Wallop

Both Ryan and Tiara are developing chronic anxiety. And once a child experiences the uncomfortable symptoms of anxiety, and it happens over and over again, it’s understandable why they don’t want to go out the door. First the physical symptoms of anxiety are powerful and disturbing:

 

  • It starts with a heart-pounding adrenaline rush which includes other stress hormones.
  • Breathing becomes rapid and shallow making it tough to catch your breath, often leading to feelings of being smothered or trapped.
  • Dizziness, numbness and feeling faint are common symptoms.
  • Muscles tense causing headaches, or chest pain and body aches.
  • Voiding of bowel and bladder occurs, causing cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Sweating occurs as the body cools itself, a hot flush may occur too.

 

The mental symptoms pack a punch, too, playing havoc with cognitive functioning making it difficult to think clearly, reason and learn. Anxious children may complain about feeling frightened, helpless, and out of control. Some kids feel like they are having an out of body experience, others get angry or feel ashamed and isolated.

Symptoms vary from mild to severe, but even milder symptoms can be distressful. Avoiding places and situations often seems like the only option for an anxious child. Look at it from Ryan’s point of view. He says to his parents, “If I go to school or a friend’s house I may get a stomachache, but when I stay home I feel better.” Tiara feels better on Friday afternoons. . “On Friday after school I can take a break and not have to think about math or school at all.” But when Sunday afternoon comes around, Tiara begins to worry about Monday morning and her anxiety starts to build.

Worry is a Culprit

A main ingredient of anxiety is worry: thinking or obsessing about past experiences and worrying that they will happen again. When Tiara thinks about being in school she replays embarrassing moments in class when she couldn’t work out a math problem on the board, or failed a math test. Then she projects those memories into the future: “What if my teacher calls me to the board?” “What if we have a math quiz again?” Ryan worries too. “What if my stomach hurts and I feel like diarrhea in class and I can’t leave the room?” “What if it happens at a friend’s house?” And it’s worry that jump starts the fight or flight–one ounce of worry and the symptoms are raging.

What’s Happening to Me? It’s the Fight or Flight

A first crucial step in helping your tween is to explain why the symptoms are occurring. Symptoms occur because of something called the “fight or flight response” that is an alarm system located in the nervous system. It warns the body of physical danger and activates a reaction to avoid injury or death. In anxious children, this alarm goes off when a perception of danger is present, for example a math test. It’s only a false alarm though because the brain cannot distinguish between a real physical threat to life and limb, or to the fear of something benign.

The fight or flight has allowed humans to survive to this day. But its purpose is to act as a short-term response to a physical threat, not as a continuous state of mind and body leading to chronic anxiety. And when your child’s fight or flight revs up while she’s taking a test, or sitting in the classroom, there’s no outlet for this response, no relief, no running away, no battle to win. Your child has to sit there trying to deal with an internal hurricane.

The False Alarm Explanation

An easy way to explain the fight or flight is by using a home smoke detector. Show your child that you can set off the smoke detector either by frying something in the kitchen or by pushing the button on the detector. Say, “See, the detector thinks there is a fire and the alarm is going off, even though there is no fire. But the detector doesn’t know we’re fooling it. It gets the message that a fire is occurring and does its job. That’s what happens to your brain, it thinks the math test (or other fear) you’re worrying about is a real physical danger and the alarm goes off to protect you.”

When Ryan understood what the fight or flight was, and he began to make his way out to play with friends again, when he felt anxiety begin he learned to say to himself, “I don’t like the way I feel but it’s nothing more than an adrenaline rush.” This helped him to take control of his fears of the symptoms. Hearing the false alarm explanation helped Tiara too. When she felt anxious she pictured little firemen (or firegirls) running around inside of her, seeing no fire, and turning off the alarm.

In the end, for many children it’s the fear of the symptoms that turns anxiety into a chronic condition and makes kids want to feel better and safe by staying home. Also tell your child, “I know that what you feel is disturbing and can be frightening, but these are just feelings and they can’t hurt you.”

Nov 26, 2009

Why Does New Moon and the Twilight Series Fascinate Tweens?

Tweens and teens will be flocking to the theater this weekend to see the movie New Moon. The Twilight Saga books, the movie is based on is the second, have become a national phenomenon making fans of preteen girls to women in their fifties. So, what is all the fuss about? Kristine Gasbarre, author and celebrity editor of LimeLife.com says, “The relationship between Bella and Edward is the epitome of young romance. They ignore all obstacles in their way because their longing for each other is so overpowering.” Add Edward’s masculine strength and his desire to protect Bella and you have the formula for a thrilling romance.

Many girls fantasize about being completely desired and adored in a romantic relationship. One of the most compelling aspects of Twilight is that Edward cannot fight his urge to be with Bella even though he knows that as a vampire everything about their relationship is unnatural and fraught with risk. According to Sari Cooper, a New York City Sex Therapist, this type of fantasy is normal. “The experience of being desired is a huge turn on for women and Edward can’t get enough of Bella.”

However, understanding the difference between fantasy and reality is key. Sari points out that the wonderful thing about daydreaming is that the person fantasizing is in control, which makes it safe. “No one is going to get hurt.” In Twilight, Edward saves Bella from a gang of men about to attack her. He is so furious that it takes all of his will power not to avenge Bella by killing them. In a book this may seem romantic, but in real life it would be terrifying. Sari recommends that parents not only read the books or see the movies, but also ask their daughters how they would feel if the situations described happened in reality. “It’s exciting to watch someone get rescued in a movie, but we would not necessarily want to experience it in real life.”

Critics of the Twilight series have raised concerns about girls confusing the fantasies of romantic love in the books with the realities of abusive relationships. Gina R. Dalfonzo writes in her essay for National Review:

He [Edward] spies on Bella while she sleeps, eavesdrops on her conversations, reads her classmates’ minds, forges her signature, tries to dictate her choice of friends, encourages her to deceive her father, disables her truck, has his family hold her at his house against her will, and enters her house when no one’s there — all because, he explains, he wants her to be safe. He warns Bella how dangerous he is, but gets “furious” at anyone else who tries to warn or protect her. He even drags her to the prom against her expressed wishes. He is, in short, one of modern fiction’s best candidates for a restraining order.

By romanticizing Edward and Bella’s relationship, girls run the risk of not recognizing signs of abuse in boyfriends once they start dating. The Twilight Saga offers an important opportunity for parents to have an ongoing dialogue about the series with their daughters. In an age-appropriate way, parents can discuss thepositive and negative attributes in different types of romantic relationships.

So, what can parents do to help their daughter’s develop healthy relationships? Rachel Simmons, author of The Curse of the Good Girl, says that girls first need to focus on establishing positive relationships with each other. “Girls first learn how to be emotionally intimate with their friends. Through their experience of love between best friends, girls can experience profoundly attached intimacy. Other than the lack of physical attraction, the mechanics are no different.”

Friendships give girls the opportunity to develop positive communication skills, have respectful disagreements, be interdependent, and share mutual empathy. Girls need to gain an understanding of themselves, their feelings and their boundaries in order to achieve these skills. To have a positive sense of self, girls need both self-respect and the respect of their friends. They need believe that their needs and interests are integral to the friendship. This involves the ability to be simultaneously proactive about their wishes while also respecting their friends’ boundaries.

Inevitably, girls will “break up” with some of their friends. Rachel Simmons points out, “Heartbreak happens in all friendships. When a girl looses her best friend she is entitled to be devastated, write bad poetry, listen to sad music, and eat ice cream. After awhile it is important for her to get back into the world and “friend-date” again.” By realizing that they have the resilience to get through the ups and downs of these early relationships, girls gain the confidence they need to expect appropriate boundaries in their romantic lives. By asserting their needs in both friendship and love, girls are more likely to find someone who fulfills their inner desire to be adored for their true selves.

Nov 21, 2009

Is Your Tween Scheduled or Over-Scheduled?

The vision of a super busy person isn’t a new concept; it’s certainly familiar to all of us. In fact, it can sometimes be perceived as a badge of honor. Perhaps it’s because the more we’re involved in, the more we believe it says about our own drive and achievement orientation, right? Why should we expect our preteens to march to the same drum? Maybe it’s part of the picture that focuses on keeping our tweens busy while we’re occupied or making sure our kids aren’t, gasp, bored. Or, maybe it’s a drive to push our kids to be the best they can be. Or, maybe we want to give our children what we didn’t have access to when we were their age. Or…maybe we just haven’t paused our own lives long enough to really think about it. Our guess is that it’s some combination of the above.

We’re All Busy!

The parallels with adult life are apparent. Compared with 1960, the average American family is working 160 hours more each year (that’s an additional month of average work weeks each year!). In the past 20 years, some important family activities have been on the decline (family dinners have declined 33% and family vacations have decreased by 28%). On top of the dramatic increase in work, there are different stresses in the world than when we grew up. First, we live in a society where safety, on many levels, is a real concern. Second, most families don’t have childcare readily accessible from within their family and community. Also, we’re in a state of significant financial insecurity; gone are the days of retiring after 40 years with the same company.

Everyone Needs Balance!

One thing is certain. There’s a great deal of debate over where to draw the line between a child being busy enough and being too busy. The balance that needs to be achieved will be different for every child on the basis of his/her academic needs, temperament, environment, and the family’s needs.

Too Many Activities?

Some experts contend that children who are involved in a near constant flow of activities don’t have the opportunity to learn to be at ease when they’re alone. Having lived by activity schedules and often being around other people, they aren’t able to learn the joy of solitude and they aren’t given an opportunity to express creativity, daydream and self-reflect. More important, perhaps, they haven’t realized the value of making time for fun. This, along with achievement pressure and a decrease in family time are the frequently cited issues.

Research has shown that an overbooked child can lead to a less active teenager. Simply put, over-scheduled children may become burned out later in life. Research also suggests that children who have played a sport with intensity for an extended period of time eventually tire of the activity as it becomes routine and the love of the sport is lost (which might explain why 70% of kids quit playing their favorite sport by their teens!).

Too Much Free Time?

On the flipside, Susan M. McHale, Ph.D., of Penn State led a study that monitored how fourth and fifth graders spent their free time. Her team examined school grades, depression levels and parental reports at the beginning and end of a two-year period. Devoting more free time to structured and supervised activities such as hobbies and sports appears to enhance a tween’s academic, emotional and behavioral development at this age. Spending more time playing outdoors and hanging out, in contrast, appear to have a negative impact on development. Contrary to popular belief, recent research rejects the notion that most kids are over-scheduled and are suffering as a result. In fact, less than one in ten could be described as over-scheduled and involvement in those extracurricular activities can be linked with positive social, behavioral, and psychological outcomes. Other research also indicated that extracurricular participation up to ten hours per week was almost always positive, and participation up to 15 and even 20 hours per week was generally associated with positive development. Academic performance and emotional stability levels off or declines after extracurricular involvement beyond 20 hours per week (as a point of reference, only 3-6% of the child and youth population participate more than 20 hours per week).*

Determine the Balance

It’s important to consider what the right balance is, so that your tween has enough to keep him/her stimulated and challenged, but not so much that they’re overwhelmed.

Experts suggest that, with your guidance, let your preteen choose their after school activities, along with how busy they want to be, but watch for signs of burnout. To help you think about whether your tween may be participating in too many activities, consider the following:

• Does your child go from one activity to another with little or no enthusiasm?
• Is he/she having trouble sleeping at night?
• Does he/she complain of not having enough time to spend with friends?
• Is the phrase “hurry up or we’ll be late” used excessively?
• When did he/she last participate in “quality” family time?
• Does your child have time to explore different interests (other than activities) that they may have?
• Does he/she enjoy the activity or is he/she particularly self-critical as an outcome of some/all activities?

Beyond the sheer volume of activities, we also need to focus on the participation impact to our preteen. The intense and critical focus on performance in these activities may be the greater impact, causing stress and other issues. While the research says extracurricular activities provide a positive outlet for children and lower the likelihood of risky behavior, over-scheduling a child can introduce other stress factors that might potentially lead to a burned-out child. Remember, some of the best interactions with our tweens occur during downtime-just talking, preparing meals together, working on a hobby or art project, playing sports together, or being fully immersed in childhood.

Aug 16, 2009

Tips for Kids Going to Middle School: Getting Organized

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

 

Locker 101
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
Apr 28, 2009

Buying Your Preteen Her First Bra

Buying your preteen her first bra is a right of passage.  It represents the onset of adolescence and is an excellent opportunity to bond with your daughter.  Whether or not you buy your daughter’s first bra in a store or on-line, it’s a great opportunity to celebrate the event by going out to lunch, seeing a movie, or completing the purchase with a new outfit for your daughter!  Of course, it’s also important to remember that this might be a private moment for your preteen.  She may be self-conscious about the changes going on in her body and may not want to share this new phase with siblings or other grown-ups.  Being available to your daughter at this time opens up the opportunity for other conversations about growing up and having a healty body image.  It can be an uplifting experience and have a positive impact on your daughter’s self-esteem.

When to Buy
Most experts recommend buying your daughter’s first bra during the early stages of breast development called the breast bud stage. Typically, this stage happens between 8-13 years old, and often mirrors the child’s mother’s experience of growth during puberty.

Girls who develop early or later than their friends may feel uncomfortable with their bodies and become concerned about fitting in with their peer group.  For early developers, a cami or sports bra is a good solution as it can even out the contours of your preteen’s body, making her feel less self-conscious. Late bloomers, may request a bra in order to fit in with their friends. Changing clothes during gym classes, slumber parties and camp can make preteens feel exposed and embarrassed. There is no harm in buying a bra for a late developer if it helps make her feel more comfortable. The most important thing to do at this stage is to reassure your daughter that her development is normal, so she will feel positive about her body.

What to Buy
In this early stage, a bralette (aka training bra), cami or sports bra are good options. Training bras are not meant to offer support, but instead offer comfort and protection while young and often tender breasts are developing. Since it is your daughter’s first experience wearing a bra, it is important to find one that fits well. A good fit means that the bra stays in place across her rib cage, is not too tight and feels comfortable. Feeling at ease while wearing her new bra will help your daughter feel good about her growing body.

As your daughter grows, she will need to buy a bra with more support. Wearing the correct size bra will help your preteen feel less restricted and make her figure look proportionate. In order to achieve this, you will need to know your daughter’s band and cup size. Since the thought of being measured at a specialty bra shop may be intimidating to your preteen, consider using a bra size calculatorto find the right fit.

When buying bras, your daughter should consider the different styles of clothes she wears. Will the design of the bra work underneath all her shirts? Is she active in sports – does she need a sports bra? Don’t forget to buy a few bras so that they can be regularly laundered.

Where to Buy
Luckily, preteens have lots of options when it comes to buying bras. Best of all, if your daughter doesn’t feel comfortable shopping in a store, you can shop on-line together in the privacy of your home. TweenParent.com found some stores that we think offer a good selection of bras for preteens and young teens.

Apr 18, 2009

Great Books for Preteens

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.

Ages 9-11

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.

Ages 11-13

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.

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