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.
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.
Why Don’t Boys Talk?
- Boys don’t talk because they think it’s safer not to talk.
- Boys don’t talk because they don’t want to reveal their vulnerabilities and be perceived as weak.
- Boys don’t talk because they have not learned how to label or express their feelings in words.
- Boys don’t talk because of their fear of being misjudged and permanently labeled.
Boys create a shield to protect themselves, to hide any appearance of having “soft” emotions. This shield takes the form of boys’ maintaining a veil of apparent competence, which makes it difficult for them to communicate freely and effectively about their fears or feelings, or even to ask for help. For boys the biggest insult is to be called a “wuss,” “fag,” or “mama’s boy.” Boys have a profound fear of failure and discomfort with intimacy that comes from their need to avoid being identified with such labels. For fear of being perceived as soft, boys reject qualities that they think will call attention to their feelings.
When parents do not teach boys the language of feelings, they are placed at a disadvantage in their ability to attach labels to experiences. By failing to ask questions that may reveal a boy’s fear, parents give their sons a non-verbal message that fear is not an acceptable feeling for a young boy to have or admit that he has. A fascinating study by Robin Fivish shows that mothers use fewer words, particularly words that describe feelings with their sons than they do with their daughters. Parents omit many feeling words while they talk to their sons, and what we don’t say can be as or more powerful than what we do say. The absence of a vocabulary describing a range of feelings makes our attempts to talk to our sons in adolescence even more difficult.
So what can parents do?
Parents must get the message across to their boys that understanding their inner lives empowers them, rather than makes them weak in order to help them to create a road map to guide their inner life. Boys need to learn the nuances of what they are feeling, for example, to be able to distinguish between anger and sadness or anger and frustration. Parents should provide their sons with the skills they need to connect with their feelings and channel their anger into productive alternatives. It is not difficult to see how boys, without these skills and vocabulary, turn to violence as a means of expressing themselves and proving their competence.
This narrow definition of masculinity places boys inside a box that limits their emotional and relational development. Healthy psychological development is typically marked by progressive acquisition and integration of new skills and qualities. In contrast, traditional male socialization, as described by psychotherapist, Terrance Real, reflects a process of disconnection marked by successive “disavowing” and loss of qualities essential to boys’ emotional and psychological well-being. This lack of emotional connection can influence boys to behave in disrespectful and antisocial ways toward their parents, teachers and peers.
If you are at all concerned, check out your observations with another adult/or a mental health professional. Don’t dismiss what you see. We need to call attention to the dangers inherent in “shrugging off” inappropriate behavior. One school administrator told us that instead of having “metal detectors” in school, they would be better off investing in “depression detectors.” An antidote for depression is understanding your emotions. This understanding has a protective value against depression.
Every family has operating principles and values that are unique to it and will affect what strategies work and which do not. We encourage you to be confident in teaching those principles and values that are specific to your culture and heritage. Even with those strategies that do work, flexibility, variety, and a sense of humor are critical to getting through to your sons during these turbulent years. Trust your instincts, and initiate and maintain emotional connections with your sons.
Where do we go from here? Strategies to Teach the Language of Feelings:
- Label a feeling from an early age and interpret experiences from a feeling level to promote emotional intelligence. Teach the impact of behaviors and actions on others- for example, ask your son, “When you did that, how do you think I felt?”
- Teach your boy to handle toughness and tenderness. Work to harness his energy in a way that includes his sweetness, vulnerability, loyalty and commitment, protectiveness, honor, and integrity. These are also genuine characteristics of boys. Praise them and acknowledge their acts of kindness.
- Early on, parents need to try to teach their sons empathy, and they need to mentor them on relational skills. Initially, you do this by talking about your own feelings and theirs. Your personal stories will reach your child in a way that lecturing never can. No one listens to a sermon.
- Teach by example. Try to resolve disputes calmly and reasonably without yelling. Talk about the reality of their lives and your own personal experiences. Share with them your successes and your failures. As our sons watch us handling our own challenging situations, they are learning how to handle theirs.
- Share your feelings about the day, issues, and relationships. Remember regardless of what they may say, our sons still care about what we think. Discuss openly with your partner his or her feelings so children know it’s okay to express feelings out loud without feeling shame or embarrassment.
- Remember that depression in boys may look different than what you expect. Pay attention to symptoms of male depression, such as losing interest in activities that he has previously enjoyed, increased isolation or agitation, and/or harsh self-criticism and self-medication with alcohol or drugs. If you are at all concerned, check out your observations with another adult/or mental health professional.
- Be careful to avoid putting permanent labels on our sons because they have shared one particular comment or displayed one type of behavior. Instead, we need to give them the message that what they tell us they feel today will not forever define them.
Anyone who says these years are easy has never lived or worked with an adolescent boy. However, we believe that these years are also filled with wonder, tenderness, and opportunities for personal growth for parents. They contain experiences and moments to be treasured for those who stay involved, who stay connected.
The only thing moving faster than tweens growing up is the ever-changing technology landscape! It’s hard enough, as adults, to stay abreast of moving-at-the-speed-of-light technology, but in order to offer guidance, we need to try to stay one step ahead (or at least a half of a step!).
There is no doubt that online social networking is here to stay – it’s one of the hottest, evolving trends for people who share similar interests. New social networking websites are being introduced all the time. In addition to the teen/adult focused sites that, not surprisingly, some tweens use (such as facebook, myspace and bebo), the more popular tween-focused social networking sites include: allykatzz, imbee, stardoll, whyville. clubpenguin, and webkinz, to name a handful. Each site has some basic similarities, but each also has it’s own “personality.”
When you think about it, there’s always been some form of communication that preteens overused to keep in touch with their peers. In the early 1900s, it was letter writing. Then, it was the phone. So, now it’s the internet — the bottom line is, kids have a strong need to socialize with each other!
Development Stage Impacts on Tweens’ Social Networking Needs
When considering approaches for parental involvement, it’s important to understand your tween’s position on the development continuum. According to the Byron Review, “Children and New Technology,” young tweens…are still immature at self-regulation, and their ability to inhibit and control impulses and emotions is still well below that observed in adults. This is the time when children begin exploring websites beyond the boundaries originally set for them by their parents.” Management of their “media diet” should begin to move from heavy control to supervision and increased discussion about online behavior. The goal is to support your tween to develop critical evaluation and self-management skills.
With older tweens, according to the Byron Review, they’re experiencing “a significant drive for social interactions. The focus of the child’s social world changes from the home and family to the external world, to peers and idols as individuation (the process of disengaging from the family unit, and beginning to become an autonomous, independent adult) begins.” It’s a time “to move towards collaborative management…empower them by discussing risk and mediate interpretation of challenging content.”
From a preteen’s perspective, social networking can be an exciting experience and a wonderful learning opportunity. The chance to share, learn and compare with another peer can be fascinating. But, as parents, we need to provide our preteens with insights and tools to be aware of basic safety precautions, online etiquette, and an appropriate amount of screen time.
Social Networking Isn’t All Bad!
Once safey, appropriateness and commercialism are addressed, used effectively, social networking sites can offer benefits for tweens:
- Gives preteens an opportunity to interact with friends (both “real world” friends that they convene with online as well as “cyber” friends that they meet through low-risk socializing).
- Allows tweens to distance themselves from real time, in-person interactions, to effectively take a break. While a steady diet of only this type of interaction would be too much, it offers a complement to school, where children interact with each other every day, throughout the day.
- Enables tweens to construct their thoughts in a written format, giving them a chance to edit before they share their ideas.
- Offers a means to gain basic computer literacy experience. As homework demands increase and use of the computer and internet become tools to help support learning, having keyboarding and general usage skills can be of value.
- Provides a way to share creative works. This could also be an opportunity to become familiar with document software and 21st century journaling!
- Promotes familiarity with marketplace activities. Some of the sites offer educational potential in the form of introducing earning opportunities and strategies for gaming success.
Safe Online Social Networking
First and foremost, educate yourself. You can hear about sites from your tween and their friends in addition to doing your own research (do a search for “top tween social networking sites” to find out the most recent additions to the mix). Read about these sites and visit them to get the most comprehensive picture.
In addition, consider some basic social networking tips and suggestions as you help your preteen navigate online social networks safely and effectively:
- Keep the computer out of private spaces, so you can always take a look at what sites your child is visiting (and they’ll know you’re nearby while they’re socializing).
- Join your child’s online groups, either via sites that require your permission to join or by adding your own profile and insisting that your child “friend” you.
- Share your thoughts about communications etiquette with your child. Ensure your preteen thinks about the impact of words (without body language) in the form of written communications. Words can be misinterpreted.
- Ensure that your tween understands the need for privacy and not sharing personal information on line.
- Finally, reinforce the importance of telling you when something doesn’t feel right about an online interaction.
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
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.
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.
Is your preteen interested in babysitting? A responsibility and a privilege, babysitting requires preparation, while offering tweens the opportunity to learn patience, assertiveness and self-reliance. Most preteens start babysitting around 12 years old. Although, some states, like Maryland, actually prohibit anyone under the age of 13 from babysitting. Labor laws aside, how do you know that your preteen is prepared for the challenge?
Signs of Readiness
- They express an interest and take the initiative to prepare themselves for babysitting.
- They have demonstrated an interest in children.
- They have successfully cared for a pet.
- They have successfully spent time home alone.
- They have independently cared for younger family members.
- They have been first-aid trained, or participated in a babysitting preparation course. Check with your local schools, pediatrician, YMCA or red cross for course listings. CPR is usually offered separately, but should also be considered.
- They are familiar with childcare basics – changing and feeding an infant, Heimlich maneuver, and wound care.
- They are self-sufficient. (Meaning they can prepare meals and clean up after themselves.)
A first-time babysitting experience shouldn’t be daunting. It is important for your preteen to stay in their comfort zone and gain confidence through success. Before deciding on the first job, help your preteen figure out their comfort level. Do they feel confident changing diapers? Does your preteen know how to hold and bottle-feed an infant? Are they used to keeping a constant eye on a toddler? Watching a young elementary school child during playtime is a simple first job, usually only requiring snack preparation and some enthusiasm. An added benefit, school-age kids are less likely to be anxious about their parent’s departure.
Suggest that your preteen babysit for a family they are well acquainted with. This will insure both your comfort levels. Knowing the kids will help your preteen figure out how to entertain them and assert herself or himself when necessary. Although your kid may know the family well, it is still a good idea to encourage your tween to ask the parents all pertinent information, such as house rules and emergency numbers.
Let your preteen know that you’re available by phone. They’ll feel better knowing you are there in case any questions come up. A successful first job can result in the confidence to continue babysitting and acquire new, more marketable experience.
Getting More Jobs
Once your preteen feels comfortable babysitting children they know well, they may want to market themselves to other families. Together, make a list of acquaintances that you think may need a sitter. Suggest that your preteen make a flier to mail to these families. The flier should include qualifications such as types of babysitting experience, ages of kids they have taken care of, chores they have been responsible for, and any training they received. Your preteen can also include references from their earlier jobs. Next comes the interview. Before meeting the parents, talk to your tween about any schedule restrictions (such as late night or school night babysitting) and hourly rates. During the interview, your tween should take responsibility for asking about pay, emergency numbers, house rules, and suitable activities for the kids. Showing their potential employer that they are prepared highlights that your preteen is responsible and self-reliant. After speaking with the parents, your tween may want to come up with a plan of activities they think the kids might like. Even if they don’t end up doing any of them, being proactive instantly gives an air of authority.
Babysitting will require your tween to exhibit a certain amount of business etiquette, such as following up with phone calls and emails, punctuality and presenting themselves as professionals. The first babysitting jobs challenge preteens to navigate between professionalism with parents and playfulness with children while maintaining authority. Being in charge means keeping the kids safe and happy, but the art of babysitting comes when your preteen realizes that babysitting is about more than just keeping children safe for a few hours. Gaining the trust of parents requires the creation of an orderly and clean (ideally cleaner than when they left!) environment. Putting dishes in the dishwasher and helping the children pick up their toys are essential attributes of a great babysitter. Also, preteens should feel an obligation to work while they are getting paid. Texting, emailing, and making phone calls to friends will undermine your tween’s appearance of responsibility. Remind your preteen that checking on the children while they sleep is necessary and doing homework is a laudable activity to pass time until the parents return. When they do return, your tween should be ready with a report of the children’s behavior and activities.
A Great Babysitter is Hard to Find
Becoming a successful babysitter is a life skill. Along with gaining a sense of pride and self-confidence, babysitting has many practical implications. Invariably, it promotes a sense responsibility and work ethic. Often, tweens must choose between maintaining a work relationship by helping out on a Saturday night, or going to the movies with friends. Satisfied parents are references, resources and contacts, generally willing to promote a babysitter’s interests and freely give praise to other parents and potential employers. However, even an unsuccessful babysitting experience may lead to a positive outcome. After watching someone else’s kids, yours may appreciate you more!