Take the PTA’s Family Reading Challenge and Bring your Family Closer Together


This post is part of the PTA Family Reading Challenge Blog Party Challenge series. View the full post on “Bonggamom Finds”.

reading with daddy (2)

There’s a saying that goes: The family that plays together, stays together.  It may not rhyme as well, but I think it’s just as accurate to say: The family that reads together, stays together.

From the time our kids were infants, Alfie and I read to them. Even when they would rather chew on a book than read it, we patiently read to them every single night. Those bedtime stories not only helped them learn to read, it instilled in them a love of books that I’m hoping will last a lifetime!

Our bedtime story tradition continued long after they learned to read on their own.  My kids still have fond memories of giggling to Alfie’s crazy impersonations of Dora the Explorer!  The kids are in middle and high school now, but even though we no longer gather in bed to read a book, that tradition has brought us closer in unexpected ways. We now have an updated version of the tradition– every morning at 7:00AM, the kids all come into our bed and we watch 15 minutes of the morning news together. At this point, we can barely fit on our bed (the latecomer always ends up at the foot of the bed!), but we love this time together because it’s a way to say good morning to each other, to snuggle together, and to learn about what’s happening in the world. My kids are well versed on current events, and we use the news as opening for discussing topics like smoking, drugs, bullying, race relations, and other things that directly impact their lives.

Another way we continue our tradition of reading together is reading the same books, then talking about the books together. I love having discussions with the kids about young adult fiction such as Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and the Hunger Games!   Do you love to read with your family?  Keep it up — as it did with my family, reading together will pay off in unexpected ways!

To inspire and encourage families to keep learning alive by reading great books together. National PTA and Amazon Kindle are kicking off a PTA Family Reading Challenge this summer. National PTA will empower families with tips and activities that encourage ongoing reading, while challenging them to share photos, videos and memories that demonstrate how and why reading together is a fun and treasured family activity. Go to ptareadingchallenge.org for more details and to sign up!

Tips For Reading to Your Child #FamiliesRead


This post is part of the PTA Family Reading Challenge Blog Party Challenge series. View the full post on “JulieVerse”.

tips-for-reading-with-your-child-and-11-books-the-whole-family-will-loveAbout 2 years ago, the kids and I spent hours laying across my bed while I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to them. Often times I’d notice their eyes closed in a dream like stance, but the minute I’d pause to make sure they were still awake, their eyes would pop open, always wanting more.

Before long, however, my older son learned to read on his own, and read ahead of us, completing the first 3 books in the series. Now a big third grader, he loves reading books on his own. But he still makes time for read alouds, sometimes joining in the reading, but, mostly, listening to my voice take on the characters and storyline.

It’s true that children should learn to read on their own, to not just decode the words but to also comprehend what they’re reading. But just as important as developing those skills is developing listening skills and listening comprehension. A child who only reads to himself misses out on opportunities to hear a different voice or a different method of reading. He also needs to continue to develop strong listening skills to become a strong student in lecture halls, in conversation and in every day life. We all need to learn how to follow another person’s words.

While many teachers assign reading as homework each evening, there are a variety of ways a child can read. Reading aloud to himself or others, reading silently to himself, listening to a story and following along on the computer (like in software such as Rusty & Rosy) or books on CD that have follow along prompts and books attached. Listening to an adult read aloud is a skill that needs to be practiced several times a week so children learn to not just listen, but to read with rhythm and learn to discuss what they’re listening to.

While nearly every story makes a great read aloud, look for books that are written with suspense. Mysteries and adventure offer a higher interest level for children and keep them coming back for more stories. A few great stories to pick up and read with your Kindergartner through third grader are:

By continuing to read with your child you’ll not just share a story, you’ll share moments that enforce a strong bond between you and your child. Enjoy reading aloud as often as you can. It won’t be long until he rolls his eyes and walks away (though I recommend that you keep reading. He’s likely really listening outside the door, or reading it on his own because he can’t wait for you to catch up.)

Studies show that reading daily during summer break is the most important activity to prevent learning loss, especially for younger students. However, busy activity schedules can make it challenging to keep reading a priority, especially by the middle of the summer. In July, National PTA will empower families with tips and activities that encourage ongoing reading, while challenging them to share photos, videos and memories that demonstrate how and why reading together is a fun and treasured family activity. See more at the PTA Reading Challenge webpage.

#FamilesRead: How I’m Encouraging Students’ Families to Read


This post is part of the PTA Family Reading Challenge Blog Party Challenge series. View the full post on “Inside Bell’s Brain”.

blogger-image--840605367Reading is a crucial part of a child’s education. Children’s ideas about language and communication, as well as ideas about character-building and coping with life’s obstacles, are strengthened through reading. The National PTA is encouraging reading with their Family Reading Experience initiative this summer, and I wanted to link up with their site to share what I’m doing to encourage my students’ families to read.

Over my spring break, I read one of my (now) all-time favorite books, The One and Only Ivan.  Its story was captivating, and the author brought a true story to a new level of life by personifying the gorilla Ivan.  The chapters were short, but the ideas were strong.  I knew it was a book that I could incorporate into my language instruction with my English learners.
The book was such an emotional read that I’d have to read several pages…and then take a break because I’d become so overwhelmed by sadness, anger, frustration, resentment.  There were so many things that I needed to talk through with this book that I wanted everyone around me to read it too.  I kept studying about how relatively easy the language of the book was for a struggling or early reader.  (Sometimes the transition to a chapter book can be quite intimidating because the text density of chapter books is so much greater than that of picture books.)  The story was captivating, the content was perfect to spur conversation, and the text was empowering.  Then…it hit me!  And I knew it would change everything.
You see, I also teach English classes for my students’ parents.  To truly make an impact in their language acquisition, I know that it means supporting the entire family…not to make English their only language.  (I would never want to do that!  I’m a strong supporter of multilingualism and multiculturalism.)  But I know how important a deep understanding of English is to be academically successful in U.S. schools.  My students’ parents want to be involved in homework, but many times they don’t know where to begin because the vocabulary, syntax, or semantics make the language of homework very difficult.  A few weeks before spring break one of my students had asked me about maybe starting a book club with her classmates this summer, and she wanted me to do it with them.  All these ideas began to swirl around in my mind and soon they took on a life all their own!  I knew what we needed to do…I was going to teach my next series of classes as a parent-child book club, and I was certain that The One and Only Ivan would be our secret to success!
So far, we’ve completed five weeks of class.  We are taking our time moving through the book to talk about new vocabulary, clarify ambiguous structures, study new grammar constructions, and discuss the most meaningful plot and character developments.
My students are demonstrating their own language learning by helping their parents learn English too.  I’m using instructional strategies common in U.S. schools to help my students’ parents better understand approaches they may not have seen in their own education experience.  Perhaps most importantly, the families are reading the same book together and negotiating their own meanings…learning and growing together.  We are connecting with one another over this life-changing book, and we’ve only just begun to dig deep.  In fact, after the first week of class, I had so many more parents and students join that I’ve had to place two more orders of books!
Just this last week we were practicing answering yes/no questions with “because + my opinion/reason” and several of my students’ parents wrote notes to me (completely in English!).  They said that they love English class because we have so much fun and that they are learning so many new things.  I am so proud of their notes and their English, and I could tell from their messages just how much this opportunity meant to them.
Perhaps one of the most meaningful notes to me though was when I knew I had”approval” of my student who originally asked me to do a book club.  By putting our heads together to come up with this new idea, she knew it would bring her family together by reading the same book and spending time together learning English and letting the students share their expertise with the parents.
I can’t wait to spend the rest of the summer reading this book with my students and their families.  I hope that I’m changing their lives as much as they’re changing mine.  I’m so proud of all they’re accomplishing together.  I always tell my students that in my classroom, we are one big family.  That’s why I’m so proud to share with you what my “family” is accomplishing because we’re taking the time to read together!  When families read together, they can do anything together!

The Family That Reads Together


This post is part of the PTA Family Reading Challenge Blog Party Challenge series. View the full post on “Just Piddlin’”.

shutterstock_69658417As our children get older – and more literate – we generally feel like we can let go of family reading, the nightly story at bedtime thing.  But educators keep telling us that family reading, even after kids can read on their own, makes kids better readers, which of course, is a pretty important lifelong skill.

Last week, our school hosted a Family Reading Experience with the National PTA. There were reading and word games that parents could play with their kids that were easy to do and didn’t require a whole lot of prep or equipment (good things for a busy parent.)  For instance, one game focused on compound words: select a letter at random and write all the compound words you can think of in one minute. Easy. Anybody can play. No special equipment; in fact, this could be a car game where everyone calls out words while driving to [fill-in your own kid activity].

The guest author, Kwame Alexander, demonstrated reading picture books – particularly those that rhyme – with your little ones. Read the sentence and pause at the words that rhyme and let them guess.  “Would you eat them in a box, would you eat them with a ____?” You get it. Yes, this counts as helping your kid with literacy skills!

Now, the early readers, that’s easy because we know we’re supposed to help them read. But what about the older ones?  Here’s a few ideas that might help you out.

Read a book together. This could go two ways. One – sit down and read the same book at the same time.  Something like Wonderstruck with its story both in prose and beautiful pencil drawings is a great reading and conversation book.  Or two – read the same books on your own time and talk about it, like a book club. This might work better for longer books and older kids.

Have your kids read to you. Little kids get a kick out of their new reading skills and like to show them off. Let them.  This could be at home or while riding in the car.  Busy mom tip – you can enjoy listening to Because of Winn-Dixie while folding clothes or prepping dinner.   You might even consider taking turns reading to each other.

Listen to audio books together. Pick a family-friendly book (depending on the ages of your kids) and pop in the CD, download to your iPad or whatever and listen while riding around or even while hanging out at home.  Hearing a story, like reading one, requires imagination – what does the character look like, where are they, what’s going on in the story – much more than watching a movie.  Listening as a family gives you a common activity to discuss and talk about.  It might even spur your kid to read other books by the same author or in the same genre.

Let your kids see you read. In your spare time, instead of checking Facebook, let your kid witness you reading a book, magazine, the newspaper.  You could even set aside a family reading time, like they do in school, where everyone finds a quiet corner and reads. (This worked well on those stuck in the house snow days.)

Go to the library. You’ve got to have books to read them, right? Get to the library on a regular basis, or if you prefer the bookstore, bricks and mortar or online, so they can select books they want to read.

I know – getting kids to read is sometime hard, especially with all the other non-reading distractions. But hopefully these tips will help a little bit.

Take the PTA Family Reading Challenge this July!


This post is part of the PTA Family Reading Challenge Blog Party Challenge series. View the full post on “The Mixed Bag”.

1234822_10153272270660416_412819113_nWhen I think of reading and what it means to me, I start to have flashbacks of my childhood. I constantly had my nose buried in a book. My favorite place to to hang out? The library. While most kids were spending their chore money on toys, I was spending mine on books. The book store was still in existence and a great source of happiness to me as a child! I excelled in reading courses, and enjoyed reading all sorts of genres throughout my school years. Any book worm, book lover will know the joy that comes from reading a book – the opportunity to escape into a world that is unlike their own, or whatever the book reader is looking for!

As a parent, I really hope that my children enjoy reading as much I did growing up and do now, that’s why I decided to blog about the PTA Family Reading Challenge and help spread the importance of reading! What’s the PTA Family Reading Challenge?

In July, National PTA will empower families with tips and activities that encourage ongoing reading, while challenging them to share photos, videos and memories that demonstrate how and why reading together is a fun and treasured family activity. Studies show that reading daily during summer break is the most important activity to prevent learning loss, especially for younger students. However, busy activity schedules can make it challenging to keep reading a priority, especially by the middle of the summer.

  • 61% of low-income families in the U.S. have no age-appropriate books in their homes for children.
  • Good reading habits have a greater impact on a child’s reading skills than household income.
  • Nearly 40% of parents say their child does not spend enough time reading for fun.
  • 73% of children get ideas from their parents for books to read for fun.
  • Where parent engagement is high, classrooms score 28 points above the national average.

My son is 2.5 years old and just this past month he’s gotten into this (wonderful) habit of insisting on a story to be read to him before bedtime. I remember back when he was very little, he never cared about books (but what infant does?) or at least refused to sit still. Now he actually lays back and interacts with the photos and listens to what I am saying. It pretty much melts my heart. Even if I have a million of things to do – I will always take a few minutes to sit down with him to read.

Some of our favorites in the home? Dr. Seuss, Berenstein Bears, Peppa Pig books, and anything with Elmo!

Be sure to check out the PTA Family Reading Challenge and sign up so you can participate in activities and win prizes!

#FamiliesRead: Encouraging the Love of Reading


This post is part of the PTA Family Reading Challenge Blog Party Challenge series. View the full post on “Great Kid Books”.

KFRRInfographicColorParents and children know that it’s important for children to develop strong reading skills–the question I hear so many parents asking is, “How can I get my child to enjoy reading more?” They’re absolutely right. Enjoying reading is key.

We do what we enjoy doing–that’s basic human nature, isn’t it? Reading develops only with practice — the more you read, the better you get; the better you get, the more you read. So how do we help children enjoy reading and choose to read more often? I love the National PTA’s Family Reading Challenge — check out the resources & ideas at PTAreadingchallenge.org.

I love this video with Kwame Alexander and his family talking about about what they love about reading together as a family. Fills me with smiles hearing how much love and happiness reading together brings.

Watch the video here.

Across all age groups, children agree that their favorite books are the ones they pick for themselves. Not only that, they are also much more likely to finish books that they choose themselves.

Encourage a love of reading by taking your kids to the library or bookstore and telling them: “Read whatever you want to! As long as you choose it, that’s what is important to me.” Kids love being in control.
Kids want books that make them laugh when they’re choosing books–and this is the dominant factor for kids in elementary and middle school. Kids also report that they look for books that let them use their imagination, inspire them or teach them something new.

Parents sometimes wonder: should I encourage my child to read on his or her own, instead of reading aloud? Shouldn’t they practice themselves? Reading practice matters, but kids have to practice all day long in school.Reading together builds bonds and helps children remember the pleasure that books can bring.

Children enjoy listening to more complex, interesting stories than they can read independently. Typically, it isn’t until eighth grade that reading comprehension catches up to listening comprehension. Nearly half of kids said they liked listening to their parents read aloud because they could listen to books that might have been too hard to read on their own.

Reading aloud at home is like an advertisement for the pleasures of reading. Why take away these advertisements just because kids can read on their own? Shared reading time provides special time for families, especially as the chaos of life multiplies as kids juggle activities and homework. It can lead to fun family jokes that stem from funny moments in a story, and it can provide safe opportunities kids bring up difficult, confusing big issues they’re thinking about.

I hope you can carve out time to read together this summer. It will make a difference in your children’s lives.

Repetitive Reading to Toddlers Reaps Big Rewards


This post is part of the PTA Family Reading Challenge Blog Party Challenge series. View the full post on “Learning First Alliance”.

Valentines birthdays 2015 160“One more time.”

These are the most dreaded words when you’re trying to get a rambunctious two year old to go to sleep—and it’s already 10:30 p.m. The big stack of board books had toppled. The Dreamland CD was finishing its last lullaby. Mom needed to do some work before bed.

But my son wouldn’t give it up—he just wanted to read the same books over and over: “Good Night Little Pookie” and the whole series of Sandra Boynton’s board books, “Trains” by Byron Barton, the classic “Big Joe’s Trailer Truck,” and anything about trucks, trains, or transportation.

Eventually, he began memorizing the rhymes and recognizing sight words. We moved on to longer books but I came back to several of his favorites to help him spell and sound out familiar words and phrases. Those late nights eventually paid off. By age 4 he was reading… his preK teacher didn’t believe me until she spelled out a word to another teacher and he announced it to the class. When he entered kindergarten his initial reading assessment score was already higher than the minimum to complete the grade.

As the National PTA kicks off its Family Reading Challenge this summer, consider these statistics:

  • 73 percent of children get ideas from their parents for books to read for fun.
  • The top reason children say they enjoy being read aloud to is that it’s a special time with their parents.
  • Having parents involved in their reading habits is one factor that predicts children ages 12–17 will be frequent readers.

National PTA wants everyone to share their reading stories today as part of the Family Reading Challenge (use #FamiliesRead to promote on social media). The campaign will be taking place through July, visit http://ptareadingchallenge.org to get more ideas.

Reading the same book again and again and again may be exhausting, but it’s worth every second. Now, my son is starting “Magic Treehouse” and downloading books on the Kindle–and yes, he still wants Mom to read to him. I won’t complain.

5 Favourite Picture Books For Babies and Toddlers


This post is part of the PTA Family Reading Challenge Blog Party Challenge series. View the full post on “Parenting From the Heart”.


We are fortunate enough to live three blocks from a public library. Despite our love for it, I fear the librarians see my SVU-sized stroller barely squeezing through the first set of glass doors and can’t help but cringe to see that we’ve come back yet again. You see, both my kids love books. My almost three-year-old has started running her fingers along the pages of books reciting what she can remember from the story as if to read it herself. I love, love, love children’s lit – Eric Carle, Robert Munsch, Kevin Henkes, and Laura Numeroff are favourites I remember fondly from childhood and have been thrilled to share with my kids. To say my son is an avid reader is an incredible understatement. I think “rabid” about reading might be more fitting. On an all-too-regular basis, he grabs whatever he’d like to have read, throws it at me (despite my corrections and attempts at showing “gentle”) and proceeds to scream and squeal with delight the whole way through. Each book concludes with him asking for more. This cycle repeats itself until I finally cut him off.
When I do muster up the courage to head to the library, I tend to coach them beforehand; I exaggeratedly aspirate, “We need to ‘Whisper! Whisper!’” and try to make “shushing” seem as enticing as possible. Within moments of entering the second set of glass doors at our local library, you’d swear my kids were in an amusement park. They run to books as if they’ve been starved for ages, and my son’s shrill excitement cuts through any quiet that had preceded us.
Though I wish their expressions of joy were a bit more covert, it is fitting in certain ways. With my daughter, I see her eyes fill with wonderment as the story unfolds. To her, it is as if the storyline’s possibility is boundless. To me, it’s rampant with nostalgia. To my son, every page is worthy of an ear piercing squeal of delight. Because of their avid interest of being read to, all three of us have developed an especial interest for books wherein the story exceeds the text. Though all of these books do have, at the very least, captions, the way we move through them is different each time.

How We’re Doing It: Favorite Summer Learning Activities


This post is part of the PTA Family Reading Challenge Blog Party Challenge series. View the full post on “The Deliberate Reader”.

IMCPL-Summer-Reading-2015My children are young enough that they’re still very much at an age where almost everything is a learning activity, so our summer plans are mostly of a “more of the same!” nature.
This is our first year where we’re really doing the library summer reading program. Last year I was too pregnant to want to hassle with it. And yes, it seemed like a hassle. This year it’s fun, and the kids love going to the library and picking out their own books. Lately it seems like most of the books I check out are for them.

Beyond their picks, I also choose books for them –there are so many great books I’m thrilled to read with them and introduce them to some of my favorite characters from when I was a child. (Coming up next: The Mouse and the MotorcycleThe Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary – I loved this book as a kid, and I’m sure my son will love it too.)

I’m also working off of a giant list I’ve compiled over the years of hundreds of potential titles to read to them and with them. More than enough books for our family reading time!

(Anyone interested in me sharing that list? I’ve been debating sharing it here, but that’s a lot of typing and reformatting if no one cares.)

With all summer birthdays here, it also gives us a chance to get new games and activities as birthday gifts. My daughter just got a couple of books from us, and my son is getting books as well. Earlier this week I asked him what he wanted for his birthday and he actually requested books – books for him to read and me to read to him. Talk about the way to his mom’s heart – he just guaranteed himself a big stack of new reading material. :)

I’ve said before that I think developing a love of reading is my biggest focus at this age, and I believe that the best thing I can do for them is to read aloud, provide access to books, and help them develop reading routines. That’s my focus this summer as we work around all the other activities we have these months.

10 Books for Middle Schoolers to Read Over the Summer


This post is part of the PTA Family Reading Challenge Blog Party Challenge series. View the full post on “Common Sense Media”.


School’s out for summer! That means swimsuits, beach trips, summer camp, and loads of summer reading. We’ve rounded up 10 new books for book-hungry middle schoolers. Five picks are nonfiction and five are fiction, but they span genres and topics as varied as the Russian Revolution and futuristic empires, touching memoirs and clever urban fantasies. And if your kids are reluctant readers, find some tips from Diary of a Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney.

Have more recommendations for books a middle schooler should read this summer? Share them in the comments.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, ages 10+
What It’s About
: Raised in both South Carolina and New York, author Jacqueline Woodson shares tales of her upbringing through Jim Crow and Civil Rights in the ’60s and ’70s. Told completely in verse, Woodson’s book details cherished memories about her grandparents, pop culture, new friends, and living in both the segregated country and diverse city streets.
Why Read It? Woodson’s award-winning memoir (National Book Award, Newbery Honor, Coretta Scott King Author Award) is funny and sad and everything in between. The intimate and engaging poems will teach middle schoolers about a complicated time in American history, but it’s also a universal story about coming of age, changing family dynamics, and learning what makes you uniquely talented.

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, ages 10+
What It’s About
: Before she was the youngest Noble Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai was a young Pashtun girl who loved to learn in her hometown of Pakistan’s Swat Valley. Although her mother was illiterate, Malala grew up in a girls’ school run by her father. A curious, precocious learner who firmly believed in a girl’s God-given right to learn, Malala was considered a blasphemous troublemaker by the Taliban, and in 2012 she was shot by a Taliban gunman. She survived and refused to be silenced.
Why Read It? Educating girls is a global human rights issue, and Malala’s story teaches young readers that even the youngest advocate can have a huge impact. As Malala explains, in countries where women aren’t allowed to go out in public without a man, we girls traveled far and wide inside the pages of our books. In a land where many women can’t read the prices in the markets, we did multiplication … we ran as free as the wind.”

Murder Is Bad Manners by Robin Stevens, ages 10+
What It’s About: In 1930s Hong Kong, a Chinese Anglophile sends his 13-year-old daughter Hazel Wong to boarding school in England. When she arrives at the perpetually dark and damp Deepdean School for Girls, Hazel is in awe of the young (and mean) English girls she meets. Still, she connects with plucky and beautiful Daisy Wells, who asks Hazel to be the Watson to her Holmes. There’s not much sleuthing for the girls to do until Hazel discovers the dead body of the science mistress — but by the time Hazel runs back with Daisy, the body has mysteriously disappeared.
Why Read It? This boarding-school mystery in a historical setting is written in the tradition of Nancy Drew with a dash of Veronica Mars humor and Hogwarts excitement. Although the main characters are girls, boys will enjoy the Holmes-and-Watson-style (or should we say Wells-and-Wong) adventures in figuring out what in the world is happening around them.

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler by Phillip M. Hoose, ages 12+
What It’s About
: During WWII, Denmark didn’t resist Nazi occupation, and this deeply shamed 15-year-old Knud Pedersen, who along with his brother and some classmates started a small, secret club of political resisters in 1941. Full of brave but naïve teenage boys desperate to undermine the Nazi regime, the Churchill Club committed 25 acts of sabotage — disabling German vehicles, stealing Nazi arms, and destroying and defacing German property — before being arrested in 1942.
Why Read It? What middle schooler doesn’t want to read about teens who defied authority for the greater good? The Churchill Club’s actions sound like something out of a movie, but they really happened, and Hoose interweaves his own historical nonfiction with recollections from Pedersen himself. This is the kind of book students would gladly read for history class, because the characters are such courageous, clever young heroes.

The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming, ages 12+
What It’s About
: Award-winning children’s author Candace Fleming captures the final years of the Romanov dynasty in Russia. Czar Nicholas II isn’t prepared to step up and lead his vast empire. An intensely personal man, Nicholas is better suited to family life with his German and English wife Alexandra (a granddaughter of Queen Victoria) and their five children: four girls and one sickly son. As revolutionaries gain ground and WWI approaches, it becomes clear that the Czar and his family are headed toward doom.
Why Read It? History buffs or not, kids interested in “real stories” will love Fleming’s straightforward style of explaining complex sociopolitical ideas and historical contexts concerning the Imperial family, World War I, the Russian Revolution, Russian Orthodox ideology, and even European royalty. There’s a lot to digest, but it’s always fascinating. Fans of nonfiction narratives will dive into Fleming’s chronicle of one of history’s most fascinating downfalls.

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella, ages 12+
What It’s About
: Fourteen-year-old Audrey struggles with severe anxiety stemming from unspecified school bullying. She is under a doctor’s care and making slow but steady progress, but things significantly change when Audrey meets her brother’s online gaming friend, Linus. Despite her social anxiety, Audrey finds it easy to talk to Linus, and their friendship eventually turns into a sweet romance.
Why Read It? Best-selling author Kinsella, who’s best known for her popular Shopaholic series, delivers her first young adult novel, a realistic contemporary story about social anxiety and gaming addiction that’s nevertheless filled with her infectious brand of humor and romance. A book featuring a young teen protagonist, tough issues, humor, and a quirky, close-knit family? Sounds like an ideal mother-daughter read.

I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives by Martin Ganada and Caitlin Alifrenka, ages 12+
What It’s About
: In 1997, 12-year-old American middle schooler Caitlin and 14-year-old Zimbabwean Martin are paired as pen pals through their schools. At first, Caitlin sends photos and trinkets and asks for the same, not realizing the depths of poverty in which Martin lives. Eventually Caitlin and her family start to send financial support to Martin, and their international friendship forever changes each of their lives.
Why Read It? Caitlin and Martin’s letters and perspectives will teach kids to better appreciate their relative good fortune and to understand how a little bit of help and a lot of compassion can make a huge impact on someone else’s life. Caitlin and Martin’s extraordinary friendship should inspire your kid to be a better global citizen.

Undertow by Michael Buckley. ages 13+
What It’s About
: Coney Island native Lyric Walker has a family secret: She’s part “Sirena.” So when 30,000 Alpha, a five-nation race (Sirena being among them) of beautiful but violent humanoid sea warriors, land on her beach, she knows this means trouble. Lyric’s New York City beach town turns into a militarized zone with the Alpha on one side and humans on another. Then Lyric is asked to give Fathom, the gorgeous and militant Alpha prince, reading lessons, and sparks fly. Which side will she choose?

Why Read It? Described as a combination of The 5th Wave and Twilight with sea creatures, this romantic dystopian fantasy seems to have enough action, war, and adventure to balance out the fiery romance, making it an equally compelling choice for any kid who wants to start reading a popular new series.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, ages 14+
What It’s About
: This dual-narrative fantasy follows two characters in an alternate universe with a strict caste system: Laia is a Scholar (the oppressed class), and Elias is an elite military student for the Empire. After Laia’s brother is arrested, she joins a resistance movement that places her as a slave at the military academy where Elias is a rising star. Despite their differences, the slave and the soldier have more in common than they care to admit, and together they could start a revolution.
Why Read It? One of the biggest debuts of the year, Tahir’s fantasy novel is already a New York Times bestseller and has secured a sequel as well as a lucrative movie deal.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, ages 14+
What It’s About
: Thirteen-year-old Noah and his twin sister Jude are inseparable until their art-critic mom announces that their dearly departed grandmother’s ghost wants them to apply to a local arts high school. The competition for their mom’s approval coupled with an unexpected, catastrophic loss leads to three years of drifting apart, finding love, and discovering whom they want to be as artists, siblings, and people.
Why Read It? Nelson’s gorgeously written coming-of-age novel won multiple awards in 2014, and it deserved every accolade. Best for seventh- and eighth-graders mature enough to immerse themselves in the story’s magical realism, philosophical themes, and relationship issues, I’ll Give You the Sun will impress English teachers and make readers want to share the book with friends.