Friday, September 4, 2009

Not Just For Kids

If you took the time to wade through my "Road to Writing" series, you saw my brief section on the wonder that is Children's Literature. But I feel so strongly on this subject that I wanted to dedicate an entire post to it to really pound the point home. Kids books are not just for kids. Sure, if you're a book snob and only like to read thick intellectual volumes you probably won't enjoy them. But if you're not a boring stuffed shirt and still aren't reading them I beg you to give them a chance.

To be clear, there's all different levels of Children's literature (since kids read at different levels) and not all levels are as adult appropriate. Personally, I still enjoy a good picture book or early Early Readers chapter book...but I'm weird. For the rest of you, you want to pick from the Young Adult books, which are generally split into two categories: Middle Grade (9-12) and Teen (12 and up). But don't let those age ranges shy you away from Middle Grade. Middle Grade is my favorite. And I guarantee, if you give them a chance you'll never feel like the books are beneath you.

So let's talk books.

Actually, first, I should probably offer one disclaimer. I do read fantasy. I know some of you might not like fairytales or magic, and that's totally your call. But I love it. I love Disney (have you seen my house?), I love fairytales, and magic doesn't bother me in the least (so long as it's not creepy). So most of the books I'm about to recommend have some element of fantasy to them. Please don't be offended.

Okay, now let's talk books.

The first YA book I bought and read was Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine. I love all her books (well, Ever is a little strange) but I don't think any can top Ella. It's a re-telling of Cinderella, where this time she's a strong willed girl suffering from a horrible fairy's curse that forces her to obey every command she's given, even if the command is to chop off her own head. It somehow manages to keep all the best parts of the original story and yet give it so much more. And please don't judge it against the silly movie with Anne Hathaway released a few years ago. The book is so much better than that. In fact, it's the book that made me want to write for young adults, and I still get jealous of her writing every time I read it.

If you like Ella, then I would also recommend anything by Shannon Hale (she has my name and my dream job...grrr). Like Gail Carson Levine, she takes old fairytales and retells them in a more modern way, transforming the females into much stronger, more multi-faceted characters. But she tends to pick the more obscure fairytales for her books. My favorite is Princess Academy, which also won a Newberry Honor (and totally deserved it), but any of her Books of Bayern are amazing. And Book of a Thousand Days is stunning (I have my signed copy proudly on display in my bedroom).

For those of you looking for something a little less girly, you have to try Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. It's all about greek gods creating Half-Bloods and causing chaos in our world, so if you don't like Greek mythology it's probably not for you. But they're seriously some of the funniest books I've ever read. I'm not one to laugh out loud while reading, but these books have me cracking up, and every few months I find myself desperate to read through the series again. And if you want something funny that doesn't have any magic or mythology, Rick Riordan also started The 39 Clues series. They're short books, but they're hilarious, and you get to follow the Cahill family on a quest to solve thirty nine clues that will lead to the greatest treasure in the world. They series isn't finished yet, (the books come out every three months by different authors) but they're worth the wait. I even got Miles hooked on them, and he hates to read.

Obviously I could go on and on about this, but I'll try to control myself and keep the next ones brief (please don't let that make you think these books are any less wonderful than the others). Michael Buckley's The Sister's Grimm series is fantastic (especially if you like fairytale reinventions) as is Lemony Snickett's A Series of Unfortunate Events. Trenton Lee Stewart has a couple of excellent books about child geniuses called The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey. And Dean Lorey's Nightmare Academy series is perfectly described as "Monsters Inc. meets Harry Potter meets Men In Black." Good Stuff.

But there's two more books I have to take a moment to mention, and then I promise I'll stop. Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games and its sequel Catching Fire. Now, I warn you, these are not fun and fluffy like the others I've mentioned, nor are they particularly easy to read. But they are some of the most incredible books I've found in a long time. They're set in a post-apocalyptic world where the average citizen is at the mercy of a corrupt government that lets them starve and slave their lives away and kills (or worse) anyone who even thinks about rebelling. And as punishment for a previous rebellion, every year 24 children (ages 12-18) are forced to compete in a nightmare Reality-TV Show called 'The Hunger Games"where they must kill or be killed while every citizen is forced to watch. So you can see why these are not light reading. If I'm honest, they're quite haunting. And while they won't make you cry (they didn't for me, anyway...though one scene came close) they certainly make you think, and once you pick them up they're almost impossible to put down. If you think you can handle following Katniss' struggle to retain her humanity and still survive the games, I highly, highly recommend them. But they're not for the faint of heart.

Okay, I guess that's enough for now, even though I've left out so many great books. In fact, I think I may just have to turn this into a series and periodically bombard you all with book recommendations. You don't have to take me up on them...but you're missing out if you don't. (Oh, and if any of you read any of them I'd love to know what you think).

Happy reading everyone!

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