Favorite Middle Grade & Young Adult Titles Read This Year (so far): #ArmchairBEA, Day 5

Favorite Middle Grade & Young Adult Titles Read This Year

Questions from our Armchair BEA Hosts: Our final genre of discussion is one that we know is a popular one these days: books for the younger crowd, from middle grade to young adult. If you do not normally talk about this genre on your site, maybe you want to feature books that you remember impacting you during this stage in your life. If this is where you tend to gravitate, maybe you want to list your favorites, make recommendations based on genres, or feature some titles that you are excited to read coming later this year.

Spirit of Children’s Literature is the place to go for book talk about the spirituality picturebooks, middle grade, and young adult fiction! Today’s Armchair BEA topic is perfect: Middle Grade & Young Adult Literature! (dances around room)

Here are some favorite titles read so far this year. Some of them may have been published in 2014, but a few of them were published before 2014–I just didn’t get to read them until 2014!

Middle Grade

When Audrey Met Alice

 When Audrey Met Alice final cover

Hope is a Ferris Wheel


The Ninja Librarians


A Snicker of Magic


Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy


Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures


Young Adult





The Winner’s Curse


Dorothy Must Die


No Place Like Oz (novella)


We Were Liars

We Were Liars by E Lockhart

What are your favorite middle grade and young adult titles read so far this year?


Beyond the Borders: Books That Changed My Perspective #Armchair BEA, Day 4

It’s time to step outside your comfort zone, outside your borders, or outside of your own country or culture. Tell us about the books that transported you to a different world, taught you about a different culture, and/or helped you step into the shoes of someone different from you. What impacted you the most about this book? What books would you recommend to others who are ready or not ready to step over the line? In essence, let’s start the conversation about diversity and keep it going! 

Books that taught me about a different culture and helped me to step into the shoes of someone different than me?

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen

These are all in the children’s or young adult literature genre, and two are novels while one is a wordless graphic novel.

The Arrival details one man’s journey to seek out a life in a new country, in order to escape the hardship and danger of his previous home. He leaves his wife and daughter in order to make a home for the family, with the intent that his family will follow him eventually. The wordless graphic novel’s illustrations are powerful in illuminating how foreign and strange this new country is for the protagonist. Everything is different, and the pictures adequately communicate this. What is interesting is that the reader is struck by how strange and foreign the country is—we are meant to feel as discombobulated at the protagonist does. In this way, readers are firmly set into the shoes of someone who is arriving in a foreign country for the first time. Some pictorial allusions (especially in the endpapers) connect this experience to arriving at Ellis Island in the late 19th century for the first time. In this way, some readers might reflect on how immigrants felt when they first arrived in America. Tan’s book is beautiful and is wonderful for classrooms, especially middle school ones (at least, from my own experience, I can say that!). This story changed my perspective about what it means to move to a foreign country and/or become immersed in a different culture (whether that’s classroom culture, workplace culture, church culture, etc.).


House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer is a science fantasy that engages with human cloning, greed, slavery, and what it means to be human. A darker young adult novel, the story engages with significant themes that generate rich discussions about how we should treat and care for each other. Matteo (Matt), the protagonist, discovers he is less than human upon being told he is a clone. However, there is something different about Matt and the other clones. Matt has compassion, can make his own decisions, and feels emotion. In this way, he acts more human than some of the other characters in the book (but no spoilers here). This story changed my perspective about how easy it is for us to ostracize those whom we don’t understand or are different from us. The book also really made me think about what it means to be human, and the importance of seeing people for who they are, rather than for their actions.

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A hybrid text, The Devil’s Arithmetic is both historical fiction and fantasy. It’s the late 20th century, and Hannah assumes her evening will be spent with her family celebrating a Passover Seder. What she doesn’t expect, however, is to be transported back in time to Poland, during World War II. She experiences life in a concentration camp, and comes to understand what it really means to be Jewish during one of history’s worst moments. Reading this unique Holocaust story gave me a deeper glimpse into what it might have been like for Jewish Eastern Europeans during the Holocaust (although I can never fully comprehend what that was like). Yolen has crafted an excellent story that is moving and powerful. This book taught me about a different culture and it also planted me (through the protagonist) in someone else’s shoes, shoes I can never really completely understand. However, through literature, this is a little more possible.


What books have expanded your own borders or changed your perspective?

Expanding Blogging Horizons: #Armchair BEA, Day 3

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What do you think about when you think about going beyond blogging or expanding your horizons? Is it a redesign of your blog? Have you branched out into freelance writing or even published a novel of your very own? Or, have you moved into a different venue like podcasts or vlogging? This is the day to tell us about how you have expanded on blogging in your own unique way.

This blog originally started out with a podcast, actually. But K.L. Glanville and I were living thousands of miles apart, and besides the first podcast we recorded, we just didn’t manage to record anymore. So, currently, the podcast feature of the blog is out, but it’s possible it may one day return.

Before K.L. and I started the blog, I had realized that there really weren’t that many resources for looking at children’s literature in terms of its spiritual dimensions. Though young readers may not be going to the library and asking: “Can you recommend a book that will engage my spirituality in some way?”, I think it’s valuable to look at stories and explore their spiritual dimensions.


As adults bring books and young readers today (and even as adults pick out literature to read for themselves) considering the spirituality of a text can lead to unique ways to respond to and engage with that story. I know that I can have a positive and aesthetically engaging experience with a book when it touches my spirituality. And that actually happens quite often.

Something else—Spirit of Children’s Literature has a curriculum corner for educators! It’s small, but it will be growing, and it’s where I include lesson plans or discussion guides for using some of the literature we review with real readers. The curriculum works for classes, but also small book clubs or even individual readers. This is something that I am particularly passionate about—developing curriculum for children’s and young adult literature that also engages the spirit of the reader. I’m also really supportive of arts-based response in language arts. There isn’t too much out there that provides arts-based curriculum focused on spirituality (at least that I’ve found) so it’s an area of the blog I hope to expand even more. There will also be an actual book of curriculum one day!

Now, some thoughts about how I would like to expand the blog…

I have been thinking about getting into vlogging. Since I teach online now, but taught live classes before, I am aware of how much longer it takes to communicate information online. I might be able to talk about several novels I think you absolutely must read, but through a vlog—I could say so much more! I think vlogging would be a wonderful way to connect more with readers of the blog. Since I blog about picturebooks as well as books for older readers, being able to hold a picturebook and point out its illustrations would be fabulous!


No published novel yet, but I’m currently getting feedback on my (upper) middle grade fantasy in a children’s writer’s group that I’m a part of. We meet once a month in the city where I live, and it’s fantastic to get feedback on my work, as well as read the fiction of the rest of the group.

What about you? What are the ways you have already expanded your blogging horizons? What are your dreams for future expansion?

More Than Words: #ArmchairBEA, Day 2–Graphic Novels!

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Picturebooks! Graphic Novels! Digital Media for Children!

Oh my!

“ ‘What is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversations?’” (Carroll, 7)

From our Hosts: There are so many mediums that feature more than just words and enhance a story in a multitude of ways. Examples may include graphic novels and comics, audiobooks, or even multimedia novels. On this day, we will be talking about those books and formats that move beyond just the words and use other ways to experience a story. Which books stand out to you in these different formats?


The stories in these formats can be expressed powerfully, and they can be amazing.


For example, many people don’t realize that the 500+ page long book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick is, in fact, a graphic novel. At the same time, it’s a kind of a hybrid text that challenges the picturebook form, because it did receive the Caldecott Medal in 2008, and that award goes to the best picturebook of the year published for children. A mixture of wordless pages and pages of text create a powerful cinematic story that will leave your jaw hanging open. Trust me. You will be wonderstruck, and then you will have to go out and read the next graphic novel of Selznick’s, sporting the same title (Wonderstruck).


As I write this post, I have next to me my copy of To Dance: A Ballerina’s Graphic Novel. This is a slimmer novel than Hugo Cabret, geared towards ages 8 and up, and it’s a beautiful memoir about Siena’s journey toward her destiny as a dancer. A dancer myself, I appreciate and frequently re-read this graphic novel.

It’s important to realize that we “read” visual text just as we read written text, but it’s a different kind of literacy at work. It’s a visual literacy. Sometimes it may take us longer to read a graphic novel, because we do have to pay close attention to the images. It’s the same for a wordless picturebook. If you know David Wiesner’s work, you will know that it can take just as long or longer to read one of his wordless picturebooks, as it does to read a picturebook with text. The images are everything when there are no words, and our eyes skate their surface for clues in the story.


Then, there is Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. I read Maus as part of my graduate program in children’s literature, and I can still remember the silence of the room in which I read that sobering graphic novel. The two volumes of the story detail the experience of the protagonist as a Jew during the Holocaust and include his deportation to Auschwitz. The two volumes won the Pulitzer in 1992. It’s considered one of the most distinguished graphic novels, and you’ll know why, if you have read it. If you haven’t, go ahead and add it to your TBR. It’s about to topple over anyway.


Finally, I have to mention Shaun Tan. Many readers think it’s strange, bizarre, and downright confusing. But, I love Tales from Outer Suburbia!! Maybe it’s the fact that it’s so strange. Or maybe it’s that I find it refreshing that there are stories that don’t have clear cut endings. Because—isn’t real life that way? And how about the extraordinary aspects of the ordinary life? That’s what Tan is getting at in his Suburbia tales. They are intriguing. But don’t take my word for it. Go discover their bizarre-ness and their strange mysteries on your own.


I don’t have time to talk about different types of digital texts for children. We’ll save that for another day.

Until then, Happy Armchairing at BEA!

The Eternal Question: What is Literature?? Armchair BEA, Day 1

What do you think of when you think of literature? Classics, contemporary, genre, or something else entirely? We are leaving this one up to you to come up with and share the literature that you want to chat about the most. Feel free to share a list of your favorites, break down your favorite genre, feature your favorite authors, and be creative about all things literature in general.


What is Literature??

It’s a question that generates so much interesting discussion–I ask it on the first day of any literature class I teach at the college level. And I think it’s a good question to ask for almost any level of English class, actually.

Rather than get into the nitty gritty of what I think is of “literary quality” and what’s not, this post is going to be about….

Children’s Literature!

This might be considered cheating, but when I studied for an M.A. in children’s literature, there was young adult fiction involved. So, I was lucky enough to study books for readers age 0 all the way up to 18. That was brilliant.

When I consider children’s literature, I think of picturebooks, fairy tales, middle grade fiction, and young adult novels. I think of fantasy, realism, historical fiction, and nonfiction.

Some of my favorite genres?

Fantasy and historical fiction. The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen is fantastic, because it’s actually a blending of the two genres. The story begins in the present time period, but the protagonist is transported back to the Holocaust in Europe. In this way, there a fantasy element at work within a historical novel. It’s incredibly powerful!



A few thoughts about fantasy for children:

I love fantasy by Cornelia Funke, a German author whose books have done very well in the UK and America. She wrote the Inkheart trilogy, The Thief Lord, Dragon Rider, The Princess Knight, and Reckless. She’s written other titles, but these are a handful of her fantasy novels (except for the picturebook, The Princess Knight). She creates colorful characters and intriguing plots. I was glued to the Inkheart books and was actually quite surprised at how much I enjoyed Dragon Rider. Her books were popular with my 6th graders last year, and I think Funke is a fantastic example of how a translated author can be just as successful as a native English speaker in the world of children’s publishing in America.

inkheartSome other fantasy favorites:


  A Tangle of Knots

cover when you reach me

  When You Reach Me


 A Wrinkle in Time 


The Children of Green Knowe


The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

The Magician's Elephant

The Magician’s Elephant


A Snicker of Magic

Tom's Midnight Garden, by Philippa Pearce

  Tom’s Midnight Garden

Those are some of my thoughts on literature for now, and some of my favorites. Certainly, more thoughts and more books to come in the days ahead!