Summer Reading for Kids!

Many parents I know, hope to encourage their children to use the summer months to read more, either to keep up with learning outside of school or to help them build the life-long habit of being regular readers.

Research suggests that for kids to develop the habit of reading they need:

  • Access to books, magazines, audio-books, and graphic novels. Try not to limit the content, topic, or format. Reading is reading, illustrated books and audio-books included.
  • Quiet time in their day (or week) set aside for reading, or at least without screens. Boredom can be a great motivator to read.
  • Encouragement from adults that reading is fun and valuable. The most crucial way parents can raise readers is for their children to see them reading regularly!
  • Rewards for readers — and this is critical — that re-enforce reading habits. That means reward reading with reading…more books, more trips to the library, or perhaps a purchase of a new book. Avoid rewarding them with screen time, snacks, or toys.
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A favorite way that we motivate our younger kids to read: book scavenger hunts or book bingo pages! More fun than a standard book log!

My children are all very devoted readers and read all year, with the summer being a time when their reading shifts into overdrive. We do not need to encourage them to read more, per se, but we are careful to make sure that we visit the library several times a week, that we allow for quiet time for reading every day, and (this one is really important), we keep a stash a books in every car, every backpack, every pool or beach bag — so every trip, long or short, can be filled up with reading. (Side note: we stock up at the used book store in summer to prevent damage to library books.)

IF YOU WANT A GOOD BOOK TO READ WITH YOUR KIDS, TRY…

The Harry Potter series, enough said. If you have not read these to your kids, this summer you finally should (or alternately listen to the incomparable Jim Dale read the audiobooks to your whole family.)

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall is a delightful book (and series) that follows a family of sisters who are always busy stirring up trouble on their summer vacations. The three delightful sequels that follow are also worth the read, readers get to see the sisters through their girlhood and into college.

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George is a timeless tale of a boy who feels too crowded by life in the city, so he sets out to live by his wits in the wilderness. Totally fascinating stories of survival that will enchant your whole family.

The Diary of A Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney. I know, parents love to hate these books but kids LOVE them and they really are very funny. A great one to read curled up together, laughing at Kinney’s hysterical drawings.

The 13-Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton is a adorable story about the world’s most awesome treehouse — thirteen stories of pools, game rooms, junk food-filled kitchens, and more! It also has four great sequels.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library (Chris Grabenstein) This wonderfully inventive story tells of a group of children who must work together using clues from their favorite books to find a way to escape from the new town library, built by a wacky gamemaker named Mr. Lemoncello. The sequel, Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olpymics is just as good — maybe better — than the original.

My boys also loved classic The Phantom Tollbooth by Jules Feiffer, the story of a bored young boy named Milo who unexpectedly receives a magic tollbooth one afternoon and, having nothing better to do, drives through it in his toy car, transporting him to the Kingdom of Wisdom, once prosperous but now troubled. Also a classic to read this summer is Half Magic by Edward McMaken Eager, which will have you and your kids scrambling to do the math on just how to make the perfect wish!

Absolutely everything by Rick Riordan (by kids love the narrator of his audiobooks too!) and all of the kids books by James Patterson are sure to thrill young readers too!

How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell, so funny and filled with ridiculous translations and tips for dragon-care.

IF YOUR KIDS ARE FANS OF GRAPHIC NOVELS, TRY…

The Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi

Anything by Raina Telgemeier, particularly her novels Sisters and Smile.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Try the gorgeously illustrated novels that re-tell the Star Wars stories, The Star Wars Illustrated Series (3 book but various authors) http://www.goodreads.com/series/150336-star-wars-illustrated-novels

IF YOU HAVE A FAN OF YOUNG ADULT NOVELS, TRY…

Anything by Rainbow Rowell! I have reviewed all of her books (YA and Adult) on this blog and I keep begging my friends, sister, husband, son, and everyone else to read her books. For Harry Potter fans try Carry On (http://wp.me/p6N6mT-m6) and for those who love a heart-wrenching teen romance pick up Eleanor & Park (http://wp.me/p6N6mT-nD)

Another great YA read is the His Dark Materials — The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass —  series by Philip Pullman. You will be entranced by these fantasy novels about parallel worlds whose residents are locked in an epic battle with the dark side.

Lois Lowry’ slim sci-fi dystopia, The Giver, is also a wonderful book (and a wonderful series) that you can finish in one lazy afternoon. If you are a fan of The Hunger Games series, you will love this one as well. Other notable YA sci-fi: The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins are all worth read, as are Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game series, and Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.

Summer-reading-bingo

You can print these out full-screen to post on the fridge to help your kids keep track of reading!

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (2000)

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The Goblet of Fire at HP World.

As I have mentioned before, several times, on this blog: I am a Harry Potter fanatic. I love the books, — they remain my seven favorite books of all time — I love the movies, I love The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. And I am not alone in my HP fandom: my husband, all our sons, and many members of my extended family are fans as well…this is why we have had not one but TWO family reunions at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Recently, my husband, our two oldest sons, and three of our neighbors formed a team — GO TEAM EXPELLIARUMS! — to compete in a series of Harry Potter Trivia contests. Last Sunday, our team placed fifth overall in the competition and we have advanced to the finals in March. The competition is not for the causal Harry Potter fan but rather the super, Super-Fans and the questions are obscure and complex. In preparation for this next round of trivia questions, our entire team is doing a deep dive into the Harry Potter books and films. My first assignment was to re-read and take detailed notes on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Year Four at Hogwarts). Over the past few days I have done just that and, being reminded once again of my love for this book, decided to blog about it.

For those of you who might not have read the Harry Potter books yet I must ask: what in the world are you waiting for? Go out right now and read the first book and have the second book ready…once you finish Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone you will want to immediately begin the second book. However, if you have not read the books yet, read no further as this post contains many spoilers from the book!

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the book in the seven-book series in which the wizarding world that Harry has become a part of expands exponentially — in size, in scope, in complexity, and in danger. The events that unfold in the fourth book force Harry to look beyond the small corner of the wizarding world that he has inhabited for the past three years and begin to seen just how vast it really is. Over the course of the year, Harry comes to understand that Hogwarts and the UK represent only a fraction of the global wizard and witch community, along with a menagerie of magical creatures that exist as well. There is an entire universe of magic — with its differing customs, laws, and practices — that Harry discovers exists and his world-view bursts wide open.

This expansion of knowledge begins in the opening chapters with Harry’s trip to the Quidditch World Cup Finals; an international sporting event that witches and wizards from across the globe come to England to attend. His experience at the match — both traveling there, attending the game, and the experience of being around 100,000 wizards — reveals the complex underpinnings of the wizarding bureaucracy which, until that point, Harry had only a vague sense. He realizes that the Ministry of Magic has a huge job keeping the wizarding world a secret from muggles under ordinary circumstances, and it faces an almost impossible challenge of keeping their world a secret under extraordinary ones. Harry is amazed the learn of the magic needed to make the Quidditch World Cup happen — to build the stadium, to repel muggles from the area, coordinate visitors from around the world — and is thrilled by the new kinds of magic he sees while at the World Cup.

The events that take place during and after the Quidditch World Cup match also expose Harry to the complexities within the Ministry of Magic. Various departments exist with unique and difficult jobs — from regulating magical creatures to enforcing laws to protecting muggles — that are all critical to keep the world Harry loves so much running smoothly and safely. The Ministry is revealed both through its successes and its failures during the novel and Harry learns that while it is a necessary institution, he cannot rely on its officials to always act in his best interest — he must do that for himself.

Also of note in this installment is the expanding world of magical creatures that co-exist with the wizards. Not only does Harry meet more magical creatures than ever, he also learns about the complicated relationships many of them — house-elfs, goblins, giants, and others — have with humans. Exploitation, racism, ignorance are all very real threats for these non-human creatures and Harry must face the fact that wizards often chose to oppress their counterparts, rather than embrace them.

When the action moves back to Hogwarts castle the spirit of international competition continues when it is announced that the Tri-Wizard Tournament, a seven-hundred year old tradition, will be held at the school. Immediately, Harry and his classmates embark on a year that is unlike the previous three. Not only will castle host students and teachers from two other European schools for the duration of the year; but the three tasks of the Tri-Wizard Cup competition will be a central focus for students. These disruptions seem thrilling at first, but when Harry is chosen — in violation of all the rules — to be a fourth champion in the Cup, he suddenly finds himself in the middle of an international scandal. Soon Harry is caught up in whirlwind of espionage, cheating, deception, and danger.

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Tri-Wizard Cup at HP World, Universal FL.

Harry’s world, although never ordinary or boring, suddenly becomes much more sinister and the distant threat of death at the hands of his enemy, Lord Voldemort, grows into a much more real possibility as the year passes. Book four marks the first time that Harry must face his battles — real and imagined — on his own. As a Tri-Wizard cup competitor he is barred from receiving help from anyone and he must compete alone. It is brought home for Harry that he must shoulder the very real, very adult responsibility of taking care of those around him. He must be careful not to reveal his godfather’s whereabouts to the Ministry; he must reach out to the other competitors to warn them of danger; he must represent his school and his country in the competition; and he must protect the relationship he has built with his best friend Ron when it is threatened by rumors and jealousies. All of that pales in comparison, however, to the responsibility Harry must face in the book’s concluding chapters: he must face Lord Voldemort and his supporters and fight for his life. When he is successful, he must shoulder the burden of telling the world of the Dark Lord’s return…even when no one wants to believe it can be true.

I would be remiss in not adding one more concluding sentiment: Hermione Granger once again establishes herself as one of the most influential characters in the series. Her role as an advisor, an advocate, a caretaker, a researcher, and a brilliant teacher is critical to Harry’s success in the tournament and, it has to be argued, his ability to escape Voldemort with his life. Although Harry, as the titular character, is alone when he battles hand-to-hand with Voldemort and his supporters, it is the knowledge he learns from Hermione that allows him to survive. She is, in my opinion, the single most important factor in Harry’s many successes.

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Hermione’s dress to Yule Ball, at HP World, Universal.

All the photos are from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, in Orlando, Florida.

The Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1932)

Like almost every girl I have ever met, I read and loved all of the Little House on the Prairie books when I was young. My sisters and I had a complete set of all nine of the books narrated by our beloved Laura Ingalls. What drew me to these books — compared to my other preferred reading, which was notably more dramatic, such as Nancy Drew, the Babysitters Club, and Sweet Valley Twins — I never really stopped to consider as a child. As I read this book again yesterday, it occurred to me that some of it charm is just how foreign Laura and Mary’s life seems compared to my childhood and that of most American children in the twentieth (and now twenty-first) century. These books portray children who were a vital part of their families: they had important jobs to do and a role to play that was essential to the family’s survival. Compared to Laura and Mary’s life, my life of playing, reading, relaxing, and more playing seemed exorbitantly luxurious and easy beyond measure.

As I complete the novel several other things about this book came to mind. For Laura’s parents, there was a sense of risk in every single decision they made — should they move or stay, leave now or later, travel thousands of miles with two little girls and a small baby or wait until they children were older — was considered solemnly because every decision was almost completely irrevocable. What a stark contrast to today, when almost everything we take part in can be changed, often with little to no effort at all. To move across the country and pursue a new life in 2016, might involve some risk but should it go wrong we can move back, or try another city or job, or ask a parent for a loan to help out. That was absolutely not the case for the Ingalls’. Every act and every decision took so much effort, so much time, and carried with it so much risk that undoing it was impossible.

I was also struck at how alone the Ingalls’ are as they journey west and begin their new life in Kansas. It is not that there is no one whom they can rely on, but rather that there simply is no one else at all! There are no other travelers with them, they meet few on the journey west, even towns and settlers are extreme rarity as they travel. When they arrive, they are solely responsible for there survival: they must hunt and cook all their meals, build their own home, and get by with no new supplies and no access to more basic necessities. Living in such a solitary place has some advantages (plenty of game to hunt, plenty of timber for building) but it also means that the Ingalls’ must be entirely self-reliant: everyone — even the girls — must work hard, follow the rules without question, and never complain on how hard things are, for things are hard for all of the members of the family and it would be unkind and unfair to complain. How joyful they are when they meet a neighbor to help share the work, and who in return Pa can help with building and Ma with providing meals! What might have been weeks of work to build their cabin suddenly became days with a friend to help. Finding a neighbor meant safety: not only the quick building of a home and stable, but someone to help in a crisis. How different life is today, where we all live encapsulated in our own home, willfully ignorant of our neighbors and scarcely willing to help them at all.

With all of the hardships and challenges Laura and her family face, they are not unhappy: they do not complain, they do not wish for more, they find time for music and star-gazing, and they are endlessly thankful every single day for their continued good fortune and health. In fact, when Ma is injured helping build the cabin she is overwhelmingly thankful that her ankle is only sprained and she repeatedly says she feels blessed it was not a more serious injury.

Furthermore, the family are very proud of their new life. All of their new comforts — a home, furniture, food — are the results of their own hard work! They braved the harsh travel conditions, forded rivers, slept among the wolves, ate meager meals for months on end and survived. Not only survived by arrived healthy and hale and created a homestead for themselves. Their strength and perseverance was a huge source of pride — as it rightfully should be! — for them.

The Ingalls’ relocated from Wisconsin to Kansas was driven by a population increase in what were once empty woods near their home. Food, furs, timber, and resources had grown thin and Pa foresaw a future that was too meager for he and his growing family. The risk of moving west was tempered by the promise of more space and more resources than they could ever hope for. Their arrival in Kansas provided them a huge amount of freedom and abundance which made them all the more thankful for their good fortune. Their own land, filled with animals, trees, water, all for them!

I feel like here I must make a note about the land “belonging” to the Ingalls’. As is noted in the early chapters, the land is inhabited by Native Americans and the US government has only recently decided that white men can “rightfully” move there and build settlements. It is made clear that the Native Americans had not  agreed this new expansion policy. Much has been made of late about this book and its view towards Native Americans, mostly of Ma’s fear of them. It must be noted, however, that Native Americans posed a very real and very dangerous threat to settlers, especially to a young woman and her three young daughters. Ma had every reason to be scared of Native Americans, as conflict between them and settlers had been a concern in Wisconsin as well, throughout the west and Midwest conflicts between them and white settlers were violent and bloody on both sides and everyone lived together in a very uneasy peace. Whether or not the Ingalls’ had to right to call that patch of Kansas their own is debatable, but the danger posed by tension between settlers and Native Americans was a real and constant threat.  To those who claim children should no longer read this book because of the portrayal of Native Americans are being ridiculous…this is one family’s experience and reflects the accurate, historical tension that Westward expansion created. Children should read this book and talk to adults about the historical significance of western settlement on Native Americans.

Spoiler Alert: After all the hard work the Ingalls’ put into their little house on the prairie, I was just a little bit heart-broken when they are forced to abandon it and move on when the government cannot broker a truce between the Native American tribes and soldiers are sent in to relocate the white settlers to non-Native lands.

Even after almost 90 years, this book still has lessons to teach us — about perseverance, self-reliance, family, and thankfulness — and it was a pleasure to read it and reflect on how much our country has changed in less than 150 years.  For a wonderful comparison, read Michael Punke’s The Revenant, about Western expansion in the 1820’s. Find a review here: http://wp.me/p6N6mT-4J

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg (1967)

This book was a favorite of mine when I was in elementary school. I had a battered paperback copy that I got from a Scholastic book give away at school and one that I read until it almost fell apart. It gave me such a thrill when my older sons both fell in love with the book during their early elementary school years…in fact, they have their very own battered paperback copy. Despite the fact that both boys read (and re-read) From the Mixed-Up Files many times over the years, I had not read it since I was in grade school. I am happy to report that it is still a wonderful read: funny, exciting, filled with tons of delightful insights into the art world…and filled with description’s of the Metropolitan Museum of Art have me dying to make a visit just to see if I can spot any of the treasures mentioned.

The story begins with Claudia Kincaid’s decision that she must run away from home, as she simply cannot bear the indignities of childhood any longer: younger brothers, chores, a lousy allowance, and the endless boredom and lack of sophistication of life in the suburbs of New York City.  So she does what any scrappy, super-smart girls does, she saves her allowance, researches possible locations to “relocate” to, and finally enlists her younger brother’s Jamie’s help with the escape.

The siblings do not run to the woods or to their grandmother’s house, as other kids might, but rather move into New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. After all, Claudia and Jamie need to escape somewhere filled with excitement but do not want to be burdened by life in the outdoors. Claudia is a girl who is drawn to adventure, but also “glamour… elegance and good smells… she loves comfort too much to go on a real adventure.” Being a devoted know-it-all, she prefers to go somewhere she and her brother can learn more about the sophisticated world of art and antiquities. With nary a wrinkle in their plans, the two children move right into the museum, spending their days taking tours and their nights sleeping in a 15th century bed (occasionally sneaking out to do laundry and buy supplies.)

Claudia, a girl drawn to romance and magic, loves being surrounded gowns, jewelry, painting and sculptures. Jamie is more drawn to mystery and risk, he loves the collections (particularly the mummies and armor) but really loves the subterfuge and skill it takes to avoid getting caught.

After a week of their new living arrangement, the children discover a controversy swirling around a new sculpture on display in the Renaissance room, a sculpture that some experts claim was carved Michelangelo; a fact no one has been able to prove. Unable to resist such a mystery, and deciding that no one has better access then they do to the statue and the two begin their own investigation into the origins of the piece.

Soon their search has them scouring libraries, following media coverage surrounding the acquisition, and — eventually — seeking out reclusive art collector, Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, a woman who may hold the key to the mystery of the statue. It is through their interactions with Mrs. Frankweiler that the children come to realize that it was not a new life that they sought but knowledge. The children wanted an understanding of what it was like in the adult world — making their own choices, pursuing adventure, getting by on their wits, and learning things that interested them — and they felt that they could not find that in their childhood home.

They will finally be ready to return home to their frantic parents, they decide, after they have solved the mystery of the sculpture. Claudia in particular feels certain that in order to feel that running away changed her life for the better, she must arrive there with the knowledge of the statue’s origins. The secret of the statue, Claudia realizes, is the knowledge that will change her life forever…”a secret is an adventure that never has to end.”

Children’s literature brings us such a wonderfully refreshing take on storytelling: all action and substance, with a generous dose of excitement, and (at least two) ingenious escapes from danger. Unlike adult novels, children’s literature is not concerned with existentialism or sorrow or much outside the immediate story, but much simpler concerns such as adventure and fun. Indeed, even adult novels that attempt to tell stories of mystery and excitement are somehow polluted by an excess of drama and dense complexity. By comparison, From the Files, does not rely on any of those tropes in order to be a delightful mystery story solved by two wily, super-sleuth siblings. No adults required.

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This is the cover from by beloved childhood copy of the the novel.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (1950)

Book 2, The Chronicles of Narnia

Each year I love the focus that my “October Reading Series” gives to my reading list, I plan all September compiling lists of scary, haunting thrillers to read in the countdown the Halloween. It occurred to me this might be a nice tradition to apply to November as well and I gave some thought to what the month of November represents to me and what sort of books might highlight those traditions. Since November is a month of cozy family time with a sharp focus on thankfulness, I decided that I would turn my attention to children’s literature this month. To me, children’s literature uniquely captures what “family” really means and it’s books are full of wonderful examples of caring, loving, families (formed in all manner of traditional and non-traditional ways) and many center on themes such as acceptance, perseverance, forgiveness, and thankfulness…all great virtues to focus during the month of Thanksgiving.

I choose The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe as my first Children’s literature book to revisit this month since it is a perennial favorite among all three of my sons and a book I deeply enjoy reading out-loud to them. In fact, for quite a few months last year we kept our copy of this book in our car and read a chapter or two every time we found ourselves with time to spare (car pick up lines, waiting rooms, soccer practices that ran long), what we dubbed our “minivan book club.”

In this wonderful, gorgeously written novel we follow the story of four London children — Edmund, Lucy, Susan and Peter Pevensie — who have been evacuated from London to escape the Blitz. Packed off to a rural country estate with the mysterious Professor, an “odd looking man with white shaggy hair” who welcomed the children into his home but largely ignored them.

As is common in children’s literature, the action starts in the very first pages, when Lucy finds a wardrobe that is no only filled with thick fur coats but also a doorway to a parallel universe. Filled with talking animals, mythical creatures, evil queens, eavesdropping trees, and a brewing battle between good and evil, Lucy has discovered Narnia.

Although it takes some convincing, Lucy first leads Edmund (whose dark nature leads him to lie about his adventures in Narnia to the others in order to torture Lucy) and then the others into Narnia. There the children find that themselves at the center of a world divided — those in support of the White Witch and those who are waiting for the rightful rulers of Narnia to take their thrones — and they quickly learn that many residents of Narnia believe they are the four rulers who have been long proselytized to arrive in Narnia to defeat the White Witch.

With little warning the four find themselves the unofficial leaders of the resistance movement who must evade capture, lead thousands, and prepare for war…all while still young children.

What follows is a story about four children who overcome their own fears, and their petty grievances with one another, to do what is right: to restore freedom and peace to Narnia. It makes perfect sense that this story would emerge in the years following WW2. In real world England the children are powerless, driven from their home by a terrifying war that has already killed so many people that they know and, across the Channel, millions of others. In Narnia, the siblings are powerful and capable of stopping the war and defeating evil…in them are the inherent skills needed to change the world.

Told in clear easy to understand prose with plenty of action, this is a book that children as young as 5 can understand and enjoy as a read-aloud and it is easily read by independent elementary school readers. A classic for a reason.

The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall (2015)

Book #4 in the Penderwicks series penderwicks in spring

Whether you are a parent looking for a series of wonderful, funny, heart-warming stories to read with your elementary schoolers, or simply just a lover of children’s literature, the Penderwicks novels are simply not be missed. Each of the four books follows the four Penderwick sisters — Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty — and their widowed father on a series of adventures both big and small, and reveals to readers a fiercely loyal and loving family. Told in an unstructured multi-narrator style, the novels allow each of the girls to present herself and her personal motivations for the silly, funny decisions she makes. The overall result is a series of children’s books that present real life family, one facing struggles as large as guilt and grief and as small as avoiding homework and sharing chores. Birdsall is never overly dramatic nor is she overly simplistic, she has created a family whose experiences mirror real life events that readers will not only be to relate to, but laugh and cry along with. These four books truly represent the very best of children’s literature: while Birdsall may not create an entirely new world to explore,  what she does beautifully is create a world that is just like ours and still amazing…a world where the characters strive to give one another love, support, kindness, as well as a strong sense of community and family.

My nine and five-year old sons and I have had a summer-long Penderwicks reading club and we have just finished the series with The Penderwicks in Spring. Unlike the three books that proceeded it, The Penderwicks in Spring, does not pick up where the previous book left off but instead finds the family seven years beyond the final chapters of The Penderwicks at Point Mouette.  The girls have grown and so has their family, which now includes a step-mother, step-brother, and a new baby sister. This expanded, older family is facing a new set of challenges that, while troubling, they refuse to let cause too much disruption or unhappiness.

Although the books are written for children, Birdsall’s prose is straightforward and mature so that readers never have to feel as the story has been edited for simplicity. Instead topics are addressed head on and the characters are given to deep and open discussion of them, no matter their age.

In The Penderwicks in Spring, the girls are all facing real life problems and are working through them together and on their own, each with her own individual flare and drama and always with a healthy dose of humor. The eldest sister, Rosalind, is adjusting to her first year at college and the heartbreak of being cast aside by her high-school sweetheart. Skye is outraged to learn her life-long best friend has fallen in love with her and is deeply worried that her rejection of him would mean the whole family would suffer without him in their lives. Jane, delightfully dreamy and full of hope for her future, is working to keep a bevy of boys at arms length so she can work on her books and plan for college. And finally, Batty, at age eleven, is working to overcome her devastating sadness at the loss of her beloved dog and the shyness that is holding her back from admitting to her family her desire to dedicate herself to music. The entire Penderwick family is struggling in a more global way with issues such as how to pay for all the older girls to attend college and how to handle their fear and sadness as close friend and neighbor is set to be deployed for Afghanistan.

The author always has unswerving faith in her main characters, so that even when the girls do occasionally silly things, it is made clear that they have made a misstep, and not that they are not brave, kind, and intelligent. I must admit that in a house where much of our family reading is centered on male characters and leaning toward fantasy, it is refreshing to get to read to my sons about such fiercely loving, smart, and independent girls; and it is a pleasure for me to read about their supportive and welcoming parents and neighbors.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling

Illustrated Edition (2015) Artwork by Jim Kayhp 1

On the eve of my family’s departure to Universal Studios Orlando to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I thought it only fitting to blog about the incomparable Harry Potter books, specifically Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Illustrated Edition.  For Christmas, we received new edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and it is absolutely gorgeous. One of our family’s most beloved stories seems fully renewed in this illustrated edition. In addition to the beautiful pictures by artist Jim Kay, the book also boasts a much larger size and has exceedingly high-quality presentation: gorgeous heavy duty high-gloss paper, well-bound hard back, and with enough heft to seem very important indeed.

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This book is one to be curled up and read aloud, to be handled delicately, and to be treated as an heirloom rather than just another paperback to jam on the bookshelf. In fact, we did just that, we bundled up on the couch and started reading it as a family on Christmas night.

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For those who have managed to avoid reading the Harry Potter books so far — or for those who decided they would wait to read it to their children when the time was right — I strongly recommend starting with the illustrated version. The story comes to life not only through JK Rowling’s amazing words but also now through the pictures of Jim Kay. In it, we travel from Surrey to London to Hogwarts Castle along side young Harry Potter and experience the amazing world of magic with him.

You can find a complete review of the first Harry Potter novel here: https://www.nytimes.com/books/99/02/14/reviews/990214.14childrt.html

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These stories really are among the best books I have ever read and they have become a major part of the lives of my children, my husband, and I and we were thrilled to get this illustrated version and discover another way to celebrate that love.

I will be back to work posting on the blog in about two weeks!