Book Lists

Audiobooks: Great sounding middle-grade books

Heard any great middle-grade books lately?

If not, you’re in for a treat. With long road trips to vacation destinations looming ahead, or just endless days filled with proclamations of “I’m BORED!”, summer is the perfect time to get hooked on great middle-grade audiobooks.

High angle view of a boy listening to music on headphones

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Listening on the road: Audiobooks are a great alternative for kids who feel carsick while reading. They also make a nice change from DVD’s and endless games of “Bumper Stumpers”.  You can listen to audiobooks on your car CD player or they can be uploaded as playlists on your middle grader’s MP3 player.

image from http://www.playaway.com/

Listening at home: Audiobooks can help augment your middle grader’s everyday book-reading too. Listening to the first book in a series, for instance, can encourage kids to check out later volumes in print form too. Audiobooks can also encourage kids to try books at a higher reading level. Once they’ve heard a book read out loud, it may encourage them to seek out other books by the same author.

Listening at the library: Check out your local library’s audiobook selection. Often, popular titles are more readily available in audio than in print form. Some libraries allow users to download the sound file directly from the Internet. It really doesn’t get any easier than that!

Oh, wait a sec. Yes, it does…

Listening on the go: Ask your school or local librarian whether they have PLAYAWAYS. These self-contained MP3 players are pre-loaded with an audiobook. Great to grab-and-go.

Everything old is new again: Even old favorites seem new-to-you when read by a great narrator.  The HARRY POTTER series by JK Rowling, read by Jim Dale, A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L’Engle, read by the author and A SINGLE SHARD by Linda Sue Park, read by Graeme Malcolm, are all oldies but goodies. (Click on the image to hyperlink to a sound sample.)

       

Newer titles like WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead, read by Cynthia Holloway, OPERATION YES by Sara Lewis Holmes, read by Jessica Almasy and GOOD MASTERS!  SWEET LADIES!: VOICES FROM A MEDIEVAL VILLAGE by Laura Amy Schlitz, read by Christina Moore and a full cast, are also great bets.

       

A few more top picks from our Mixed-Up authors:

THE BOXCAR CHILDREN by Gertrude Chandler Warner, read by Phyllis Newman

BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA by Katherine Paterson, read by Robert Sean Leonard

CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY by Roald Dahl, read by Eric Idle

THE GET RICH QUICK CLUB by Dan Gutman, read by Angela Goethals

THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX by Kate DiCamillo, read by Graeme Malcolm

THE RED BLAZER GIRLS series by by Michael D. Beil, read by Tai Alexandra Ricci

NORY RYAN’S SONG by Patricia Reilly Giff, read by Susan Lynch, and the sequel, MAGGIE’S DOOR read by Fionnula Flanagan

BUD, NOT BUDDY by Christopher Paul Curtis, read by James Avery

And there’s more!: Here are a few more lists to get you started…

The Booksource

Renaissance Reading

Audible

WHAT ABOUT YOU?  Have you listened to any great middle-grade audiobooks lately? Care to share?

**Oh, and don’t forget to enter our second summer giveaway – one lucky reader will win three amazing middle-grade books!

Hélène Boudreau listened to the whole HARRY POTTER series (close to 100 hours worth!) while training for her latest half marathon walk, and appreciated Jim Dale’s company and fabulous narration through it all. You can visit her at www.heleneboudreau.com

What Makes a Middle-Grade Novel Timeless?

Some books you read once.  You laugh, cry, maybe even both.  You’ve enjoyed the journey, met some interesting characters and hopefully were able to view the world in an amazing new way…but will you ever pick up that book again? 

I’ve enjoyed sharing books I loved as a child with my daughters, and started reading books by Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary to my girls when they were way younger than the target audience.  The three of us laughed at the silly stunts Fudge pulled and couldn’t wait to see what kind of trouble Ramona caused next.  Growing up with a younger brother, I definitely related to the problems Peter and Beezus had with their energetic and extremely creative siblings.  The characters and worlds these brilliant authors created still feel real and endearing. 

As you can see, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg stayed in our member’s hearts through the years.  Who can resist reading a book where a spunky young girl and her brother stuff their clothes inside violin and trumpet cases, then hide out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art?  (If you peek at our bios, you’ll see some of the timeless gems that stuck with us the most.)

How can books like these remain popular, when society changes so quickly?  Nobody had cell phones or internet when I was in elementary school.  So how can books written at that time still appeal to today’s kids?  I believe the books that stand the test of time have unique characters readers can relate to, cheer for, and fall in love with, combined with situations that kids still have…like annoying siblings, school issues, fights with friends, and trying to see where you fit in our world.

I’ve asked several amazing authors what they believe makes a book timeless.  Here’s what they had to say:

IMHO, timeless books are ones that say to a reader, ‘Here. Look. This is YOU. And even if it’s not, you can relate, because the author has managed to capture those universal triumphs and struggles all tweens go through. And when you’re done with such a book? You feel empowered and ready to take on the world, girlfriend! As you should! —Lauren Myracle  

I believe the books we read at this age have a certain power. The characters can live on inside us and help us figure out who we want to be, and what we want to do with our lives. I wanted to write for this age to give something back to the next generation of readers the types of books that meant so much to me. Wendy Mass

A timeless book is one that touches the heart. It doesn’t really matter when or where the story is set, if the characters speak to you and draw you into their story. —Lisa Yee

Timeless books focus on emotions that everyone has felt – love, anger, disappointment, happiness, and fear. While some things change, like clothes and hairstyles, certain things never do. —Laurie Friedman

Certain books, like Charlotte’s Web, The Phantom Tollbooth, or A Wrinkle in Time, just hit a nerve with the middle-grade reader and continue to hit that nerve with each new generation of kids. Why? These books have plenty of heart, a sense of wonder, humor in good measure, relatable characters, and a strong voice. By telling a specific story in an emotionally true way, they’ve managed to become universal. —Bruce Hale

There are so many wonderful middle-grade books that I hope will remain timeless.  One that I believe will be around for a long time is Rules, by Cynthia Lord.  It’s the kind of book that stays with you long after you reach the last page.  I’ll never forget when my younger daughter lost her voice, and her big sister created a communication book (inspired by the one Jason uses).

I asked authors to name one or two middle-grade novels that are close to their heart, and if there are any newer books they believe will remain popular over time.

Holes is one of my favorites from the past dozen or so years. And right up there with it are The Lightning Thief and The Wednesday Wars. These are books that may well stand the test of time, in my opinion. Diary of a Wimpy Kid is another upper middle-grade book that I love, but it’s too early to say whether the craze over its semi-graphic novel style will translate into long-range popularity. —Bruce Hale

 

Books like A Secret Garden and the All-of-a-Kind Family series, grabbed a hold of me. I can recall reading them as a child, then rereading them as an adult, and allowing myself the luxury of getting lost within their pages.  Some newer middle grade books that fit this bill include Masterpiece by Elise Broach, Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech, and Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy. —Lisa Yee 

 
Growing up, I loved anything by Judy Blume.  There are so many great new books.  I really liked Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath.   I think kids will be reading it years from now. —Laurie Friedman    

 

Tied with Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret?, my favorite book from the middle-grade years was Allegra Maud Goldman by Edith Konecky. Made me laugh, cry, and want to be a writer. As for newer titles, I hope the Penderwicks books continue to be appreciated for how wonderful and timeless they are. —Wendy Mass

I’d love to know why you think some middle-grade books remain popular for over thirty years, and which current books you believe will become timeless.

**Don’t forget to enter our second summer giveaway — one lucky reader will win three amazing middle-grade books!

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle-grade novels and is constantly inspired by her nine and twelve year-old daughters, adventurous sock and underwear munching puppy, and two stinky but adorable ferrets. Visit her blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.

The Future of ebooks… and the Middle-Grade Reader

Photo credit: verbeeldingskr8 via Flickr

With Apple’s new iPad sales already exceeding two million and the launch of iBooks, the blogosphere and publishing world is abuzz. What does this portend for the future of books? Is this the end of the publishing world as we know it? What is this so-called agency model? And where did I put my keys, anyway?

The answer to these burning questions (besides the obvious, in your pocket, stupid!), run the gamut from… Cool! Ebooks! So shiny! Paper books are going the way of the Dodo bird and the eight-track! Bwahahahahaha!!!

All the way to … Help, no! Say it isn’t so! Lock the doors and hide the kids – the ebooks are coming!

While I do find this debate endlessly fascinating (and think the truth hopefully lies somewhere in the middle), I have been most intrigued to learn what the evolution of ebooks means to readers – particularly of the middle-grade variety. And what I’ve discovered is that ebooks provide some really exciting opportunities for kids – especially those who may not have the access or inclination to read in the first place.

Reaching The Reluctant Reader
Plenty of hand-wringing goes on about this hard-to-please subspecies of reader. Pegged (rightly or wrongly) as primarily boys, the conventional wisdom says the reluctant reader rapidly loses interest in books as more “exciting” pursuits compete for his time. Want to get a ten-year-old boy to read? Well, you may just have to pry the baseball bat or the Nintendo DS from his hands first.

Or, maybe not.

The popular handheld gaming system is now available in a larger dual-screen format that is also being touted as an ereader. Limited content is available in game cartridge form and consists mainly of classics and fairy tales – probably not the biggest draw for the reluctant reader.

But a new line called FLIPS – which is available via download on DSiWare – most likely will. For example, take the More Bloody Horowitz titles by bestselling author Anthony Horowitz (the man behind the popular Alex Rider series). This ebook’s format could be best described as an interactive graphic novel – featuring text, graphics and the opportunity to make decisions for the main character.

And also in development for the FLIPS line-up – Percy Jackson.

I would think these would be a huge hit among reluctant readers. And, sure – they aren’t “traditional” books. But if they engage kids in the written word, does it really matter?

You also don’t have to look far to find a number of ereader applications and interactive ebooks available for the iPod Touch. And one of the iPhone’s most popular applications is Cathy’s Story, an interactive ebook geared at kids aged 12-14.

And even without all the bells and whistles, there’s this fascinating Kansas State University study that shows reluctant middle-grade readers may became more motivated to read when given a Kindle.

Reaching The Remote Reader
Certainly, not everyone can afford an iPhone, an iPad or a Kindle. And heck, not everyone wants to entrust their expensive electronics to a sticky-fingered kid who might leave it sitting on a playground bench. But what if there was a low-cost, difficult to break tablet computer that was designed with kids in mind?

It may sound like a pie-in-the-sky idea, but that’s just what the folks at One Laptop Per Child aim to do. Already successful distributing their XO laptops around the world, the non-profit organization has now teamed up with Marvell Technologies to create an inexpensive, kid-friendly tablet computer.

The projected price point: $75.

The objective is to get computers into the hands of as many kids worldwide as possible. While the organization has been criticized and questioned at times about their lofty goals, I think what they hope to achieve is quite admirable. After all, information is power – and access to information is a great equalizer.

Not to mention, for kids without easy access to a bookstore or library, an ereader opens a whole new world of possibilities. Just ask agent Nathan Bransford (and the dirt clods that fell victim to his childhood boredom).

As for the rest of us…
The truth is, I don’t see the appeal of ebooks limited just to the readers listed above. While at a Little League game last month, I watched two kindergarten-aged girls happily reading a Dr. Seuss book on an iPad. They were totally engaged – laughing and pointing out their favorite parts – just like they would with a “traditional” book.

Because when it all comes down to it, it’s all about the story, right? I know when I was a kid, I read just about anything I could get my hands on – even cereal boxes and shampoo bottles (hmmm, maybe that’s why my characters always want lustrous locks and a breakfast fortified with 14 vitamins and minerals…).

But all kidding aside, it was always about the words – the way they worked together like pieces of a puzzle, the way I found a kindred spirit in Margaret or went on an adventure with Nancy Drew. It wouldn’t have mattered to me if those words were printed on paper, a box of tissues, post-it notes – or an ereader. And face it, today’s kids are used to technology. Those girls reading Dr. Seuss on an iPad won’t suddenly dislike ereaders when they are eight… or nine… or ten. In fact, they’ll probably seek them out.

Because once again: it’s all about the story.

And hopefully, it always will be.

So what do you think? What does the future hold for ebooks and the middle-grade reader? Have any creative ideas of your own?

Tell me in the comments below. And don’t forget to check out our nine-book giveaway here. Today’s the last day to enter, since tomorrow we’ll be picking a winner.

Jan Gangsei writes this post while surrounded by stacks of boxes in preparation for a rather daunting overseas move. Sadly, most of her cherished book collection has to go into storage. But she’s happy to report her extensive ebook library will be coming with her. You can follow Jan’s tweets at twitter.com/JanGangsei.