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Welcome to the Bookshelf Detective, a site for readers and writers of children's literature. Thank you for visiting, and please let me know how this blog served you.
Cheers,
Kim Tomsic

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

The Elephants Come Home: A True Story of Seven Elephants, Two People, and One Extraordinary Friendship


 

The Elephants Come Home (ISBN: 978-1452127835) is the amazing true story of a herd of elephants, the man who saved them, and the miracle of love that brought them home.


One day in 1999, Lawrence Anthony and Françoise Malby Anthony receive word that a herd of wild African elephants need a new home. They welcome the elephants to their wildlife sanctuary—Thula Thula—with open arms. But the elephants are much less sure they want to stay. How will Lawrence prove to them that they are safe and loved? What follows is a gorgeously illustrated real-life story of friendship . . . and the story of the miraculous way that love given freely will return—greater and more wonderful than it began.

Critical Praise:

“In brief action-packed sentences, Tomsic informs readers of all the steps taken to bring [the elephants] back, with the text placed against Hooper’s beautifully realized illustrations of African animals and the vast, gorgeous landscape…with its focus on the elephants and the protagonists, this book is lovely, tender, and moving.”

                                                                                                                                                Kirkus Reviews

 This touching true story portrays conservationist Lawrence Anthony’s relationship with a frightened, hunted herd that found a home at his reserve in South Africa, Thula Thula..The importance of conservation shines through the friendship story here, and both themes are beautifully complemented by Hooper’s detailed, atmospheric drawings of the elephants and their surroundings.”—Booklist

The illustrations are expansive with a limited color palette of warm oranges and cool greens and blues. The animal characters are dynamic, humorous, and emotive. . . . A sentimental but high-­interest story based on true events of the bond between wild animals and the humans who care for them, suitable for early elementary students.”         School Library Journal


A limited number of signed and doodled copies are available at BookBar Denver. Order here: https://www.bookbardenver.com/book/9781452127835


• TOUCHING ANIMAL FRIENDSHIPS: Owen and Mzee, Tarra and Bella, Rescue and Jessica . . . touching true stories of the emotional bonds possible between species are charming, and speak to the limitlessness of love.
• ELEPHANTS: Elephants are one of the most fascinating and charming wild animals in all of nature. This heartwarming true story will intrigue & inspire children, turning the most reluctant readers into elephant enthusiasts.
• CONSERVATION THEME: This book tells the true story of caring for one of the world's most beloved endangered animals: the African elephant. This book is a great, upbeat jumping-off point for discussions of the importance of preserving endangered species and their environments.
• ENGAGING NONFICTION: There's no better way to get readers hooked on factual books than to offer them real-life stories with heart and meaning.
• STRONG CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS: The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) emphasize learning about animal habitats/biomes in K–2 curriculums, while later grades address topics like conservation and endangered species. With a depth of research and an engaging, highly visual narrative, this book is an excellent resource for librarians and primary school educators.

Perfect for ages 4-9:
• Kindergarten and elementary school teachers           Lovers of animals, wildlife, and the natural world
• Parents and grandparents                                         Zoo and natural history museumgoers
• Librarians                                                                  Parents and Kids of all ages

Thursday, September 24, 2020

10 Ballet Dancers: An Interview with Author Amanda Malek-Ahamdi

 

Today, on the blog we welcome debut picture book author Amanda Malek-Ahamdi

 



Amanda, Congratulations your upcoming beautiful debut picture book 10 Ballet Dancers . It is delightful, entertaining, and inclusive. Parents will love it! Kids will love it! Furthermore, the art by Kathrine Gutkovskiy is gorgeous! Thank you for agreeing to this interview. I’m excited to hear about your inspiration and about your fun launch project and launch party plans. Let’s get started!

 

 

1.I hear you're one of the most sought-after dance teachers in Arizona. Tell me more about your inspiration to write this book.

 

I don’t know about one of the most sought-after dance teachers in Arizona, but I do love teaching dance and have taught at various places around the valley. I started teaching dance when I was 17 and have taught children ages 18 months and up.  I teach several adult classes, too. I am also fortunate to have had the opportunity to teach dance in the entire public school system spectrum, K-12. I’ve even taught at the Community College level. I love how each age group brings something different to dance.

 

As for inspiration to write this book…being able to combine my passion for dance, both performing and teaching, with my love of reading and life-long dream to become a published author was like two puzzle pieces coming together.

 


I still remember my first author visit with Mister Tom at my Elementary School. He read us his book, Messy Cat. I still own my copy. It was while I sat in awe of Mister Tom that I dreamed of becoming an author someday.

 

Fast forward many decades…eh hem (an era) later and here I am with my debut picture book.

 

For this particular book, I have the amazing Tara Lazaar who hosts STORYSTORM every January to thank for pulling 10 Ballet Dancers out of my head and onto the page. It was only the third day of the challenge, and I had written down 10-15 ideas when 10 Ballet Dancers fought for my attention, demanding to be written immediately.

 

The seed of the story had been in my brain for so long that when it finally fought its way to the surface it was fully formed. I made very few changes to the text from its original draft. Writers refer to this as BIG MAGIC. When I attended the SCBWI LA Conference in 2019, Mem Fox was the special guest at the luncheon. She mentioned Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes only took “15 minutes” to write. I was excited to learn that I had an experience like Mem Fox.

 

 

2. I love that the art in 10 Ballet Dancers features diversity and inclusivity. Do you find that the diversity in your book represents the diversity of ballet classes or is this your dream for the future of ballet?

 

 One of my favorite dance quotes ever by a famous modern dancer, Jóse Limón is:

“Every man and woman has the innate ability to dance.”

 

As humans dance is part of us. When you look at babies and how they naturally move to the rhythm of the music it’s hard to dispute what Jóse Limón said.

 

I think the diversity and inclusivity represented in 10 Ballet Dancers is spot on with the world of dance today. However, not every dance class is going to be this diverse.

 

I would say growing up I was unaware of the dynamics of my classes. I was just there to dance with the people who were dancing alongside me.

 

The beauty of dance is that it is Universal and when the music is on everyone becomes one with the rhythm.

 

Today I am very fortunate to dance in a contemporary company, (Wight Noise Dance Company) that is both diverse and inclusive the way that 10 Ballet Dancers depicts the class. The company is slightly different than the book as the members age range is from 20-50+ years old.

 

Moment of TRUTH! My original title for this book was TEN BALLERINAS!

 

When I began to think about how I would approach a publisher with my book idea, I planned to ask the company members to take some pictures of the dance moves so I had a visual component to help explain the text for those not familiar with Ballet Terminology. 

 

I caught myself saying, “What am I thinking! We have two men in our company. I can’t write a book about dance that doesn’t include boys!” Luckily, it was an easy switch thanks to both Ballerinas and Ballet Dancers having four syllables!

 

Speaking of boy dancers: I remember being on a book thread in 2019 (before I had a publishing contract) and seeing a parent ask if a particular ballet book featured boys. The answer was “No.” I screen shot that conversation and thought I’ll get in contact with the woman who asked the question someday!

 

I contacted her the week of August 17. Her son is now going to participate in my project #flatballetdancers before the book releases. I just popped a postcard in the mail for him, and will be gifting him and his dance studio a signed copy of 10 Ballet Dancers.  

 

 

2a. #flatballetdancers! Tell us about this project.

 

I am so excited for this project! #flatballetdancers is inspired by my favorite children’s book author/illustrator Michelle Nelson-Schmidt. Back in October of 2019 she sent around these cute stuffed dogs named, Rufus and Lucy. We had the opportunity to house them for a week. It was a fantastic experience. Our boys really loved it!

 

To keep things simple for the project and shipping costs to only one stamp, I chose to send the characters out like a Flat Stanley. When a person receives the dancers they have an “adventure” with them and take a picture. They then post the pic to Instagram using: #flatballetdancers. If they don’t have an Insta account, they can message me via Facebook, Twitter or my website’s contact form and then I’ll post them.

 

When the dancers arrive at their home, they contact me, and I provide the next destination.  As the dancers travel through the USA, I will be coloring in a map for all of their stops. I can’t believe how many travel plans they have already! 26 states have been secured and 35 trips due to stopping in some states more than once.

 

I would love to see the dancers make it to all 50 States. They will keep traveling until the book’s One Year Book Birthday! I am all for multiple visits to states. I will be putting a tally mark in the state for each time the dancers make a visit. Anyone reading this blog is welcome to contact me to participate via Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/authormamanda),

 Instagram (authormamanda), Twitter (@authormamanda) or my website (authormamanda.com).  

 

3. Ballet has some tricky words, so thank you for providing a glossary and pronunciation guide at the end. What do you say to parents who might stumble over words like dégagé or glissade when reading with their children? 

 

Parlez-vous francais? I love to tell my students that they are getting to learn a different language—French. But instead of telling them I ask them “Do you know what language you are speaking when you say the Ballet words?

 

For anyone who might stumble over the words—just roll with it!


 

Have fun enjoying the story, gazing at the AMAZING illustrations by Kathrine Gutkovskiy, and hopefully the rhythm of the book will also help naturally guide the way you say the words.

 

Or…sound out the words with your children. Think of how new readers break words apart into their letter sounds and syllables. When my children and I come across a word they don’t know they begin to sound it out. Once they’ve said all the sounds, I then say, “Now SQUISH it” meaning put all those sounds together ‘quickly’ to say the word. I think that children will be in awe of their parents not knowing a word and that the modeling of how to figure out an unknown word would be an invaluable lesson.

 

If you’re still struggling and really want to make sure that you’ve got the pronunciation correct you can always google it.

 

3a. I heard you have a funny story about the rhythm of the book. Tell us!

 

Well…shhhhhh…it’s a secret or I at least try to keep it a secret as long as possible.

 

I may be a dancer, but I lack internal rhythm. Basically, when the music is on I am feeling that beat and I am “in the pocket” but as soon as that music turns off…I am not the one you should ask to lead the movement with counts alone.

 

 So…when I wrote this book, I wrote it in its current rhythm, but I actually didn’t recognize the rhythm!

 

I have an amazing critique group named Story Stitchers. We meet every two weeks. I was so excited about 10 BALLET DANCERS. I could just feel in my gut that this story, of all the stories I’d written, was the one that was the most polished.

 

When I read my manuscript, I read it in an excited yet unrhythmic tone. Almost as if I was reading a textbook. My critique group would say things like, “That’s a lot of words we don’t know how to pronounce,” and “Amanda, we know you’ve worked hard on this, but there just doesn’t seem to be a rhythm to it.”

 

Completely distraught that night I turned to my husband Mike, who is fortunately a drummer, and said, “Honey, does my story have rhythm.” He said, “Yes!”

 

He’d already glanced at the manuscript a few times before, but that night as he read he began to drum out the beat on his leg. We grabbed his bongos and recorded on my phone. I practiced along with him until I was able to internalize the beat.

 

I may not be able to teach the beats to you, however, when I am reading the text now, just like when the music is on while I’m dancing, something just clicks and everything works out.

 

Two weeks later I was sharing my “new-found” rhythm with my critique group and everyone agreed that it was ready for submission!

 

4. What do you have planned for your debut launch party in the middle of this tough year?

 

2020 has really thrown everyone into a new way to navigate our lives.  

 

Lamenting for just a moment. I was really looking forward to having an in-person event. I think my favorite part would have been seeing the smiling faces as I signed the books and watching the children handle the book as they walked away. Would they be hugging it, already flipping through the pages, or checking out their name written in the book.  I had also planned a dance class for people to learn the moves from the books. My boss, Rachel Wight, at Wight Noise Dance Company had offered to host the event and planned to invite the Arizona Commission on the Arts.

 

We are now going VIRTUAL!

 

https://www.facebook.com/events/2759186857733652/

 

Tuesday, October 13 at TBD, Join us on 10 Ballet Dancers Book Birthday, for a read aloud, a drum lesson on the rhythm, a Q&A and giveaways.


 

Wednesday, October 14 at 4:30 pm, Join my favorite author/illustrator, Michelle Nelson-Schmidt as she reads 10 Ballet Dancers during her weekly Storytime Live. She will be giving away 5 signed copies of the book.

 

Thursday, October 15 at 3 pm, Join WNDC director Rachel Wight and I as we chat candidly about dance and how the company helped create photos for 10 Ballet Dancers.

 

Friday, October 16 TBD, Join my former elementary school librarian as she reads aloud 10 Ballet Dancers.

 

The dance class will still be offered. It is now planned for November; a month after 10 Ballet Dancers launches. A ZOOM link will be emailed to those who have pre-ordered or order during the launch.

 

To see the prizes offered and any updates on the schedule check my website at www.authormamanda.com

 

 

 

5. What were your favorite books from when you were a child?  

 

As a child, you would find me in my room most afternoons and weekends curled up with a book.

 

My favorite series was Sweet Valley Twins! I actually still own my copies. I’m so glad I held onto them, because I will get to share that part of my childhood with our daughter who was born in February of 2020.

 

I also loved reading Beverly Cleary books. I am currently reading through the Ramona series with our ten-year old son. He is loving them and thinks Ramona’s antics are hilarious. We’re reading them in order and just started Ramona and Her Mother. I cannot wait until we get to the toothpaste part. It just might remind Vincent of his own five-year old brother, Antonio, who used to make “cakes” out of toothpaste in the sink last year.

 

I truly could go on and on about my favorite books. Instead I would like to share what I believe developed a life-long love of reading for me.

 


In my childhood home we had two huge bookshelves at the end of the hallway that reached from the floor to the ceiling. As a little girl I remember being in awe of its height and excited to dive into all of the books that packed the shelves. At a young age I was reading ­The Red Pony by John Steinbeck and The Call of the Wild by Jack London. I remember looking at the cover of White Fang by Jack London many times and opting to not open it because the cover looked a bit scary. Maybe now I’m old enough to read it!

 

Having all of those books at my fingertips led to my passion for the written word and my exploration to express myself through writing. I feel very fortunate to have both writing and dance as outlets to navigate life.

 

In our home we have books in every room, shelves upon shelves of books. We even have a book nook under the stairs! Vincent, Roman, Antonio, and Francesca love reading and being read to. All of our boys also make their own stories often with folded paper that they staple together. They talk about getting published someday. I hope that the joy our children find in reading and writing never leaves them.


10 Ballet Dancers available from Small-Tooth Dog Publishing Group: buying link

Indibound: buying link

Amazon: buying link



    • ISBN-10 : 1947408259
    • ISBN-13 : 978-1947408258
    • Product Dimensions : 11.02 x 0.25 x 8.5 inches
    • Publisher : Small-Tooth-Dog Publishing Group; Illustrated Edition (October 13, 2020)
    • Reading level : 5 - 10 years
    • Language: : English

    More about Amanda:

    Amanda is a native to Arizona, former elementary school teacher, mother of four, wife to a scientist, dance teacher, professional contemporary and modern dancer and now a children’s book author. Her dream of becoming a published author most likely started with experiencing her first author visit at her elementary school when she was in second or third grade. The book was Messy Cat written by Mister Tom. Amanda still owns her autographed copy. Amanda began pursuing her writing career more actively in January 2017. She joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) in July 2017. Since then she has attended three AZ Conferences and two in LA. In September of 2017, she began taking classes via StoryTeller Academy created by Arree Chung. Amanda has learned so much from the classes and is grateful to have found an amazing critique group through the program. They are called the Story Stitchers. Now, if you asked Amanda when she started dancing, she’d laugh and say, “the womb,” but then laugh again, and say, “technically when I was five.” Amanda’s passion for dance and love of teaching children how to dance has led to the creation of many dance stories. Some dating back to when she was a new dance teacher at the age of 17. Amanda is thrilled that The Small Tooth Dog Publishing Group has accepted her debut dance manuscript about ballet dancers to be published in Fall 2020. She looks forward to all of the adventures ahead as a debut author and cannot wait to experience the joy of signing a book for a child at what might be their first author visit. 



     

    Friday, June 12, 2020

    The Importance of Neurodiversity Representation in Middle Grade Lit By Caitlin Lore


    Today, guest-blogger, Caitlin Lore, shares important thoughts and insight about neurodiversity in middle grade literature. Buckle up! You're in for a treat.

    Let's define neurodiversity first:



    Across the Spectrum: The Importance of Neurodiversity Representation in Middle Grade Lit
    By Caitlin Lore

    When it comes to middle grade literature (books for 8-12-year-old readers), well-developed and diverse characters carry more importance than vivid settings, strong dialogue, and perfect plotting. The middle-grade years are tumultuous times for tweens not only as they are developing physiologically, but also personally. As they transition from children to young adults, these young readers begin thinking more critically about the world around them, therefore it is imperative that they see themselves and/or diverse characters represented in novels. In her presentation on diverse writing, author Linda Sue Park said that “books for young readers have the role of shaping and influencing their worldview.” 
    Books can help children feel empowered and/or help them develop empathy. However, in order for this to happen, readers must make connections to the characters they are reading about: in spirit, in triumphs and challenges, in personality, and in diversity.

    When novels are full of the same type of character—a heterosexual, white, neurotypical tween—or in other words a character who represents the “unmarked state,” readers, especially the child reader, may feel alone or invisible. Yet, when readers are represented in the pages by way of ethnicity, culture, religion, sexuality, and/or disability, they are seen and heard, and these readers realize they are not alone in the world. Diversity, particularly neurodiversity in middle grade literature, invites readers into a character’s life for the time being, offering a chance for neurodiverse readers to find themselves in the story while also teaching neurotypical readers the importance of perspective taking.
    As the publishing industry continues to shift from the old-school canon of almost exclusively showing WASP characteristics as the heroes to now including POC heroes and heroines and also publishing books representing OWN voices authors and characters, more young readers are able to see themselves within the pages. But there is still a gap in diversity in children’s literature when it comes to disability representation. Many studies on diversity in publishing focus on race and ethnicity, specifically the annual Statistics on Multicultural Children’s Books done by the CCDC . This is extremely important work and hopefully will pave the way for the publishing industry to create more books with representation for those with disabilities, including neurodiverse characters. Representation matters, and according to a September 2019 article released by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with disabilities represent 26% of Americans.
    Neurodiversity is important in middle grade literature because this is the time when children experience a wide range of growth, including how the world tends to view and treat others. Though we are becoming a more inclusive society, unfortunately we are still one that often places a stigma on differences and disabilities. For instance, in Ibi Zoboi’s My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich, the main character Ebony-Grace appears to fall on the autism spectrum. Though it is not explicitly stated, readers with awareness of neurodiversity will notice that Ebony-Grace sees life differently than the kids around her. She often retreats into her imagination location where she is “Space Cadet E-Grace Starfleet” and the  people in her life are characters, too. Though this is Ebony-Grace’s perspective on the world, those around her do not see it that way. In fact, her friend Bianca continually asks her, “Why are you so weird?” which reinforces a stigma that Ebony-Grace’s difference is just that: different. 
    Later, Ebony-Grace struggles to find words to express what she’s feeling about this. Her Father approaches her about being disrespectful, and she says, “I’m just trying to be…regular and normal”. This is a moment of vulnerability and revelation in Ebony-Grace’s character. She is confident in who she is, but she also recognizes how the world sees her. Shannon Maughan’s article in Publisher’s Weekly, “Navigating Middle Grade Books” states that Rebeka Simonson, an editor at Atheneum Books,  “[believes] middle grade fiction deals with the things kids are going through at those ages… a growing awareness of the wide world outside of oneself and the injustices it often contains.” Scenes in My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich reveal important moments of injustice both in the novel and in society: how the world responds to kids who are different. Yet the fact that Ebony-Grace is the main character of this novel presents an opportunity for neurodiverse readers to connect and grow with her as she confronts the stigma of her difference. It also presents an opportunity for neurotypical kids to develop empathy.
    Diversity representation with characters like Ebony-Grace in middle grade literature is extremely important. In Haley Moss article entitled,  Diverse Autistic Authors Are Changing Neurodiveristy Representation in Books, she states that, “No autistic young reader should feel alone or that they don’t identify with how neurotypicals view them; they deserve access to stories of acceptance and empowerment.”
    While neurodiversity in middle grade literature gives those identifying with brain differences a place to find connection, representation is also important for neurotypical readers. As mentioned earlier, growing empathy is imperative. Middle grade literature that features neurodiversity gives all readers the chance to explore the mental and emotional state of another human being, which ultimately can be a gateway to teaching empathy. Another novel that does this well is counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan. From the very beginning, the protagonist, Willow Chance states that she is, “…different. As in strange.” The character goes on to explain, “But I know it and that takes the edge off. At least for me.”  The only overt indications of Willow’s neurodiversity are when she informs readers she was labeled as “highly gifted” after being evaluated at school. However, Willow is also told that she lives too much inside her head. She has an obsession of counting by 7s, which she says she “uses as an escape technique.” She is also particularly drawn to skin disorders and plants both of which border on the obsessive side.
    Today, Willow might be diagnosed as falling on the autism spectrum, and while that is never revealed to readers, it is still clear that Willow would identify as neurodiverse.
    The majority of  counting by 7s is told from Willow’s perspective, which allows readers a deep look at life through the eyes of a neurodiverse character. Both neurodiverse and neurotypical readers have the opportunity to connect with Willow. However, though empathy is innate, it is not automatic. Neurotypical readers must engage in perspective taking when reading, connecting with Willow’s emotions, learning what it is like to be called weird, and feeling what it’s like to not be accepted by the herd. By engaging in perspective-taking, neurotypical readers are thrust into Willow’s thoughts, feelings, and moments. Readers experience the turmoil and ridicule alongside her which in turn garners empathetic feelings and a deeper desire to understand her world. Karol Silverstein wrote the article “How Stories About Disability Help Create Empathy” for the We Need Diverse Books blog, and she says neurodiverse representation matters because it bridges “the gap between discomfort and familiarity, between fear of the unknown and true empathy.” Diversity in middle grade literature often goes beyond mere understanding—diversity is about true representation and inclusion. When a neurotypical reader takes the perspective of a neurodiverse character, there is a coming together of worlds and a shift from the unknown to understanding.

    Reading list:


    If you enjoyed counting by 7's and My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich, here are eight more middle grade reads with neurodiverse characters that Caitlin highly recommends!
    1.      Not if I Can Help it by Carolyn Mackler, featuring 5th grader Willa who is learning to manage her Sensory Processing Disorder among other big life changes.
    2.     Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos, featuring 12 year-old, space-loving Nova who is autistic and mostly non-verbal, learning to express herself.
    3.     The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla, featuring 12 year-old Charlie who falls on the autism spectrum, and loves birds, chicken nuggets, & is just trying to make sense of the world.
    4.     Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya, featuring Emilia Torres who has a hard time focusing because of her ADHD, and wishes she could reconnect with her dad.
    5.     Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, featuring Ally who's never had trouble hiding her dyslexia until she meets her new teacher, Mr. Daniels.
    6.     The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty, featuring Lucy Callahan who has genius-level math skills after being struck by lightning but still struggles with middle school.
    7.      Focused by Alyson Gerber, featuring 7th grader Clea who is always distracted and when she starts having problems at school, finds out it's because she has ADHD.
    8.     A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass, featuring Mia Winchell who has synesthesia and wants to keep it a secret.
    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      Thank you, Caitlin!
     
    You can find Caitlin on Instagram and Twitter @caitlin_lore and  Caitlin's website is www.caitlinlore.com

    Wednesday, May 6, 2020

    AUDIOBOOKS for 8-13-year-old Readers: Who, What, Which, Where, How


    I'm excited to welcome guest blogger Michelle Pendleton. Michelle is an avid reader and one of my trusted source for book recommendations, especially middle-grade novels (books for 8-13-year-old readers).  When I saw Michelle tweet about audiobooks, I knew I had to ask her to guest blog. However, before I post Michelle's article, please allow me to shamelessly plug my new audiobook, The 12th Candle which was released by HarperCollins and narrated by the fabulous Cassandra MorrisThe 12th Candle has a funny and magical Freaky Friday-ish plot about two 12-year-olds who juggle pranks and a magic candle while risking everything to try and manage a family curse.  Now back to Michelle. You're in for a treat, so get ready to add to your "to be read" listthe family edition!
    ______________________________________________________________________


    Audiobooks Can Make Reading A Family Affair by Michelle Pendleton
    Our family has been socially isolating for seven weeks now. Like a lot of people, I thought I would be spending more time reading, but in fact, it has been very hard for me to even crack open a book, much less spend time losing myself in one. 

    However, our family has still been reading with audiobooks. We have been audiobook readers for nearly four years now, and I know it has helped us read more, especially now. As a bonus, when we listen together as a family, we have a shared experience that we can talk about.

    If you haven’t tried audiobooks before, this might be a great time to start. When my kids were younger, I used to read books out loud to them. It was great, and I truly enjoyed it, but when we started listening to audiobooks together, it was a whole new world. I found that I loved being read to as much as my kids did, and the professionals who do audiobook narration are amazing. In addition, our family could still enjoy a book together, but we didn’t have to find a time when I wasn’t busy. We now listen when I’m working on dinner or when we are doing other chores.

    Where to get audiobooks
    The first place I would start is your local library. There are several apps that connect with libraries that lend out audiobooks. The three that I know the best are Overdrive, Libby and Sora. I would say that about 80 percent of the books our family has listened to have been borrowed from the library. And because most middle-grade books are three to eight hours long in audio, it’s very easy to finish a book within the library’s loan period.
    You might also look to see if your school district has a digital library. Our district does, and although it doesn’t have as many audiobooks as our city and county libraries, there are plenty of options; often, I find that there’s no wait to borrow a book, or there’s a much shorter wait list.
    Sometimes a book I want to listen to just isn’t available at any of our libraries, or there’s a very long waiting list. Sometimes there’s a book that we like to listen to again and again, or a book is so long, there’s no way we can listen to it within a two-week borrowing period. That’s when it’s time to purchase an audiobook.
    There are several services that sell audiobooks, and some of them offer discounts if you sign up for a subscription. If you are thinking that you might buy a book a month, I would recommend libro.fm. Their monthly subscription and discounts are the same as other services, and part of your purchase goes to an independent bookshop.

    What book should I start with?
    I love giving audiobook recommendations. Last summer, a friend asked for recommendations for a summer driving trip. I sent her an email, and by the time I was done, I had suggested 95 books.
    Our family listens to a wide variety of books. I often start with recommendations from the Texas Library Association’s Bluebonnet List and Lone Star List. The books on these lists have been widely commended, and they cross a range of genres. They also introduce us to authors who we may have not read before. I also get a lot of recommendations from authors I follow on Twitter and through the MG Book Village. Sometimes, I have picked a book just because it was available to borrow—that happened a lot when we first began listening to books.


    In addition, I look for books that would appeal to both my 9-year-old daughter and my 13-year-old son, and if we have listened to something pretty serious, we often will follow that book with something a little more lighthearted. There are also some books that are stand-by favorites that we will listen to again and again.
    With that said, here are some different books to get you started.

    GENTLE VIBE Perhaps with the pandemic, you need a book with a gentle vibe. Here are some great options:
         Jeanne Birdsall’s The Penderwicks series
         Karina Yan Glaser’s “The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street,” "The Vanderbeekes and the Secret Garden," and “The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue”
         "Saving Winslow" by Sharon Creech
    HISTORY  If you are into history, these are awesome:
         Kirby Larson’s Dogs of WWII books: “Duke,” “Dash” and “Liberty”
         “Echo” by Pam Munoz Ryan has both fantasy and history, and I’d recommend listening to that one because the music in it is so, so good. This book is also set during World War II.
         "The Bicycle Spy" by Yona Zeldis McDonough is also set in World War II, but it takes place in France.
         Gennifer Choldenko’s Alcatraz books like “Al Capone Does My Shirts,” and its sequels are really good.
         "The Night Diary" by Veera Hiranandani is about the split of India and Pakistan when the English government withdrew from India as a colony.
    FUN    Perhaps what you need is something that is just a lot of fun. Here are some series that my kids and I have thoroughly enjoyed:
         Stuart Gibbs’ series: Fun Jungle books, Spy School books and Moon Base Alpha books
         Geoff Rodkey’s The Tapper Twins series
         Mac Barnett and Jory John’s The Terrible Two series
         Suzanne Selfors’ Wedgie and Gizmo books
         Julie Falatko’s Two Dogs in a Trenchcoat books
         Honest Lee’s Classroom 13 books
         Neil Patrick Harris’ The Magic Misfits series. The first one in audio is especially good because Neil Patrick Harris narrates.
         Spencer Quinn’s Birdie and Bowser books are mysteries with a lot of action and fun, told from a dog’s point of view.
    FANTASY AND SCI-FI   If you’re looking for something to get away from the real world for a while, here are some fantasy and sci-fi audiobooks:
         “Circus Mirandus” by Cassie Beasley
         "Inkling" by Kenneth Oppel
         "The Wild Robot" and “The Wild Robot Escapes” by Peter Brown
         "Sweep: The Story Of A Girl And Her Monster" by Jonathan Auxier. The last I checked, it was an Audible original but totally worth it. I sobbed for the last hour of it.
         All of the Harry Potter books with Jim Dale as the narrator are fabulous.
         "The Last Last-Day-of-Summer" by Lamar Giles is a lot of fun. After we listened to that, we listened to "The Phantom Tollbooth," by Norton Juster, which has a lot of similar plays on words.
         "The One And Only Ivan," and “Wishtree” by Katherine Applegate
         "We're Not From Here" by Geoff Rodkey
         “Bob” by Rebecca Stead and Wendy Mass
         “The Strangers” by Margaret Peterson Haddix
         “Lelani Of The Distant Sea” by Erin Entrada Kelly
         “Sal And Gabi Break The Universe” by Carlos Hernandez
         “Midsummer’s Mayhem” by Rajani LaRocca
         “The 12th Candle” by Kim Tomsic

    FAIRY TALE   Perhaps a fairy tale is more what you’d like. Here are some options:

         Liesl Shurtliff’s fairy tale backstory books “Rump,” “Jack,” “Red” and “Grump” are all wonderful. If you haven’t read them, definitely read “Rump” then “Jack” because there’s a great twist that you miss if you read them out of order.
         "The Tale of Despereaux" by Kate DiCamillo

    REALISTIC FICTION   Some realistic fiction that we've enjoyed:
         “The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle” by Christina Uss
         "Front Desk" by Kelly Yang
         "Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus," “Momentous Events In The Life Of A Cactus” and “24 Hours in Nowhere” by Dusti Bowling
         "The Miscalculations Of Lightning Girl" and “The World Ends In April” by Stacy McAnulty
         "The Truth As Told By Mason Buttle" by Leslie Connor
         "Save Me A Seat" by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan
         "Wonder" by R.J. Palacio
         "Song For A Whale" by Lynne Kelly
         "The Right Hook Of Devin Velma"  and “Greetings From Witness Protection” by Jake Burt
         "Shouting At The Rain" by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
         "The Remarkable Journey Of Coyote Sunrise" by Dan Gemeinhart
         "New Kid" by Jerry Craft
         "Harbor Me" by Jacqueline Woodson
         "The Science Of Breakable Things" by Tae Keller
         "Amal Unbound" by Aisha Saeed
         “Operation Frog Effect” by Sarah Scheerger
         “Hoot,” “Squirm” and “Flush” by Carl Hiaasen
         “Strange Birds: A Field Guide To Ruffling Feathers” by Celia C. Perez
         “A Wolf Called Wander” by Rosanne Parry
         “When You Reach Me” by Rebecca Stead
         Jason's Reynolds' Track series: “Ghost,” “Patina,” “Sunny” and “Lu”
    I hope some of these recommendations will encourage you to give audiobooks a try. It might be a nice break from Netflix binge-watching, or it might be a nice thing to listen to while your family has dinner or does a puzzle. I know for our family, it has given us a nice break from the news and has been a way to stay connected to books.
    Guest Blogger Michelle Pendleton

    About Michelle:  Michelle Pendleton is a former journalism teacher who still has a love for education. She stays connected by volunteering at her children's schools (when they aren't distance learning), and her favorite work is reading with students. She is a fan of middle grade literature, the Northwestern Wildcats, and most sports. She lives in Houston, Texas with her husband, 13-year-old son, and 9-year-old daughter. You can find Michelle on Twitter at @mpendleton.

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