Top Five Friday: Young Adult Books

This summer’s release of the movie version of The Fault in our Stars seems to have revived the debate about adults reading young adult books. There are people who stand firmly in the “adults should be embarrassed to be seen reading kids’ books” camp, and then there are those who feel like YA is more easily accessible or relatable than “literary fiction.” There are also booksellers, teachers and librarians who argue (rightly) that they can’t hope to be effective at their jobs if they don’t read YA.

My feelings on this are similar to my feelings about reading romance novels – I think everyone should feel free to read whatever they want without feeling remotely embarrassed by it. Even though YA doesn’t make up the majority of what I read, there are plenty of books that fall into that category that I’ve read recently and enjoyed. When I was teaching, I liked reading the books that my students recommended to me so that we could talk about them. That’s how I read Twilight, Prophecy of the Sisters, and Wicked Lovely.

For today’s Top Five Friday, here are my favorite young adult books (or series!) that I know I will be rereading for years.

 harry potter 1. The Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling. These books will be special to me for my whole life. Beth and I were just talking about how wonderful it is to reread these books and find references hidden in the early books to something that happens at the end of the series. I find something different to love each time I read them or listen to the awesome audiobooks narrated by Jim Dale.
 sweetness 2. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. Really, I enjoyed all the books in this series, but something about the first one was so wonderful and unrepeatable. I loved the setting. I loved the mystery. I loved snarky little Flavia and laughed out loud on a regular basis when she would talk to her bicycle, Gladys, or exclaim, “Oh, scissors!” when something didn’t go her way.
 trickster 3. Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen by Tamora Pierce. I know Pierce is prolific, but these were the first books I ever read by her. She does a really great job of world building, and somehow in less than 500 pages, I’ve gotten a new mythology, class and political systems, and geography down without feeling like I’ve been hit over the head with it. I thought the story was unique and really interesting.
 smack 4. Smack by Melvin Burgess. Unlike the other books on the list, this book isn’t fantasy, or funny, or lighthearted. It’s a book about heroine addiction, and it is pretty terrifying – not because anything particularly gory or horrific happens, although there is plenty of drama. It’s terrifying because it is such an accurate portrayal of a slippery slope, or the way that we talk ourselves into things. The message that jumps out of this book on every page is that, when we say we’ll do things “just this once,” we never really mean it. Somehow, Smack manages to drive home a powerful lesson about addiction, or really about poor choices, without being preachy.
westing game 5. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. I’ve talked about this one before, but I read this book for the first time in 6th grade and kept on reading it on a regular basis afterward. Somehow it doesn’t get old for me.

Happy Friday!

Top Five Friday: Childhood Favorites

Happy Friday! I thought this week I would do something new. I’ve been posting on Tuesdays about new releases, and now I’m going to start “Top Five Fridays.” Each Friday, I’ll post a list of my top five books in a different category. I’d love to hear what your favorite books are from each category, too!

For the inaugural Top Five Friday, I’ve decided to list the books I loved when I was growing up. I had a handful of books that I read over and over until they were falling apart. So without further ado, I present my Top Five Childhood Favorites:


 westing game 1. The Westing Game, by Ellen Rankin
I read this book for the first time in my 6th grade English class, and I was totally hooked on it for years afterward. It’s a story about 16 characters who all move into apartments in Sunset Towers and learn that they are heirs to the fortune of recently deceased, self-made millionaire Samuel W. Westing. At the reading of Westing’s will, the heirs are placed into pairs and given a challenge: find out who murdered Westing, and they will win the entire Westing fortune. Of course, the characters all have crazy back-stories – my favorite was Tabitha-Ruth Wexler, a 13 year old girl who insists on being called “Turtle” and has a penchant for kicking people in the shins if they touch her hair. Each pair of characters is given a set of clues, and the narration shifts between each person as they try (or in some cases, don’t try!) to solve the mystery and win the fortune. There are clever references to chess and American history, and it was all great fun. Writing about it now makes me want to go back and read it again.
 mandie 2. Mandie and the Secret Tunnel, by Lois Gladys Leppard
Evidently, my love of mystery stories was established much earlier than I realized. Mandie is ten years old, living in rural NC in 1899. When her father dies, Mandie’s mother remarries a man who clearly wants Mandie out of the picture. Uncle Ned, a Cherokee Indian who was close to Mandie’s father, helps her run away to live with John Shaw, an uncle that she never knew. Once Mandie arrives at the Shaw house, however, she learns that her Uncle John has gone missing. Imposter relatives arrive hoping to inherit if John Shaw is dead, and Mandy finds a secret tunnel while she’s exploring the house that may help her figure out what happened to her Uncle John. This is the only book in the Mandie series I ever read, and I have no idea why I never carried on with it. I do remember being obsessed with Mandie’s white kitten, Snowball.
 felicity  3. Felicity Saves the Day, by Valerie Tripp
Oh, how I loved Felicity. I had all the American Girl books (back when the American Girls had real problems like “The British are coming!”, unlike the modern American Girls that want to grow organic vegetables for school projects), but Felicity was my favorite. I had a Felicity doll and lots of outfits for her, which I can now acknowledge must have cost my parents an arm and a leg – thanks, Mom! Of all the Felicity books though, I read this one the most often. Felicity finds a secret note from Ben, her father’s shop apprentice who has run away to join Washington’s army. Felicity takes off on her beloved horse, Penny, to find him.
 babysitters  4. Babysitters on Board, by Ann M. Martin
I never actually owned this book, but I know I checked it out of the library constantly. I actually read a lot more Sweet Valley books than Babysitters Club books, but I remember loving this one. Mr. Pike wins a contest for an all-expenses paid cruise plus three days at Disney world. Since the Pikes have 8 kids, they invite Mary Anne and Stacey along to help them out. Then Kristy’s stepfather decides to pay for his entire family to go as well, plus Claudia and Kristy, so the bottom line is all the Babysitters are going on vacation! Each girl has her own plot line that you get to follow during the trip – Stacey’s was my favorite. She meets a little boy with a heart defect and they bond. I don’t remember all the details, but there was plenty going on in this book to please my little pre-teen heart: secret admirers, a treasure hunt, and a trip to Disney!
dancing princess  5. Twelve Dancing Princesses, by Ruth Sanderson
I loved this book and kept coming back to it long after I had moved on to reading chapter books. It’s the traditional fairytale about the 12 princesses who puzzle their father by wearing out their dancing shoes every night. The king is stumped – where are the going? How are they getting there? He promises the hand of the oldest princess in marriage to any man who can figure out their secret. The story is great, but the illustrations in this book were unbelievably beautiful. Sometimes I would get this book out and flip through it without even reading it. I think I was hoping that if I stared at the pictures long enough, when I looked up from the book, maybe everything around me would match them!

What are some of your childhood favorites?