Reading Recommendations

Words, words, words- these are marvelous collections of them.
Anything by Rick Riordan
You should read this guy's books. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Now. Today. Here's why:
Each of the following series does an excellent job taking ancient mythology and bringing it into our present, twisting these well known stories into modern adventures that not only entertain but educate at the same time. You learn about ancient gods and goddesses while flipping pages so fast you sometimes have to pause just so your brain can keep up. That is what learning should feel like. It's no surprise to me that Rick Riordan used to be a teacher. Besides an enormous amount of cool information- they are really great stories that make me laugh out loud  A LOT.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians (Percy Jackson and the Lightning ThiefThe Sea of MonstersThe Titan's CurseThe Battle of the Labyrinth, and  The Last Olympian)
In this epic journey through Greek mythology, each book was better than the last (which is saying something). You will follow the adventures of Percy Jackson (a descendant of a god, called a Half Blood- half human, half god. Kind of like Hercules and Theseus) and his loyal companions as they set out to save the world, their lives and the lives of their loved ones, though not necessarily in that order. If I say any more I'll give too much away, except the finale will not disappoint and you will see why you should read the books before the movie (which was a horrible failure in my opinion).

The Heroes of Olympus (The Lost HeroSon of Neptune, and The Mark of Athena)
This is a continuation for the characters of the the Percy Jackson series, but it is so much more than a sequel or afterward. By weaving the, at times, conflicting Greek and Roman myths together, Rick Riordan has succeeded in bringing his character development to a whole new almost-confusing-but-mostly-awesome level. Don't read this on-going series until you have read all of the books above because it gives major plot details away. Also, just a warning, if you don't like waiting long periods of time between amazing stories (like myself) you might want to wait a few years until this series is done because the third of five books doesn't come out until next year (great cry of lament!!). It's worth getting into if you like that anticipation first felt in the Harry Potter heyday and these are by far his best books yet.

The Kane Chronicles (The Red PyramidThe Throne of Fire, and Serpent's Shadow)

But wait....there's more! This series deals with Egyptian mythology and follows the descendants of Egyptian magicians who first served then contained the ancient gods of Egypt. These characters also must fight to save the world and what-not while having great moments such as these...
“Around the edges, the floor dropped off into a deep trench like a moat. Far, far below, red liquid bubbled. Blood? Lava? Evil ketchup? None of the possibilities were good.”

I love his style of writing. And now I'm just waiting on a Norse mythology series...

How to Train Your Dragon series
This is one of those rare cases where the movie and the books are both distinctive and awesome, though totally unlike each other (such as Stardust,, I guess there aren't too many out there). I say this because if you have seen the awesome movie, well, the book will be nothing like it. However, this long series (nine books so far) is totally wicked, reminding me of a mash up between Diary of a Wimpy Kid, any Roald Dahl book, and a healthy dose of Viking toughness, brought together with lots and lots of humor. This series follows Hiccup, a less than threatening Viking, who must learn how to train his very small, toothless dragon while showing the world what it really takes to be a Viking. Gotta love them pillaging, ruthless ragamuffins!

The Skin I'm In
A present day tale about racism, making the right choice when no one is looking, finding your inner strength and loving yourself for who you are. It is told in a conversational, inner-city dialect. Maleeka is the narrator and main character and she is made fun of constantly for her good grades and very dark skin. Things take a turn for the worse when a new teacher, Ms. Saunders, arrives. Ms. Saunders is one tough teacher who doesn't care what people think about her, even with her facial birthmark and newfangled ideas. Their personalities don't click (at least, not at first), and Maleeka suffers/learns by making mistakes and tough choices. It's a very quick read and I haven't met a kid who didn't love it.

 Number the Stars
This historical fiction tale is a classic in my room- it's the only book I have used as a class novel EVERY year.  If you are going to read/learn about the Holocaust with young children, this is the story to read because it portrays the one really positive story of that terrible time in history. Denmark actually made an effort to save their Jewish population when every other country left it up to their individual citizens to take action. While the protagonist Annemarie is not real, everything that happens to her is based on true events, and the kids just love Lois Lowry's style of writing. The Giver is also an excellent book by Lowry, though more similar to 1984 than this book. There is a movie that is loosely based on this book called "Miracle at Midnight," which is pretty good in its own right.

The Girl who Owned a City
This was one of my all-time favorites growing up because it made me feel powerful and resourceful. This futuristic, post-apocalyptic, survival story follows Lisa and her little brother Todd as they try to survive in a world without adults. That's right- everyone older than 13 has died and only children are left. My students enjoyed reading this because most middle schoolers think that they could survive without adults, and this book awakens their desire to find a way to survive without electricity or to learn how to drive a car or fight a battle or build a castle. The writing style is perfect for 11-13 year-olds, but might not be too interesting to adults interested in figurative language and complicated sentences. This is also a graphic novel!

I remember reading this book when I was student teaching- I would hide...I mean, take a breather, in the copy room, and someone had left a copy of this book on the machine. I could only read it in 10-15 minute intervals, but this book took me away to a different place the second after I picked it up. Probably Louis Sachar's masterpiece, it weaves an intricate tale that follows three different time periods and set of characters that don't seem to have anything in common with each other, and then...BAM! Everything is connected, every wonderful quirk is important. It's also funny and quite exciting. The movie is not half-bad, probably one of the closest book-to-movie adaptations I have ever seen.

Animorphs series
This science fiction roller coaster ride is an amazing (seemingly never-ending) series that consists of quick, easy reads. It follows five children (each book told in alternating 1st person perspectives) who discover a dying alien who crash landed in a parking lot. This alien gives the five kids the power to morph into any animal they touch, and they are given this power to fight the evil Yeerks (slug-like aliens that enter your head through your ear, take over your brain and want to rule the world). It's exciting, teaches great lessons, and awakens curiosity. I enjoyed it immensely as a child and new versions of the covers were just released to make current kids more likely to read them (we all judge books by their cover). 
The Last Book in the Universe
There are the Prooves and the Norms. There is Eden and there are the Stacks. There is a world filled with technology and a world enslaved by mind probes. In both worlds, books no longer exist- one because they don't need to any more and the other because no one can remember them. One boy named Spaz builds a bridge between these separate worlds by doing the unthinkable- trying to save his sister's life. READ THIS BOOK! It is such a well written science fiction/post/apocalyptic tale that deals with genetic improvement, the dangers of classifying people and the importance of family and memory. I read this in one sitting and didn't notice the time  passing by. Loved it!

The Ear, the Eye and the Arm
I don't think I've ever read anything quite like this book. Set in 2194, Zimbabwe, the language/culture/style of this story was so different from any book written in America and I liked it. I guess I really like futuristic science fiction, because here's another, but it doesn't quite completely fit in that category. It also weaves history, fantasy, legends, myths and tall tales into itself somehow. The Ear, Eye and Arm are detectives hired to find an important general's kidnapped children in a city full of crime and defects caused by radiation. The detectives themselves have enhanced abilities (three guesses as to what) because of radiation poisoning in their village's water supply. The story also deals with the soul of Africa and the spirit of the land, among other things. Totally spectacular read.

The Strange Case of Origami YodaDarth Paper Strikes Back, and The Secret of the Fortune Wookie.
These books will take you into the mind of a 6th grader (if you dare go back into such a scary land we all barely managed to survive), and give any Star Wars geek out there a fun treat. A few students at a McQuarrie Middle School are building a case for or against (the jury's still out) Origami Yoda (a paper creation of oddball Dwight) being real or not. It's an awesome, harmless, quick read that made me laugh out loud continually.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid series
The seventh book in this crazy-popular series just came out (Third Wheel) and if you have someone at home who doesn't like to read, plop any of these books down in front of him/her and I would bet a thousand bucks that within five minutes, they will be so engrossed in its pages you will have to remind them that they are reading and they don't like that. But only if you want to. 
This series follows the entries of Greg as he navigates the treacherous waters of Middle School with a great many hilarious moments. Be warned- toilet humor, sarcasm and general immaturity runs rampant in these pages- and that's why kids love it so very, very much. It was originally written for adults though- so grab a book, huddle in a blanket and enjoy a giggle or so at the expense of your adult sensibilities.

NOT FOR YOUNG CHILDREN- The Hunger Games trilogy

This is an extremely violent, disturbing, post-apocalyptic tale of children forced to murder each other. Imagine a gladiator game where two children from each part of the country are forced to fight to the death (this is called the Hunger Games). Now add into the mix a controlling government (similar to that of 1984, but filled with futuristic costumes and technology) called the Capitol. This central, gleaming city rules its 13 surrounding districts with an iron fist due to the background of a failed rebellion (like the ill-fated story-line of Firefly). The Hunger Games serve the purpose of reminding the Districts they are controlled by the Capitol, to the point of their children being killed on live TV for entertainment. Throw in an awesome, complicated female lead (with character traits I think J.K.Rowling and Stephanie Meyer tried for in their protagonists but never fully accomplished), fighting for her life and inciting an avalanche of a rebellion, and you've got the Hunger Games. If you can handle violence and death, the messages and themes are excellent ones to share.

NOT FOR YOUNG CHILDREN- I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I want to be your Class President
I laughed so hard so many times when I read this book. This satirical commentary on politics masquerades as a constant stream of insults from a 7th grade genius pretending to be an idiot. While I wouldn't recommend it for a middle school students, high school age and up will get a hoot (or seven times seventy hoots) out of it. 
I was especially drawn to the observation made by Oliver, the cynical genius of unspeakable evil, "I am amused when goody-goodies proclaim, from the safety of their armchairs, that children are naturally prejudice-free, that they only learn to 'hate' from listening to bigoted adults. Nonsense. Tolerance is a learned trait, like riding a bike or playing the piano. Those of us who actually live among children, who see them in their natural environment, know the truth: Left to their own devices, children will gang up on and abuse anyone who is even slightly different from the norm. I happen to be slightly different from the norm."
I love how some people are talented enough to use satire to tell the truth. Of course, Oliver's solution to middle school bullies is to invent a drug called Lazopril, which when shot into his enemies with a mini air-dart, causes extreme flatulence, which goes to show even satire isn't above a good fart joke.

This oral history of a futuristic world ten years (or so) after Zombies have nearly destroyed us all is eerie, disturbing and terribly insightful as to how countries and their citizens would likely react to a world-wide epidemic of the dead returning to life. I could not put it down, but when I did, I had a strange need to create an emergency pack and escape route. No joke- just ask my sister. We seriously have an emergency pack in the house, with back ups hidden in drawers and in other closets; an emergency pack in the car should we need a quick escape and extra gas in our storage unit because my car is NOT going to break down if we are driving out of a zombie-infested city. 
It is so realistic, so interesting and so horrible I recommend you have something pleasant and fluffy to read afterwards, because I have had more than one night haunted by the grisly images of the un-dead it paints. However- if that's up your ally- by all means read it. Currently being made into a movie, set to be released in 2012. Also, support cremation: it helps prevent the zombie invasion. 

NOT FOR CHILDREN- A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of ThronesClash of KingsStorm of SwordsFeast of CrowsDance of Dragons)
What a story- it seems to never end. Literally. The books are sometimes over 900 pages long and the characters never seem to catch a break of good luck that lasts long, but boy is it an epic tale of adventure! Currently being made into an HBO show, the books pack a punch of adventure, intrigue and excitement that make other books of the like pale in comparison. It has five books currently in print, with (I think) two more on the way. It is a complicated tale that follows many different characters from different parts of the land Westeros and beyond. It's pretty cool to see the story fall into place from so many different points of view, and while magic becomes very important as the story really gets going, it starts off without it and then BAM! You are reminded this is a fantasy story and it's got it all- backstabbing, dragons, zombies, wizards, war, tourneys, honor, glory, shame, injury, shape-shifters, fortune tellers, and way too many shifting alliances to count. I love it and am glad that it's taking me so long to read- sometimes an enjoyable story is over too soon. But you might want to tab the index, so you don't get confused!