Bookstalking 101: Summer Reading for Kids

Are you ready for summer reading, boys and girls? Moms and dads? Children of all ages? I am. And I’m going to tell you what to read this summer, because I’m pushy like that. And also because I care.

First of all, let’s start with the kids. The school summer reading lists are coming out, marking my favorite time of year. There’s nothing I like better than a slightly clueless 12 year old roaming a bookstore with his or her mom or dad in tow. Why is this? Because I love books. And I love giving advice. Combine the two, and you’ve got my favorite pastime: giving people advice about what to read.

I’m a little bit embarrassed to admit this, but I actually stalk families at Borders.

“Don’t say that you stalk them,” Brett told me while reading a draft of this article. “That’s kinda creepy.”

“But that’s what I do! Like, in a friendly, helpful kind of way. I’m a bookstalker.”

“Yeah. See, that’s creepy. Call it something else. Like Booktalker.”

“I don’t like that. It sounds too much like horse whisperer.”

So, what I mean is that, occasionally, I “follow” families around the aisles in the back of the store and listen in just to get a sense of whether or not my services are needed. And if so, I pounce.

Imagine me hiding behind a copy of the latest Secrets of My Hollywood Life by Jen Calonita (a must read if you are a 10-14 year old girl, btw. So good!). I am pretending to be absorbed with the text, like Clark Kent with his newspaper, on the verge of fighting crime as Superman. Only I’m a female, and I don’t wear glasses. Plus, I would look weird in all that spandex. But you get the idea.

“I think this one seems good,” a mom might say to her son, clearly exasperated after ten minutes of failed attempts with different titles. “Get this one.”

The child crinkles his nose at it, as if the book smells like moldy cheese. He’s not convinced that this is what he wants to read during rest hour at camp.
Besides which, “this one” is a 400 page monster of a classic with words printed so closely together that even I might fall asleep by page 7. This boy must be saved! It’s time for the Bookstalker.

“Hi, there,” I’ll begin, putting on my most friendly, wide-eyed facial expression. “I know a lot about these books. Maybe I can help. Tell me what you like to read.” It’s usually as easy as that.

The mom smiles and relaxes as she hands me the school’s summer reading list. The child is so stunned that he drops the tome that he was holding onto my toes. But that’s the price you pay as a bookstalker. Sometimes, matching kids with appropriate texts can hurt just a little bit.

Now, I must admit that I am pretty well-read in the YA genre (young adult, natch), having spent over a decade as a middle school English teacher. And although I am no longer teaching middle school, I do meet regularly with a bunch of enthusiastic (and by that, I mean loud) 13-year old girls for a monthly book group. We eat home-baked goods while throwing jellybeans at each other, and I try to get them to talk about the book. It’s fun. Really.

And when I’m not reading YA lit with them, I’m reading it with my grad students. As professor to these 25 teachers and teachers-to-be, I lead discussions each week about new, noteworthy and classic titles in the genre. The adults don’t throw jellybeans like the kids do, surprising as that may be. But they do have just as strong opinions about the Twilight series.

If you are a middle schooler, or a parent of such a creature, listen up, because I’m only gonna say it once.

Obviously, read the entire Lightning Thief series. The fifth and final installment just came out on May 5th, and the movie version of the first book will be released next year. The author, Rick Riordan, spoke at the Scarsdale Middle School in March, so he’s become a bit of an institution already around here. It’s what we in the business of bookstalking call a “no-brainer.” If you like those, read Kiki Strike or The Mysterious Benedict Society. Read Susan Beth Pheffer’s Life as We Knew It because my teen book group loved it. If you are interested in questions about life and death, read Elsewhere and Heaven Looks a lot Like the Mall (both of which I would call Lovely Bones lite). Read Diary of a Wimpy Kid for laughs and The Graveyard Book if you want to get spooked.

If you are a girl going into 8th grade, read Dairy Queen by Catherine Murdoch, and when you finish it, read the sequel. Read anything and everything by Sonya Sones. Read Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. (Not my book group girls – please, read it with me in September! Wait! Don’t cheat! I’m serious! And don’t throw that at me!) Read Wintergirls or Thirteen Reasons Why if you like to get depressed, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. And if you are an older boy (8th -9th grade and up), read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian because Sherman Alexie rocks, or Cory Doctorow’s Litle Brother (a sort of play-on-words of Orwell’s Big one).

And, yes, I know I sound ridiculous saying “rocks” about an author.

If you want to read along with me this summer, I am going to read The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. It’s destined to be the next runaway hit for teens. I can’t wait to put on the sunscreen, lie on a beach chair, and dig in to this futuristic, dystopian tale.

Don’t worry, grown-ups. It’s your turn next week.

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