Favorite Fiction

These are some of my favorite fiction books. It's simply a very short and incomplete list in random order that reflects my personal preferences. There are many (MANY) other outstanding books to choose, but when students ask what I like to read, this is where I start. 

  Peck, Richard  - A Long Way From Chicago A Newbery Honor book, along with lots of other awards. Every summer, from 1929 until 1935, Joe Dowdel and his younger sister Mary Alice visited their rambunctious Grandma in downstate Illinois. Grandma has her own way of handling things in her small town, with a gruff exterior and a practical (although sometimes slightly illegal) frame of mind. The sequel, A Year Down Yonder, a Newbery Award winner, continues the adventures of Grandma Dowdel when Mary Alice comes to stay for a year during the Depression. Both of these titles are brilliant bits of humor in them, but also provide a nice slice of everyday America in the early 30's.  

  Tolkien, J.R.R.  - The Hobbit.  This is actually the prequel to the incredible Lord of the Rings trilogy. It introduces Bilbo Baggins, a respectable hobbit who becomes entangled with a company of dwarves and the mystical wizard Gandalf  in a quest for treasure guarded by the fearsome dragon Smaug. Simpler and smaller in scope than the Lord of the Rings, it has a definite charm all its own, and helps to set the scene for the more epic events that follow in the other books. If I was sent into exile on a desert island, The Hobbit and the other LOTR books are the first thing I'd pack for reading material. 

  Rowling, J.K.  - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Like a couple other gazillion readers, I love the Harry Potter series. While they're all good reads, the 3rd volume is the one that seems to draw me back again and again. I haven't quite figured out why, but I suspect it's because of more revelations about Harry's father and his friends when they were at Hogwarts. I have GOT to find a Marauder's Map for my school building. Wouldn't it be great to know if the principal was walking around? Or where the secret exits are?  The Order of the Phoenix was also excellent. Harry with attitude. I never knew 800 pages could read so fast. And of course, the conclusion with The Deathly Hallows was incredible!  The only problem was that the adventures officially came to an end.  But it was great to finally get the answers to so many of my questions.

  Sachar, Louis  - Holes. Another winner of the Newbery Medal. Stanley Yelnats is sent to a detention camp for a crime he didn't commit. He and his companions are each forced to dig a hole, 5 feet deep and 5 feet around, every day in the sweltering heat of a dried up Texas lake. Rich characters and interesting plot twists bring the reader into the story. Surprisingly, the movie followed the book fairly well, and was really good. There's a sequel out called Small Steps, which follows up with the characters Armpit and X-ray three years later.  Other Sachar books that are favorites of mine are the Wayside School series, especially the first one, Sideways Stories from Wayside School. I swear I had Ms. Gorf as one of my elementary teachers years ago.

  Brittain, Bill  - Wings.  At some point, most of us have wished for wings and the ability to fly. For young Ian Carras, it comes true. The doctors are baffled, his parents confused, and Ian himself isn't sure what to make of it all. Having wings would be exciting, unless you're trying to fit in with everyone else. Being different can be a struggle. Ian is faced with a life-changing choice: keep the wings or have them removed. This is the toughest decision of his life. 

  Curtis, Christopher Paul  - Bud, Not Buddy.  Another Newbery winner. Set in Depression era Michigan, a young boy escapes a horrible orphanage and hits the road in search of his long-lost father. His only clue is a flyer left by his deceased mother, telling about Herman Calloway and his famous jazz band. Lots of laughs and humor in this story. More importantly, there are rich (rich, rich, rich) characters. Bud is optimistic, irrepressible, and determined to find his way. One classy kid and one very well told story.  

  Raskin, Ellen  - The Westing Game.  As mysteries go, this is one of the best. I must admit, though, that it's not for everyone. It's a great story with plenty of plot twists and surprises that had me baffled completely. Matter of fact, I had to read it twice just to get it all straight. Since then I've read it over and over because I enjoyed it. 16 people are invited to here the will of the very wealthy Samuel W. Westing. Depending on how they played the game, each pair of heirs stood to inherit millions. Quite a cast of characters, with hidden secrets, puzzles, and confusing clues.

  Robinson, Barbara  - The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.  This is a classic holiday story featuring the always interesting and slightly terrifying Herdman family. You would have want this bunch to move into your neighborhood, much less sit next to you in class. When the Herdman half-dozen invade the local church Christmas pageant, disaster can't be far away.This story was fall-on-the-floor funny to me, maybe because over the years I've seen kids like this at school. A friend of mine knows the author, and she says the book was based on real students. No wonder she left teaching and became an author. Her sequel was The Best School Year Ever, and another follow-up was The Best Halloween Ever. The Herdmans and Halloween.....it's almost too much to think about.

  Barry, Dave  - Peter and the Star Catchers.  I love rollicking adventure stories, and this is one of the best. For all fans of the Peter Pan story, this epic title creates a fascinating back story for the original tale. It's a fast-paced adventure as the young orphan Peter and his mates are transported to an island ruled by an evil king. They set sail aboard the Never Land, a ship carrying a precious and mysterious trunk in its cargo hold. Excitement and danger follow them at every turn. The characters are familiar, but all with a satisfying twist and richly complex. This is the first of the series.

  Hahn, Mary Downing  - All the Lovely Bad Ones.  This is one of the best titles from a premier mystery writers for kids. I love her work and so do the students. She makes the supernatural feel real. Restless spirits swarm the Fox Hill Inn, while a dark and terrifying presence stalks the halls and the old oak grove on the inn’s grounds. Two young siblings thoughtlessly have awakened something wicked and dangerous, and it's up to them to put things right. Deliciously malicious. Our students rave about this book. This is also the author of Deep and Dark and Dangerous, Witch Catcher, The Old Willis Place, Wait Till Helen Comes, and many other creepy and suspenseful stories.

  Kehret, Peg  - Stolen Children.  Another great mystery writer with a long list of high-quality stories. When Amy agreed to baby-sit Kendra, she had no idea she was stepping into a kidnapping plot. Two men force the girls out of the house and into a cabin in the woods, where they create DVDs to send to the families, in hopes of a large ransom from Kendra's wealthy parents. Using her wits and imagination, Amy stealthily sends clues to the police through the DVDs, but time is working against her.  Other great stories by Peg Kehret include Abduction, Runaway Twin, Nightmare Mountain, The Ghost's Grave, Escaping the Giant Wave, and many others. 

 Colfer, Eoin    - Artemis Fowl.  This series fulfills two of my favorite genres; adventure and fantasy. 12-year-old Artemis Fowl is not only brilliant and rich, but he's a master criminal. However, when he matches wits with a fairy, Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon unit, things go awry. These aren't your typical bedtime-story fairies. Good thing he's a genius. So begins this excellent fantasy/tech/adventure series. I've loved all the books in the series, from this first one to The Last Guardian. They aren't for everyone, and some students have trouble getting into them, but the ones that do are hooked.

 Riordan, Rick   - The Lightning Thief.  The beginning of another excellent and highly popular series. Greek mythology meets the modern world. Zeus's master lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy, the demi-god son of Poseidon, is the prime suspect. Now, he and his friends have just ten days to find and return Zeus's stolen property, battling a host of mythical monsters, gods, and impossible odds. If you like adventure and you know a little about the Greek myths, give this a try.  From Percy Jackson and the Olympians, follow through with the Heroes of Olympus series.  Then switch over to Egyptian mythology with the Kane Chronicles trilogy.  One of the best writers for young adults in the business. 

 Byars, Betsy  - The Dark Stairs.  The first in a high quality mystery series. Herculeah Jones loves mysteries. Her mom is a private detective and her dad's with the police. When she notices a suspicious man around the Dead Oaks mansion, it's time for some investigating.  Female sleuths are nothing new, but Betsy Byars gives this one more character than most.  Another excellent mystery series with a female lead is Wendy Van Draanen's Sammy Keyes

 McMullan, Kate  - Have a Hot Time, Hades.  From the Myth-o-mania series.  Again, Greek mythology is a must if you're going to really get all the fun nuances of these books. Written from the point of view of Hades, Lord of the Underworld and pretty cool guy, this series sets the record straight about the Olympian gods, mortal heroes, and mythical creatures of ancient Greece.  Lots of clever twists and word play. Easier to read than Percy Jackson, but no less enjoyable in its own way.