The beautiful middle grade years! When children can read on their own and have endless hours to fall into a book, soaking up classics and making memories that last a lifetime. These are the books we all remember from our childhood, from Charlotte’s Web to A Wrinkle in Time. They help to form our interior lives, peopling our minds with characters who speak to our deepest selves. Handing a child a good book at this age will mold adults with integrity and imagination.
Here are some treasures from the last ten years of EatReadSleep, arranged very loosely with the youngest in the beginning. Click on the title in the captions for full reviews.
Still to come on EatReadSleep’s Tenth Anniversary posts: Children’s Nonfiction and Books for “Tweens.” There are some gems in there!
Sewanee Chester used to be an actress, but now she narrates books. She has had an accident that would make it difficult for her to get the starring, bombshell roles she used to rock: she lost an eye and has a scar down one side of her face. When she’s sitting in the bar at the audiobook convention and Nick charms her into a wild night with him, she is totally ready. He has no idea of her real name, and she knows she’ll never see him again.
Back in her real life in L.A., Sewanee is dealing with her failing, irascible grandmother and her father, who refuses to care for her. Sewanee’s grandmother is an old Hollywood starlet, and her pet name for her granddaughter is Doll Face. When Sewanee is offered a very lucrative contract to narrate a recently deceased author’s romance novel, she almost turns it down, since she has pledged never to do romance again. However, the compensation is so great that she would be able to get her grandmother the memory care she really needs, so she agrees. The male lead for the audiobook is Brock McKnight, an incredibly popular narrator with a vast and rabid fanbase. Thus begins a very confusing time for Sewanee.
The great fun of this novel, of course, is all the meta content. Julia Whelan is an audiobook narrator who has written a novel about an audiobook narrator who is getting entangled with an audiobook narrator, and of course, the audiobook is read by the author, who is an audiobook narrator. As a matter of fact, she narrated the audiobook of Tara Westover’s Educated, which I reviewed here. It’s entertaining with a dash of introspection and emotion. Themes of trust, self-acceptance, friendship, and caregiving.
But mostly, it’s just so much fun.
Disclaimer: I listened, of course, to an audiobook of this novel. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.
“It’s absurd to have a hard and fast rule about what one should read and what one shouldn’t. More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn’t read.”
The Importance of Being Earnest
Oscar Wilde would know about being challenged. It is ridiculous that we even have banned books in a supposedly open society. While everyone is free to make reading choices for themselves and for their children, they are not free to make those choices for their neighbors or their neighbors’ children. And yet, 2022 has seen more challenges to books than any year since the American Library Association has been keeping track. This year, September 18-24 is Banned Book Week. We don’t celebrate Banned Book Week. We mourn that we have to observe it still.
Many of the recent challenges have been toward books about sexuality, particularly LGBTQ+ themes. It is understandable when a parent tells a teacher that they do not feel that their children are developmentally prepared for these topics, but to insist that the books are removed from libraries, including high school and public libraries, is tantamount to insisting that these people are removed from our society. That is impossible and offensive.
Even less rational is the push to remove books about diverse racial and ethnic groups. There is no age restriction for such knowledge. Brad Meltzer’s picture book I Am Barack Obama has been challenged, along with other titles in his popular young children’s series that sometimes features black people from history. Why? Do Americans want their children to think that we never had a black president? Do they want them to be ignorant of history? It is unconscionable.
I make a deliberate effort to read banned and challenged books. I want to understand and empathize with the spectrum of human experience, and fiction allows us to live inside someone else’s head for a while. If we live another life for a time, we may be less inclined to try to erase them from existence. We are all more alike than we are different.
Here are some of the children’s and teens’ books that I’ve reviewed for EatReadSleep that have been banned or challenged over the years. You can select from any of these for yourself or your kids, or you can choose any of the 850 titles on the Texas congressman’s list that he is forcing schools to remove. Read, get uncomfortable, stretch, read more. Let’s stay free.
Continuing the Best of EatReadSleep’s Tenth Anniversary!
I read everything, but children’s books are also my profession. I loved reading to my son when he was little, and now I have grandchildren to turn into bibliophiles. During the ten years that I’ve been writing EatReadSleep, I have been the children’s selector for a large library system. Here are some of my favorites from that time.
I have only written one post about these sturdy little volumes, and it was meant to be funny. Seriously, though, Sandra Boynton, Michael Dahl, and others have poured their prodigious talents into books that will be slobbered and chewed on, and parents everywhere appreciate it.
Picture books! Those little artistic gems. How I love them. The best picture books convey oceans of meaning in just a few well-chosen words, along with gorgeous or hilarious illustrations. Here are some of my favorites over the years. Many of the reviews are grouped in the original posts. Click the links for full reviews!
There will be many more children’s books to come, so stay tuned!
Don’t let the Mona Lisa cover fool you; her life is far from slow and serene.
When a girl becomes the country’s youngest sommelier, one would expect that she grew up in a vineyard, working with grape crops and vintages throughout her childhood. Not so Victoria James. She and her three little siblings were virtually abandoned while their alcoholic father stayed on long business trips and their princess (no, seriously) mother suffered from such severe mental illness that she never left her bedroom for weeks on end. One time, when Victoria was eight years old, her slightly older brother divided up one sleeve of saltines to last the four children for a week.
Such a childhood breeds toughness, and Victoria would need it to succeed. She started her restaurant career at the local diner when she was thirteen years old, soaking up all the life lessons her boss could impart. “Find something that you can love about every customer.” She remembered that one as she moved on to the next restaurant and the next, studying every free moment. She learned to be a bartender and to hustle, to work harder and faster in each place. Once she was introduced to wine, she studied nonstop and worked to earn money for classes and certification exams.
Although James exulted in her progress as a sommelier, this is not a breezy rags-to-riches story. She suffered abuse and disrespect almost universally for years. Yes, the reader gets to hear about trips to those magical tucked-away restaurants and vineyards in rural parts of idyllic wine countries, but also some brutal episodes that reveal the dark side of the service industry. Once she arrived at the top of her field, James established Wine Empowered, a nonprofit organization to promote women and minorities in service careers, so that those who are usually stuck at the bottom of the ladder will have the skills and support to move up in the ranks.
This memoir is a natural for foodies and oenophiles, but it is also a surprising fit for the legions of readers who devoured Educated, by Tara Westover, and for all those who love a story of dreams fulfilled through hard work and persistence.
Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.
The next installment of The Best of EatReadSleep’s 10th Anniversary series!
For about fifteen years, I either worked with teens in a library or, later, selected teen books for the library system, and I really enjoyed this collection. Young adult literature is a thriving subculture. At conferences, these authors are rock stars, and their fans are not only teenagers, but plenty of adults, especially librarians and teachers. Young adult books are where all of the latest headlines go to live through stories, and there is some great and undervalued writing going on in this space. Some of my selections are a few years old, but definitely stand the test of time.
If you’ve read EatReadSleep for any number of years, you know that I have covered some YA series every time a new volume comes out. Here are some of my favorites, although I am sure that I’m leaving out something fantastic. Click on the titles for the full reviews, and search the authors for more reviews in the series.
Favorite Authors and Single Titles
There are some excellent LGBTQ+ writers in teen literature, and they’ve been winning awards for decades. A few of my favorites include:
In our next installment, we will venture into favorite children’s titles from the last ten years!