6 Awesome Middle Grade Dads

In honor of Father’s Day, lets celebrate our favorite middle grade dads, whether they be biological, adoptive, or living only in our memories. Many of us have a special bond with or memory of our dads, which has forever shaped us. My own Dad takes a lot of pride in doing things himself, and as I’ve grown older I find myself appreciating those same traits. He is also really great at backing a motorhome into any size campsite. These middle grade novels all feature special relationships with fathers, be they god, mortal or somewhere in between. No matter who they are, or what they do, let’s just all agree that we’re pretty lucky to have these guys in our lives.

The Hidden Oracle (B&N Exclusive Edition) (The Trials of Apollo Series #1), by Rick Riordan
Zeus is the father of Apollo, who just happens to now be trapped in the body of a regular New York City kid. That, on its own, is amazing and inspiring and everything that a dad/son story should be. Parents aren’t always easy people to get along with, I admit it, but when your dad happens to be the head honcho of all Greek gods, the stakes are that much higher. In another wonderful series from Rick Riordan (you’ve heard of Percy Jackson, perhaps? Magnus Chase, maybe?) kids pull out all the stops to save the world, prove their worth, and earns some serious brownie points for their otherworldly parents. Zeus is no one to mess with, and he knows it! Plus, he gives Dad Bods a good name.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts I & II, by J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany
This whole series is jam packed with awesome dads, and The Cursed Child is set to be another great addition. Fans get reintroduced to Harry and Ron, this time as fathers to young Albus and Rose, who are embarking on their first year at Hogwarts. With their own awesome examples of fatherhood (Arthur Weasley and James Potter), as well the slightly reckless influences of Sirius Black and Remus Lupin over their childhoods, it will be fun for fans to see what kind of fathers these two have become. The even more pressing question may be: what kind of father is Draco, and does Scorpius follow in the Malfoy family footsteps.

Pinocchio, by Carlo Collodi
In this classic story, Pinocchio lets his mischievous ways lead him astray from his loving adopted father, Geppetto (with more rule breaking and adventures than the movie, and also more heart and more love between Pinocchio and Geppetto). Readers also get a chance to think on what makes a family: is it birth, or is it unreserved love, or some combination? Pinocchio eventually learns to behave, attains some much needed-bravery, and finds that the one person who has always been true to him is his very own father.

The Little House series (9-Book Boxed Set), by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Garth Williams
Pa, father to Laura Ingalls, is the perfect example of a pioneer days dad. He works his tail off all day in the the fields, or goes hunting, or sugaring, but he still has the time to teach his kids the life skills they need to survive on the frontier. Laura lovingly remembers all the nights he played the fiddle, the careful way he did his farm work, and the bravery he showed even when things got tough. Whether they are out riding horses, taking their first train ride, or raising the walls of a new home, Pa is absolutely a guy who should be celebrated on Father’s Day—but he definitely doesn’t need a tie, or a mug with golf jokes on it.

Song of the Deep, by Brian Hastings
In this soon to be released book (and video game!) twelve-year-old Merryn lives with her father, who is a deep sea fisherman. After a terrible storm, Merryn worries that he is lost at sea. Thanks to the courage and imagination that her father fostered in her, she builds her own submarine to find him. While traveling the ocean, she learns that her father’s many deep-sea legends just might be true, and also that she is stronger, braver, and smarter than she ever believed. Sometimes a father’s love, support, and encouragement can send us out on the most amazing journeys.

Captain of the Ship (American Girl Beforever Series: Caroline #1), by Kathleen Ernst, Juliana Kolesova, and Michael Dworkin
The American Girl books always have great, multidimensional relationships between their parents and their kids. Whether it is Molly’s dad being deployed during the war, Kit’s dad trying to work through the Depression, or Addy worrying about her dad as he escapes slavery, there is no shortage of important fathers. One of the most standout dads has to be Caroline’s father, the proud ship builder who is taken hostage in 1812. Caroline is so inspired by her father’s love of sailing and his ship building business that she can’t help by stray back to Lake Ontario at every opportunity. She braves the lake, and the British, in an attempt to rescue him, all because of their strong, reciprocal love.

What stories do you love to share with your dads?

Originally Published with Barnes and Noble

Q&A with I Wish I Could Remember You Author L.J. Epps

 

What inspired you to write your book?

I had the idea for my book roaming around in my head for years. When I was growing up I would get different ideas in my head for a book or movie. One of the ideas I had was about a woman going through a messy divorce and losing her memory but only remembering the good years she shared with her husband. Since he claimed he had changed and she could only remember the good in him she had to decide if she was willing to give him a second chance.

Do you have a specific writing style?

I usually write down all of my ideas on paper and then just jump in and start writing the story. Once I’m well into the story –which would be a couple of chapters in I try to make an outline. That way I can have some sort of idea where the story will end up as I’m writing.

How did you come up with the title?

Funny but the working title was called Forgotten because I wanted to show that Emily has forgotten all of the bad things her husband has done to her and forgotten her new boyfriend, Robert because of her memory loss. But as time went on I wanted more of a sad romantic type title. That’s when I came up with I Wish I Could Remember You.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

My advice is if you love to write you should write as much as possible. Even if you never make any money from your writing, if your proud of it or if one person likes it that makes it all worth it.

What books/authors have influenced your writing?

One of my favorite authors is Nicholas Sparks. When I read his novels I always get emotionally involved. I’ve shed a few tears reading his novels, and that’s the kind of reaction I would like my novels to get when people read them. I love novels where I want to jump to the end to see what happens but I don’t because that would ruin the story for me.

What genre do you consider your books?

I write fiction novels. My first novel is Contemporary Women’s Romance. I also write Young Adult Fantasy and Dystopian.

Do you ever experience writers block?

Yes, I experience writers block sometimes, when that happens I listen to music. Sometimes music brings ideas flowing to my brain. I’m not sure why but it does.

Have you ever hated something you wrote?

Yes, I’ve written scenes that I’ve hated so I keep rewriting the scenes until I feel better about them. I have even gotten rid of entire scenes and started over from scratch.

Where did your love of writing come from?

When I was a child I day dreamed a lot and I had an active imagination. So I think it started when I was a child. I loved to dream up new worlds and new people and as I grew up I liked to write about them.

Do you write every single day?

I try to write every day. It’s not always easy because sometimes time is limited. Some days I can get a lot written and other days a little. But as long as I can write down a few words here and there each day I can get my writing goals completed.

Which writers inspire you?

I like Nicholas Sparks, Danielle Steel, J.K. Rowling, Susan Mallery, and Suzanne Collins.

What are you working on at the minute?

I’m finishing up a Young Adult Fantasy-Dystopian novel I’ve been working on. It should be released in a few months.

What is your favorite theme/genre to write about?

I have two favorites.   I love to write Contemporary Women’s Fiction and I also like to write Fantasy as well.

What is your latest book about?

My latest book is about a woman named Emily. She in her thirties and is going through a terrible divorce. Her husband, Steven is abusive and controlling and he doesn’t want the divorce. Emily is trying to move on with her life and during her separation she meets someone new named, Robert. Before the divorce can take place Emily is in a terrible accident that robs her of some of her short-term memories. She can only remember the good times with her soon to be ex-husband not the bad, and she cannot remember Robert at all. Both men profess their love for her and she has to decide who she wants to be with. Will she choose the man who claims he has changed even though she has heard about the terrible things he has done to her from her sister, but can’t remember? Or will she choose the man she’s been told she’s in love with now but can’t remember him at all.

You can get I Wish You Could Remember You on Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, and other retailers.

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7 More Sob-Inducing Books That Deserve to Be Made into Movies

Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You, the emotional bestseller that brought countless fans to tears, hits theaters across the country this week. On June 3rd many of us will be seen walking out of movie theaters with red-rimmed eyes and all the feels, glad to have been able to spend some time with Louisa and Will and to witness their unexpected love story on the big screen. Books and movies that have the ability to bring fans to tears often stay with us long after we have experienced them. If you enjoyed the Me Before You or the book (or film adaptations of) The Fault in Our Starsor Wildyou may also find yourself hoping for movie adaptions a few of the books below as well. Make it happen, Hollywood!

 

We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart
Everything changes for Cadence Sinclair during her fifteenth summer at her family’s beach. As Cadence struggles with memory loss, physical injuries, and a secret that no one is willing to share, she is also growing into adulthood. After spending the next summer in Europe, and then finally returning to the family’s beloved summer house on the island, Cadence has to face some harsh realities about herself and her cousins. In much the same vein as the twisty Gone Girl, readers will find themselves by turns sad, frustrated, amazed, and shocked. It’s nearly impossible to read this book without having some strong feelings, and a movie adaption would be irresistible.

 

A Child Called It: One Child’s Courage to Survive, by Dave Pelzer
I wept, a lot, while reading Dave Pelter series of memoirs. At turns devastating and hopeful, producers could film a heck of a tearjerking masterpiece of Oscar material with this set of books. Why this material hasn’t yet been tapped for a movie is almost inexplicable. Depicting Pelzer’s journey from an abused child to an adult who has to learn to cope with his terrible past, and eventually to thrive, is as heartbreaking as it is inspirational. A film that blends the realism of Wild with the elements of a damaged childhood like Room would no doubt rack up some nominations…and plenty of drenched hankies.

 

The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath
Granted, there is a Bell Jar film from 1979. There is also the Gwyneth Paltrow/Daniel Craig film Sylvia, which loosely covers the author’s more autobiographical material. But a real, gritty, earnest look at the health care system and the borderline torture that Esther Greenwood underwent during a mental breakdown in the 1950s would make for a devastating film. This novel, which explores the pangs of teenage love and rejection, along with the pressures to achieve perfection in a competitive world, is timeless — maybe even more so today.

 

Looking For Alaska Special 10th Anniversary Edition, by John Green
John Green is the brains behind many of our beloved sob-inducing books and movies like Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars, and Looking For Alaskawas his first novel. Miles Halter is a high school junior, with a penchant for darkness, who is on his way to a new boarding school. As he takes on new friends Chip “The Colonel” Martin, and Takumi Hirohito, along with crush Alaska Young, the journey unfolds into a series of pranks and personal revelations. The more that each character reveals, the more readers begin to worry. The end, which I won’t spoil here, is a heartbreaking series of events that places it among the ranks of A Separate Peace (another must read weepy classic) and Me Before You.

 

The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein
Just ask any parent the last time they cried over a children’s book and you will mostly definitely hear someone say The Giving Tree. From the master of poignant children’s literature, this classic tale of self sacrifice to one’s children will make you cry every single time. And not just cry, I mean Dawson’s Creek ugly face cry crying. Given its brevity, the book may be hard to adapt, but if Hollywood can turn Where the Wild Things Are into an emotional film about parenting and birth, than I have faith that we will all be sitting together crying about The Giving Tree one day. I’ll save you a seat.

 

Wonder (B&N Exclusive Edition), by R. J. Palacio
A film based on Wonder is currently in production, and it is no surprise, seeing as this is a beautiful novel that is beloved by kids and adults alike. The story of middle grade boy with birth defects that leave him extremely disfigured, and the struggles he has while attending school for the first time, is a universal tear jerker. Who hasn’t felt out of place, or longed for acceptance in some way? Who hasn’t been betrayed, fought for, or lost a friend? Despite its middle grade labeling, all readers can find something of themselves in main character Auggie. In the same way that The Lovely Bones and The Fault in Our Stars touched fans of all ages, this movie could be popular among all ages.

 

The Still Point of the Turning World, by Emily Rapp
Emily Rapp’s second memoir is a book like few others. At six months old her son Ronan was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs, an always fatal genetic disorder. In an attempt to find a path in a world that no parent ever expects to inhabit, Rapp takes readers through the emotional, physical, and intellectual stages of grief. Readers also are shown the absolute beauty in loving the small things, in embracing the entirety of life. More than story of grief though, this is a story of fierce — even staggering — unconditional love.

Which beautiful, sad, books do you want to see in theaters?

6 Books that Help Share the Meaning of Memorial Day

Memorial Day originated during the Civil War as Decoration Day in 1868; the Grand Army of the Republic wanted it to become a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead. It wasn’t until 1971 that it became the familiar date and name that we all observe today. Despite the changes over the years, the purpose has stayed the same: to honor our military members who gave their lives for our country. Now, that may be a challenging concept for some kids, and some parents, but here are a few fantastic books to help bring home the meaning in a relatable way. During this holiday weekend, maybe while waiting for a parade to start, or enjoying the sun and BBQs with family, bring along some of these worthy reads to share with the kids.

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The Civil War: An Interactive History Adventure, by Matt Doeden
Since the idea of Memorial Day began during the Civil War, it makes sense to pick up some books set during the same time period. A unique choose-your-own-adventure format puts middle grade readers right in the middle of the battles, from Gettysburg to Chancellorsville; few things bring home the reality of a situation like being asked to make tough choices yourself, plus there is a lot of room for rereading and new discoveries in Doeden’s book. Another great Civil War choice for middle grade readers is The Last Brother: A Civil War Tale, where readers follow 11 year old bugle player Gabe into the The Battle at Gettysburg as he tries to protect his older brother and make sense of the fighting. (Ages 8–12)

0tequssdzfgwmy_yqSoldier (DK Eyewitness Series), by Simon Adams
The Eyewitness Series is a fantastic resource for introducing kids to realistic topics in an approachable, informative way. Memorial Day can be a difficult topic when kids want to know specifics. Using books like Solider, Vietnam War, and others offers kids enough facts that they can appreciate the holiday’s meaning without being overwhelmed by the details. The real pictures, maps, and true accounts can be super engaging for kids who always want to ask a million questions — and there may even be new facts for some parents too! (Ages 8–12)
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Year of the Jungle: Memories from the Home Front, by Suzanne Collins and James Proimos
Year of the Jungle, a based on true-events story from the writer of The Hunger Games, follows young Suzy as her dad leaves for the Vietnam War. Collins writes in a way that is sincere and thoughtful, but that won’t be too much for little readers. The wonderful illustrations give the book some lightness and whimsy so that anyone can enjoy and relate to the story. Part of growing up is learning empathy and thankfulness, and stepping into the shoes of another, especially on a day like Memorial Day, can help families embrace those important ideas. Families can revisit this book, and the next one on our list, on Veteran’s Day as well. (Ages 4–8)

0kjjk7jqglwzsaklo Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops, by Jill Biden and Raul Colon
The Second Lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden, has also written a book inspired by her own family’s experiences. Told from the view point of Natalie, her granddaughter, young readers will be able to understand and appreciate the sacrifices made by military service members and their families. There are also some really great ideas on helping kids, both your own and those of other military families, to celebrate and support each other. Memorial Day isn’t just about being thankful to those who have lost their lives in war; it is about supporting their families as well. (Ages 5–8)
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US History Through Infographics, by Karen Latchana Kenney and Laura Kay Westlund

Looking at the timeline of American history, and America’s involvement in combat, can be hard for kids to grasp. This visually interesting book puts nearly everything about American history into easy to understand and unique infographics. Sometimes a number, or a easy to read chart, can open up ideas to kids that they might not have understood before. Since the Revolution, America has fought in many wars, and many brave men and women have given their lives for our country. Books like this have the power to show kids what they were fighting for. (Ages 8–10)

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The Wall, by Eve Bunting and Ronald Himler
In another beautifully drawn picture book, this gentle story follows a young boy and his father as they search for his grandfather’s name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Using soft illustrations and a calm narrative voice, Bunting and Himler have created a loving book about a difficult topic. Sometimes the best way to tell a story is the simple way, as this book shows. During Memorial Day, or before any trip to visit The Wall in Washington DC, this book should be on everyone’s must read list. (Ages 4–7)

How does your family celebrate Memorial Day?

From BN Kids 

5 Astonishing Reads for American Crime Story Fans

The thrill of celebrity, the intrigue of an unsolved crime, the search for closure and justice; American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson brought it all to TV and then some. While few things have the pop culture impact of that infamous glove, there are plenty of gripping crimes that are worthy of our attention. From stories as well known as Waco and Tupac to twisted tales of murder in the desert, international espionage, and cannibals, these five books all make worthy reads for American Crime Story fans, and fans of its inspiration, The Run of His Life: The People v. O. J. Simpson.

 

Twentynine Palms: A True Story of Murder, Marines and the Mojave, by Deanne Stillman
In 1991 two girls were murdered outside Twentynine Palms Marine Corp Base. The Marine in question had recently returned from the Gulf War and found himself readjusting to life in another desert setting. But how did they all find themselves in the same apartment in the middle of the night in Twentynine Palms? Was there something in their pasts, their families, maybe even their cultures that brought this unlikely set together. And what ultimately sealed their fate? What is life really like for those who live outside military bases? What does this rootless culture do to towns, neighbors, even individual families? With so many questions, an amazingly vivid setting, and bigger — even national — implications, Stillman’s exploration is a must read.

 

The Waco Siege: The History of the Federal Government’s Standoff with David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, by Charles River Editors
People may mention the Waco massacre in passing, thinking they know the details, but this story is one that has changed law enforcement in immeasurable ways. With a paper trail running all the way from local law enforcement to then President Bill Clinton, there is much more to this 50 day standoff than meets the eye. With a mix of high profile government involvement, extreme beliefs, and terrifying violence, the Waco Siege is a gripping story of unanswered questions and the cult of personality. In the aftermath of David Koresh’s standoff with authorities, local and national law enforcement agencies have reworked how they respond to large scale situations and domestic terror attacks. This case shaped America, and it is fascinating.

 

Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest, by Carl Hoffman
Travel back in time to the 1960s and the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller, the son of New York Governor, and later Vice President, Nelson Rockefeller (and yes, a member of that famous family). The who’s who connections of the Rockefeller family, the remote terrain, and the still-unanswered questions about Michael Rockefeller’s death make this a most fascinating read. In the same way that most questions will never be resolved in the OJ Simpson trial, we may never know if Rockefeller drowned or was taken — and eaten — by local cannibals in New Guinea. The art that Rockefeller collected and can be found in some of the world’s most famous museums, such as the MET in New York, but this mystery may be his biggest legacy.

 

LAbyrinth: A Detective Investigates the Murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., the Implications of Death Row Records’ Suge Knight, and the Origins of the Los Angeles Police Scandal, by Randall Sullivan
Tupac and Biggie, two of the biggest names in the early LA rap scene, are also at the center of some of the most wide-spanning conspiracy theories and fan fantasies. Is Tupac living peacefully on an island somewhere? Were the two killed by rival gangs? The police? Their own label — or maybe a competitor? Russell Poole, a highly decorated LAPD detective, was called on in 1997 to investigate a controversial cop-on-cop shooting that turned into more than he could imagine. Eventually Poole came to discover that the officer killed was tied to Marion “Suge” Knight’s notorious gangsta rap label, and the Bloods street gang. The shocking crossovers between the police, gangs, and the rap industry are as as riveting as they are controversial.

 

Hard Drive: A Family’s Fight Against Three Countries, by Mary Todd and Christina Villegas
This more recent story is still playing out in three countries, yet no one seems to have the answers. Or do they? What appeared at first to be a standard tech industry job for Dr. Shane Todd turned into an international intelligence nightmare that caught the Chinese government, Singapore police, and one American family in the same net. Dr. Todd was found dead by apparent suicide in his apartment, but among his personal belongings his family discovered an external hard drive with thousands of files that called everything they were told by police into question. The information in those files transformed this story from a tragic suicide to an international saga of mystery, deceit, and coverup. What do you do when all of your attempts to get the truth are thwarted by every level of international government and no one wants to help?

What crime story do you think needs the American Crime Story treatment?

From Barnes and Noble Reads

The Best Honeymoon Destinations for Book Nerds

Wedding season is on the horizon, and with it comes some amazing honeymoon travel opportunities. In the quest to find the perfect spot to relax after the months of planning, family time, and the ceremony itself, consider hitting the country that best suits your literary tastes. Both coasts of the U.S. boast their own wonderful literary histories, or well read and adventurous couples can branch out into more far reaching countries, like Japan or Cuba, to find their literary loves. Of course, there are certain distant havens for the written word, like London and Paris, that should not be overlooked. Wherever you and your beloved decide to go, be sure to bring plenty of books for your downtime.

Washington, D.C.
Washington D.C. is a gorgeous city with amazing literary offerings. The Library of Congress can be an almost full day adventure for any book lover, with exhibits that highlight everything from historical maps to the origins of jazz. True must-sees include the Thomas Jefferson Collection, holding many of the actual books read by the third President. And along the National Mall is the Folger Shakespeare Library, home to one of the few copies of Shakespeare’s First Folio. The Library regularly hosts productions of Shakespeare’s plays, poetry readings, and exhibits relevant to Shakespeare’s world. Visit the city in spring for the beauty and romance of the cherry blossoms, and stay for the fantastic history and literary sights.

England
England’s literary bona fides are unending and make it a dream honeymoon destination. Take in one of Shakespeare’s romances at The Globe Theater, walk the moors so loved by the Brontë sisters, sit in the village of Haworth at dusk for an otherworldly view of nature. Take an afternoon turn in the gardens of Jane Austen’s house in Hampshire while chatting about the love affair between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. Maybe you want to check out a tour of the Harry Potter sets; they were good enough for the royals to visit. England is an amazing country, full of more literary sites and romantic day trips than could ever be listed in one place.

Northern California
Stay at the Hotel Boheme, visit Chinatown and the Chinese Historical Society to relive the worlds of Amy Tan’s novels, and spend a day at The Beat Museum to immerse yourself in the writing of the Beat Generation. Travel farther down the coast that inspired so many writers and photographers, and take in the breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean before a stop in Salinas and the National Steinbeck Center. The dramatic contrast of the ocean and the redwood forest, the fertile valleys and the busy cities, are as interesting as any other characters in East of Eden, and time spent here won’t soon be forgotten. Whether you find the beaches or the forests, the cities or the open roads, California has a stop — and an author — for every taste.

Paris
Even without its astounding literary connections, the City of Lights can be the honeymoon of a lifetime. Make a reservation at Le Procope to eat like Victor Hugo, or drink 40 cups of coffee like Voltaire at cafés around town. A cemetery might not seem like a romantic stop, but Père Lachaise is the most visited cemetery in the world, with residents including Oscar Wilde, Honoré de Balzac, Colette, Marcel Proust, Gertrude Stein, and Richard Wright, where a true book-loving couple will be glad to pay their respects. Or, if graveyards aren’t your thing, step into the 1920s and get a drink in the same speakeasy where Hemingway met F. Scott Fitzgerald in April 1925; Le Rosebud is literary destination like no other. From your perch atop the Eiffel Tower or at a sidewalk café table, drink in the city that was home and muse to centuries of revolutionary writers.

Cuba
Now that Americans can travel to Cuba to sightsee, the Hemingway House in San Francisco de Paula should be at the top of book lovers’ travel lists. Just outside of Havana you’ll find Finca Vigía, where Hemingway wrote his classics For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea, and began A Moveable Feast. The house is on both the World Monuments Fund’s list of 100 Most Endangered sites and the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 11 Most Endangered Places, so it is very much worth the visit. Nearby, visitors can see the National Museum of Fine Arts, the mosaic art at Fusterlandia, and grab something to eat in Old Havana. For a unique adventure in a country few have vacationed to, book nerds can immerse themselves in a culture we’ve only read about in books like Dreaming in Cuban.

Japan
A step outside of Western culture may bring book nerd lovers to Japan. The country is currently home to Kenzaburo Oe, Haruki Murakami, and Natsuo Kirino, among others, but these literary heavy hitters are just part of a long literary tradition. Plan your trip using this list of cities where famous Japanese stories take place, find a Tokyo jazz bar where you can whip out your favorite Murakami novel, and carry a tour books like Lonely Planet Japan to ensure you hit all the major points of interest. To see Western lit through an Eastern lens, check out a themed night at a restaurant, where they often take on classics like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

From Barnes and Noble Reads

Magnificent Middle Grade Poetry for National Poetry Month

Rhyme lovers of every age, rejoice, for April is National Poetry Month! We all know that little readers love silly sing song poems, and adults can get lost in the emotions of a good poetry collection, but what about middle graders? Wonderfully, middle grade readers get the best of both poetry worlds, with plenty of funny collections, serious books, and ageless crossovers that can enjoyed all month (and beyond!).

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, Illustrated Edition, by T. S. Eliot, with drawings by Edward Gorey

 T.S. Eliot’s tale of stray cats and their nighttime wanderings has been retold for years, most notably as the Broadway show Cats. Made up of 14 poems, that are both very real and completely unbelievable, readers can enjoy the cat phenomenon the way it was before memes took over the internet. Books like this one are a great bridge between the funny sounds of younger books and the more serious fare of adult lit, but still 100% awesome poetry.

Poems I Wrote When No One Was Looking, by Alan Katz, with drawings by Edward Koren

 A silly take on the mischievous, these poems are just plain fun. Katz is also the author of the charming The Day the Mustache Took Over, among many other books, so he definitely gets middle grade humor. Whether read out loud together, or alone while tucked away in a cozy spot, these bits of verse show that there is a lot more to poetry than serious thoughts and beautiful landscapes. Make sure you have some tissues on hand though — you will be laughing until you cry.

Because I Could Not Stop My Bike … and Other Poems, by Karen Jo Shapiro, illustrated by Matt Faulkner

 This super smart collection is a modern twist on classic poems. From William Shakespeare to Emily Dickinson, kids won’t even realize they are reading funny takes on the works of some of the world’s most famous poets. Faulkner’s zany illustrations take this book to a whole other enjoyable level. It won’t be until later, when your kids recognize the rhyme and meter of the poems in their textbooks, that they will catch on that you had them reading classic poetry in junior high. This book is so clever that you will probably find yourself reading it, and falling in love with poetry all over again.

Neighborhood Odes, by Gary Soto, illustrated by David Diaz

 Gary Soto and David Diaz take the small moments of childhood, the beautiful little event that stick, and present them in a way that readers of all ages can love. Parties and pets, family celebrations and long summer afternoons all get the thoughtful treatment that Soto is known for, and the simple black and white illustrations are frame-worthy. This book is a terrific addition to any middle grade reader’s collection, as it will probably turn out to be one of their favorite books — both now and later.

Where the Sidewalk Ends: Poems and Drawings, by Shel Silverstein

 An ageless classic that can be read in elementary school, laughed over in middle school, and reminisced about as an adult, Where the Sidewalk Ends is a childhood-defining collection of poetry. The rhymes are silly, the illustrations create a fully fleshed out world, and the quiet meanings can bring adults to tears. Shel Silverstein is a master like no other and the beauty of his writing makes him a must read, and not just in April, but all year long. After your kids have devoured this book, grab A Light in the Attic, Falling Up, and Everything On It for years — really, years — of amazing poetry experiences.

Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry, by Billy Collins

 For a slightly different twist to your National Poetry Month reading, tackle Billy Collins’s collection, Poetry 180. Collins, Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001–2003, put together this collection, and its sequel 180 More, to introduce school-aged students to modern poets. His idea is that students should have a love of poetry first; poetry that is written in modern language kids can understand, before jumping into the classics. Given this idea, this book contains 180 poems, one for each day of the school year, from some of the biggest names in contemporary poetry. Before you know it your kids will have a new favorite poet, be it Lucille Clifton, Kenneth Koch, Philip Levine, or Naomi Shihab Nye.

What poetry does your middle grader love to read?

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on April 7, 2016.

The Kingdom Keepers: The Return Series Continues with Legacy of Secrets

Ridley Pearson’s wildly popular Kingdom Keepers series is the story of five teenagers chosen to be Disney theme park “guides”, who discover that the gig is a lot more dangerous than expected; they soon find themselves battling against Disney’s own villains and witches to save the Magic Kingdom from destruction. The final book in that series saw them triumph against all odds, but every terrific series calls for an encore, does it not? The Kingdom Keepers: The Return series is the offshoot fans have been begging for, and it offers the brilliant twist of sending the original cast of characters back in time — to opening day of Disneyland, circa 1955! Featuring a genius premise and a perfect mixture of science fiction, history, magic, Disney trivia, and adventure, this middle grade romp is as tough to put down as a delicious raspberry Mickey Macaron.
The first book in the spinoff series, Disney Lands, was filled with riddles and puzzles, and ended on a nail-biting cliffhanger; luckily for us the second book, Legacy of Secrets, jumps in at full speed right where we left off. Our original five Kingdom Keepers friends (Finn, Charlene, Willa, Maybeck, and Philby) are continuing to follow clues left behind by their mentor, Wayne, which will hopefully help them protect the future of Disneyland. At the same time, unofficial Kingdom Keepers and Fairlies Jess and Amanda (Fairlies are humans with unusual abilities, but they are still “fairly” human, zing!) have their own dark and dangerous backstory returning to haunt them as they try to help the Keepers solve the mystery from their position within Disney’s School of Imagineering, in current-day 2016. Believing that the Overtakers they (presumably) defeated during the first series are gone, the Keepers try to keep the opening week of Disneyland safe, while hunting out the source of Walt Disney’s magic. Along the way they stumble onto the Legacy of Secrets, as well as a real life, flesh and blood villain who may do more than throw a hitch into Walt’s opening ceremonies.
In a succession of short chapters that keep the action always at the forefront, readers race alongside the characters to solve a series of clues woven into Disney history. As they zip from the fabled Lilly Belle train car, to Walt’s backyard, to deep in the rare books room at the Los Angeles County Library, and across more than 60 years of time and space, fans will find themselves absorbed in the magic and engaged by the mystery. Impressively, throughout all of the talk of technology and time travel, the book stays grounded; rooted as it is by characters that grow and change — people you care about and root for no matter what year it is.
Of course, the second book leaves us with nearly as many questions and cliffhangers as the first. Still, it answers many of the questions from Disney Lands, and reveals surprising facts from the original series, which will delight longtime fans. The real strength of Legacy of Secrets is the suspense that doesn’t let up. Each clue opens more avenues for exploration, and everything that you think you know about Disney is called into question. As a bonus, the Barnes & Noble Exclusive edition comes with a map that helps you navigate Disneyland circa 1955 (it would also look terrific in a frame for any Disneyland fan!), which is surprisingly different from the park we know and love today.
Fans of the series won’t be able to put this installment down, Disney lovers will adore the journey into Disneyland’s origin, and anyone who loves a good mystery will be engrossed.
Legacy of Secrets is in stores March 29.
Originally published at http://www.barnesandnoble.com on March 25, 2016.

Let the Wild Rumpus Start! And Other Parenting Tips From Kids’ Books

“The days are long, but the years are short” is possibly the most honest phrase ever said about parenting. Becoming a parent is one of the best, hardest, most wonderful, and most trying jobs there is. To help get through the long days, the short years, and the temper tantrums in between, during your next story time, take a look at the messages behind your picture books; you might be surprised at just how helpful (and prescient) they are.

“’And now,’ cried Max, ‘let the wild rumpus start!’” (Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak)

 This could be said about every single day of parenting, from those first kicks to the bladder during pregnancy, to the crayon on the walls of toddlerhood, to the tearful high school graduation. Every day is crazier than you’d planned, more fun, and more frustrating, all at the same time. Parenting is indeed a wild rumpus — and if we take it as such, then at least we’ll be more prepared for the absurdity.

“It has been a TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY. My mom says some days are like that. Even in Australia.” (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst and Ray Cruz)

 There will be days when no one makes it out of their pajamas, the dog spills your last precious cup of coffee, and your toddler takes magic markers to the TV screen. It happens, despite our best efforts and our most carefully laid plans. No matter how the day unfolds, it’s comforting to know that it’s normal, and everyone has been there. File it away, have a glass of wine or a cookie, and remember it’ll be okay tomorrow.

“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” (The Complete Tales of Winnie-The-Pooh, by A.A. Milne and Ernest H. Shepard)

 When you get down to it, we’re responsible for teaching our children how to be good, kind, responsible human beings; that is a powerful mission, and we should take the time to recognize that, and to acknowledge and appreciate our own efforts, even though we often feel like we aren’t doing enough. Maybe your kids haven’t mastered shoelaces yet, but however far along you are in this endeavor, you are a superhero.

“I should count backwards from 5 to calm down.” (The Pizza Problem, by Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson)

 When things do get too crazy, take some advice from Peg and count backward, slowly. A lot can be gained from not immediately reacting to a situation, instead stepping away and taking a breather. When you jump back in, you may be surprised at how much your perspective has changed. Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint, so sometimes you need to catch your breath before pushing on.

“The truth is grown-ups often need some extra help. Baffled and befuddled, mindless and muddled, they sometimes forget what they know.” (Julia, Child, by Kyo Maclearand, Julie Morstad)

 With a focus on staying young, enjoying some freedom, and being yourself, this whole book is a gorgeous reminder to live in the moment. And, as a bonus, there are also fabulous pictures of food throughout. If we stand back and watch, we can learn a lot about how to live our best lives from our children. Also, it’s really about time the iconic Julia Child got a picture book of this quality. After all, what’s happier and more heartening to families than food?

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” (The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien)

 Speaking of food and happiness, take a page from The Hobbit. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind of getting by we can forget to enjoy what we have. Instead of taking every overtime shift and letting that vacation time expire, take a day or two off to enjoy your kids, your home, and your surroundings. There’s more wealth in family and friends than we sometimes realize. Your sanity, and your children, will thank you for listening to Tolkien on this one.

“When they’ve finished reading, Olivia’s mother gives her a kiss and says, ‘You know, you really wear me out. But I love you anyway.’” (Olivia, by Ian Falconer)

 No matter how tired, filthy, or frustrated parenting can make you feel, try to remember just how much you do love that little person. Everything may feel like chaos, and your house may actually look like the definition of chaos, but if your family is more or less happy, healthy, and safe, pat yourself on the back and move on to tomorrow.

“Go the f**k to sleep.” (Go the F**k to Sleep, by Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cortes)

 Sometimes the best lesson is the briefest. Everyone, get some sleep when you can. It can make all the difference.

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on March 18, 2016.

7 Children’s Book Characters Who Would Make Terrible Coworkers

The working world isn’t that different from the worlds within children’s books. There are plenty of nice people; those you can relate to and enjoy spending time with. Then there are those guys. Every office (and story) has a few of them — from the one who eats all the candy-dish candy, to the one who rolls in late and leaves early, to the well-meaning elder statesman who can fill an entire day with his stories. You may have a soft spot for some of them, but when you’re facing a tough work deadline you won’t want to have to rely on any of these shady characters.

Spot (Put Me in the Zoo, by Robert Lopshire)

 Spot is the ultimate anywhere-but-here guy. He thinks he deserves the promotion, the better office, that last donut. You just know he’s at his desk checking out Monster Jobs when he should be working on that project your team has due before lunch. Sure, maybe he’s right, maybe he is special, maybe he does deserve something more, but maybe he should try putting in a day’s honest work now and then (and stop taking your parking spot). You can’t help but like Spot, but you also like not being the one stuck putting together his PowerPoint slides when you should have gone home an hour ago. (Ages 5–8)

Curious George (A Treasury of Curious George, by H. A. Rey and Margret Rey)

 Sure, George is a nice guy, and he really does try to get the job done for the team, but dude also likes to go rogue. There is an employee handbook for a reason, but it’s as if George has never taken the time to read it (sometimes you wonder if he can read at all)! Still, he always gets results, and the bosses seem to like his unique thought process and gung-ho attitude. But for the rest of the office, who spends their days filling out his TPS Reports and showing up on time, George isn’t the spunky guy with the out of the box ideas, he’s the guy eats all the snacks in the break room and strolls in late with all the answers. (Ages 0–3)

Max (Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak)

 If Max doesn’t get his way, he stops contributing during your weekly brainstorming sessions. His temper tantrums at the water cooler and his reluctance to ever go out to lunch with the group have made him the office loner. When Max does take the lead on a project, he has no problem ruling with an iron fist; the phrase “benevolent dictator” was made for someone just like Max. Things may run smoothly when he’s is at the helm, and one day he will probably make a great CEO, but when things go off the rails he is the first to bow out and sail off into the sunset. Secretly you hope Max gets promoted to another department, where you won’t have to deal with his attitude or listen to him brag about how he’s helping a buddy redo his Night Kitchen. (Ages 3–5)

The Very Hungry Caterpillar (The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle)

 Is this guy never not on a lunch break!? If he’s not in the break room pilfering someone’s sandwich, snacking on the granola bars from the community basket, or swinging by your desk to eat all of your good candy, he is asking where everyone wants to eat. Every morning the Caterpillar shows up with his breakfast, which he eats loudly at his desk, and he keeps a bag of chips in his bottom drawer to snack on all afternoon. Behind the apple cores and strawberry tops he does somehow get something done, but people mostly like him because he is the first one to yell out that it is Taco Tuesday. The only way you can get him to come to a meeting is if you promise pizza, and then he always scarfs down way more than his fair share, and everyone notices. (Ages 3–5)

Owl (The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh, by A. A. Milne and Ernest H. Shepard)

 Owl is experienced; he’s the oldest guy in any room. He seems to have connections all over the industry, and he has met his fair share of famous faces. When management brought in the new boss, Owl revealedd that he used to ski with “that young woman’s father.” You try to be nice to Owl, and often times you are impressed — maybe even jealous — of his stories. But when he tells you about his well-regarded Great Uncle So-and-So for the hundredth time, you just want to hide behind the copier. Still, Owl is a fine fellow much of the time, so you will be the first one who offers to pick up the cake for his retirement party. (Ages 8–12)

Flash the sloth (Zootopia Read-Along Storybook & CD), by Disney Book Group and Disney Storybook Art Team)

 Flash Flash Hundred Yard Dash may be great for a laugh (What do you call a three humped camel?), but the only thing he does quickly is bolt for the door at the end of the day. No email is every responded to in a timely manner, and schedules and deadlines seem more like suggestions than mandates. Flash knows he isn’t quick, so he takes his criticism in stride, but he also does nothing to pick up the pace. Sometimes his leisureliness seems admirable, and it might make him the most thorough guy on any project, but when time is of the essence, you don’t want him on your team. (Ages 6–8)

Minecraft Zombie (Diary of a Minecraft Zombie Book 1: A Scare of a Dare, by Herobrine Books)

 This guy is just begging to be let go, and everyone in the office knows it. Every Monday he drags his feet in the door, wearing what looks to be Friday’s clothes. He takes the phrase “business casual” to the most extreme level, and has never bothered to personalize his space. His Facebook page is jam packed with photos from all of his nightly party antics, so it isn’t surprising that he has been caught sleeping next to the fax machine. You’re not even sure what his name is, since he never comes to staff meetings, has never been assigned a project, and has no interest in group trivia nights at the local pizza place. All and all he isn’t a bad guy, since he has no responsibilities, but it is a shame he get the same paycheck as everyone else. (Ages 6–12)

What literary characters do you think would make horrible coworkers?

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on March 17, 2016.