Posted in Lists, Reading

Carie’s Lists: 10 YA & MG Books That Deserve More Readers

I love reading books for kids and I love talking about books for kids. Most of the titles I mention to fellow kidlit readers get nods of recognition or at least the comment, “I’ve heard of that. Is it good?” But lately I’ve seen more and more blank looks when I mention certain titles, so I decided to do some investigating. The following ten books have been rated by fewer than 900 people on Goodreads, and for many the number is much lower. However, I’ve given them all at least three stars, sometimes four or five.

I think these books, which have been passed over for some reason, deserve another look. There’s good stuff here– memorable characters, touching stories, and a lot of diversity. Take a moment to scan the list and see if there’s not at least one book you or your child might be interested in reading.

[Note: All summary information is from Goodreads unless otherwise noted.]

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1. The Little Leftover Witch by Florence Laughlin – 1960

A little lost witch undergoes a magical transformation when she’s loved by a human family in this heartwarming story. When Felina, a little witch, breaks her broom on Halloween and can’t fly home, she is stuck with the Doon family and their black cat, Itchabody, for an entire year. Although she’s homesick and unhappy, the Doon parents and their daughter, Lucinda, do their best to make Felina feel welcome. (And she has no trouble with Itchabody at all!) As time passes, the mischievous Felina learns what it means to be part of a family—and how, with love, she will always belong.

My Rating – 5 stars

My Comments – This is such a beautiful little story. It’s not at all what I thought it was going to be, but I absolutely loved it. To see my full review, click here.

2. How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found by Sara Nickerson – 2003

Margaret’s father died in a mysterious drowning accident when she was eight years old. Four years later, her mother still won’t talk about it — in fact, she doesn’t talk about much of anything. But when Margaret’s mother takes her and her little sister, Sophie, to a strange abandoned mansion and puts a FOR SALE BY OWNER sign in the front yard, Margaret is determined to solve the puzzle of her family, once and for all.

Armed with three strange clues — a swimming medal, a key, and a handwritten comic book — Margaret returns to the mansion alone. With the help of Boyd, the lonely, comic-book-obsessed boy next door, she discovers that truth can be stranger than fiction — depending on who’s telling the story.

My Rating – 4 stars

My Comments – This book was a favorite in my classroom library, partly due to the graphic component. Part of the story is told through comic book format.

3. Sees Behind Trees by  Michael Dorris – 1999

Visually impaired Walnut cannot earn his adult name the same way other boys do, by hitting a target with a bow and arrow. With his highly developed other senses, however, he earns a new name: Sees Behind Trees. “Dorris takes on some meaty existential issues here; he does so with grace, bighearted empathy, and always with crystal-clear vision”. —School Library Journal

My Rating – 4 stars

My Comments – This is a tiny book– only 100 pages– but it makes a big impact.

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4. The Color of My Words by Lynn Joseph  – 2000

Twelve-year-old Ana Rosa is a blossoming writer growing up in the Dominican Republic, a country where words are feared. Yet there is so much inspiration all around her — watching her brother search for a future, learning to dance and to love, and finding out what it means to be part of a community — that Ana Rosa must write it all down. As she struggles to find her own voice and a way to make it heard, Ana Rosa realizes the power of her words to transform the world around her — and to transcend the most unthinkable of tragedies.

My Rating – 3 stars

My Comments – This is a sad story, but one with hope through words.

5. Trouble Don’t Last by Shelley Pearsall – 2003

Eleven-year-old Samuel was born as Master Hackler’s slave, and working the Kentucky farm is the only life he’s ever known—until one dark night in 1859, that is. With no warning, cranky old Harrison, a fellow slave, pulls Samuel from his bed and, together, they run.

The journey north seems much more frightening than Master Hackler ever was, and Samuel’s not sure what freedom means aside from running, hiding, and starving. But as they move from one refuge to the next on the Underground Railroad, Samuel uncovers the secret of his own past—and future. And old Harrison begins to see past a whole lifetime of hurt to the promise of a new life—and a poignant reunion—in Canada.

In a heartbreaking and hopeful first novel, Shelley Pearsall tells a suspenseful, emotionally charged story of freedom and family.

My Rating – 3 stars

My Comments – Samuel’s endearing voice is what I remember most about this gripping historical fiction novel.

6. On the Devil’s Court by Carl Deuker – 1991

Summary from Amazon:

What would you give to be your school’s superstar? After reading Dr. Faustus, Joe considers the merits of selling his soul to the devil. Suddenly, he finds himself changing from a lousy basketball player and a C student to the star athlete he always dreamed he could be. Even though he isn’t sure if he actually made a deal with the devil, he can’t help but enjoy the benefits that come with his newfound abilities. But is achieving his dreams worth what he may have given up?

In this coming of age sports novel, Joe learns the power of belief and that the only goals worth attaining are the ones that you earn — on your own.

My Rating – 3 stars

My Comments – I’m not a big fan of sports novels, but the angle that this one took really kept my attention. Fans of Mike Lupica’s books would enjoy this one.

7. My Thirteenth Winter by Samantha Abeel – 2005

In this beautiful and chilling memoir, twenty-five-year-old Samantha Abeel describes her struggles with a math-related learning disability, and how it forced her to find inner strength and courage.

Samantha Abeel couldn’t tell time, remember her locker combination, or count out change at a checkout counter — and she was in seventh grade. For a straight-A student like Samantha, problems like these made no sense. She dreaded school, and began having anxiety attacks. In her thirteenth winter, she found the courage to confront her problems — and was diagnosed with a learning disability. Slowly, Samantha’s life began to change again. She discovered that she was stronger than she’d ever thought possible — and that sometimes, when things look bleakest, hope is closer than you think.

My Rating – 4 stars

My Comments – This is such an important book. Abeel’s descriptions of what her life was like with an undiagnosed learning disability haunted me for weeks after I read it, and her joy at finally getting the help she needed brought tears to my eyes. In my opinion, it is a must read for educators. Also, this summary doesn’t mention the fact that, while Abeel struggled in some areas, she was always a talented writer and poet. After you read My Thirteenth Winter, check out her poetry in Reach for the Moon.

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8. Leslie’s Journal by Allan Stratton – 2000

A gripping story about the dark side of a first love.

Leslie can’t seem to avoid trouble, whether it’s at school or at home. Just as life seems at its lowest, Jason McCready, the exceedingly cool new guy at school, enters her life.

Now Leslie is the envy of all the girls. But Jason’s appearance is deceiving — he is determined to control every aspect of Leslie’s life, and he begins terrorizing her in unimaginable ways.

When a substitute teacher reads the private English-class journal in which Leslie reveals Jason’s abuse, Leslie is suddenly forced into hard choices and terrifying action to take back her life.

Updated to reflect the contemporary world of the Internet, cell phones and text messaging, Leslie’s Journal is a suspenseful, fast-paced story about love, friendship and what it means to stand up for yourself

My Rating – 3 stars

My Comments – Apparently this book has been updated, but I’m pretty certain I read the original version. This story deals with some heavy issues, so it’s for more mature readers.

9. After the Death of Anna Gonzales by Terri Fields – 2002

“I can feel
The whispering of the hallway walls
Growing louder as the groups gather.
Each clique adding to its morning input.

“Did you hear?”
“Who told you?”
“Do you think it’s really true?”

New at this school,
I stand alone.
Watching . . .”

Brutally honest and authentic in tone, this collection of voices centers on the suicide of high school freshman Anna Gonzales. Each piece, read alone, portrays a classmate’s or teacher’s personal reaction to the loss, taken hard by some, by others barely noticed. Read together, the poems create a richly textured and moving testimony to the rippling effects of one girl’s devastating choice. Terri Fields has written a thought-provoking, important work that resonates with both pain and hope. This is a book that will stay with readers long after they put it down.

My Rating – 4 stars

My Comments – There were waiting lists for this book in my classroom library. I couldn’t keep it on my shelves. Students read it until it was falling apart and then eventually it disappeared completely. Teen suicide is a horrible thing, but kids like to read about the hard stuff, and this book deals with it in an honest way. Fans of Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why would be a good fit for this book and it is a very quick read.

10. All Hallows’ Eve: 13 Stories by Vivian Vande Velde – 2006

A boy is trapped in a possessed car that has stalled in the path of an oncoming train. A girl is dragged into a crypt during a field trip to an eighteenth-century cemetery. A group of friends meet their fate after an unsettling visit with a backwoods psychic. And that’s just the beginning. Celebrated author Vivian Vande Velde is at her spine-tingling best in this collection of thirteen scary stories, all of which take place on Halloween night. With tales that range from the disturbing to the downright gruesome, this is one collection that teens will want to read with the lights on . . . and the doors locked.

My Rating – 4 stars

My Comments – I love scary stories and there are some scary stories in this book. Too many horror stories for kids have the Scooby-Doo ending. Oh! It was just Farmer Bob in a mask! Not these. I enjoyed almost all of the 13 stories, but it was the third one– “Morgan Roehmar’s Boys”– that made me sit up and take notice. It reminded me of when I first picked up The Hunger Games back in 2009 and thought, Is she REALLY going to have kids killing kids? Oh, yep. She is. Vivian Vande Velde’s book hit me the same way. Is this real horror or kid horror? Oh, real horror. Got it. Now to check behind me before I keep reading. The stories are both scary and clever, and Velde will keep you on your toes with all the twists. Seriously, go read this book.

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See? Do you see what I’m talking about now?

These are good books, and they deserve more attention.

Go read one of them today!

Posted in Life, Teaching, Writing

Her Earliest Work

Someday, if I publish a book that people read and love, someone might want to interview me. And, if I’m lucky enough to pen a bestseller, and my name begins to be mispronounced* on tongues all over the literary world, someone might want to know, “But what was her earliest work? What did she write before she was famous?”

Well, I’ve got a little time on my hands, so I’m going to go ahead and save you all some trouble.

[*Note: Juettner is pronounced YOOT-ner. It’s German, and was a gift from my husband. My maiden name, Kinder, is pronounced like kindergarten, not like more kind than you. Kinder is also German and means children.]

Publications from my 2nd grade, 4th grade, and 6th grade classes at Terrace Elementary School
Publications from my 2nd grade, 4th grade, and 6th grade classes at Terrace Elementary School

Opening the Vault (And By “Vault” I Mean the Door to My Parents’ House)

My parents keep everything. I’m tempted to add the word “literally” to the end of that sentence, but since you won’t see them on an episode of Hoarders, I’m going to leave it off. They keep ALMOST everything.

My feelings about their tendency to over-collect are hard to express. During visits home, I can often be heard saying things like, “I can’t believe you kept all this stuff. Why did you keep all this stuff? You know, eventually, you’re going to need to get rid of… OOO! Is that my She-Ra coloring book? Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

Apparently I send mixed signals.

The truth is every time I open a box at my parents’ house or rummage through an old cabinet, I find more treasure. I then move the treasure to my house, while shaking my head at myself.

Recently, I unearthed a pretty good find.

My First Published Pieces

AllAboutFriendship

Three things I remember about second grade:

  1. It rained a lot that year. We ended up with a lot of “indoor recess” days where we played games and worked puzzles on the floor instead of running around outside. I now know that these were probably not fun days for my sweet teacher, Mrs. Medina. One of the games we had was Memory. In my memory, no one would play Memory with me because I was too good, but in reality it was more likely because I was a sore winner.
  2. We kept eggs under an incubator in Mrs. Medina’s room and hatched some of them into chicks. However, we also cracked open several of the eggs at various stages of chick development to see what was going on in there. It was VERY educational. I have no idea what happened to the hatched chicks.
  3. We made a book—a real, honest-to-goodness book—called All About Friendship. My story “The Runaway Horses” was published in it. Here it is in its entirety:
Not bad, but I'm not sure the horses have a strong enough motivation, and the farmer character needs a lot more development.
Not bad, but the horses could have had stronger motivation, and the farmer character needs to be more developed.

I also designed the cover of All About Friendship. While my writing has been published in various places over the years, I believe this may be the only professional illustrating I ever did.

In fourth grade, Mrs. Hammack took us on our first trip to Enterprise City. Enterprise City is a fake city inside a building where kids get to practice for the “real world.” We learned how to write and cash checks and make out receipts and everyone had a job—You could work at the bank or a store or the post office… There was even a police officer who could write tickets for anyone breaking the laws, like walking across the grass (carpet) where we weren’t supposed to walk. We all had work shifts, for which we were paid in Enterprise City money, and then we had time to walk around “town” and shop or hangout. It was pretty cool. I worked at the newspaper as the reporter.

Unfortunately, I was extremely biased in my reporting. Here’s a sample article, written in cursive like all good newspapers:

Ah, the purple ink of the mimeograph machine...
Ah, the purple ink of the mimeograph machine…

Paul Toal was my friend and coworker at the newspaper, Kelley Hamrick was my cousin, and Carie Kinder was… Oh, wait! That’s me! Yeah, the whole paper was like that. I dedicated an entire page to my best friend Camille’s store (Cami’s Snacks) but wrote not a word on the town’s crime statistics. Oh well.

ReadingAndWritingWorkTogether

In sixth grade, our teachers produced an eighty-page (eighty actual pieces of paper because page numbers were only written on one side) book called Reading and Writing Work Together! which included multiple writing pieces from every student in the sixth grade. This mammoth publication was printed on bright orange paper and a copy was given to every student. (80 pages x 40-something students = a number that would give any principal today a copy-budget-related heart attack, but these were different times.)

By this time, a boy named David Liu had taken over the job of cover artist, and rightly so. We were in awe of his dragon drawings. But I was well-represented in the pages of the book. My work in the anthology included two poems about Halloween, a descriptive paragraph about spring, a persuasive piece entitled “GIRLS’ RIGHTS,” and a personal narrative about the day I got braces. [Excerpt: “As we were about to pull into the driveway, I asked my mom if I could punch my brother if he called me names. She said no. I punched him anyway.”]

However, my favorite piece was my short story, “Mystery Mansion.” Here it is, with present-day commentary:

MysteryMansionPart1

* “Mystery Mansion” was previously published in Reading and Writing Work Together!, by Mrs. Fordyce’s sixth grade class, Terrace Elementary, 1989.
* “Mystery Mansion” was previously published in Reading and Writing Work Together!, by Mrs. Fordyce’s sixth grade class, Terrace Elementary, 1989.

Hmm… a horror story with a cliffhanger ending? Yep, I’m still partial to those today. For proof, you can check out “The Jack-in-the-Box.”

My earliest work has taught me that I’m on the right track. I’ve abandoned my dreams of illustrating and have (wisely) veered away from a career in investigative journalism. Fiction, poetry, and memoir writing seem to be my niche, and I’m sticking to them. Who knows, maybe I’ll turn “Mystery Mansion” into a full length novel someday.

Thank you to Scott Montgomery for the illustrations on my poem.
Thank you to Scott Montgomery for the illustrations on my poem.

Thank you to my 2nd, 4th, and 6th grade teachers– Mrs. Medina, Mrs. Hammack, Mrs. Fordyce, Mrs. Cottam, and Ms. Ouzts– for providing me with such a great start in my writing career and for giving me such wonderful souvenirs of my time at Terrace Elementary. Thank you also to my 3rd and 5th grade teachers– Mrs. Jonas, Mrs. Henderson, and Mr. Dodd. I have so many wonderful memories from your classrooms.