Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Family Support for Writers

My mom is visiting today.

Three or four times a year, she travels 1500 miles just to come see me. Well, okay, maybe she's coming to see her grandchildren, too. Possibly even my husband.

Outside of my husband's incredible support, my mom is the most fervent supporter of my writing dreams. All writers should have someone that believes in them, encourages them, cheers them on. My mom is a champion support team, all by herself.

Writers need a host of people to support them. They need writerly friends who understand the journey is long and hard and filled with tears, frustration, and rejection. They need friends to share the joy, inspiration, and exhilaration of writing. They need betas and critiquers that will give them the cold, honest truth about the flaws in their work.

But most of all, they need the support of their family and friends, cheering them on. Even if they don't read your work. Even if they have no idea what you spend all your time on.

In honor of my mom's unwavering support, I will be giving her my undivided attention while she's here.

And so: no Ink Spells on Thursday and Friday this week. The blogging fun will resume on Monday.

p.s. Enjoy your family, when you can. They are a gift.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Manly Sweaty Doll Blogger Award

This is all kinds of funny people.

I did some very unlady-like begging to get this award, just so I could pass it on to my manly blogger-type friends.

Check out the crew (Master Jedi Zack, Darth Corder, and Carl) at Boys Rule Boys Read! blog, who are the creators of this fab award. The trio is funny, and get-out crazy for boys and books. What could be better?

Because, really, could I give my manly blogger friends this?

This is in no way sexist, it is simply a style issue. And all my blogger friends are wicked smart, delightfully funny, and crazy charming, and deserving of awards. Now I have one to pass on to my favorite ones of the manly variety. If I gave you an award before, it doesn't count, because this one is BETTER!

As per Carl's instructions, part of accepting a Manly Sweaty Doll Blogger Award requires that you answer at least 4 of these questions (and I will do so, in spite of the fact that I do not sweat, I perspire):

Tell a couple of things about yourself, the name of your favorite guy book, your favorite sports moment, favorite MANLY MAN movie, favorite manly music, and your Favorite Food With No Nutritional Value.

1. I can rewire the light switch and not injure anyone, including myself.
2. I saw the original Star Wars (Ep4) in the theatre. 33 times.
3. Favorite Food with No Nutritional Value: Raspberry Zingers, preferrably frozen.
4. Favorite MANLY MAN movie: Any James Bond, but preferrably with Sean Connery. I mean it's Sean Connery. *swoon* Eh, sorry.
5. Favorite Guy Book: Definitely the Percy Jackson series. Before that Harry Potter owned me. Before that anything Heinlein wrote.

Check out these manly bloggers. You won't regret it.

Free The Princess: To Matthew, for his love of steampunk, his secret desire to be an engineer (you know you do!), and his wonderfully insightful blog postings on all things writerly.

Bane's Blogging Blues: To Bane, for his constant wit, the fact that he is an engineer, and his willingness to geek out without (much) apology.

The Alchemy of Writing: To Ink, for his achingly beautiful prose, his rapier wit, and for being daddy to Baby Ink, the cutest little guy to join the blogosphere.

My Daley Rant: To Rick, for his non-stop funny, for writerly help, and for the zany kid stories he shares on his blog.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Science as Magic

Is it just me, or has the world become ridiculously complicated?

Now, I'm a huge fan of the complex: I studied fluid mechanics, whose differential equations are almost as complicated as those fascinating constructions used in physics (my other love). Math was always my favorite subject, especially when it zoomed off into infinite series and tortured integrals and mated with physics to produce understandings of the world that could only exist in numerical form.

Our friend, the Navier-Stokes equation.
... is beaten by ...

Schrodinger's equation, of the cat fame.

I know. Me = geek.

But something has changed from those simple, ancient days in the 80's and 90's when I was in graduate school. The world has become more complicated than any one single human can hold in their minds at the same time.

The world has always been complicated, but it used to be that one could understand how the phone worked - I mean actually worked, not just how to make a call - without needing advanced degrees in microelectronics. Now the manual to use the phone resembles a miniature phone book, and the phone books themselves exist mostly on the interwebs.

My husband spent the weekend recreationally writing code to print out rocket designs, because the boy is serious about his rocket building hobby. (I know. Hubby = geek, too.) He commented how it was fun because it was challenging, yet simple compared to his work at the office designing software to run the latest high tech water softener. He was lamenting that the code had gotten so complex he could no longer hold all the options for it in his head at the same time. We're not talking Windows 7 here, people. We're talking code for a household appliance.

The idea that sufficiently advanced technology is the same as magic, is not new (thank you, Arthur C. Clarke). However, I never expected to be one of the peasants, in awe of the latest gift from the gods. And when the technorati themselves are baffled by their own creations ... well, it starts to sound like one of those sci-fi dystopias that sent shivers down my back as a youngster.

How does this relate to books? I wonder if the profusion of magic and the fantastic in the last 20 years or so is less a result of the Harry Potter/Twilight fandoms and more an acknowledgement of the reality of our world: the place is freaking amazing! And kind of terrifying. And books have swallowed whole the idea that science is magic, to most of us anyway. So, why bother with the details?

Makes me want to turn luddite and hide in my cave. But there's no internet there, and I wouldn't be able to blog, so I guess that's out.

What do you think, cats and kittens?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Do It. Every Time.

The kids are counting on you.

Ruthlessly stolen from Janet Reid, who stole it from Stephen Parrish, who snitched it from ... you get the idea. Pass it on.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Creating Something from Nothing

Writing is perseverence.
Writing is Ideas + Skill + Luck.
Writing is striving, and learning, and craft.

Today, for me, writing was an act of creation. I love first drafts!

That first moment where all the pieces - the sketchy outline, the dramatic moment, the bit of dialogue rumbling around in your brain - come alive under your fingers. Little black squiggles become tension, action, and thoughts that create a scene, weave a story, and breathe life into a blank page.

It's an act of creation that frankly is better than M&Ms and full strength Coke. Combined.

At times, I found myself ducking my head or sighing or propping my elbows up on the table, mimicking my characters to get just the right feel to the scene. I spoke out loud like a mad woman, just to hear the cadence of my protagonist's dialogue. I closed my eyes to more perfectly picture the peak of the action sequence, feeling my heartbeat actually speed up as I slow-motioned through the scene in my mind.

There's a reason writers say they are addicted to the craft.

Tomorrow (or next week) I'll find all the flaws - the typo's, the hideous grammar, the horrific run on sentences. But today, I revel in the act of bringing story to life.

Writerly friends: what do you do to breathe life into your writing?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Playing Nice in the Sandbox

Play nice. Use the Golden Rule. If you can't say something nice . . .

I tell my children these things all the time, and I try to live them as well, although being a parent can make that a challenge (Why? Because I say so! I'm the parent! Sigh.) I also try to blog respectfully, not just on Ink Spells, but in my comments on other blogs as well.

When there are dustups in the Wild West that is the blogosphere, it mostly makes me sad. The medium is conducive to misunderstandings, and that can lead to hurt feelings amongst well intentioned people. Occasionally there's someone looking for a fight, but it's best to ignore those types and hang with the cool kids who know how to play nice in the sandbox.

As my lovely readers may have noticed, my book reviews are generally positive. Ok, ALWAYS positive, and that is by design, gentle readers. I know how hard authors work to produce, much less publish, a novel and I don't have much heart for tearing it apart (this is separate from critiques, which are private and I will always give my complete, honest, but gentle, opinion there). There is also the fact that I am essentially reviewing my colleagues, in public, and it would be rather bad form to tear them apart if I ever would like to join their ranks.

Now, before you think I am hopelessly mired in impotence here, the most important thing to remember is the purpose of this blog: finding good books for advanced readers, ages 8-12. It is not to "warn people away from the BAD books for advanced readers, ages 8-12", nor is it to "scoff at the obviously poor use of the work 'like' in middle grade fiction." My goal is to help steer parents, teachers, librarians, and by proxy kids, to good books that are appropriate for them.

This is why I make pains to list the content of a book, and take a stab at an age rating, but always caveat that parents know their child best.

And I am carefully selective about the books that I review.

I recently started reading a book that I ended up putting down and eventually returning to the library unread. Those that know I loathe stopping in the middle of a book will understand how hard this was. I was drawn to the book by its high reading level (over 7.5 gentle readers!), and its promising premise. But it turned out the language was difficult because it was poorly written, with lots of high-falutin' words that, while lovely in other contexts, were mangled into incomprehensible patterns that I could barely hack my way through. Given that this blog posting is reading level 9.8, I'm pretty sure I'm capable of understanding the reading level, but the dense use of the language made the book a struggle to get through. I decided most children ages 8-12 would quickly lose interest, no matter how advanced their reading ability, and I obviously won't be reviewing the book here (except the anonymous review above for illustration only).

Taking into account that you might not share my love of all things science fiction, and I may not share your love of historical fiction, I also try to refrain from criticisms about the appeal of a book.

So, make no mistake: this is not a proper book review site. In fact, I think I shall start searching out links to more extensive reviews for the books that I cover on Ink Spells, for those that want more information before taking a chance on picking up that paperback.

But I hope that the reading level and content information provide useful guidance in any event.

Or maybe you'll keep coming back for the cats . . .

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Suggested Reads for Young Adults

Although this blogs is targeted to middle graders (ages 8-12), we want to keep kids reading well into their teen years as well. Growing out of the Suggested Reads for Middle Graders list, these books are ones that are more appropriate for teens. Some caution is still in order, though, as what is appropriate for a 16 year old, may not be what you want your freshly minted 13 year old teen reading. That is, if you can, or want, to stop them. Teenagehood is hard for kids, worse for parents, and I'm thankful that Dark Omen hasn't yet reached the teen years (although Worm Burner (age 8) proudly proclaimed he didn't have to wear his jacket yesterday because he was "nearly" a teenager. Nice try.) As you can see from the list, nearly all teen books are well below the appropriate reading level for teens. Sigh.

Details, details: I have not reviewed these books. If the books listed below are a series, I've indicated that, but only given the first book.  I've given reading levels and age appropriate ratings, where available from Common Sense Media. You can download and print the list.

Suggest YA -

Monday, February 15, 2010

Rendering Books into Visual Form

Over the weekend, I saw two favorite books rendered into visual media - both film and stage. It was fascinating to see the differences between them.

Amid an impressive ad campaign, The Lightning Thief debuted in theatres this weekend. Worm Burner's class went en masse to see the movie after school (because his teacher is just that cool). He and Dark Omen and friends seemed to think it was fine, but adult lovers of the book were disappointed. Much of the Greek mythology and important plot points were left out of the movie, and the wittiness of the book died in translation. We'll see if sales live up to the hype, but I was hoping for a much better movie, so that the subsequent books would make the leap to film as well.

On the other hand, I cried during the stage version of Frindle, even more than during the book! This lovely story translated beautifully to stage, even with the same small coterie of actors playing everyone from Nicholas Allen to the principal to the businessman cashing in on Frindle's 15 minutes of fame. Our school PTA had already arranged to bus all the kids from grades 3-6 down to the tiny Metropolis theatre to see the production during its 2 week run, so Mighty Mite, Grandma (an ex-Kindergarten teacher) and I were left to see it on our own. It was delightful, pulling out all the best lines and moments from the heartwarming book.

Being a writer, I wondered if either of these authors had any idea their stories would make it to the stage or screen when they wrote them. Or if they had any influence on the translation. I know that once a writer creates a story and flings it out into the world, it often escapes their control, turning into more, or less, than their vision of it during the writing. Which makes me think one more draft through my book is probably not a bad idea. Who knows if my stories will get published, much less have that level of success - but once that manuscript leaves your computer, your absolute control over it comes to an end.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday Funnies the Periodic Way

Blogger friend Rebecca sent this to me, and it's made of awesome, so I had to pass it along. Now you probably have to be either 1) a lover of all things science fiction, kitschy or not, or 2) an admirer of the Periodic Table or 3) BOTH (bonus points), to get the true belly laugh out of this one.

Worm Burner has a fascination for the Periodic Table lately, and recently made his own version of it, complete with color coding and new elements he thinks should be included. If that boy doesn't make a contribution to science some day, I'll eat my complete collection of Firefly on DVD.

The Periodic Table of Sci-Fi Film and Television

Click on the image to go to the site.

Happy Sci-Fi Friday!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Writing a Thinking Book

I'm guest-posting today over at the fab Writing It Out blog by blogger-friend Beth Rivas. Beth is a speculative fiction writer for teens, and also a teacher (yay!), and has graciously allowed me to rant, er, post over at her blog.

I talk about what a Thinking Book is, why advanced readers like them, and why you might want to write one.

Check it out!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Suggested Reads for Middle Graders

This list of suggested reads for middle grade (ages 8-12) readers started with Natalie Whipple's readers, and a post here about Keeping Boys Reading, continued on with suggestions from The Rejectionist and the many great commenters here at Ink Spells, and then went even further with great recommendations from a thread on Nathan Bransford's blog. While this started out as a boy-oriented list, the suggestions keep rolling in, and I've updated it to contain recs for all middle graders.

Details, details: If the books listed below are a series, I've indicated that, but only given the first book. The hyperlinked books have been reviewed by Ink Spells. For the rest, I've given reading levels and age appropriate ratings, where available from Common Sense Media or Ink Spells. Ultimately, you know your child, and are best able to make suitable choices for them. Hopefully this list will help get you pointed in the right direction.

Like the Books Reviewed list, this Suggested Reads list is now in an easier to use format. You can download and print the list, or hyperlink to the review.

A reminder about the ratings:

RL = Reading Level
Rating = Common Sense Media or Ink Spells recommended age rating

Suggested Reads MG -

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Story Themes

First: We have a theme of writing posts going this week. I promise the book reviews will resume shortly.

Second: Contest ALERT! Writerly friends, the fabulous Guide to Literary Agents blog is hosting a contest, so hasten over there if you have a completed MG or YA novel you would like to submit. Prizes: critiques by agent Jennifer Laughran with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

Now, on to today's blog topic: Themes

What do Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and Artemis Fowl have in common? They are obviously all young male protagonists of wildly popular books/movies/cults/pop culture.

Beyond the obvious, they are all middle grade (initially) boys on epic adventures, battling dark forces and forging friendships and piecing together their place in the universe. They each have layered, compelling themes that make Harry much more than a boy who turns out to be a wizard, and Artemis more than just a very smart, rich kid. Percy was convinced he was a drop-out in life, until he realized he was actually half god (hey, that would kind of make my day, too). The themes range from obvious (Harry is the "chosen one") to the subtle (Artemis is searching for his mother's lost mind, as much as fairy gold) to the brilliant (dyslexia as a sign of a higher destiny as a half blood).

A powerful theme will draw us in, even when we don't know what it is. Sneaky that way, themes are. They speak to powerful, almost subconscious, yearnings for understanding - about ourselves, about the world, about each other.

Weaving themes into your story is no small trick. I love the way blogger friend Rebecca describes the levels of writing as expression through music: technical accuracy, interpretation, expression, and power. In order to capture a theme effectively, I think writers need to at least reach the level of expression in their writing. The ones that can do it with power, hit it out of the park.

I need to go meditate in the Jedi Council chambers now. To better cleanse my mind and prepare to reach the next level . . .

What are you doing lately to improve your craft?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Six Steps to Writing Success

Mighty Mite (age 6): "Mommy, have you published your book yet?"
Me: "No. Thank you for asking."

Head *meet* desk.

I'm with Winston Churchill on this one: "Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public."

Writing a novel is a much longer process than most adults, much less six year olds, realize unless they've done it themselves. Publishing is an even longer process, and more agonizing. It reminds me of pregnancy - nine months of serious discomfort (writing a novel) is the only thing that could possibly make you welcome childbirth (throwing it out into the world). That, and a beautiful new baby on the other side.

Publishing is the extended colicky period that your newborn novel goes through before becoming an actual bouncing, beautiful baby novel. Thanks to the wonder of modern medicine, most human babies survive. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for novel babies, and many will end up back in the drawer as you move on to a new darling story idea.

Which brings me to the Six Steps to Publishing Success. These are according to Robert Sawyer, who has published 15 SF novels, and has many awards recognizing his work. Since that's a few more than I have (uh, like 15 more), I figured I should consider what he has to say. He actually builds on the Master, Robert Heinlein, and his original 5 rules, adding a sixth at the bottom. I've recapped them in this post, but you can find the original here.

Sawyer's theory is that half of all writers will drop out after each step. So, we start out with 100 people . . .

Step #1: You Must Write

Deceptively simple, but half of all people who want to write, simply don't. Write every day. Write every week. Don't just think about writing, sit down at the keyboard and type.

We now have 50 people left.

Step #2: Finish What You Start

Simple, yet excruciatingly hard. Beginning, Middle, End. You have to do them all. You can't master plot development or character arc unless you complete the whole, darn thing. Twenty five writers will never complete a work. Twenty five aspiring writers remain.

Step #3: You Must Refrain From Rewriting

This one is devastating. Of course you have to polish your work. But just as surely, you must stop - don't tinker endlessly with your story! You have to push that baby out of the nest! If it's a good story, an editor will help you clean it up. If it's not a good story, they won't. Thirteen writers will twiddle endlessly. Only twelve writers reach the point of saying "Done!"

Step #4: You Must Put Your Story on the Market

It's done. Shop it around. Put it out there. Again, simple. But scary as heck. Six writers will never send out that finished novel because they are afraid of having the fantasy that they are brilliant authors shredded via the US Postal Service (or email). Six will tremulously start to send out their manuscript. This is the step I'm about to embark on, and I can assure it is as scary as it sounds.

Step #5: You Must Keep It on the Market

You will get rejected. A lot. You must send it out again and again and again and . . . you get the idea. Three writers will be so demoralized by their first rejection that they give up writing for good. Three send it out again the same day, and keep sending it out.

Step #6: Start Working on Something Else

If you're going to be a writer, you need a stable of works to draw upon. Send that short or long fiction out, and while you beat back the rejection slips . . . go back to step #1. Write. Every day. Something new. One or two writers will write their one novel, that took years to craft, and send it out for years, and maybe possibly, sell it in the end. One or two will keep writing, keeping sending their work out, and when they finally get their break, they will publish again and again. Because they are writers, and now they can say: I'm a published author.

So, no Mighty Mite, I haven't published that book I wrote for you last summer, even though the frozen water has been on the ground for months. But it's just getting to the point where it's ready for Step #4. And I promise I'll keep going, because someday I want to be able to answer "yes" to your wide eyed, innocent question.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Evil E-Reader

Well, I should have seen this coming.

Stephen King's got a new book (thanks for the tip, Dad!), available only on Kindle or audiobook, about the demon e-reader, dragging you into the ninth hell of literary evil.

Thereby neaty encapsulating the rampant, raging fears of the publishing industry and writers about e-books.

Oh, the rich, sweet irony!

Thank you, Mr. King.

(and it's pink!)

*warily eyes her nook, sitting innocently on the bench*

Thursday, February 4, 2010

What language do your characters speak?

Since I speak a tiny amount of Spanish, and a passable amount of English, you would think all my main characters would speak English.

Yet, for some reason, I've been drawn to MC's that speak more than one language, and have found ways to fold that into my stories. In one young adult story, my MC was fluent in Polish as well as English, and was studying Arabic. At first, I stumbled along with Google Translate for the few bits of language that I needed for color. But I quickly found myself getting in trouble when I wanted more than a single word or common phrase, in a language that was, well, foreign.

In a stroke of fantastic luck, it turned out one of my writing group members speaks fluent Polish, and was able to give me the appropriate fixes for my language messes (as well as some tasty tidbits of Polish culture).

In my current middle grade novel, the lingua franca of the Peacedom is Galactic Standard Mandarin. Most of the characters speak English, but in one scene, everyone needed to speak Galactic Standard, because one member of the lunch bunch didn't know English (although he spoke a dozen dialects from the sub-continent of India). This is how that went:

"Duncan, wo zui hao de peng you! Ni hao?" Walid said, which roughly translated to Duncan, my most good friend! How are you? but which Duncan took to mean Duncan, dude! What's up?

"Wo Hen Hao," replied Duncan, indicating he was fine.

The rest of the conversation continues, translated to English although they are still speaking in Mandarin. Along the way a beta reader (thank you Rebecca!) suggested inserting some more color by substituting a common spoken word (alright, okay) with its Galactic Standard Mandarin equivalent. I'm thinking this is an extremely cool idea, ala Firefly, and immediately hop to it. Unfortunately, this is one of those slippery words that depends a lot on context, like "no problem" and "alright" and "okay" are sometimes interchangeable, but sometimes not.

According to Google Translate . . .

hǎo ba = alright
hǎo de = ok
hǎo = good

Then I found this, a website for fans of Firefly who want to speak Mandarin! Who says the web doesn't have everything? At this point, I realize there was actually a whole lotta cussing on Firefly, most of which is probably not useful for my middle grade novel. Alas, nowhere can I find the translation for the simple "okay."

So, I will plunge in and pick one that suits me, and hope for no Chinese readers who may be offended.

Hǎo de?

Do you use snippets of other languages in your writing? Are you fluent in those languages, or do you rely on others (including the interwebs)?

If I was really awesome, I'd create my own language, like Klingon. I would call it Blastulan, or some other insanely strange name reminiscent of multi-celled organisms, for my budding new language for invading aliens from the planet Blast.

But I'm not that cool.

UPDATE: A friend with a Chinese speaking co-worker has helped me out with my language issues. According to her, it is very contextual, as the following examples show:

1. "Alright," she said. "Let's go."
    "Hǎo ba," she said.  "Let's go."
2. "Everyone you can send it to, okay?"
    "Everyone you can send it to, hǎo ma?"
3. "Okay." He hugged her briefly. "It's late. You should be sleeping."
    "Hǎo la." He hugged her briefly. "It's late. You should be sleeping."
4.  "Right away, okay? So I can shut down the engine."
     "Right away, hǎo bu hǎo? So I can shut down the engine."

It's a good thing I'm not flying solo on this one . . .

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Trend Spotting

Twilight is so last year.

So says my 14 year old niece. She points out that real vampires don't sparkle, as evidenced by this (Daybreakers):

Decidedly not hot. Except for maybe that guy with the gun.

Hot sparkly vampires are apparently being replaced by hot fallen angels. For evidence, just see this book cover (Hush, Hush):

Holy cats, who turned up the heat?

I would never gainsay teenage girls, with their quivering antennae on the pulse of what's hot, but it makes me wonder what exactly makes for the birth (and death) of a trend. Writers are constantly advised to not follow trends, and to do the opposite of what "everyone else" is doing, but I wonder if this is really possible.

Trends, I believe, are the reflection of the cultural zeitgeist at the moment. This isn't just about fashion, or teenage heartthrobs, but can also be seen in scientific breakthroughs and larger cultural moments, like our recent return to sensible spending after the economic near-apocalypse of 2008-09. Trends are a reflection of the age, and while trickier to predict than the stock market, I think it's important to have some sense of the age that you live in - as well as a sense of the timeless.

Many writers will strive to write an enduring work, and very few will be successful. I think writing something that speaks to the essential conditions of humanity, maybe dressed up in the fashion of the day, will come close to hitting that moving target. I'm not sure that you can aim to write that work, however. In the end, I think you have to be present in the world, and write the story that speaks to your heart.

My philosophical self showed up to blog today. Sorry about that.

Are you writing to catch the next big wave of fiction in your genre? Or are you just striving to get published in a field that is changing faster than Superman in a phone booth (oh, that is so dated! Ouch!)? If you wax philosophical in the comments, be warned: I might wax back.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Summary of Books Reviewed

I've got shiny new blog skills, and I'm not afraid to use them!

I've updated the Books Reviewed list, in an easier to download format, which coincidentally is easier for me to update as well. You can zoom-in, print, hyperlink to the review . . . it's kind of awesome.

A reminder about the ratings:

RL = Reading Level
Ink = Ink Spells recommended age rating
Rating = My personal rating
Content = My comments

Also see a list of Suggested Reads, which are not reviewed books, and Suggest Reads for Wee Ones.

If you'd like to suggest a book for review, please leave a comment!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Suggested Reads for the Wee Ones

A real life friend asked for some suggested reads for her advanced reading 2nd grader with a RL of 4.7. While this blog is focused on advanced readers ages 8-12, I've spent a lot of time digging up great reads for that 5-8 age category as well. Fortunately, most of the books in the lower reading level ranges are appropriate for the Wee Ones, unless your child is tremendously advanced in reading (it happens). So, I've put together a suggested reading list from our family's bookshelves, for the Wee Advanced Readers.

  • Magic Tree House RL 2.6 - 4.0, with the non-fiction companions running higher in RL. I can't say enough good things about Mary Pope Osborne for bringing these books to kids. They're a fantastic entry into chapter books, and are good for re-reading multiple times. And we have. Believe me.
  • Magic School Bus RL 2.4 -4.4 Magic School Bus books come in a variety of formats, from easy readers to chapter books to more complicated (scientifically speaking) picture books. Search around your library, or look for Scholastic sales through your school, which are a great source for these books. They are well worth owning, as they will be read, re-read, plumbed for scientific knowledge, and hauled out to settle arguments about the operation of a the water works plants (it happens, at least in our house).
  • Little House on the Prairie series RL 4.9 - 5.8 These are a little higher in reading level, but solidly in the interest level for the Wee Ones ages 5-8. My kids loved the old-fashioned farm technology and living on the prairie. These books led to a fascination with the Oregon Trail for a while.
  • TOM SWIFT! TOM SWIFT! TOM SWIFT! Ahem. Love this series. RL 4.8 - 5.7 Get thee to the used bookstore or Ebay to find them, though.
  • Frindle RL 5.4 Again a little higher RL, but very appropriate for younger advanced readers.
  • The Littles series RL 2.6 - 4.2 Another great series, that also comes in a couple different formats, with both the easy reader version for beginning readers and the chapter book version - which is the original and I find preferable. Something is lost when the Littles are made . . . smaller . . . sorry, couldn't resist.
  • The Mouse and the Motorcycle (and Ralph S. Mouse and Runaway Ralph) RL 5.1 Higher reading level, again, but love, love, love the mouse books. I think I've read these about 10 times between the three boys. That doesn't count the times they've read them on their own.
  • Charlotte’s Web RL 4.1 No explanation needed.
  • Trumpet of the Swan RL 4.9 E.B. White's other book, and I simply adore this one. I remember reading this one, hour after hour, to an entranced 4 year old. Our copy is well worn and well loved. 
  • Mrs. Piggle Wiggle RL 4.9 - 5.5 Hilarious books, with sly teaching of manners and such. But not in a stuffy way, unless you consider a slightly English magical governess type to be stuffy. I don't know, it worked for Mary Poppins, and I think Mrs. P has her beat. 
  • Choose Your Own Adventure These aren't rated with a reading level, because there are too many possible ways to read the book! Worm Burner loves these. He has a thing for patterns, and likes to read ALL the different endings.
  • Bunnicula RL 4.2 Worm Burner thought this book was a scream. I had to admit, I was intrigued by the idea of a bunny who may, or may not, be a vampire.
  • Lunch Money RL 5.2 More Andrew Clements, the man's just a genius for this age group.
  • Spiderwick Chronicles RL 4.2 Wickedly funny series about all kinds of spooky critters you can't see, unless you have special goop to look through. The movie was FAR scarier than the books. Yikes!
  • Kid Who Ran for President RL 4.7 Worm Burner was fascinated by this book, and I think it warped his ideas about the electoral process, but I'm biased.
  • Sir Cumference series RL 4.1 - 4.3 Based on title alone, I would have been a fan of these books. But they seriously engaged my mathematically minded son and he re-read them several times.
  • The Plant that Ate Dirty Socks series RL 4.1 Another title that reels me in, and the books are just as funny.
That should keep the Wee Ones occupied for a while. Whew!

If you have any suggestions for those precocious readers, please leave them in the comments!