Summer Road Trip Read Alouds

road trip

It’s summer road trip season, and in our family, that means I’m on the lookout for great books for reading out loud. That’s our favorite way to while away the hours speeding down the highways and back roads.

Not all books are great for reading aloud. To me, the key is that the plot has to be relatively straightforward (in case someone zones out for a bit, looking for the world’s largest ball of twine) and it has to move at a good clip (to keep the interest of those who might otherwise start kicking their sisters). Bonus points if it’s exciting, funny, and has silly names.

Here are some we’ve loved recently.

princess bride

The Princess Bride: If you’ve seen the movie, the book, which reads almost verbatim, will crack you right up. Everyone has his or her own favorite lines. In our family, the surest way to make someone laugh is to say, “Anybody want a peanut?” This is one of the rare instances in which I would recommend seeing the movie first, because the fantastic actors and settings make the book come to life as you’re reading.

snow treasure

Snow Treasure: This was one of my wife’s favorite books as a kid, but I’d never heard of it. It’s the fascinating true story of Norwegian children who smuggled $12 million in gold out of their country on sleds after the Nazi occupation in WWII began. We were all on the edges of our seats to find out what happened, and I especially love the kid power message here.

tumtum

TumTum and Nutmeg: These are fantastic for younger kids, who may not be able to follow a longer plot yet. It’s a series of long-ish short stories starring a fussy husband and doting wife mouse couple and their trouble-causing, pompous best friend, General Marchmouse. The stories are entertaining, but not too scary, and everyone is polite and trying to be good. It definitely has fun-to-say names.

hp

Harry Potter: To me, these are the quintessential read alouds. My wife and I actually read these to each other before we had kids, even over the phone when we were long distance. The stories are gripping, and get better as the series progresses. It has the best names of any books out there. Hufflepuff! Dumbledore! Rowena Ravenclaw! Plus you get to try out fun British-isms like “snogging” and “bloody.” You really can’t get better than this.

wizard of oz

The Wizard of Oz: Another one where the fantastic book gets overshadowed by the movie, I like this for a road trip because it’s the story of a journey and trying to get home. The books (there are five of them) read more like a series of connected short stories, so it’s also nice for bedtime stories, or where you can’t read it all at once.

fortunately the milk

Fortunately, the Milk: So silly and funny. A dad goes out for milk, takes too long getting home, and comes back to tell the kids the fantastic tale of where he’s been. It’s a quick read, and will have you all howling with laughter.

Okay, your turn! I’ve got a looong road trip coming up at the end of this month. What do you recommend? What have you loved?

Katharine Manning is a middle grade writer who is working on her British accent. You can see more of her middle grade book recommendations at Kid Book List. You can also find her at www.katharinemanning.com and on Twitter

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Book Buying Advice from the Kiddos

Today I’ve teamed up with my eldest daughter, Sylvia , because it’s her 11th birthday. And anyone who knows me knows if it’s your birthday (or any holiday) you’re getting a book from me.

In her earlier days, Sylvia was an easy girl to buy books for. She loved whatever I picked out. Now…. Well, it’s much more difficult. I seriously think it’s easier to buy her clothes than it is to pick out a book that she’ll actually read.

Sylvia nods her head vigorously here. 

So, I’ve decided to interview her and find out what she looks for in a book and how she decides what to read. And because we did this interview at home, one of her sisters, Surjee (9), joined in the conversation.

I’ll give her a chance to describe the books I’ve selected for her in her own words:

Surjee jumping in straight away: Boring.

Sylvia: Boooring! I don’t care. I just act like, “oh wow”, but I never read it. Then when you say, “I read this when I was your age,” I’m like “Yeah right, I’m not reading it now.”

How do you choose a book at the library or bookstore?

Surjee: I judge a book by its cover.

Sylvia: Yes, the cover is important, but it’s mostly the colors I look at.

Surjee: Like Falling In, boring. I mean come on—it’s boots. I never read past the 1st page.

Sylvia: Be glad you didn’t. It didn’t get any better. I read 3 pages.

So what makes you want to read a book?

Sylvia: If a lot of people have read it.

Surjee: If my friends like it.

Sylvia: The size of the words—if it’s too big it looks like a baby book, if it’s too little it just looks like you have to read the whole thing and it’ll take forever.

Surjee: I’ll only read it if it’s medium-sized words AND thickness.

Sylvia: And the last 3 pages better be interesting or I don’t read them. I’m just like, “Oh, I finished reading this.”

But if you’re in the bookstore or the library, how do you know you want to get that book?

Sylvia: I read the 1st page.

Surjee: Sometimes the 1st chapter.

Sylvia: It has to be funny. That’s most important. But also colorful, but not like pink. Not many kids like pink. And it should have an interesting title. Something cool like Dork Diaries because it sounds funny.

What about KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE? Is that a good title? (that’s my book btw…)

Sylvia: It sounds okaaaay…. Mustaches are getting old. People will be like that’s so two years ago. Maybe Karma Khullar’s Instagram Account might be better.

Would you read a book your:

Teacher suggested: NO! (both girls in unison)

Mom suggested: NO! (both girls in unison)

Sylvia: The only thing you suggested that was good was Wonder.

Surjee: Harry Potter is the only book I liked you told me to read.

Yia yia suggested: Depends

Aunts suggested:

Sylvia: Might be weird because our cousins like some weird books… I would just look at the cover and decide. Usually if I don’t like it I just read while they’re there and then hide it on bookshelf like I did when Auntie Erica gave me Anne of Green Gables.

I’m going to email this blog post to the family I hope you know…

What’s your advice to adults buying books for a kid?

Sylvia: -The cover should match the personality of the kids.

-Read the 1st page- shouldn’t sound too formal. Diaries are more interesting.

-What’s going to happen must not be like these fairies are on a mission to find something.

-It can be outrageous or real, as long as it’s funny and interesting.

Surjee: Stick to graphic novels only.

You girls have definitely given me a lot to think about. I’m not sure you’ve really made my shopping any easier, but my take aways from this are:

  1. Before you buy a “classic” (Sylvia deems this any book you read as a kid and are trying to get your own child to read), ask yourself: Have I reread the book in the last 2 years? (you might be surprised how much of the book you didn’t really remember or even like any more.)
  1. The best sellers list is an excellent benchmark, but not the books with awards—those are liken to teacher/parent chosen books. Yes, New York Times Bestseller is MUCH more meaningful to your reader than a Caldecott Medal or Printz Award or a Newbery.
  1. Get the child in your life a gift card from the bookstore and save yourself the stress!

FullSizeRenderSylvia is flawless and can be found reading Dork Diaries when not taking selfies or eating tacos or taking selfies while eating tacos.

IMG_1099 Surjee never leaves home without her wand. When she’s not reading or watching Harry Potter she can be found reading Amulet or Zita the Spacegirl.

Photo on 3-19-15 at 1.23 PM #2 (1)

Kristi, their mom, endures the tireless mission of putting good books into their hands.

Interview with MG author Wendy McLeod MacKnight

Hi, Wendy. I’m really excited to talk to you not only because you recently revealed the cover of your debut upcoming book, It’s a mystery, Pig-Face, but also because you’ve got a unique story about how you got there!

Pig-Face Cover

Let’s start with the first question I’ve been dying to ask, how did you make the jump from CEO to author? I kind of imagine you yelling, “I quit!” and storming out of the office!

Ha! It was almost that dramatic (at least to me!) but not quite!

I had written years before and at university and it had always been my dream to write for children. But then I allowed working and having my own children to side-track me. Comments like “You can’t make a living as a writer”, “You have no connections in the industry” and “You don’t have an MFA” also didn’t help my confidence. So I kept working and I rose up through the ranks until I became head of my government’s Department of Education, overseeing a nearly billion dollar budget and hundreds of staff. I was at the top of the game, but I wasn’t happy, because the dream of writing was always there at the back of my mind. My father’s death was my wake-up call and my permission slip. What was I waiting for?

The day I gave notice was the hardest thing I’d ever done. I knew people would think it was foolish to walk away from such a good job to switch careers for something that might never pan out. Then I realized I didn’t care what other people thought. I was going to give this a shot, and I decided to apply the same principles to my new career that had gotten me to the top in my old one:

1) Be willing to change things when I got better information (the key is to become a good writer, not to think your work is so precious it can’t benefit from advice and criticism)
2) Be excellent. I can always tell when I’m cutting corners or being lazy. Cutting corners and being lazy doesn’t equal publication at least for me!
3) Be kind, optimistic, and patient. For the first two years, I had to be my own cheerleader because nothing was happening. I just had to believe the work I was putting into my writing would result in something wonderful. Even more importantly, I had to tell myself this wasn’t a race; others’ success did not mean I wouldn’t also have success.

Once you committed to writing, how many queries did you send out before you found your agent?

Oh the first year was horrendous! I hadn’t written in SO long, the business had changed so much and I lived hundreds of miles away from conferences that could have helped me. So I read tons of books on the craft of writing, took tons of online courses, wrote and rewrote, and hired professionals to give me critiques. It was very humbling to be starting all over again, and I queried WAY too early. I was sure everyone was waiting for my book. They weren’t. After about twenty or thirty queries I stopped, realized I was not following my own principle #2 and did a massive rewrite based on the feedback I was getting. I began to submit again in September 2014. I think I submitted to about 15 agencies that month and almost all of them asked for full or partial manuscripts. Finally, I could see the work I was doing was paying off. The week I signed with my agent, Lauren Galit of LKG Agency, I was in discussions with several other agents to represent me. But I chose Lauren because not only was she smart, she was witty and straightforward. The day Lauren signed me, I cried. It was almost two years after I’d left my old job and finally, I’ had a foot in the door! She sold my book a few months later!

What inspired this book?

The book is a kind of love letter to the small town where I grew up. The kids in our neighbourhood were always looking for mysteries to solve. If we couldn’t find one, we made one up, and not always successfully! Tracy, the main character in It’s a Mystery, Pig Face!, makes a lot of mistakes and assumptions about things based on how she sees the world.

Alright, now that we know you’re not only a super business lady and author, what’s another super power you’d like to add to your troupe?

Singer. I wish I could sing like Adele! Sadly, this one will likely evade me forever! It was not be my third career!

Do you write at night or in the morning?

Morning all the way.

Fill in the blank: I must have ______ when I’m writing.

I must have quiet when I’m writing and I must dither on the computer for exactly fifteen minutes. Don’t ask me why – maybe to get it out of my system?

Thanks, Wendy! It’s been fun. You can find out more about Wendy on her website and check out her books here.

Wendy McLeod MacKnight grew up in a magical small town with a library card as her prized possession. Over the course of her professional life, she’s been responsible for early childhoWendy McLeod MacKnight 9565od and child welfare programming, and ended her public service career as head of the Government of New Brunswick’s Department of Education. Then one day she woke up and decided it was time to pursue her life-long dream of writing books for children. It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! is her debut novel and any resemblance to the author is purely intentional. Wendy lives in New Brunswick, Canada with her family, Indy the Wonder Dog, her garden, and a ne’er-do-well groundhog.

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