I never cease to be amazed at the amount of quality content that’s out there for children to read these days. It seems like the amount of material has tripled – maybe even quadrupled – since I myself was a kid. And the topics that these books tackle… it’s quite amazing. Don’t get me wrong – we’ve still got our Nancy Drew and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but hidden amongst those huge names are some gems that touch on important topics. Plus, they are still incredibly readable. These three books are just a few examples of some of the great kids lit that’s available for perusal.
What Is It: Wonder
Who’s It By: R. J. Palacio
What’s It About: Wonder is a story about holding onto courage, strength, and grace while facing an immensely difficult situation. It follows Auggie Pullman, a boy who’s already experienced more than his fair share of struggles. Born with a facial difference, Auggie has spent the first part of his life in and out of hospitals because of various surgeries. Now he’s finally getting to start fifth grade at a mainstream school, and all he wants is to be treated like an ordinary kid. But his new classmates can’t seem to look past the surface, focusing on what Auggie looks like rather than who he is. Can Auggie show his classmates that he’s just like them, just a little different?
Why It’s So Great: Wonder reminds us all about the importance of compassion and acceptance. It teaches us empathy, courage, and that we’re all stronger than we think. Short chapters make it easy to put down if the need arises, and realistic family dynamics make the book that much more relatable.
What Is It: Wishtree
Who’s It By: Katherine Applegate
What’s It About: Red is an oak tree in a small neighborhood. Its leaves give shade to the people and its branches and hollows provide a home for a variety of animals. However, Red’s most important job is that of being the Wishtree. For years, as Red has been watching over the neighborhood, people have written their wishes on scraps of fabric and tied them to its branches in hopes that they’ll come true. Then, a new family moves in, and people aren’t as welcoming as they could be. Red’s job as a wishtree is more important than ever, and it finds itself in the middle of a discussion that spans centuries.
Why It’s So Great: Wishtree is the story of a community coming together and the things that unite it. However, it also suggests that we should all know our roots (no pun intended). Through its short, quick-moving chapters, Wishtree reminds us that we all came from somewhere, that it’s important to stand up for the most vulnerable of us, and that “hollows are proof that something bad can become something good with enough time and care and hope.”
What Is It: Holes
Who’s It By: Louis Sachar
What’s It About: Stanley Yelnats is under a curse, or at least that’s what his family says. They also say that it all began with the theft of a pig and has followed generations of his family since then. Now, Stanley has been sent to Camp Green Lake, a boys’ detention center, for something he didn’t do. The brochure made it look like a great place with swimming and hiking, but when Stanley arrives, he soon discovers the truth: there is no lake, there is no swimming, and there is no fun. Instead, he’ll spend every day digging a hole… one that’s five feet deep and five feet wide, and if he finds something “interesting,” he’ll maybe get a break. The longer he’s at Camp Green Lake, the more Stanley realizes that something bigger is going on, and he embarks on a quest for the truth, and ultimately, redemption.
Why It’s So Great: Holes is a book that’s received a lot of praise in the 20+ years since it was published. In 1998, it won the US National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, and a year later, it won the Newberry Medal for the year’s “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” It’s been both recommended and banned/challenged over the years (and if you ask me, the latter bit is even more reason to read it). Holes effortlessly weaves the past with the present and touches on themes such as racism, homelessness, and illiteracy. It serves as a reminder that we must take responsibility for our actions, and if we do, regardless of our past, we absolutely can change our future.