Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Friday, July 8, 2011


You may have to encourage your teenage daughters to search a bit for the books I'm highlighting today, because sadly they won't find them on the "YOUNG ADULT" shelves in retail bookstores or the "Teen Section" of your local library (I've looked)!

Contemporary teen books being published today are labeled "YA" - a genre in itself: fiction for 13-18 year olds.   My recommendations are classic books from all genres that deal with many of the same trials and feelings experienced by teenage girls today, minus the explicit sex, graphic violence, harsh language, and dark topics so prevalent in many YA books, which most parents I know don't think are necessarily suitable for young teens.
NOTE to parents: I'm aware that there are some good YA books out there, but please help your teen choose carefully (click here for a helpful link). If you're not up on what's on the YA shelves, read THIS ARTICLE from the Wall Street Journal and go check them out for yourselves. I have to say, my own kids didn't read much contemporary YA fiction and they don't feel like they missed much!  But on the other hand, they can't imagine missing out on the classics they read, which made a lasting impression on their young minds, imaginations, and souls! So many books, so little time. Here's a start...

Letters to Saint LydiaYesterday I blogged about a novel I'm reading, EVELINA, by Frances Burney. It's the story of a 17-year old eighteenth century girl, told through letters exchanged between her and her guardian, Mr. Villars.

Today, I came across another epistolary style novel, this one involving a modern-day teenage girl. It's LETTERS TO ST. LYDIA, by Melinda Johnson.  I hope you'll take time to listen to Jane Meyer's excellent review on Ancient Faith Radio - which can be found HERE.
Lydia’s life is turning upside down, and soon she’ll be facing all the trials and temptations encountered by every young adult who’s on her own for the first time. Lydia needs a friend badly—and she finds one in the most unexpected place: an icon of St. Lydia. Young Lydia pours out her troubles in letters to St. Lydia, who (invisibly to Lydia) answers, guiding her through her time of troubles with deep love and compassion. (Conciliar Press)

Emily of New Moon/ Emily Climbs/ Emily's Quest (3 Book Set)If you have a daughter who is a fan of the ANNE OF GREEN GABLES books, you might have her try L.M. Montgomery's EMILY OF NEW MOON trilogy.  The series, set in 19th-Century America,  is more realistic and less romanticized then the Anne books and many L.M. Montgomery fans consider these novels her best.  They are partly autobiographical in nature.  Montgomery considered Emily much closer to her own personality than Anne; and indeed, some of the events that her spirited heroine (a writer who is struggling to gain literary recognition) goes through were experienced by Montgomery herself.
A GIRL OF LIMBERLOST by Gene Stratton-Porter. Elnora lives by the Limberlost, a great swamp in Indiana, neglected by her depressed widowed mother. Her high school days are a trial, as the other girls make fun of her rustic clothes and apparent poverty. But her love of the great outdoors comes to her aid, as she manages to make money by collecting and selling butterflies and moths. Her life becomes more interesting when a young man comes to lodge with them, however he is already engaged.  A moving story about the transforming power of love and reconciliation.

JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte.  This is my all-time favorite novel, which led me (as a sophomore in high school) to fall in love with classic English literature.  It is considered to be one of the greatest Romantic novels to come out of 19th-Century England. Written in first-person narrative, Bronte's epic story follows the plain but intelligent Jane Eyre in her development as an individual, starting with her traumatic childhood.  It is a thriller/mystery/love story, all rolled into one compelling book that relates how a lonely, brooding man of wealth - Mr. Rochester - is transformed by a young orphaned governess's courage and steadfast love.  I have never seen a film that could do justice to this engrossing story.  Encourage your daughter to READ. THE. BOOK.

Anything by Jane Austen!  EMMA, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, and SENSE AND SENSIBLITY are my favorites...
Emma The Annotated Pride and Prejudice Sense & Sensibility (Marvel Illustrated)
and these movie versions aren't bad, either:
Emma   Pride and Prejudice - The Special Edition (A&E, 1996)Pride & Prejudice Sense & Sensibility (Special Edition)

TRUE GRIT by Charles Portis.  The Telegraph's "100 Books Every Child Should Read" lists this book and notes: "It should be given to every girl turning 16".  Portis' Western novel is the story of 14-year old Mattie Ross, a spirited and witty young girl who is out to avenge her "father's blood" and honor his memory. With one-eyed Rooster Cogburn, the meanest available U.S. Marshal, by her side, she pursues her father's killer into Indian Territory.  Told in first person by Mattie, now an old woman, it reads like a memoir as she describes her youthful adventures.  My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed the recent movie, directed by the Coen brothers.  Actress Hailee Steinfeld did an impressive job of portraying fast talking Mattie Ross!
True Grit True Grit

Did your daughter read Maud Hart Lovelace's BETSY TACY books with you when she was little?  The series of books was among my daughter's favorites and we decided to wait until she was a teen herself to read Lovelace's later books about Betsy's high school days (HEAVEN TO BETSY, BETSY IN SPITE OF HERSELF, BETSY WAS A JUNIOR, BETSY AND JOE), Betsy's travels to Europe (BETSY AND THE GREAT WORLD), and her eventual marriage to Joe (BETSY'S WEDDING).
Heaven to Betsy/Betsy in Spite of Herself Betsy Was a Junior/Betsy and Joe Betsy and the Great World/Betsy's Wedding
Emily of Deep Valley: A Deep Valley Book (P.S.)Another good book by Maud Hart Lovelace that teen girls will enjoy is EMILY OF DEEP VALLEYEmily Webster, an orphan living with her grandfather, is not like the other girls her age in Deep Valley, Minnesota. After graduation, she longs to join the Crowd and go off to college—but she can't leave her grandfather alone at home. Resigning herself to a "lost winter," Emily nonetheless throws herself into a new program of study and a growing interest in the local Syrian community, and when she meets a handsome new teacher at the high school, Emily gains more than she ever dreamed possible.

The Story of My Life: The Restored Edition (Modern Library Classics)THE STORY OF MY LIFE, by Helen Keller. This inspiring autobiography of Helen Keller and her triumph over blindness and deafness, was written when she was a sophomore in college, and first published in 1903.  Though her story is familiar to all, it is even more poignant and compelling as described in her own words.  (Because this was written in an age that was more literate than ours, the text might be challenging for young teens.)

FRANKENSTEIN, by Mary Shelley. Okay, I know you might be thinking this is a strange book choice for teen girls!  But did you know that Mary Shelley began this deeply profound work when she was only 18??  When I read it, I was blown away, knowing it was penned by a young woman, and told so chillingly through the first person of Dr. Frankenstein.  In this classic novel (considered to be one of the first science fiction books), readers "encounter the reality of evil, and the danger of untempered common sense and moral restraints... At the heart of this myth is the pride of the scientist who would take God's place and become a Creator in his own right...Frankenstein is a tragic story, a cautionary tale...what story could be more relevant to our society, given the increasing power wielded by scientists and businessmen over genetics and human life?  Mary Shelley, with an artist's prophetic imagination, reminded us what it is like to be human - and less than human". (quote from BOOKS THAT BUILD CHARACTER, by William Kilpatrick).

Things to remember when selecting "good" books for children of any age (from Books that Build Character):

1. Try to recall stories that had a positive impact on you growing up.
2. Choose books that are in keeping with your own values.
3. Try to distinguish between issues and virtues.  Many contemporary children's books focus on trendy issues rather than character development.  You want your child to develop strength of character before she acquires a lot of secondhand opinions. The author should have a story to tell, not a message to convey.
4. Remember that good books are people centered, not problem centered.  Issues dealt with should be integrated with the characters, setting and plot.  Look for books where the main character grows.
5. Context is crucial.  Character-building books are not simply about good people doing good things.  Moral books may deal with immoral behavior.  The question is not whether unethical behavior is present, but how it is presented. The hero or heroine may give way to temptation, but a good book will show the real costs of such a choice.

Good Books for Teen Boys (girls will enjoy many of these as well!)
Renee Riva's fiction
Royal Monastic, by Bev Cook

1 comment:

  1. oooh another great blog post Wendy! I will definitely be looking for some of these in the very near future. Thanks!