Book Riff

Good Ones

Three Great Books to Read Aloud to Your Tweens & Teens (Yes, you heard right)

CJ Westerberg, December 20, 2011 1:56 AM


Update:  one of my earliest posts that still gets tons of traffic - C.J.

The Books and the Experience
by C.J. Westerberg

Since it's that holiday reading time of year, I was just thinking of a few "smart" gifts for our older kids, since there are plenty of recommendations for the younger set everywhere, it seems.  Spending time with your kids is always the best gift but so are books, so I decided to combine the two thoughts.  If you are interested in just the books, you can just cut to the chase and skip to the second half of this post, but reading these books together is a pretty amazing experience.
I didn't do the whole Baby Einstein number with my daughter, felt guilty by my missing the boat on that one, but now have recently been exonerated since Disney (who bought the company) had to "eat crow" by stating that there is no research supporting the claim that kids get smarter from this program.   Whew.  Dodged another bullet.

Then there was the traveling I had to do for work during her early school years where I just wasn't home one to two nights per week.  Dad was home.  But still.  Guilt. 

One thing I feel really good about is that I am still reading to my daughter most nights. . . or we take turns reading.  She is an older tween (but going on eighteen for all intents and purposes) and we usually have the best time with it.  How do I know for sure?  When I tried to beg off the other night, claiming total exhaustion, she said without hesitation, "You can't.  It's my favorite thing we do together".  Whoa.  What about the tennis, movies . . .

Excuse me, but this is a girl who goes everywhere in the house with her Mac.  This is a girl who said,  "See you later, mom" as she came out of my womb and said the same on the first day of nursery school without even a glance behind.

I read for all of fifteen minutes, sometimes less or more, and add a bit of the drama to bring out the latent Cate Blanchett in me (yeah right).  I just really hope it does continue because it is one
of the best bonding experiences that doesn't involve achievement, school, scheduling, competition, friend and logistic issues, gotta do, have to go somewhere to do it.  And, sometimes the reading is only five minutes yet the talking "about it" much longer.  

A curious moment worth noting was when I brought in my Kindle (ed. note: pre-iPad) one time, she hated it.  No interest.  Adios.  She said she "likes to see the book".  Again, for someone so adept and wired in the digital world, it was the request for yin in a yang world.

(On the flip side, during a parent breakfast recently, one mom who was at wit's end trying to find the magic cure for her son's reluctance to read, spoke accolades of the Kindle's delivery system which became a turning point in his motivation to read. Go figure. The medium is the message?) 

In any event, the other big plus about this ritual is it gets me out of my rut - which lately has been a non-fiction jag for the last year (how many books on assessments and accountability can you read before people run from you at cocktail parties - "oh no, here she comes again, let's get outta here").

I wonder why you don't hear that much about reading aloud to kids who can read on their own.  I'm curious how many parents continue to do it after, say, third or fourth grade.  It gets harder.  They have more homework, more activities.  Life seems to get so much busier.  Is it possible to still be reading to them when they are full-blown teens?   It would be really interesting to hear other tales of triumph and woe.

The books are really a mixed bag but I no longer read anything she would read on her own, like Harry Potter or Percy Jackson, her favorite genre, because it's one of the ways we both check out new things.  

Here are three that you may have never thought of:

The first book is a jewel.  I love the whole linen-edged, retro-ish feel of it physically.  You could  read the book in an hour, but that would kill the whole idea, with phrases like "his voice like iron on velvet", you want to take your time.  The author was a famous cartoonist and humorist (a regular for The New Yorker magazine) with prose so visual.  More:
"This book, the one you are holding, The 13 Clocks by James Thurber,  is probably the best book in the world.  And if it's not the best book, then it's still very much like nothing anyone has ever seen before, and, to the best of my knowledge, no one's ever really seen anything like it since.

The 13 Clocks isn't really a fairy tale, just as it isn't really a ghost story, But it feels like a fairy tale, and it takes place in a fairy tale world.  It is short - not too short, just perfectly short.  Short enough.  . . .   I watch Thurber wrap his story tightly in words, while at the same time juggling fabulous words that glitter and gleam, tossing them out like a happy madman, all the time explaining and revealing and baffling with words,  It is a miracle.  I think you could learn everything you need to know about telling stories from this book."
             -From the Introduction by Neil Gaiman, author of Coraline and The Graveyard

2)  The second is one of my personal favorites, The English Reader  - What Every Literate Person Needs to Know by Michael Ravitch & Diane Ravitch.   

I blame my love of English Literature (claiming no expertise whatsoever, just interest) on my 10th grade teacher who would rhapsodize about this subject with such passion and ardor that everyone in this class was spellbound.   She was a bit of a loon, but a good-hearted one.  When she read love sonnets from John Donne, the "love poet" who used metaphors, it was pure angst for a teen.   Or, it may be that I can never forget the sharing of her most perfect fantasy: being locked in an English tower for a year just reading English Literature with no intrusions.   Sounds bizarre, lonely and tormented, but so intriguing at the same time.

Ravitch pulls together a wonderful collection of short takes with quick intros, so if you only have time for a five minute poem, it's there.  Poetry is great at night since the time commitment really works.  One time after spending a few minutes truly engaged together about how could Edmund Burke be so passionate about the American Revolution while not supporting the French, my daughter was fast asleep about 10 minutes into my reading of his famous Reflections essay, her muttering "it's really good" while drifting off.  But mom endured, loving every fabulous word.   There is also The American Reader if that is more your thing. 

3)   The third book is an upcoming holiday gift that is completely tied to the fact that "the daughter" thinks her science teacher "totally rocks" and I'm maximizing this opportunity full-tilt.   It is Bill Bryson's A Really Short History of Nearly Everything, a kids' version of his bestseller, A Short History of Nearly Everything


If you are science whizz household, then by all means check out the adult version.  But since
 I am embarrassingly pretty clueless in this subject, I know we will both enjoy it, especially
 since it has larger type with lots of illustrations, perfect for my brain at night, with just enough complexity, but again, not too much.  It came highly recommended by the book guru at Head Butler.    

Interesting that two of these three recommendations have to do with a teacher - isn't it?


As "the daughter" gets older, she becomes the lead as to books we read - together or individually - and the top pick this year 2012 was . . . . John Green's "The Fault in our Stars"  Brilliant and heart-breaking - look forward to seeing the movie since it is old news in December 2014.

In December 2014, we are now reading together Paris, by Edward Rutherfurd - her choice at 17.   Honestly, we have not yet finished it, but there is nothing like a parent reading something to even someone as "old" as a teen, especially when they are struggling with the anxiety and fatigue of a flu - - -

  • vew

    Thanks so much for direction on some good books for gifts to my

    grandchildren for any time of the year. vew

blog comments powered by Disqus


Thumbnail image for Make Just One Change.jpg

Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions

CJ Westerberg, 10.18.2017

Now, here were college grads looking for jobs, and not recognizing that showing curiosity and asking engaging questions could show MORE about WHO they were than reciting some resume paragraph to interviewers in a random interview. -C.J. Westerberg

Read Post | Comments
bad-habit.smoking. harvard.jpg

The Bad Habits You Learn in School

CJ Westerberg, 10.17.2017

And it's not about smoking. John Coleman via Harvard Business Review

Read Post | Comments

Shaping Serendipity for Learning: Conversations with John Seely Brown

CJ Westerberg, 10.11.2017

"Conventional wisdom holds that different people learn in different ways. Something is missing from that idea, however, so we offer a corollary: Different people, when presented with exactly the same information in exactly the same way, will learn different things." - John Seely Brown

Read Post | Comments

Is Math Art? Dream or Nightmare? TOP 10 BEST BOOK

CJ Westerberg, 10.09.2017

"A Mathematician's Lament"
Every parent & educator should check out this book excerpt

Read Post | Comments

Learning Math: The Symbol Barrier

CJ Westerberg, 10.06.2017

Street Math, School Math, and Video Games

Read Post | Comments

Schools and Parents: A Kabuki Dance?

CJ Westerberg, 03.06.2017

We asked then, why do some schools still play a kabuki dance when it comes to parental/family engagement?

Read Post | Comments

Would You Hire Your Own Kids? 7 Skills Schools Should Be Teaching Them

CJ Westerberg, 01.11.2017

Tony Wagner, Former HS teacher, Principal & Co-Director At Harvard School Of Education Posts. "The Ability To Ask The Right Questions Is The Single Most Important Skill."

Read Post | Comments

Are we creating innovators? 22 Insights

CJ Westerberg, 11.04.2016

C.J. Westerberg dissects Tony Wagner's "Creating Innovators" Video Trailer

Read Post | Comments

Late Bloomers (Guess what? You didn't peak in high school ;)

CJ Westerberg, 06.22.2016

How 2012 Nobel Prize Winner Dissed by High School Biology Teacher - CJ Westerberg post

Read Post | Comments

Seven Questions: Is your child a recipe-follower or a real learner?

CJ Westerberg, 10.22.2015

John Holt: The Seven Ways to Picture a Student's Understanding - - - by CJ Westerberg

Read Post | Comments
Sparks of Genius. Thirteen Thinking Tools.jpg

How the Arts Prepare for a Life's Work in any Discipline

CJ Westerberg, 07.24.2015

Including Science, Technology, Engineering and Math

Read Post | Comments

Chinese Super Schools?

CJ Westerberg, 11.09.2014

"No one, after 12 years of Chinese education, has any chance to receive a Nobel prize, even if he or she went to Harvard, Yale, Oxford or Cambridge for college . . ." Yong Zhao

Read Post | Comments

Author John Green: Teenagers Think the Big Questions in Life Matter

SMW, 06.02.2014

Why Do We Give Them Short-Shrift? The Teen Whisperer: How the author of "The Fault in Our Stars" built an ardent army of fans

Read Post | Comments

It's Personal: How a Parent Perspective Changes Everything

SMW, 12.09.2013

"For every problem that technology solves, it sort of creates a new one."

Read Post | Comments

American Teacher: responding to students, environments and conditions

SMW, 12.05.2013

"There are very few schools that purposefully try to create lines and connections between different fields. The way most high schools are set up, you're in history class, and then the bell rings; then you go to science class, and then the bell rings."

Read Post | Comments

Choke: Test-taking - - - a different way to look at test-prep?

CJ Westerberg, 10.28.2013

"Most students will not find a steady diet of test-prep drills and worksheets to be particularly meaningful, and accordingly, they will not put forth optimal learning effort."

Read Post | Comments

Today's WOW Story: Yong Zhao's "Be Careful What You Wish For"

SMW, 10.03.2013

Flipping Standardized Testing on its Ear

Read Post | Comments

The "Anti-Creativity Checklist"

CJ Westerberg, 06.30.2013

14 Ways To Say NO to Innovation: Harvard's Youngme Moon

Read Post | Comments

John Green's "Brilliant" Commencement Speech: The True Hero's Errand

CJ Westerberg, 06.17.2013

Best-Selling Author of "The Fault in Our Stars"

Read Post | Comments