10 Can't Put Down Books for Reluctant Boy Readers

One of the questions I was asked most as a librarian was "How do I keep my son interested in reading?" It’s very typical for normally book loving young boys to lose interest in reading right around age nine, and to continue to be disinterested during the middle school years. With a multitude of tempting technological distractions like tablets and video games, as well as other hobbies such as sports and music, it’s nearly impossible to get your average boy to sit still and be fulfilled by turning the pages of a book. But don’t fret, because I’ve put together a list of what librarians would typically call "hi/lo" readers. These are books that have a "hi" interest, with an average or low reading level, and often offer the best chance to keep a boy’s nose in a book. Left off the list are graphic novels but don’t discount this genre, or even comic books for that matter, as being a poor reading choice. Remember the goal is to slowly get them simply reading and engaged in pages, and for many boys, graphic novels are the first step to doing just that. 

Holes by Louis Sachar
This may well be on your son's school required reading list, but if it isn't, it should be. The winner of both a Newbery Medal and the National Book Award, this inventive page turner will have boys guessing the "whats?" and "whys?" until the very end. Great story of true friendships and why we fight for the underdog.

The Skeleton Tree by Iain Lawrence
Outdoor adventure fans and boys who loved "Hatchet" will devour this story of survival set in the Alaskan wilderness.  Fast moving pace, suspenseful, and gripping scenes of life or death will keep boys turning pages.

Pax by Sara Pennypacker
Stories about a boy and his dog (in this case a fox) never go out of style, and this one is no exception.  Long listed for the National Book Award and set during amongst the ravages of a war, a boy's search for his abandoned fox takes the reader on an adventure with both heartbreaking and tender scenes. Adult readers will enjoy this as well.

The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart
A magical and oft hilarious mystery, this story leads readers on a clue searching mission full of so many twists and turns readers will dare put it down. From the bestselling author of The Mysterious Benedict Society, readers who enjoy a little magic with their whodunits will love this one. 

Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25 (Book 1) by Richard Paul Evans 
Non-stop action from start to finish, this is geared toward readers ages 11-up. You will root hard or the main hero Michael in this dystopian/sci-fi themed book as they fight a battle against forces who want to take them over. Fans of the Alex Rider series will enjoy this series. 

Masterminds by Gordon Korman
Young fans of James Patterson and John Grisham's YA novels will enjoy this twisted mystery that follows a group of boys discovering their small, quiet town (and their parents) are not what they seem. Great cliffhanger and characters boys will relate to.

The Great Greene Heist (Jackson Greene) by Varian Johnson
Reads like a middle school version of "Ocean's Eleven," follow the adventures of a snarky middle school principal, a young future politician, and a funny con artist who swoops in to save the day. 

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
A Newbery Medal winner, this book tells the story of Nobody Owens, an orphaned child raised by ghosts and ghouls in a cemetery. With tones from Kipling's, The Jungle Book, the adventures of Owens and the cast of historical ghosts who raise him is surprisingly funny, suspenseful, and is wonderfully told. 

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen 
This classic sets the gold standard for boyhood survival stories, and is a must read for boys and girls alike. Paulsen's dramatic storytelling of the young protagonists Brian and his struggle to survive in the wilderness is by far superior to every other survival story out there. Make sure the check out the sequel, "Brian's Winter" when you're done with this one. 

The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks
This one you will want to read with your son, as it tells the story many a parent can relate to (letting go of a child when they grow up) but in this case, it's a boy sending a toy back to its own world. First rate fantasy telling with humor, action, plenty of fun and  even some tears. 

5 Great Ways to Get Your High Schooler Ready for the SAT/ACT

For high-school parents across the country getting ready to register their teens for college entrance exams, it may be scary to think that what they do over the course of four hours at a testing center has the power to determine their fate for the next four years. But it doesn’t have to be.
How and what you do to prepare your teen for taking the SAT/ACT can make all the difference in the world in both their test scores, and their reaction to how they performed. 
Where we once thought their college entrance exam scores were the end all be all of their youth, we can be comforted in knowing that today’s standardized test score is just one part of a larger portfolio of academic work, classroom honors, and other accolades the average high schooler will accumulate.
Even so, having a student walk into test day exuding confidence and calmness can make all the different in the world. Try these five tips to ensure your college-bound student experiences test day success.
1. Remind them it really is just a test.
It is comprehensively impossible to develop 12 years of education into a “test,” and your teenagers need to be reminded of that. Sadly, they may potentially leave the test feeling frustrated and, well, stupid, but reassure them that statistically, less than 5 percent will score perfect or even close to it. The perfect test that is able to measure your teen’s whole body of intelligence and potential simply does not exist, and never will.
2. Use those giant test prep books. Really.
Those giant phonebook like test prep book may seem overwhelming, but they hold a wealth of information and resources. Most importantly, they offer practice tests and answer keys with explanations. It’s also a good way to get the feel of a printed test on paper!
3. A professional test prep service and/or series of test prep classes are worth every penny and may pay for itself later.
Students with even the slightest bit of test anxiety may benefit greatly from test prep tutoring the most, as they teach a specific set of test taking skills not normally offered (or even talked about) in regular school.
More importantly, even though the cost of private test tutoring can be pricey, as little as an increase of one point on a section of the ACT can be the difference between receiving academic merit based scholarship monies or not. You may even find a some test prep service that guarantees an increase in score.
Test taking is truly a learned skill, and your teen may well benefit from a class that actually teaches it. Better yet, many of these are available online and can be completed in the comfort of your teen’s surroundings, at their own pace, and include videos, apps, and other high tech methods of instruction.
4. Retake, retake, retake.
Most colleges will assess no punishment or place any negative connotation on the fact a student decides to retake one of the tests, even if they do it more than once. Many will even allow for a composite score, meaning you take the best score from each section no matter what day you took them on.
Taking the test more than once and having a base score is actually helpful, and can determine which range of colleges you should be looking at, and what kind of score improvement you will need to gain for acceptance into your “reach school.”
Finally, did you know you can retake the test while already in college? Ask your financial aid office if a significant increase in score would mean the difference in receiving additional grants and scholarships, and then go ahead and give the test another try.
5. Assemble puzzles and exercise.
In the months leading up to test day, one interesting way to prepare for a several hour long session of intense thinking and focusing that the SAT/ACT requires, is to practice with puzzles. Spending time working on complex puzzles helps wire your brain to remember how to stay focused with one goal in mind, and to not be swayed by distracting thoughts or daydreams. Puzzles which require logical thinking are a bonus.
Another method to boost your brain while at the same time encouraging relaxation is to exercise! Your “lazy” teen may have no interest in going for a long fast walk with you, but the head clearing and “runner’s high” effect it will have on them may quickly change their mind.
Exercise is also proven to give you a more positive outlook on life, and this may help negative thinking teens who lack test confidence.
Modern high school often places today’s teens under an extreme amount of pressure to excel and succeed, leaving some students unable to even begin to feel they will have sufficient time to prepare, and have success on the SAT/ACT.
Luckily test prep services like Magoosh, and its innovative and highly successful approach to student achievement, are available to ensure students from all backgrounds and educational levels can achieve test day success.

When the College Acceptance Letter Comes......

My firstborn son received his college acceptance yesterday.

In a matter of a few seconds, I felt all the feels; joy, excitement, worry, anticipation, relief, gratefulness….exuberance to just name a few.

But I also felt something I didn’t expect.

I felt a release.  I felt his release. 

As my husband, myself, and my son all stood around starring at the computer screen reading “Congratulations!” I felt a metaphorical rush of air hit my face, and I imagined it was from my son spreading his wings and finally flying out of our nest.  

And for the first time, I wasn’t sad about it.  I want him to go. 

All I could think about was this thought, “It was all worth it.”

That moment when a childhood becomes adulthood, where your baby’s life dreams are just beginning and their childhood dreams are ending, and as a mom, you get to see it, well, it was all worth it. 

To the moms out there with kids not yet of college age, it’s gonna be worth it.

It was worth the months of puking, the stretch marks, the labor pains, the new body.

It was worth the years of sleepless nights, the red faced cries, the poop explosions.

It was worth the terrible twos, the tantrums, the household disasters, the reading of Good Night Moon 4,876 times, and the hearing the word “NO!” yelled at you for years.

It was worth the skinned knees, the vaccines, the runny noses, the earaches, the head bumps, the cavities, the braces, and the scary loud coughs waking you at night. 

It was worth the thousands of lunches packed, the countless meatloaves made, and the endless trips to the grocery store to feed a boy who is forever hungry.  

It was worth the late nights of spelling word practices, math fact practices, diorama making,  science project fiascos, and  book report writing. 

It was worth being the mom taxi, the 5,000 hours spent in cars going to school, to sports, to the doctor, to anywhere and everywhere you needed to be. Even when I was so tired I could barely see the road.

It was worth the teen years, when hugs were few and far between, when their days were 15 hours long, and my grudges were even longer, when cars were dented, dinners went uneaten, attitudes exploded, and tears fell. It was worth the stress that comes when a kid is expected to be a mature young man, yet still had the heart and playfulness of a young child. 

And last night, as all of those milestones flashed before me, I know the only thing that flashed before my son was the future, not the past. And I’m ok with that. 

In a sense, sure, a lot of my “work” is done, and I do feel like I deserve a moment of “I did it. He’s going to college. Can I have a nap now?” But I know that is not the case. I know my childrearing doesn't end at the age of 18, and I know he still needs his mom. But I am over the moon excited that slowly but surely, he will be making own decisions more and more, and need me less and less. That’s a good thing. 

I’m going to go up to his room later today, and probably stare at an empty bed, and it will hit me that next year I will be staring at an empty bed all the time. But I will not be sad about, because the happiness on his face last night told me everything I need to know. 

He’s gonna be ready. And it truly was all worth it. 

Books You'll FALL Into! New Good Reads to Curl Up With.

If the air is turning crisp and cool where you are, and you’re ready to pull on a cozy sweater and curl up with a great book, I’ve got the perfect list for you. New contemporary fiction releases, one hilarious romp, some suspenseful thrillers to compliment Halloween season, a star studded memoir, and a few non-fiction surprises make up my latest book recommendations. Grab your pumpkin spice latte, then relax, sit back, and get ready to book shop. What’s better than that? 


This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell 
Word lovers rejoice, because the prose in here is deliciously brilliant. Part love story, part analysis of the complexities and humor in a marriage, O'Farrell weaves a plot that you won't soon forget. You will find these characters satisfyingly flawed yet lovable. 

This little gem is must read for book lovers, bookstore lovers, and library lovers. Meet Nina, a bookmobile owner with a knack for literary matchmaking, and follow her on a journey to change lives with the power of storytelling.  A real treat for fans of Meg Donahue and Sophie Kinsella. 


Razor Girl: A Novel by Carl Hiaasen
Carl is back at it with another surreal and wickedly hilarious romp through Florida, with a cast of characters you can't imagine writing or even existing,  but they do. This is Hiaasen at his best- raunchy, brusque, and wildly entertaining. Prepare to be bent over laughing and shaking your head at the same time. 


Small Great Things: A Novel by Jody Piccoult
Picoult dares to go there with this gripping tale of power, prejudice, race, and privilege. This drama will keep you thinking and page turning, and manages to tackle tough issues with thoughtfulness and wisdom. Picoult fans may find it her best yet. 


The Perfect Girl by Gillian Macmillan
Macmillan is back at it with another gripping and twisting story that keeps us guessing until the end. Psychological suspense fans will devour this quickly, as well as anyone needing a page turner with intelligence and deeply intense character development.


The Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen
Imagine the most idyllic neighborhood, yet up and down the street everyone is hiding something. Exploring the dark parts of suburbia and the secrets people hold, Whalen weaves a rich story of conflict and compassion. A Kindle Book Club Pick for August.


The Trespasser by Tana French
Crime novel lovers buckle up, because the latest from French will consume you whole. An Amazon "Best Book Pick" for October, The Trespasser is a brilliant whodunit, and French brings a fresh new voice to the crime drama genre that readers will delight over. 


Faithful: A Novel by Alice Hoffman
Very much a feel good story intertwined with tragedy and redemption, Faithful tells the story of a young woman making her way through the world after a difficult beginnings. Hoffman fans will appreciate another deeply moving novel, and mothers and daughters will enjoy this tale as well. 



If you miss The Carol Burnett Show like I do, do yourself a favor and get this book. Carol gives readers complete access to all the behind the scenes tales of the show, including anecdotes and hilarious stories about all of the many famous co-stars and favorite sketches which helped make The Carol Burnett Show the recipient of 25 Emmy Awards. I laughed my way through this entire book, and reminisced right along with Carol about the genius that was her show. 


If you don't know who Jenny is and you have a family to feed, than you are truly missing out. This title is a must in any family's cookbook collection, and will serve you well through the many hundreds of  must make meals you find yourself, well, having to cook. With beautiful pictures and stories between the recipes, Jenny's warmth and motherhood humor in the kitchen make her latest a delight to flip and cook through. 


Between Breaths: A Memoir of Panic and Addiction by Elizabeth Vargas
I have always been a huge fan of Vargas, and this honest story about her battle with alcoholism and anxiety has made me an even bigger fan. Told with inspiration and hope, this brave and raw memoir will have you looking at addiction through different lenses.


The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines
Fixer Upper fans rejoice! Here is the story of the humble beginnings of our favorite shiplap loving renovating couple, including the story of how they met, their humble beginnings, and how they became America's most loved demo day crushers. I love these people, and this book did not 


The Peppermint Bark Cookbook: Over 75 Recipes for Delicious Homemade Treats, from Milkshakes to Cheesecakes by Dominique DeVito
Yep, I'm going there, because Christmas is coming and peppermint bark is straight from the heavens, so why not have more of it? Includes 10 basic bark recipes (gluten free!) and then a variety of treats to make with all your bark. A great hostess gift for all your Christmas parties!