Books for tweens and teens stuck at home



What to do as we are schooling at home, sheltering at home, being with each other at home, remembering daily what a gift that is. But what to do? How to amuse ourselves? Books. But which books?

Personally, I have been doing a lot of cooking, and families that I know have made good times of cooking together. For some new recipes we could turn to “Cooking Class Global Feast” by Deanna Cook (Storey, 2019; $18.95), which was recommended on the list that Victoria Walton and Barb Stein of Prairie Lights Books put out this spring. I have not had a chance to order this book so I asked Victoria to describe it for us. Here is what she said: “‘Cooking Class Global Feast’ offers for families a variety of diverse recipes from around the world, an ideal cookbook for broadening menus choices and honing cooking skills. Tween and teens (plus adults who say they cannot cook) can independently and successfully follow thorough directions accompanied by colorful photos featuring young cooks from around the world. Younger family members will benefit by adult assistance where cutting and slicing is required.”

I want a copy of this book for when grandchildren come to visit.

Watching and listening to birds gives me much pleasure. And it is a pleasure available to all of us. “Look Up: Bird-Watching in Your Own Back Yard” (Candlewick, 2013; $15.99) by Annette LeBlanc Cate provides useful information about how to get started birdwatching close to home. And the best part is the information is presented in a charming light-hearted way with cartoon-y birds themselves commenting on the content of the book.

Laughs are good, too. And “Weasels” by Elys Dolan (Nosy Crow, 2014; $17.99) is always good for a laugh. In this graphic picture book weasels are in a multi -tory lab plotting to take over the world. Doesn’t sound laugh-worthy but it is. These weasels in lab coats drink coffee, lots of coffee and they have distinct personalities and appearances so readers can follow them throughout the book.

In trying to think of some “always-work” reads, I brought in some experienced help for this column — my grandkids. Sylvia, now 18, remembers spending good hours with the Magic Tree House Books by Mary Pope Osborne. These books, the “No. 1 best-selling series of all time,” the publisher tells us will get you out of the house (in your imagination) as you time travel with Jack and Annie. There are lots of them and they can be read again and again.

Evelyn (age 15) recommends (for readers ages 8 and up) “Ivy Aberdeen’s Letters to the World” by Ashley Herring Blake (Little Brown, 2018; $16.99) Evelyn tells me Ivy’s home was destroyed in a tornado and she and her family are confined to a small hotel room. She loses her journal in which she has drawn many pictures of girls holding hands. Then pages of the journal begin to show up in her locker. Ivy worries whether her family will love her when they realize who she really is. The Publishers Weekly reviewer writes, “This is an emotionally sensitive and elegantly written novel about loss and the first stirrings of love.” Ella (age 10) recommends “Copper Son” (Paperback, Simon-Pulse, 2008; $10.95), a National Book Award winner, by Sharon Draper. Draper’s grandfather was born a slave and was five years old when liberated in 1865. In an author’s note she tells readers she wrote this book to honor her ancestors and all those who were captured and embarked on the terrible journey, whether or not they survived.

Amari is captured in her village of Ziavi and packed onto a slave boat. Once in the United States, she is sold to Mr. Derby, who also has at his place Polly, a 15-year-old white indentured servant, Mrs. Derby (an 18-year-old second wife), Clay (Mr. Derby’s son), Teenie, born into slavery and head chef at the Derby’s farm, and her son Tidbit. The School Library Journal reviewer said the story expresses, “pain, hope, and determination,” and “human exploitation and suffering.”


Jonah (8) has been re-reading the Mercy Watson stories by Kate DiCamillo. Included in this series are “Mercy Watson to the Rescue,” “Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride,” “Mercy Watson Fights Crime,” “Mercy Watson Princess in Disguise.” Mercy Watson is a jovial young pig who lives with Mr. and Mrs. Watson. They dote on her and provide her with stacks of toast slathered with butter, which is her favorite treat. Mercy is curious and a bit bumbling and a constant source of annoyance to her neighbor Eugenia Lincoln. The stories are written for beginning readers, but the characters are so much fun that readers of all ages will be glad to make their acquaintance.

Jonah and Ella also have been reading “Ghost” by Jason Reynolds (Athenaeum, 2016; $17.99). Reynolds is the 2020-2021 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Ghost, Castle Cranshaw is his given name, started running when father fired a gun at him and his Mom three years before the story begins. Ghost is still running, still dealing with that night. One day he is passing the school track and sees kids running. He runs faster than the kids on the track and the coach ask him to be on the team. Kids have been reading and loving this book for 4 years now. It is part of Reynolds’s “track series,” four books, each featuring one of the four kids who run on the same track team — Lu, Patina, Sunny, and Ghost.

A final and satisfying piece of writing is to write your own story. This is a hard but remarkable time. We can all journal about what is hard, what helps us cope with what is hard. We can make lists of “good things that happened today,” “bad things that happened today,” “what I wish could happen tomorrow.” These pieces of writing will be treasured reading in a few years.

Reading gets us all out of the house, out of our time, in a safe and good way. Stay reading. Stay well. Many independent bookstores in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City are taking orders by phone. If that is a possibility for you, please support these local businesses. We want them to be around when the time comes that we can walk in and browse.

Jacqueline Briggs Martin of Mount Vernon writes books for children, including “Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Re-Mix” and “Creekfinding.”

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