Gifts for the Holidays: 12 books to read before you’re 12!


As a kid growing up, books took me to the most wondrous places. My imagination learned to soar and discover places not found on any map.

Here is a list of 12 books you should read before you’re 12. I had help assembling this list: a librarian who is passionate about children’s books, a math teacher who has taught across the globe and my eleven year-old daughter who shares her love of books with her father and two rescue dogs.

In no particular order:

  1. Wonder by R.J. Palacio. August, a 5th grader who has physical limitations just wants to be treated like an ordinary kid. The story is told from his point of view as well as his classmates, his sister and others. It is about people with differences who embrace each other. Ultimately it is about kindness.
  1. Bridge to Terebithia by Katherine Paterson. An element of fantasy in this book about friendship. A story of saving and rescuing. I asked our librarian, Cara McConnell why fantasy is important? She explained, “being creative and going off to different places is good – it is important to nurture going to new places…in your head.” In this case the character does it to escape bullying.
  1. Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo. A dog book. A family gets a tramp – a story of the relationship that follows and what the dog does to rescue a family that didn’t want it.
  1. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. A family helping Jews in WWII. Told from the girl’s p.o.v. as a family supports each other in horrible times.
  1. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. Fascinating story of being a mentor: A guide helps people to understand themselves and discover their potential. On top of that – it’s a whodunit!
  1. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. A classic story about redemption. Seeing people for who they are. It’s about friendship & love & sacrifice.
  1. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Ronald Dahl. A story about family, choices, &…consequences.

See Also: What if…Your Child’s Imagination Could Soar!

      8. Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Time travel and the story of a little boy who is different. A    great sci-fi read.

  1. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. A kid doesn’t like school & looks for places to go. He’s always bored & never happy….until he goes on the most fantastic adventure! With illustrations by Jules Feiffer.
  1. Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. A jewel of a book about a seagull that doesn’t fit in with his flock. “The story,” Math teacher Jenny Carvalho said, “re-affirms a faith that each of us can find a way for ourselves.” With stunning photographs by Russell Munson.
  2. The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver. My eleven year-old daughter Natalie loved this book. “It describes a deep love relationship between siblings,” she told me, “you connect with the characters – the character pretends to be someone she’s not – she runs into obstacles and realizes at end you have to be true to who you are.”

We should read books with each other and to each other,” Cara McConnell said as we discussed these books, “People should have shared experiences. Research shows that books help us – we read a narrative and as we stand in someone else’s shoes – we become more empathetic – we want to raise kids who can look passed their own noses and care about the world around them.”

  1. Old Turtle by Douglas Wood, Watercolor illustrations by Cheng-Khee Chee. My wife and I have given this book to more kids and adults than I can remember. It’s a guide book: A fable of the spiritual connectivity that exists between everyone and everything. Hopefully it instills in kids what Einstein called “a circle of compassion – to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” A lighthouse of a book for kids as they begin to discover and map out their own identities.

“We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel… is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.”

Ursula K. Le Guin

Coming in a future post: 7 Books to read before you’re 7!




















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Reading and Creativity: Ask QUESTIONS that engage CREATIVE THINKING

Questions leading to direct and simple answers do not improve […] thinking skills.

As parents we hear that regularly reading to our child is one of the most important contributions we can make to their educational development. In this article I’m going to reflect on the ways this pastime might enhance Creativity by asking questions that go beyond merely recalling information, and instead challenge skills in Creative Thinking – with specific examples at the end of the article.

My wife and I started reading to our boys as soon as they were born, and while I confess it can be difficult to make this happen every night, we’ve obviously done it enough to establish a routine, where they both happily jump up on the couch when presented with a book.

See Also: What id your child’s imagination could soar!

It's important to start reading young. Start with baby books that show pictures with contrasting colors.
We’re advise to read baby books that show pictures with contrasting colors.

As I begin to reflect on the relationship between reading and creativity, I look at my son’s love of making stories, that not only have a clear beginning, middle and end, but also a resolution integrated at the end of the story. Below is one of his short stories that we turned into a movie.

Looking at the subject of Reading and Creativity a little further, I’ve recently accessed some articles on the subject, and found that asking questions that stimulate the thinking process is one of the most important things we can do when reading to our children.

‘Questions leading to direct and simple answers do not improve […] thinking skills. However questions related to old and new information and which leads the individual to reach some particular values are beneficial for thinking skills.’*

What does this mean? Well I think its safe to say that we’re ok asking our toddlers to point out the Chicken, or the Duck, but as they get older we need to find ways to challenge our children to evaluate the new information they’ve been presented with, and combine it with what they already understand in order to make judgments or reach new discoveries.

Here are some specific examples:

  • For a new book you can start with the front cover and challenge your child to tell you what the story is about, and then follow up with questions on how they reached their conclusions.
  • When reading the new book you can engage your child’s imagination by challenging them to tell you how they think the problem will be solved. Again follow up with questions on how they’ve reached their conclusions. You might even ask them if the story/ or problem reminds them of another book you’ve read together.
  • Things can become more challenging when you revisit the book for a second or third time, but actually there’s an opportunity to engage creative thinking by asking the child to relate the story to their own experiences. For instance, you could cask them would do if the Big Bad Wolf knocked on their door, or if you want to challenge them further – help them identify the wolfs problem (he’s hungry) and then ask them to find another solution that doesn’t hurt the little pigs.

There’s a lot of information here, but the main take away is when reading, ask questions that engage thinking, and avoid those that are closed ended (have a yes or no response) or merely require them to recite what you just read.

To conclude – Read, Read, and Read (but don’t force it if a routine hasn’t been established).

*Nevin Akkaya, M. Volkan Deirel (2012)

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Creativity and Fantasy


“Dear Mr. Fantasy….

….play us a tune

Something to make us all happy

Do anything take us out of this gloom…”    -Traffic.


We’re all creatures of habit. And there’s some comfort there. As teachers and students and parents we often sink into the familiar rather than explore unchartered waters. And that’s really where all the fun is. Kids know that when they are young: watch them play and spin reality into fantasy and back to reality faster than we channel surf.

At times the rigidity and gloom of too many school curriculums can rob them of their creativity unless we as parents allow, encourage and participate with them in creative activities like the one my colleague Matthew Worwood described in his wonderful 11.22.14 post on “ten items that must be included in a dressing up box.” Sometimes I think fantasy gets too much bad press from the sociological/psychological gurus. Here’s another guru for you:

“The gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.” ― A. Einstein

There are no rules in unchartered waters. As parents and teachers we want to equip our kids with the navigational tools to explore these waters, but too often we are reluctant to go there ourselves. It has been reiterated many times that we are now educating students for jobs that don’t even exist yet. Unchartered waters.

It’s often the parents and teachers that need the encouraging to use their fantasies to explore and not the kids.

I used to teach 11th grade English at the high school. The whole curriculum was British Literature. Imagine teaching Macbeth (or Beowulf!) to a room of really reluctant readers at 7:30 in the morning the first week in September. Many of these kids had never read a book from cover to cover in their lives.

I shared a room with Sean Malloy – an amazing teacher but a misguided fanatic Red Sox follower. The students always enjoyed the playful banter between the two of us since I’m from NYC and a die-hard Yankee fan. As we drove to work in the morning passed trailer parks and local diners, we listened to sports radio and often talked of curriculum – and then tried, with mixed results, various instructional strategies to engage the students in Shakespeare.

The students loved our rat-a-tat-tat taunting of each other with regards to our opposing baseball teams. And one morning we slipped into unchartered territory and the whole game changed:

Both classes were reading Hamlet and one of us suddenly asked, “If Rosencrantz and Guildenstern played baseball – what position would they play?

Stop. The room went quiet. Everyone in the room looked at us. What are these teachers taking about? It made no sense. Where’s the logic? Baseball and Hamlet?

And the other shot back, “They’d have to play shortstop & 2nd base – they’re a perfect double play combination!”

And we were off to the races…..

The kids loved it. Instant engagement. We put the names of all the characters from Hamlet on the board and had the students discuss each one – and then had them assign characters in the play to baseball positions based on their personal attributes and their relationships in the play. Collaboratively teachers and students formulated a line-up that bears some resemblance to the following:

-Hamlet – contemplative, reflective, can be rash and impulsive – Center field

-Claudius – shrewd, conniving, tries to control the game – Pitcher

-Laertes = Claudius’ catcher, as he’s receptive to everything the “bastard” throws his way

-Gertrude – charm and grace – desires a good position – 1st base

-Rosencrantz & Guildenstern – Shortstop and 2nd base (double-play combo)

-Horatio – 3rd base – because Hamlet’s discussions with him are close to home.

-Ophelia – (DEEP) left field

-Bernardo or Marcellus – platoon in right field-based on righty/lefty pitching matchups

-Fortinbras – comes in from the bullpen to close it out.

-Polonius – Manager

-Old King Hamlet’s ghost – General Manager – as he gets the wheels in motion.

-Yorick’s skull would be displayed in Monument Park, and the Gravedigger would be the mascot.

The fluidity of the above exercise can stretch way beyond the classroom to spontaneous and creative moments that you can share with your kids. The other night our family was sitting around the dining room table laughing as our three pit bull rescue dogs, Flash, Stella and Arlo entertained themselves and us with an endless series of antics. We started talking about their very different characteristics – at which point my ten year-old daughter (having just finished yet another book in a adventure series about the Greek gods) – asked, “If Flash was a Greek god….which one would he be……”

Back to our baseball team – and for the fun of it –
the statistician:

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” ― A. Einstein

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