Over the past few months of sheltering at home, I’ve made a surprising discovery: I may be a Generation X mom, but I love middle-school ages, or juvenile and young adult books – geared toward readers ages eight to twelve – as much as my kids do. Here’s why sharing a reading list with my tweens has brought us closer and helped me as a parent.
(scroll to the bottom for our reading list!)
- Reading the same books is like having our own exclusive book club – no Zoom accounts or scheduling wizardry required.
Not only are middle-grade books fun to read, but they also make for lively conversations around the kitchen table – and ours is getting a lot of usage now that we’re all home and together 24/7.
This spring, when COVID-19 upended regular routines and prompted new questions and worries, having our own informal book club was a welcome distraction. Instead of rehashing the latest headlines and debating on when schools would reopen, my kids and I could share our latest book reviews and debate on which characters we related to most. Now that my children are entering fourth grade and middle school, I’m grateful to have found a new way we can connect – and bonus, it doesn’t have to involve a screen.
- Shared stories are helping me discuss complex issues with my children – and in the process, I’m learning as well.
Middle-grade books are designed for younger readers, but that doesn’t mean they can’t thoughtfully address difficult topics. As a mom with anxiety, I want my kids to know that caring for their mental health is important and that there is no shame in reaching out for support. When my eleven-year-old told me how much she loved the book Where the Watermelons Grow, in which a young girl struggles to cope with her mother’s schizophrenia, I decided to read it too. Even though the mom’s diagnosis was scary, the author’s portrayal of the family’s experience was reassuring and hopeful. Reading the book helped me start a candid conversation with my daughter about mental illness in a way that was accessible to her.
Books are helping our family navigate conversations about systemic racism as well. After George Floyd’s death, as people in our city gathered to protest, I looked for stories that could help my kids – and me – better understand what it feels like to be Black in America. Both One Crazy Summer and A Good Kind of Trouble feature Black protagonists around my daughters’ ages. The characters are relatable, but they also show how our experiences growing up are different – and why, as a white family, we need to do more listening and learning.
- When we read books from my childhood, I get to indulge in some much-needed nostalgia.
Parenting through the uncertainty of this pandemic is a massive challenge, even for the most Zen types among us. We’re anxious, frustrated, and feeling pushed to our limits, and we don’t know when all of this will end. Perhaps that’s why there’s something comforting about curling up with an old edition of Sideways Stories from Wayside School or The Baby-Sitters Club. Reading these stories is like revisiting a carefree chapter of my own 1980s childhood, a time when any problem could be solved in roughly 200 pages and long before I knew anything about pandemics, social media, or mom guilt.
Another perk of sharing my favorite childhood reads with my tweens is hearing their reactions to the characters and storylines – and realizing just how much has changed since I was a pre-teen. After reading The Baby-Sitters Club books, my kids had fun comparing the original stories to the recent Netflix reboot of the series, in which the updated characters are Internet-savvy but use an “iconic” landline phone they procured on Etsy.
And since that plot point required me to explain to my Gen Z daughters what a landline was, I also taught my kids a bit of history. I’m counting that as a homeschooling win.
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée
The Baby-Sitters Club book series by Ann M. Martin
The Baby-Sitters Club Graphix Book Series by Raina Telgemeier
Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin
The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore
Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass