We Recommend: Rereading, Frustrated, 5th Grade Edition

It's We Recommend, where you write to us with a person's age, tastes, likes, loves, hatreds, and anything else that might help, and we put it in a magic pot and come up with a perfect book for them! Or something like that. Got a person in your life who needs a book? Write to us at thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com with all relevant and irrelevant information, and we will do our best. And the secret? Look in the comments, it's where you'll find all the best recommendations.

Well, this one really hit home for me, and so I am posting about it though I an meaning to write about something else. It's—well, you'll see.

My 5th grader (girl) has always been a bookworm. Loves to read, and has always scored 98-99 percentile for all of those reading assessments we hate. (She was the subject of this post, several years ago.) Last year she even had a goal to read all of the Newbery winners by the time she's 14. But in the past 6 months, she's mostly stopped trying new books, and instead just reads the same things (Calvin & Hobbes, the Popularity Papers series, the Penderwicks series, and Wonder) over and over. The list of books that have been picked up & put down after reading the flap or the first page is endless (and full of wonderful books!). Watership Down? Eh. Harry Potter #7? Got 1/2 way through and doesn't want to finish because too many people die. And so on. And even the realistic fiction that she used to love isn't doing it for her anymore. The thing is, now she's saying that a) she's tired of her favorite books, and b) there are no more good books left. And she's spending her time playing DragonVale and exploring the New Moon Girls site, and explodes when it's suggested that maybe she should do something non-electronic, because "there's nothing to do and nothing to read."
 
So I think I'm not really looking for a recommendation to bring her back to reading (unless someone has something that would be just perfect for the kind of kid who loves The Penderwicks and can't wait for the next one to come out). But for you parents of older girls–is this normal, in your experience? Is this a phase that some kids go through before, as part of pre-adolescence? 
 
Any thoughts are welcome!
 
It's lucky that any thoughts are welcome, because I have a few. First of all, as I said to the writer in an email, normal is just a setting on a washing machine, which is what a well-meaning camp counselor told us when we were freaking out about something or other. But I know that's a dodge, really, because the real question is (more or less) Should I Be Scared? And the real answer to that is what it always is, No, because being scared doesn't help anything. Though, I must admit, I am scared all the time.
 
Also, the other real question is: Is this happening to other kids, and the answer to that is an emphatic: YES. It's certainly happened this way to both my girls, from what I can see on the outside. And it happened to this kid. And I went ahead and flat-out asked Chestnut about it, and she said, "Oh that's happened to me!" She fully recognized it as a thing she goes through sometimes, especially when things are a little tough. But then, she tells me, she finds a book that no one expected her to read or like in a million years, and she'll read that and like it, and she'll be fine again.
 
She also said that it's of no use recommending books to her when she is in one of those moods, because recommending a book to her will only make her want to read it less.
 
And I would note, too, that it's plain old hard to be in 5th grade. Everything is changing, and maybe that's just fine for some people, but for me and for many of the people I most admire, change, especially lasting, profound change, is tricky.
 
So, even though all these things are true, I still insist on recommending something, because that is my nature, I suppose. And also, because the real concern here is that reading is such a friend and relief in a difficult world, and we want her to have that if she can.
 
First of all, I would offer something foolish and terrible.
TheClique(1)
 
I know that I violate every trusting and good heart in recommending these, but…. Well, Chestnut was reading one of these on her bed the other day, feeling overwhelmed by guests and visitors and life itself. And a guest, a wonderful but also distressed teenager, came into her room and said, "Oh! I remember those! I loved reading those!"
"Yes! They're so terrible!" Chestnut said.
"Yes!" the teenager cried happily. "They're really awful." And they were both so happy. Sometimes, I feel silly stupid things are just the ticket.
 
But! I am not just an emtpy-headed Mephistopholes. (I think.) Because I would also recommend this.
Image2
Just getting a subscription (you can find them here) means that it will show up, and she can read it…or not. It's not as much of a commitment as a book, and it's truly strange and silly and wonderful.
 
I do know this happens, and that it's hard and scary, just like every other part of being a parent (as far as I can tell), where you watch someone ahead of you walk down a rocky, wonderful, terrifying path, and you just have to hope they're OK, but you don't get any real assurance that they will be.
 
But perhaps I have gone on enough? OK, Penderwicks fans and readers everywhere, do you have a lifeline to throw this family? I am sure they will be OK anyway, but extra lifelines never hurt anyone.

26 thoughts on “We Recommend: Rereading, Frustrated, 5th Grade Edition

  1. For a series that is like the Penderwicks, how about The Saturdays (and three others in the Melendy Quartet) by Elizabeth Enright. Easy, gentle, adventures, some humor.
    But I totally get the spirit of this post and my heart goes out to the mom. Hard to see our kids not awakening to themselves. The word that popped into my head when I read this was “strewing.” It’s an idea from homeschooling where you don’t recommend or guide or prescribe from on high, but plant things around the house for the kid to find on her own and get curious about, a kind of crafty, backdoor kind of way to reach her. Maybe a pile of graphic novels, or a stack of different magazines checked out of the library (magazines are a great idea, Diamond). Something for her to pick up with zero stakes attached, and no one watching to see if it “takes.” Just let her mind be piqued.
    What about audiobooks? Pick a substantive one and just put it on in the family room. Kids can listen to far more sophisticated books than they can read themselves. Something like the gorgeous full-cast audio production of The Golden Compass and its sequels, or something funny like Christopher Paul Curtis’s books? Put on Hank the Cowdog in the car for everyone to laugh.
    A more heavy-handed approach would be to join or start a reading group. I’m in one with my 9-year-old and she still loves dressing up as a character from the book, cooking food from the story, and acting out scenes with friends.
    Ooo, just thought of a good book. My daughter is totally enraptured with Bad Girls by Jane Yolen and her daughter. Check it out.

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  2. She read almost all of Elizabeth Enright’s books years ago, sadly. 🙂 That Jane Yolen title looks good, though! I also took some ideas from the post Diamond linked to above (ironically, I was the first person to comment on that one). Kiki Strike looks like something she might get into.
    The idea of something mindless is right on, actually. Don’t know if she’d like the “Clique” books, but the suggestion made made me realize is that in times past, when she’s been in a bit of a reading funk, she’s turned to things like “Main Street Girls” and “Babysitters’ Club.”
    So. I’ve got a list of things I’m waiting for from the library, and will try some of those out. And I think the school library has Muse, so I’ll see if the school librarian can recommend something like that. And I’m going to take a deep breath and make sure that I’m not making reading seem like a punishment for spending too much time online.
    Mindless book series recommendations (no Dork Diaries, please–she hates those!) are welcome, too!

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  3. Fifth grade might be a perfect age to discover Sally Watson’s adventure stories about girls in British and American history: Lark, Witch of the Glens, The Hornet’s Nest, among others.
    Or, for a change of pace: the Oxford Book of Ballads has short narratives & language that’s a pleasure to puzzle through.
    Or Jean Webster’s Daddy-Long-Legs, which has so much fizzy energy?

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  4. I completely agree with the strewing suggestion. We are homeschoolers and it is a great way to go. One thing, though, is that you have to be completely OK if your strewed items are not picked up. You never know, they might be picked up later, and it is never a waste to make your home more full of interesting things.
    I also agree that this phase is completely normal, and also that the last thing you should probably do is actually SUGGEST something. Sometimes what is going on is that the kid is just working things out, and needs this kind of uncomfortable down time to do it.
    Can I also suggest that you not get too excited about her engaging in “too much electronics”? Again, electronic media can be a great window to other interests and can help get kids through these kind of down times. Being supportive and judgment free of what she is doing online (and how long she is doing it for) will actually go a long way. You won’t be fighting with her about it and you might get some really good ideas about some of the things she is becoming interested in. I feel a bit awkward making this suggestion on a site devoted to reading, but I really feel that the more supportive parents are of their children’s interests, the happier everyone will be.
    The only other suggestion I might have apart from those above, is maybe exploring some film with her? Maybe films from books? My daughter is a great fan of Myazaki’s films…they have great stories with interesting characters and lots of detail. You could try something like Howl’s Moving Castle … she might even be drawn to reading the book? Another good Studio Ghibli film is The Secret World of Arrietty, which was based on The Borrowers. Anyway, there are lots of great films made from books you could try..you don’t even have to suggest she read the book, she might just want to if she likes the film.
    Just an idea…:)

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  5. Understood Betsy?
    How about Eva Ibbotson’s books- (the non-historical ones my daughter thought were a drag). I can’t see the link so I don’t know if she cares for magic.
    Early Tamora Pierce series which is fantasy but not magic- The Protector of the Small: First Test, etc.
    The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
    Caddie Woodlawn
    From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler
    When You Reach Me
    Dealing with Dragons (this is a series)
    Once Upon a Marigold (series)
    Case of the Missing Marquess (Enola Holmes series)
    A Long Way from Chicago
    Theodosia and the Serpent of Chaos
    Gilda Joyce, Psychic Inbestigator

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  6. Loved (and has read) Understood Betsy, Eva Ibbotson (although I didn’t know there are historical ones, hmm), Caddie Woodlawn, When you Reach Me, Wrinkle in Time, everything by Konigsburg, and loves most Miyazaki movies. Not crazy about fantasy, and started (but put down) Calpurnia Tate. Might have been too early, though.
    She’s mostly fine with me getting things out from the library that I think might be interesting to her, so I’ll pick up a few of the historical fiction titles that people have listed…

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  7. More on the mindless side of things… this might be a stretch (and it’s a little less girly), but what about Bruce Coville? I remember being super into the “My Teacher is an Alien” series at that age.

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  8. Okay, thinking harder on this one. Mindless series: what about mysteries? At that age I was totally hooked on Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. Nothing was better than Trixie. Nowadays, there are the Enola Holmes mysteries (Sherlock’s sister) by Nancy Springer.
    How about The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place 1-4 (we LOVE the audiobook version of this, very deeply funny). She’s probably already read the Series of Unfortunate Events. What about Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart series? Long but supereasy. Jeanne DuPrau’s City of Ember is awesome in a dystopic sort of way–reminds me of Hunger Games Lite. The Savvy books by Ingrid Law, Lois Lowry’s The Giver and sequels, Gail Carson Levine, Jack Gantos’s Dead End in Norvelt, Holly Black’s Doll Bones and Neil Gaiman.
    I just asked my 9-year-old daughter and her first suggestion was Elizabeth Enright (which, admittedly, was gratifying for me). Then she suggested two OUP books, The House Above the Trees by Ethel Eliot Cook and The Voyage of the Bassett by James C. Christensen. Next she went with Because of Winn Dixie.
    But it sounds like you’re looking for something more specifically tweeny. Has she gone through all the American Girl books, specifically the contemporary ones? I’m also thinking of Lauren Oliver. We’ve only read The Spindlers and Liesl and Po, but loved them, and maybe her books that are pitched to slightly older readers would work. Or Ally Carter’s Heist Society series? Fifth grade is tough–very in between, no?

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  9. If strew isn’t a verb, it should be. 🙂
    And I’m also struck by all your wonderful suggestions. I’m also amazed by how often the same titles came up (Understood Betsy was recommended the first time I wrote in, 3 years ago–and we loved it!).
    I think one reason this is tough is because she’s been such a big reader up to now–and has already gone through some of the go-to titles on lists like this.
    Doll Bones is sort of dark for her–I think I’m going to let her discover that one on her own and decide if she’s interested (she’s always interested in what books might get the Newbery, so I think she’ll come up with that one soon). She’s pretty resistant to Gaiman at this point, and has already said she’s never going to read The Giver (or Hunger Games, etc.), so I’ll have to wait for that to be a school assignment. Or maybe she’ll get more interested when the movie comes out this year.
    Trixie Belden, though, that’s a good idea. Nancy Drew is another series that’s been rejected b/c she thinks it’ll be scary. Or something. She liked the “notebooks” a few years back, but doesn’t think she’s ready for the regular ones yet…

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  10. Oh! And I tried Inkheart. She read the first page and said she wouldn’t like it. No fantasy, no dystopia, very little magic…this is part of why this is a tough one, I think. Although she said last night that she’s thinking of reading the Percy Jackson books, so we’ll see if she opens up in that area again.
    And a friend just suggested the Beacon St. Girls series, which may be perfect.

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  11. My daughter is in 5th grade and is going through almost exactly the same thing. She reads and reread (and listens to and re-listens to) Tamora Pierce books ad nauseum, and she LOVES the Gallagher Girls, a series about teenage girls training to be spies and being cute and flirty (gag!), and spends a ton of time watching awful Disney tween shows. I worry all the time.
    But I am heartened to read this post and the comments, and be reassured that she is not destined to deteriorate into a sack of gelatin on the couch.
    Ann Martin’s The Doll People trilogy might appeal to the girl in question. And what about Anne of Green Gables? Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?

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  12. My son did this in 4th grade last year. He was stuck rereading graphic novels and comics and crap and just feeling like there was nothing better for him, no matter what I suggested. He even told me “I’m sick of comics!” but yet he didn’t feel like reading anything meatier. Finally he broke down and read something and I cheered with joy and all was well. But it was a worrisome stage. What if he grew up to be the only book-hater in a book-loving family? What if he started watching reality TV????
    As for recommendations, what about the Amelia’s Notebook series? My daughter devoured them at that age. Lots of doodles, silly jokes, pre-teen issues, that type of thing.
    Another possibility, if she is into Calvin and Hobbes, might be some more variety of comics. My kids love the nerdy humor in FoxTrot. There are also lots of good graphic novels. Has she read Bone? I don’t think you get quite as much out of a graphic novel as a regular novel (though that could be generational), but it might break her out of a rut.

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  13. This is surprisingly hard! It’s the “no fantasy, very little magic” thing that’s catching me up. If she’s done the Penderwicks and the Melendys, then she has probably also done the Moffats and the Gone-Away books. What about Sydney Taylor’s All of a Kind Family? And here’s my big suggestion, really could be perfect if she hasn’t already read them: the Shoes books by Noel Streatfield. Old fashioned, simple, family dramas, a tiny bit trashy so they’ll go down easily, but firmly lodged in an earlier era.
    Another thought is to browse the NYRB Children’s Collection. Might James Thurber be just perfect?

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  14. I’m with all of the Enright and Trixie Belden fans. Too bad she has read Enright. When I was in fifth grade summer school I loved Swiss Family Robinson. Odd suggestion, but really fun book once you get past the part where they get to the island.
    I think Kate Messner books are super: Hide and Seek and Capture the Flag. Also, the Candymakers is a great read all about friendship and candy (there is a dark theme in the book, but *SPOILER* it actually turns out not to be dark, so it shouldn’t bother her). Finally Bliss is an easy fun read also about a sweet shop.
    Has she read Half Magic by Eager? Any Judy Blume appropriate for her? The Secret Garden (I loved that book)? Mysterious Benedict Society? Maybe starting with the prequel which is the last of the ones written?
    My son goes in and out of these phases. I’m seconding (thirding? fourthing?) strewing. Good luck and let us know what captures her!

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  15. Ok no magic. Then, Baby Island by Carol Ryrie Brink. Come to think of it my daughter (a lot like the girl in question back in the day) also loved two other kinda old fashioned titles by Brink available through the library:
    Family Grandstand
    Family Sabbatical
    Emily of New Moon
    The Wicked Enchantment (MUCH more of an adventure- the magic really isn’t there). More of a funny tale of a girl and her dog taking place in Vogelsang, Germany.

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  16. Thanks all. Glad to know that others go through this too. And why am I surprised–there certainly are times when *I* can’t find anything I want to read!
    So. This too shall pass, I’m sure. And in the meantime there are some good suggestions up there. I’ll update if I suddenly find her obsessed with anything new!

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  17. I was quite touched by this post and have been thinking about it…
    When I was in fifth grade (back in the early 1980’s), I remember reading certain books again and again because they were so comforting. My absolute favorite book at that time was I Know You, Al by Constance C. Greene. This is the second book of the series–the first is A Girl Called Al. It’s about two girls, the narrator and Al, who are best friends and live in the same apartment building in NYC. The books are charming and I would always feel like I wished the characters were people I knew in real life.
    Also at that time I read and re-read The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Love that book!
    for something a bit more recent, there’s a short story collection that blew me away–Stories by the Book, edited by Gary Paulsen. In each of the ten stories a book plays a significant role in the plot. Authors in this collection include Ellen Conford, Joan Bauer, MT Anderson, Ellen Wittlinger, and Jennifer L. Holm
    best wishes to you!

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  18. I am going to “second” Jean Webster’s Daddy Long Legs. It was my Mom’s favourite book as a child and she passed the love onto me. It’s a delightful read which I find myself re-reading every other year or so. There is also a sequel, the title of which I can’t remember right now, but also worth a read.

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  19. What about My Side of the Mountain? For me for some reason, it ties a bit with the Trixie Belden mysteries in terms of independence and being outside.

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  20. Update: We have some success! She was assigned “Olive’s Ocean” for a book report,and really liked it. We started reading “The Railway Children” (Nesbit) together, and after a few minutes of complaining that it was too old-fashioned, she seems hooked. I also picked up “Rissa Bartholomew’s Declaration of Independence,” and she’s devoured it. So…fingers crossed. Thanks to all!

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  21. If she ends up liking the Railway Children, you might try Swallows and Amazons- but only if you read the first bits aloud (and maybe skip a bit of the sailing terminology). Once the get to the island it moves along.

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