We Recommend: Fantasy for 14-Year-Old Aspie Girl? NO ROMANCE!

It's We Recommend! So here's how it works: a person writes in with a request for a book for someone, and we, who used to be believe we had superpowers in this area but have since been humbled, try to find the perfect choice. Need a recommendation? Tell us the age of the reader, likes and dislikes, and anything else you think we might need to know. You can write to us at thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com. Here's the key: the best suggestions are in the comments.

OK, people, I've got one you can really sink your teeth into. Which actually sounds much creepier than I meant it, but I am tired so I am leaving it there. Here we go:

I insist on buying all my nieces and nephews books for Christmas & birthdays every year, and I put in a lot of effort to pick things I think they'll like.

Lately I've been striking out with my 14-year-old niece though. She's very smart, reads at a good level, but I am having trouble picking books for her. She hasn't been officially diagnosed but fits the Asperger's profile. She doesn't have any friends, nor really mind that too much. She really likes fantasy books – primarily with talking animals or magic. She is NOT into romance etc, since she's really not into that in real life either. So most YA novels which end up with a girl getting some guy are not really her cup of tea. So, she's mature in her reading ability but not in her content capability. I've broached the subject of classic literature – given its tendency away from hot & heavy scenes – but she has given me a flat "not interested." I do like to get her books with female protagonists just as a role-model/aspirational type of thing. She also doesn't like anything scary or too gritty — books are her place to escape. Google searching suggestions for "books for girls with Asperger's" just brings me books ABOUT girls with Asperger's.

Would love any help!

Well. Fantasy, but not too scary. Grown up, but no romance. Solitary, but welcoming. This is a girl after my own heart.

So I read this out loud on the couch, and Strider said "Discworld!" which makes a lot of sense. But. But!

I knew I had to ask Diana. Because I had a hunch she would just KNOW.

And I think she really did. Ta da!

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Bonus: Down the road (it's the first in a series), one of the books follows a boy who is autistic. But truthfully, it doesn't matter who you are or what you read, per Diana: this series is awesome. AND, she notes, romance is delayed till later on in the series (phew!). And even then, she says, it's not so bad.

But the truth is: this is all Diana. I am following (and trusting) in her eminently good path. But what I'm really excited for? Are your suggestions in the comments. Think of it! There's a solitary 14-year-old girl who needs something great to read! To arms!

What I Have Read

I am biased on this one, everyone. In every possible way: I know the author. I like the author and want her to like me. If I have any critical distance, it is far, far away. But!

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I really loved this book, and I will tell you so in a completely spoiler-filled way (sorry, discretion does not appear to be my great strength these days).

It is creepy, but not terrifying.

It is told in the voice of a sweet, messed up, can't hand in neat homework or excel at basketball or comb his hair 11-year-old boy.

It is funny—really funny.

It talks about love—not romantic love, but love between a boy and his father, or a father and his son, or a boy and his grandfather, or (you get the drift, multiple permutations).

It made me think about stuff.

It is—and I don't really know how to say this in way that doesn't sound entirely dorky—pure of heart.

I read it fast—really fast. It's the first book in a long while that I kept thinking about and wanting to get back to. It came into my head while I was working, shopping, dealing with life, appearing in my imagination like a chocolate bar I was promising myself.

It acknowledges the sweet, tender heart at the center of many (most?) 11-year-old boys.

There you go, happy August!

We Recommend: Books for Teenager Learning to Read

It's We Recommend, in which we use our superpowers to find readers the perfect book. Got a kid who needs a recommendation?
Write us at thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com with the age,
reading tastes, favorite books, and any other relevant (or irrelevant)
information, and we'll give it a shot. And really? All the good
suggestions are in the comments.
– See more at: http://www.thediamondinthewindow.com/the-diamond-in-the-window/we-recommend/#sthash.USBMo618.dpuf
It's We Recommend, in which we use our superpowers to find readers the perfect book. Got a kid who needs a recommendation?
Write us at thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com with the age,
reading tastes, favorite books, and any other relevant (or irrelevant)
information, and we'll give it a shot. And really? All the good
suggestions are in the comments.
– See more at: http://www.thediamondinthewindow.com/the-diamond-in-the-window/we-recommend/#sthash.USBMo618.dpuf
It's We Recommend, in which we use our superpowers to find readers the perfect book. Got a kid who needs a recommendation?
Write us at thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com with the age,
reading tastes, favorite books, and any other relevant (or irrelevant)
information, and we'll give it a shot. And really? All the good
suggestions are in the comments.
– See more at: http://www.thediamondinthewindow.com/the-diamond-in-the-window/we-recommend/#sthash.USBMo618.dpuf
It's We Recommend, in which we use our superpowers to find readers the perfect book. Got a kid who needs a recommendation?
Write us at thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com with the age,
reading tastes, favorite books, and any other relevant (or irrelevant)
information, and we'll give it a shot. And really? All the good
suggestions are in the comments.
– See more at: http://www.thediamondinthewindow.com/the-diamond-in-the-window/we-recommend/#sthash.USBMo618.dpuf

It's We Recommend, in which we use our superpowers to find readers the perfect book. Got a kid who needs a recommendation?
Write us at thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com with the age,
reading tastes, favorite books, and any other relevant (or irrelevant)
information, and we'll give it a shot. And really? All the good
suggestions are in the comments.
– See more at: http://www.thediamondinthewindow.com/the-diamond-in-the-window/we-recommend/#sthash.USBMo618.dpuf
It's We Recommend, in which we use our superpowers to find readers the perfect book. Got a kid who needs a recommendation?
Write us at thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com with the age,
reading tastes, favorite books, and any other relevant (or irrelevant)
information, and we'll give it a shot. And really? All the good
suggestions are in the comments.
– See more at: http://www.thediamondinthewindow.com/the-diamond-in-the-window/we-recommend/#sthash.USBMo618.dpuf
It's We Recommend, in which we use our superpowers to find readers the perfect book. Got a kid who needs a recommendation?
Write us at thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com with the age,
reading tastes, favorite books, and any other relevant (or irrelevant)
information, and we'll give it a shot. And really? All the good
suggestions are in the comments.
– See more at: http://www.thediamondinthewindow.com/the-diamond-in-the-window/we-recommend/#sthash.USBMo618.dpuf

It's We Recommend, in which we try to help people find books that will bring them great joy. The secret? Look in the comments, that's where all the best suggestions hide. Do YOU want a recommendation? Just email us a thediamondinthewind (at) gmail (dot) com and tell us everything about your reader (or yourself). We'll do our best to find the perfect book.

So this is a tough one. But it's essential. Because reading should be a pleasure—it is pleasure, through and through, and when it's treated like medicine that's what it tastes like. Read on, and let's see what we can do.

is not a request for recommendations for literature per se. I have a teenaged son who still cannot read — although he loves
listening to books on tape and having me read to him. The problem is
that all the resources I can find to teach reading are geared toward
young kids. Having little kid stuff shoved in his face, reminding him he
can't read while knowing little kids are learning this stuff, means
that he refuses to work with these materials, and continues to not read.
So I continue to search for resources to help him learn the basics of
reading — GEARED to TEENS. Nothing with little kid stories, or
pictures, or voices (software) is acceptable. Anyone have any
suggestions?

Here's the thing: he wants to read. He loves books. I feel it is our duty to see what we can do. And of course he doesn't want to read little kid stuff learning-to-read stuff. Some little kids don't even like it.

Back in the olden days, before I had children, I used to be a literacy tutor at the public library. I was terrible at it. I mean, I wanted to do it and I went to a training and everything, in fact to several trainings, and then I used to take two subways (at age 25 I didn't understand how to say stuff like "Could I work at a library closer to my house?") and go see someone, and she was embarrassed, and I was embarrassed, and I was not entirely competent, and…I wish I had been better at it.

A lot of people were, and an enduring memory of that hazy time of my 20s is going to the celebration in the Botanical Gardens and seeing all the people for whom it really worked: they spoke of their struggles with learning to read, and the incredible relief when they broke through. And then for some reason I slipped away before it was done and walked home by myself through the Botanical Garden at night, something I bet I will never get to do again, and rabbits and other weird animals were out. I really wished I could have helped someone.

So: here is my chance. Here is our chance. There were books in the program for adults learning to read. Not only to avoid embarrassment, but because they would be interested. Books about lives like theirs, about adults, about pain and difficulty and struggle.

Part of me thinks that the key for this boy might be comic books. They've worked for so many adolescents—so many images, so much story, so few words (read My Dyslexia by Phillip Schultz, the poet [and a teacher whose classes I went to long ago] for his story on learning to read as an adolescent). Maybe X-Men? Maybe Batman? Maybe something even more grownup, like The Sandman? Graphic novels and comic books offer important crutches, I think.

But then, too, there are these:

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These are a series of books by an organization called Good Reads, which aims to offer compelling books to adults learning to read. They have large fonts, simple words, gripping stories (one is The Stalker, which I already want to read). They are for adults—would he be OK going a little older?

Or do you, my most excellent readers, have a better idea? I am truly out of my depth here, but I am very moved by the plight of this kid, and I wish there were more I could offer. I know a whole lot of you are librarians; some are teachers, some are reading specialists: got anything? Leave it in the comments.

We Recommend: Help a Kid Out, Now with TWO Levels!

It's We Recommend, in which we use our superpowers to find readers the perfect book. Got a kid who needs a recommendation? Write us at thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com with the age, reading tastes, favorite books, and any other relevant (or irrelevant) information, and we'll give it a shot. And really? All the good suggestions are in the comments.

We've talked about dyslexia, and about reading with audio books. Because for some people reading the words on the page is tough, but they're ready for complex, compelling stories. The thing is, kids like this are reading on two levels—one for audio books, and another on the page. How do you find books for a kid that appeal to their understanding, while working with their decoding challenges?

So here you go: the following question was posed to me by a friend we were riding in a car, so I don't have it written out, I am just going to try to get it down more or less as I heard it:

My son is 10 years old and loves to listen to big, great stories on audio books—Percy Jackson, Gregor Overlander—but he's dyslexic so dealing with the words on the page is much tougher. That's where he likes great stories, but with visual cues. Things like Bone and Diary of a Wimpy Kid (though that one is maybe a little too easy for him now). What audiobooks can I get him, and what can I get him in paper form? He likes all kinds of stories, lots of excitement and thrills, though Septimus Heap, for instance, was not a hit. Also? No interest at all in The Hunger Games. [Editor's note: he's a really great kid.]

I wish I knew what to give him. I think Gregor Overlander is perfect, and of course now that it's in my mind I can't think of anything else. Ooh! Except I just did!

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Chestnut and Diana both LOVED this book, they had that sort of avid, invested relationship that you envy when you're toiling along with your own not-so-loved book. OK, audio book down.

But the reading book? The one that's maybe part graphic novel, complex story, compelling everything?

How about this crazy thing?

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I saw Scott Westerfield speak most wonderfully at a KidLitCon in Seattle two years ago, and he was particularly riveting about the relationship of story and image. I would think, too, of his later series, though I think it would be too tough on paper. But this? This is a manga version of Uglies, and it looks pretty awesome, and I trust him as a writer, though I have not read this.

But that's just me. I know you guys can do the double deal on this one, right? Help a kid out.

Who Wants to WIN!?!? Anatomy of a Bummer

At the beginning of the year, I posted about the reading competition Chestnut's 6th grade teacher had initiated. Each kid was supposed to fill out a "mini-review" slip of paper for every book read, and whoever read the most books, won! Wow, winning!

What did they win? It wasn't clear, it was all about winning! Because you read the most books! Big numbers of books! Triumphing over your enemies!

When it started, I mostly felt bad about the kids who wouldn't win—kids who aren't into reading, and who would feel even worse about all this. My kid, I noted blithely in the comments, would be fine, fine, fine, because she liked competition, and loved to read.

Well guess what?

Here's how it went down.

First, was the reading. The compulsive reading and filling out slips and reading and filling out slips. Then came the nervous/proud keeping track. Who's reading the most? It looks like she's reading the most. But what about this other kid—maybe she's reading more? Then came the reading in response to that: the head down, dogged reading. A grim grind, book read, slip posted, book read? Slip posted. This went on for weeks.

Then, a few weeks ago, came the tears, in a heartfelt bedtime torrent. What I got, more or less, was this:

"At first it seemed really fun, because I really like to read! And then I read so many books that all these kids started to pay attention. And then they wanted me to beat this kid in the other class, and every day they asked me if I read more books, and how many did I read, and how many was I going to read that day, and then I started to not read books that were really long, because it would take me too long, and now…now I almost don't want to read at all, because every book just looks like the thing I will have to write a review of, and I don't even like to read anymore almost, and I don't know what to do…."

Ugh.

What did I do? Gave her what was probably crappy advice (sometimes every day seems like an opportunity to give your kid reasons to berate you in some unspecified future): I told her that she could just stop. She'd done what she needed for her class, it didn't really matter if she won, or if anyone won, and if it was robbing her of pleasure, she should just stop. Not stop reading, just stop posting the damn reviews.

It seemed to calm her, at least.

My concern: that I'm telling her not to try, not to participate but to hold herself apart. Which is not what I want her to do. Which is what I worry I am somehow demonstrating by the example of my own life. When is not trying to win holding on to what matters to you, and when is it copping out because you don't want to get roughed up?

My conviction: This is a profoundly crappy way to get kids excited about reading.

My irritation: I know, I KNOW that classes are too big, and there is no time for teachers to get excited with each kid but…I miss that kind of English teacher. The one who slipped you some book or another and said "I think you'll really like this," which gave you a whole new way to see yourself: as someone who would like that. The one who could just talk to you about books, and it was exciting.*

I am trying really hard not to be unbearably precious about all of this, but it's…it's just so disappointing. I mean, it's not like I thought "Middle school! Where my children will experience great literature, and true happiness!" I know the teachers are doing their best. I know no teacher was thinking I would have to deal with a weeping 6th grader who just…couldn't…take…the…pressure! But still. It's just a bummer.

*Note: I don't know that I myself actually ever had an English teacher
like that, it is entirely possible that I am cobbling together this
vision from having seen too many inspiring movies/read too many moving
coming-of-age novels.