10 Books for Kids Obsessed with “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”

They’re the books that got many reluctant readers turning pages, but what to do once they’ve finished them all? It’s a question I hear often when I work in the Children’s Room. Parents want to keep the interest going, and are keen to know which other books  will appeal to their DOAWK fans.

A couple of the attractions of this series for reluctant readers is that there are pictures, which provides a text break and makes reading feel more manageable, and humor, which makes them fun rather than work. Here are 10 suggestions for books that hit those sweet spots with middle grade readers.

 

Timmy Failure series by Stephan Pastis. Meet Timmy Failure, the founder, president, and CEO of the best detective agency in town, probably the nation. And his lazy sidekick, Total, a 1,500-pound polar bear.

Alvin Ho series by Lenore Look. Frightened by everything out in the world and completely quiet at school, Asian-American second-grader Alvin Ho becomes a force to be reckoned with at home when he transforms himself into the loud, talented, and fearless Firecracker Man!

How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell. Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, the quiet and thoughtful son of the Chief of the Hairy Hooligans, tries to pass the important initiation test of his Viking clan by catching and training a dragon.

Origami Yoda series by Tom Angleberger. Tommy and his friends interact with a paper finger puppet of Yoda, worn by their weird classmate Dwight, to try and figure out whether or not the puppet can really predict the future.

Tom Gates series by Liz Pinchon. Irritating his teachers with his lack of focus and creative excuses, Tom Gates spends his time drawing pictures and writing down observations about everything from his grumpy sister and annoying classmate to an unsatisfying camping trip.

 

The Odd Squad series by Michael Fry. When his school counselor insists that he needs better socialization skills after being stuffed into a locker by a bully, middle-schooler Nick finds himself, along with two other misfits, joining the school’s lamest club: Safety Patrol.

Clueless McGee series by Jeff Mack. Clueless McGee is just your average fifth-grader: snarky, awkward, and a magnet for trouble. The only difference: he’s also an amateur detective. Determined to make his absent father proud, he uses the skills he’s learned playing video games to solve mysteries.

The Terrible Two books by Mac Barnett and Jory John. Disgusted when he has to move from the oceanside community where he was infamous for his tricks to a sleepy, cow-filled town that already has a notable prankster, Miles plots mischief that culminates in a daring partnership.

Dear Dumb Diary series by Jim Benton. Take a peek inside the diaries of middle schoolerJamie Kelly – she’s cool (sometimes), nice (mostly), and funny (always). She’s the nerd, the cute girl, the jealous girl, and the brainiac all wrapped up in one.

The Dork Diaries series by Rachel Renée Russell. Through journal entries, sketches, and drawings, the complicated life of eighth grader Nikki Maxwell is presented –  her relationship with her mother, secret crushes, dealings with her biggest rival at school, passion in pursuing art as a career, and overall views on the world in which she lives.

The New Riverdale & the Old Archie Comics

Whenever anyone asked me which fantasy world I’d like to live in, I always replied, “Riverdale.”

Of course, I was speaking of the traditional Riverdale of the comic books of my childhood. However, a new Riverdale has appeared, and it’s not the same old place.

 Riverdale debuted this past January on the CW and Netflix, and the second season begins in October. Set in a modern-day Riverdale, Archie and his friends find themselves involved in a  murder. Jason Blossom (brother of the infamous Cheryl Blossom, a well known figure in the Archie universe) is dead and Archie and his friends are in the middle of the mystery.

These are not traditional Archie characters.  (IMDb describes it as “a subversive take on Archie and his friends, exploring small town life, the darkness and weirdness bubbling beneath Riverdale’s wholesome facade.”) Veronica is the new girl in town and her father is in jail for embezzlement. Betty’s mother is a hyper-controlling perfectionist,  and Jughead is Archie’s ex-best friend and the son of the leader of a motorcycle gang!

There are many other changes in this most recent Archie re-boot. If you watch in the expectation of seeing familiar characters in familiar situations, you’ll be in for a few (all right, many) surprises. This is a new story line that may take it’s origin from Archie Comics but then remolds the characters and spins them in an entirely different direction.

I have to admit that I am an Archie purist. I have followed the many Archie remakes. I remember the old cartoon on television and the attempts at live action shows. I also eagerly read the Archie Get Married series. Most of these left me longing for the traditional Archie of the comic books I grew up with.

 

And speaking of comic books, you can also download the newest comic book version of Archie’s story from hoopla. This new series is written by Mark Waid and illustrated by Fiona Staples and it re-imagines Archie and his friends in a very modern, edgier way.

The Sleeper and the Spindle

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman is a unique twist on the Sleeping Beauty story.  Sleeping Beauty and the people in her castle have been asleep for years. However, this sleeping sickness seems to be spreading. First, the nearby villages fall asleep, then the villages near them, and so on. Soon, the entire kingdom is asleep, and it’s up to three dwarfs and the queen of the neighboring kingdom to figure out how to put an end to the curse.

This story has an ingenious blend of fairy tales. For instance, the queen is a character from another story. I’ll just say that she is someone who has also been asleep for a long time and let you figure out who she is. There are also additional elements to the story that help flesh it out. Those who are asleep do more than sleep, an old woman who is trapped inside the castle and immune to the curse, and the more one delves into the story, the more it becomes apparent that the details of the Sleeping Beauty that appear in each retelling are not what they seem. Not to mention that the ending will leave you thinking, “Wait, what? What just happened?” Overall, this is a quick read that goes more in-depth than one would think the amount of pages would allow.

Genre: Fantasy

Setting: A fairy tale land in an unspecified historical era.

Number of pages: 66

Objectionable content? A small amount of violence, one death, an occasional corpse, and unsettling factors (i.e. the sleepers)

Can children read this? Yes, as long as they are not easily upset by unsettling elements in stories. However, this book is best for teenagers and adults.

Who would enjoy this? Anyone who enjoys Neil Gaiman’s other works, and anyone who enjoys fairy tale remakes.

Themes: Beauty, power, loss, choices, strong women, and the need to control other’s emotions vs. the strength of only feeling your emotions.

Rating: Five stars

Turtles All the Way Down

It’s been almost six years since YA uber-author John Green has published a new book (something we wrote about a while back). That’s almost  generation’s worth of his target audience – many teen readers will have been too young for his last book, The Fault in Our Stars, when it was published in 2012. The rocket-like success of that book (and subsequent movie) was both a blessing and a curse for Green: his books were being read by millions more people, but that success resulted in a period of crippling anxiety for the author. The expectations for his next book felt so overwhelming, that for a while he could not write at all.

Green has not made a secret of the fact that he’s wrestled with Anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder most of his life, and what it’s like to live with mental illness is the overriding theme of Turtles All the Way Down. Aza Holmes, the narrator of the book, struggles mightily to control the obsessive thoughts that often consume her, which she calls “thought spirals” that grow more and more tightly coiled until she is driven to a compulsive behavior to quiet them.

The ostensible plot of the book is a mystery: the famous father of a childhood acquaintance has has skipped town to avoid legal troubles, and Aza’s BFF Daisy is convinced the two of them can figure out where he is and collect the $100,000 reward.  TATWD has all the John Green-isms we’ve come to expect: the quirky best friend, the seemingly impossible task, the sweet love story, and everyone’s got a poem or literature quote ready to go at a moment’s notice, (John Green characters are a bit more well-read and well-spoken than the general teen-aged public). But the real journey the reader is taken on is what it’s like to live in a hijacked mind.

Aza has a dread of germs. One of the first compulsions we witness is Aza forcing open a wound on her fingertip, so that she can clean and sanitize it before covering it up with one of her constant supply of band-aids, a ritual she performs so often that the wound never completely heals. Hand sanitizer is used combatively –  at one point she even starts drinking it.  Aza’s helplessness in the face of these thoughts and compulsions can be painful to read, and there’s no “all better now” resolution at the end – the prevailing takeaway is it’s ok not to be ok sometimes. Green has managed to paint a picture of mental illness that is more matter-of-fact than sensational, and the writing is evocative and mature. It’s a thoughtful novel that will appeal to adults as well as teens, and well worth the six-year wait.

Five stars.

Set in Connecticut: Fiction about the Nutmeg State

You might think a small state like Connecticut might not find itself as the setting for very many stories, but that’s not true! There are dozens of tales set in the Nutmeg State. You can begin with the fictional town of  Briar Creek, Connecticut where the Library Lovers mystery series by Jenn McKinley takes place and then move on to the strangely named Frog Ledge, Connecticut, home to the characters in Liz Mugavero’s Kneading To Die the first book in the Pawsitively Organic mystery series.

Some other recommendations if you want to indulge in a little fictional Connecticut scenery:

 Last Night at the Lobster: A Novel by Stewart O’Nan
Managing a failed seafood restaurant in a run-down Connecticut mall just before Christmas, Manny DeLeon coordinates a challenging final shift of mutinous staff members, an effort that is complicated by his love for a waitress, a pregnant girlfriend, and an elusive holiday gift.

This book was named a Best Book of the Year by The Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Entertainment Weekly and was a Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

 Wishin’ and Hopin’: A Christmas Story by Wally Lamb
Back in his fictional town of Three Rivers, Connecticut, with a new cast of endearing characters, Wally Lamb takes his readers straight into the halls of St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parochial School — where young  Felix Funicello learns the meaning of French kissing, cultural misunderstanding, and tableaux vivants. Wishin‘ and Hopin‘ barrels toward one outrageous Christmas. A vivid slice of 1960s life, a wise and witty holiday tale that celebrates where we’ve been — and how far we’ve come.

 Dune Road by Jane Green
Set in the beach community of a tiny Connecticut town, the heroine is a single mom who works for a famous–and famously reclusive–novelist. When she stumbles on a secret that the great man has kept hidden for years, she knows that there are plenty of women in town who would love to get their hands on it–including some who fancy the writer for themselves.

 

 The Land of Steady Habits: A Novel by Ted Thompson
For Anders Hill, long ensconced in “the land of steady habits”-the affluent, morally strict hamlets of Connecticut that dot the commuter rail line-it’s finally time to reap the rewards of a sensible life. Into his sixties and newly retired, Anders finds the contentment he’s been promised is still just out of reach. So he decides he’s had enough of steady habits: he leaves his wife, buys a condo, and waits for freedom to transform him. But as the cheery charade of Christmas approaches, Anders starts to wonder if maybe parachuting from his life was not the most prudent choice.

 Our Little Racket by Angelica Baker
In the aftermath of the collapse of Weiss & Partners investment bank, CEO Bob D’Amico’s daughter Madison, her mother, her best friend, her nanny, and a family friend begin to question their shifting roles in the insular, moneyed world of Greenwich, Connecticut. All these women have witnessed more than they’ve disclosed and must ask themselves: where is the line between willful ignorance and unspoken complicity?

 Housebreaking: A Novel by Dan Pope
When Benjamin’s wife kicks him out, he returns to his childhood home in Connecticut to live with his widowed father. Lost, lonely, and doubting everything he felt he knew about marriage and love, Benjamin is trying to put his life back together when he recognizes someone: his high school crush, the untouchable Audrey Martin. Audrey has just moved to the neighborhood with her lawyer husband and their daughter, Emily. As it turns out, Audrey isn’t so untouchable anymore, and she and Benjamin begin to discover, in each other’s company, answers to many of their own deepest longings.

 The Beach at Painter’s Cove by Shelley Noble
The Whitaker family Connecticut mansion, Muses by the Sea, has always been a haven for artists, a hotbed of creativity, extravagances, and the occasional scandal. Now, after being estranged for years, four generations of Whitaker women find themselves once again at The Muses. Leo, the Whitaker matriarch, lives in the rambling mansion crammed with artwork and junk. Her sister-in-law Fae is desperate to keep a secret she has been hiding for years. Jillian, Leo’s daughter, is an actress down on her luck. She thinks selling The Muses will not only make life easier for Leo and Fae, it will bring her the funds to get herself back on top. Issy, Jillian’s daughter, wants to restore the mansion and catalogue the massive art collection. Can these four generations of erratic, dramatic women find a way to save the Muses and reunite their family?

Prefer ebooks? Click here for a list of fiction ebooks that take place in Connecticut.

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