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Hobbies on a Budget: Real books for middle school students

By Sharon Williams

Contributing columnist

All three of our kids love to read. When we travel, we stock up on new books at our favorite bookstores and refill the Kindle reading library. They are all top readers in their grades and are regularly engrossed in their latest adventure. But one of the problems they face is finding new series to read when one is complete.

This past summer we splurged and bought all three kids their own Kindle reader. This does make it easier to carry more books when we are on road trips. But they still have to have the paper versions since Kindle readers are not allowed in some of their classes at school. So we make sure they have both options when we are looking for new books.

But how do you know what books are right for your middle school student?  If you’re like me, you want to know the books they are reading are age appropriate, uplifting and not full of things I don’t want them absorbing.  And in all honesty, I don’t have the time or interest in reading some of these books that catch their attention. 

When the kids were small, I would read the books with them, but now I have to have a sense of trust they are not reading something we deem inappropriate.  We talk regularly about the books and ask them questions to help guide them in their book choices:

• Are there words in this book that we don’t use at home? 

• Are there situations in the book that don’t fit our moral values?

• Is there a strong romance story line?  If there is, does it ever make you uncomfortable?  We’ve had a few books that crossed some lines that we don’t want our kids reading.  In that case, we’ve talked about it and occasionally the kids have stopped reading that particular book.

• Are there relationships that are inappropriate?

We know we can’t always control the books that our kids are going to read; but by allowing them to try new books, authors and series while they are in our home, we can help guide them and learn how to judge whether a book is a good book for them to read.

I remember when I was in college trying to find a new author to read and ran into one of my respected professors in a used book store.  Since he was an avid reader and had a tall stack of books in his hand, I asked him how he found new authors and good books.  His reply has helped shaped the way I view books.  He would look at the cover and the book description; if it looked interesting, he would try it.  Since he often bought the books at the used book store, if it was something  he didn’t feel was a good fit for him, he would just stop reading it or donate it to back to the used book store.  He was not afraid to branch out and try new books because he had a plan in place.

Here is a list of some of the books that my kids are enjoying:  “Harry Potter Series;” “Mysterious Benedict Society;” “Chronicles of Narnia;” and the “Percy Jackson” series.

Even though my daughter was hesitant about reading series based on Greek mythology with “Percy Jackson,” she discovered it was much more than that and loved the book series.

Here are some others our kids have enjoyed: “Heroes of Olympus;” “Hunger Games;” “Divergent;”  “The Hobbit;”  “Star Wars: Boba Fett;”  “Keeper of the Lost Cities;” and some classics, like “Dr. Doolittle,” “Swiss Family Robinson” and “Kidnapped.”

What books do your middle school students enjoy? Got another series that my kids would be interested in? I’d love to hear!

For more ideas on hobbies and life, check out Hobbies on a Budget at www.hobbiesonabudget.com.