Juanita Giles

Juanita Giles, a Randolph-Macon Woman's College graduate, is the executive director and co-founder of the Virginia Children's Book Festival. Her column runs on the third Sunday of every month.

Well, it finally happened: my oldest child has entered the age of the summer book report.

Sure, he had to read books over the summer before this, but this is different. BOOK REPORTS. They are quite different than they were when I was a kid: a sheet of suggestions sent home from school tells me that he can make a movie, a PowerPoint, a pizza box book report (I had to look that one up) or any number of creative projects. Frankly, I am well behind the times on this one, but I am trying to catch up. Quickly.

He actually has two book reports to do: one is assigned, and one is to be about a book of his choosing.

Now my son has books he just LOVES, such as the Percy Jackson series and all those Star Wars novels, but I don’t want to ask him to make a book report about them; I want him to just enjoy them. So I reckon this book report will be about a book of MY choosing. Am I alone here?

I don’t think so. Parents, where do you turn when you have to choose their book for a report? We want something with a little heft, don’t we, something that will challenge our kids, but we also don’t want to make reading a chore. The last thing I want is for my kids to think is, “ugh, ‘The Outsiders.’ I had to write a report on that, and it stunk.” So we walk a fine line, don’t we?

Personally, I have chosen “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen. It ensures my son gets to use a fire starter, a LifeStraw and, of course, a hatchet, which has him very excited (he’ll be keeping a survival journal for the creative part of this report), so hopefully I made the right choice. But what other books are out there, especially ones that lend themselves to creative projects? After all, I have two other little ones for whom I have to prepare.

I’m very interested in the upper elementary/middle grade novel “Greetings from the Witness Protection Program” by Jake Burt. When streetwise Charlotte (not her real name) is taken from foster care and placed with a family in the witness protection program, it’s a real job to blend into a new family and dodge hitmen at the same time. Oh, and the U.S. Marshals have told her she has to maintain a B- average throughout it all. While pickpocketing may not be the creative part of the book in which I’d like my kids to explore, creating a project about a secret identity would certainly appeal to them.

For younger readers, “Klawde Evil Alien Warlord Cat” by Johnny Marciano and Emily Chenowith is a spectacular choice. My son devoured the book, and when I asked him what made him like it so much, he quoted the first line: “My enemies came for me at naptime.”

Former High Commander of the planet Lyttrybocks, Klawde has been exiled from his planet to puny Earth, a terrible punishment. Klawde knows nothing about earth (what is this strange practice of lighting a cake on fire once a year) and is cynical and superior enough (he is a cat after all) to make humans look like dopes. What are things we do that would seem strange to creatures that have never been to Earth before? Sounds like a good book report project to me.

For teens, Elizabeth Acevedo’s “With the Fire on High” would be my choice. Emoni, who dreams of being a chef, is raising her 3-year-old daughter and trying to finish her last year of high school, and her future is unsure. Should she apply to college or get a job? Should she take study hall or culinary arts? The one place Emoni feels in control is in the kitchen, where she explores the recipes her Abuela passed on to her.

This is not a book about stereotypes, but rather a story about perseverance. It’s a story that will resonate with any teen on the cusp of adult responsibility, and the recipes in the book provided the perfect opportunity for a creative project.

While I realize having my son read “Hatchet” may lead to a lot of extra tick checks this summer, I am really hoping he will embrace it and find the book report part as enjoyable as the book itself. Here’s hoping your book report choice will require less adult supervision than mine.

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