Reading at bedtime is the glue that holds our family together. Bad days at school, simmering resentments, times when your kids don’t want to talk to you … none of it matters when you settle down to read together. Our two oldest children are at college now, but we still read every night with our youngest who’s twelve. By my calculation, Jon and I have put in nearly 10,000 nights of bedtime reading so far. So you can imagine that we’re quite picky. (Although we’ve gritted our teeth through our fair share of Barbie stories.) One of the standards we set ourselves for the Jaguar Stones books was that parents would enjoy them too. So the following titles are favorite middle-grade read-alouds, books that inspired our own books. We look for a great story, humor, and believable characters. Illustrations are the cherry on the cake. And in the Jaguar Stones books, we try to finish every chapter with a cliffhanger because the best sound a parent can ever hear is “Just one more chapter, please…”
Five family favorites that have influenced our own books:
Larklight: A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space
Written by Philip Reeve
This thrilling and wildly imaginative book convinced us that middle-graders are not too old for illustrations.
Ages 10 and up | Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens | 2006 | ISBN-13: 978-1599900209
The Penderwicks Series
Written by Jeanne Birdsall
The perfect series—each one is a story in itself, but the characters develop in each book and I await the new one as eagerly as my daughter.
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Liar & Spy
Written by Rebecca Stead
We could just as easily have picked When You Reach Me by the same author. Warning: if you start reading these books on a school night, even the most responsible parent will be tempted to keep turning the pages way past any sensible bedtime.
Ages 9 and up | Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books | 2012 | ISBN-13: 978-0375850875
Written by Andrew Norriss
All three of our children have adored this book about two schoolboys who find an ancient spaceship. It’s everything we love – history, adventure, and laugh-out loud humor.
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Puffin | 2004 | ISBN-13: 978-0141308951
The Island of the Aunts
Written by Eva Ibbotson
This book is practically perfect in every way. (Which just reminded me how much the kids loved the Mary Poppins books by PL Travers.) It has a trio of eccentric, child-stealing aunts, realistic and sometimes badly behaved children, mystery, menace, mermaids and magic, and it’s very, very funny – all subtly underpinned by a serious conservationist message. Plus illustrations!
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Puffin | 2001 (Reprint) | ISBN-13: 978-0142300497
About the Authors: J&P Voelkel
Jon Voelkel grew up in Peru, Costa Rica, and Colombia, all the while dreaming of a boring life in suburbia. Eventually, having survived monkey stew, an attack by giant rats, and a plane crash in the jungle, he rolled up his hammock and decamped to Europe. Meanwhile, growing up in a sedate seaside town in northern England, Pamela Craik Voelkel was dreaming of travel and adventure. The pair met in London, where they both worked in advertising. They went on to help found an award-winning agency, for which Jon was named one of the fifty most creative minds in Britain by the Financial Times. The authors’ first book in the Jaguar Stones series, Middleworld, was an Al Roker Book Club pick. The Voelkels now live in Vermont with their three children.
The Jaguar Stones: The Lost City
Written by J&P Voelkel
The epic conclusion to the exciting Jaguar Stones series and a rip-roaring adventure into the heart of America!
With his parents in jail and the Maya Death Lords in possession of all five Jaguar Stones, fourteen-year-old Max Murphy is pretty sure that he’ll never get to leave the rainforest.
But the Lords of Death have a problem—a new king calling himself Great Sun claims to have the Jaguar Stones, too. And they want Max to prove the guy’s a fraud. Or else.
Now, Max, and Lola, the mysterious girl who befriends him, are off on another wild adventure that will take them from Central America to New Orleans and up the Mississippi to the lost city at the heart of America’s past.
But one thing Max should have learned after all of this dealings with the Death Lords—they never keep their promises.
Ages 10 and up | Publisher: EgmontUSA | 2015 | ISBN-13: 978-1606843765
J&P Voelkel, authors of The Jaguar Stones: The Lost City, selected these five family favorites. Discover more articles on The Children’s Book Review tagged with Family Favorites, Sterling Children’s Books, and Kim T. Griswell.