After grumbling about the weather like two old ladies, the mamas dive into Iberian, Bengali, Egyptian and Greek mythology stories for middle grade readers. The stories aren’t for fainthearted parents since most adults have disappeared at the beginning of the books. Fear not, the kids do rescue them, of course only after falling for crushes, exploring secret worlds, and becoming warriors. Connect with your inner goddess and will yourself to join the mamas on this mythic adventure.
For bookworms like myself and my young’uns, bookstores are a sacred place offering an experience that cures whatever ails you. With each of our many moves I have managed to find a perfect bookstore to offer solace for my transient soul. After moving to Turkey, I found a two-story wonder with a decent selection of English titles and a phenomenal section of Turkish authors translated into English. I would disappear inside that shop for hours and imagine myself back in a world where the task of daily communication wasn’t exhausting. It was heaven.
When I returned to the US, I had a toddler in tow, so I had to start frequenting children’s bookstores. Bookstores soon did for my kids what they have always done for me, open a universe of possibilities. Trips to the bookstore have always been experiential, transformative and frequent. After moving to Massachusetts, it only took about three months before we found our spot – An Unlikely Story Bookstore in Plainville. This amazing independent gem also happens to be the brainchild of Diary of a Wimpy Kid genius, Jeff Kinney.
The boys and I have made regular pilgrimages to An Unlikely Story throughout our time here. If there was an early dismissal or day off, we’d make the 35-minute drive to hide out in the stacks and find new and exciting titles for our own bookshelves. But when COVID-19 hit, the entire state locked down, including our magical escape. We’ve waited six long months but when An Unlikely Story finally opened for ‘appointment only’ shopping, it was game on!
We counted the days until our bookstore fieldtrip, deciding to go in with no titles or styles in mind, rather hoping to be inspired by something peering out from the shelves. When we pulled into the empty parking lot my heart was a twitter. I’ve hated crowds even before the pandemic and this store was always packed. Seeing only two other cars meant there were only two other groups. Ahhhhh. Heaven.
At our allotted time a bookseller joined us in our socially distanced line in the parking lot, giving us a warmer welcome than I’ve received at family functions. “If you need suggestions or have questions, just ask. Our booksellers are as happy to see you as you are to see them. We are so glad you’re here.”
Even my sarcastic 12-year-old was moved. “Mom, this is really cool. I feel important.”
After giving us the now requisite instructions about one-way aisles and hand sanitizing stations, we were unleashed into the store. Ahhhhh. Heaven.
We had 45 minutes to hang out with only 10 other people and we made the most of it. We settled in with some Star Wars STEAM books (I share our faves in Episode 5 of TwoLitMamas podcast) before scouring the chapter books. We moved through all of the mythology and science sections and did a serious dive into sci-fi and general middle grade fiction before exhausting our budget. We saved our last 10 minutes for their brilliant gift section because doesn’t everyone need Elizabeth Warren socks and Ruth Bader Ginsberg action figures? I know I do.
As we wrapped up our adventure and ordered me a coffee and the boys some brownies, the only black cloud of the day appeared. My 7-year-old burst into tears.
“Honey, what’s wrong? Wasn’t it good?”
“I don’t know, Mom. It was good but it wasn’t the same.”
And he’s right. While I absolutely adored my private shopping spree, it wasn’t the same. A bookstore isn’t just a retail space. It’s warmth. It’s safety. It’s shelf after shelf of possibilities and while all of those things were still there, it wasn’t the same. Unfortunately, it was a great reminder that while we’re slowly accepting our new normal, our kids might need a little more time. But in that time, we can devour a few books and hide away in some amazing tales.
Join the Two Lit Mamas as they disappear into their favorite Middle Grade series and forget about the dumpster fire that is 2020 for a while. The mamas talk Star Wars, supernatural powers and even exchange a recipe for Café de Olla, all while giving big props to genius authors who make parents cringe and kiddos cheer. So, go ahead, get lost in a neighborhood of make believe with the mamas. You might feel better – at least for 30 minutes.
The Genius Files is a series of five books by Dan Gutman following the McDonald twins, Coke and Pepsi, on a pop culture filled cross-country road trip. While their parents are enjoying the sights, the twins find themselves being hunted by a team of bad guys because Coke and Pepsi are no ordinary kids. The twins have been chosen for a secret government organization known as The Genius Files.
War usually brings death and devastation but, for Ada, it might save her from abuse and misery. Set in the English countryside during WWII, The War That Saved My Life and The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, complete a coming of age story about a 10-year-old girl who learns to love life at a time when bombings and German spies are a normal part of living.
Watch out world, the Beatumont children are coming into their powers and they can’t control them. Will there be a new mountain range in Kansas or a great lake in the desert? Anything is possible in this three book fantasy adventure series by Ingrid Law which includes Savvy, Scumble and Switch. Each book follows a new family member on the wild ride of discovering his or her powers.
You might want to pour a glass of wine for this one. Heather and Margie dive into diverse American stories and get on their soap boxes about the importance of representation, true patriotism, letting sassy children lead us, and the power of mamas’ boys. They aimed for light summer beach reads but happily landed on more important books about black girl magic and the kindness of Latinx boys – much more fitting for the summer of 2020.
This modern fantasy about two friends, Tavia and Effie, is set in Portland, Oregon where sirens and other magical creatures live among humans. In addition to dealing with racism and sexism, the play sisters also have to hide their magical abilities out of fear of attack after a siren murder trial rocks the nation. As if that isn’t enough, the young women also struggle with normal teen troubles like boys and hair. In the end, their strong friendship gets them through it all.
Marcus Vega is a 6-foot, 180-pound middle schooler and while he might tower over most kids at his school, to his mom and brother, he’s just a big, overprotective softie. After a fight at school provides Marcus with some unexpected “time off,” Marcus’ mom decides it’s time for him to reconnect with his family in Puerto Rico. However, Marcus thinks this is the perfect time to search for the father who left them ten years ago. Through a series of adventures in Puerto Rico, Marcus learns that family is never quite the way you imagine it.
In Episode 3 of Two Lit Mamas, Margie and Heather chat about heavy metal t-shirts, flower pictures, and flying teenagers before diving into a discussion on first gen Americans, language misconceptions, unfounded fears of the other, and the right kind of rule breakers. Margie even gets misty about her Turkish immigrant husband – you don’t want to miss it!
After the human race obliterates Earth, middle schoolers Lan and Ila are living on Mars with their parents. Unfortunately, Mars’ resources are nearly exhausted, but the far-off planet Choom has agreed to take on human refugees. Unfortunately, during the 20-year journey to Choom, the government changed and no longer has any interest in taking a ship full of violent human refugees. With little food and fuel left and the remainder of the human race counting on them, Lan and family have been given a chance to prove to all of Choom that humans are not as bad as they seem. No pressure.
Eleven-year-old Yumi Chung is a shy Korean American girl who struggles at her fancy L.A. private school where students call her names and she eats lunch by herself in the bathroom. Her one solace is her favorite comedians’ how-to videos and her notebook full of jokes. In a case of mistaken identity, Yumi joins a summer comedy camp without the permission of her over-protective parents. During that time to learns to fail forward and stick up for herself. Eventually she uses her comedy skills to save the day.