5 Back to School Feel Good Reads for the Entire Family

Photo courtesy of Lionsgate Films

Between Comic Con and the fall movie season kicking into high gear, we’ve been hearing about a lot of awesome new films lately. But one we’re especially excited about is the family film Wonder, based on the bestselling novel by R. J. Palacio.

Just try to not get goosebumps from the touching trailer:

The book tells the story of Auggie Pullman, a 10-year-old boy who was born with a facial anomaly. After being homeschooled all of his life, Auggie starts 5th grade at a new private school. The experience has far-reaching consequences – not just for Auggie, but for everyone in his orbit. At times, Wonder can be a tough read, forcing us to confront the anger and fear that often surrounds those who are different. But it’s also a story that will stay with you long after you read it, showing Auggie’s story not just from his point-of-view, but from classmates and family around him as well. Powerful, moving, and empathetic, this is the kind of story that the entire family will both love and learn from.

The movie – starring Julie Roberts, Owen Wilson and Jacob Tremblay, doesn’t come out until November 17th – but that doesn’t mean you can’t start getting hyped right now. With summer vacation almost over, this is the perfect time to pick up a book or two that the whole family can enjoy together. Wonder, with its positivity and themes of inclusiveness, is an obvious choice. But to find even more family-friendly titles, we reached out to youth services librarian Caitlin Corless from the Essex Free Library in Essex, Vermont. Here are 5 books she recommends for families of all ages to enjoy together before heading back to school:

See You in the Cosmos, Jack Cheng 

Told in a stream-of-consciousness style, Cheng’s debut is all about 11-year-old space lover, Alex Petroski. Alex is determined to record messages on his iPod for any potential aliens out there, introducing them to earth and how he understands it. The book follows that form, and through Alex’s voice we learn about his interests, his complicated family struggles, and his hopes and dreams for the future. Charming and sweet, Alex is the kind of character you’ll be instantly drawn to.

Caitlin says: “The main character reminds me a bit of Auggie and the format of the book is really unique. It’s powerful, like Wonder.”

The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island, Dana Alison Levy 

The sequel to 2014’s The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher brings us even more of the Fletchers and their rambunctious life. Two dads and four adopted boys make up the bunch, and each book is a rambling, funny, and touching recount of their lives. In this story, the family heads to Rock Island for the summer, but of course there are lots of adventures to have along the way. Levy never shies away from the realities of what it means to be a blended family, nor does she make them the spotlight. Instead, it’s a sweet and entertaining tale about a family who truly loves each other – with just enough meat to spark some interesting discussions with your kids.

Caitlin says: “I love these books. [They’re] a portrait of a loving family filled with humor and everyday events and issues.”

Out of My Mind, Sharon M. Draper 

Out of My Mind is quickly on its way to becoming a modern classic, thanks to Draper’s expert prose and a main character who you just can’t help but root for. 11-year-old Melody has cerebral palsy, making it impossible for her to walk or talk or communicate in the way she wants to. While her teachers and doctors think that she has trouble learning, the opposite is true: Melody has a photographic memory, and is incredibly smart, she simply learns differently. When she suddenly acquires the ability to communicate with those around her, her world opens up in a way she only dreamed of. But of course it’s more complicated than that, and Melody’s journey is one that will have you laughing and crying by the end.

Caitlin says: “This is generally my go-to for a family read! I’ve never had anyone hand it back to me and say they were disappointed. It reels you in right from the very first page.”

Save Me a Seat, Sarah Weeks & Gita Varadarajan 

This co-written book tells the story of two boys who have nothing (and everything) in common. Ravi just moved from India, while Joe has been living in the same town forever. But both feel isolated from their peers and both have to deal with a bully, Dillon, who’s popular and a little ruthless. The two friends slowly learn to find acceptance and comfort in each other. If you’ve ever sympathized with the lonely kid looking for a place to eat lunch, then this is the perfect family read.

Caitlin says: “This is a great book to read right before the beginning of the school year. It’s about friendship, open-mindedness, acceptance, and kindness. It’s a great message and a great way to start off the year.”

The Seventh Wish, Kate Messner 

A touch of magic only helps to emphasize the more serious issues at the heart of Messner’s inventive story. When 12-year-old Charlie finds a magical fish that can grant wishes, she thinks all of her problems are about to go away. But these wishes come with a catch, something she learns a little too late. In the meantime, she has more serious family stuff to deal with, including her college-aged sister’s secret heroin addiction. It’s not easy to blend the fantastical with the painfully realistic, but Messner does an excellent job in The Seventh Wish.

Caitlin says: “[This book] sensitively addresses an underrepresented issue in middle grade literature: addiction. If reading with the family, I’d stress that it might be an emotionally difficult one! But it’s an important issue to bring to the surface and will spark some great and valuable discussions.”

What books are you reading with the kids in your life before they head back to school? Let us know in the comments!

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