School’s out for summer! But that doesn’t mean kids are putting down their books. We explore the latest and greatest picture books for little ones, nonfiction for the elementary school set and novels for young adults. Get recommendations for the best summer reads, and share some of your own.


  • Kathie Meizner Library Manager with Montgomery County Public Libraries , Kensington Park Library and Noyes Library for Young Children
  • Maureen Johnson Author, "The Name of the Star"

Your Summer Reading Picks

We asked for your favorite young adult and children’s books. These are your suggestions:

Related Video

Take the “Jack the Ripper” tour of London with Maureen Johnson:


  • 13:06:49

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. School's out for summer and for many kids that means no more teachers, but plenty of books. Whether your child is an avid reader or a reluctant one, we've got book picks that will capture their attention. Loads of new nonfiction for budding history buffs, many a mystery for those who thrive on suspense, picture books a plenty for the little ones and don't worry, there are still plenty of vampires.

  • 13:07:42

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to sort through the hottest new books for kids and teens is Kathie Meizner, library manager with Montgomery County Public Libraries. She oversees the Kensington Park Library and Noyes Library for Young Children. Kathie Meizner, thank you very much for joining us.

  • 13:07:59

    MS. KATHIE MEIZNERThanks for having me.

  • 13:08:00

    NNAMDIAnd joining us from NPR's Bryant Parks Studios in New York City is Maureen Johnson, author of numerous books for young adults. Her latest is "The Name of the Star," the first in the Shades of London Series. Maureen Johnson, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:08:16

    MS. MAUREEN JOHNSONThank you for having me.

  • 13:08:17

    NNAMDIYou too can join the conversation with your recommendations at 800-433-8850. Have a favorite bedtime story you read to your kids or that you remember from your childhood? We'd love to hear about it, 800-433-8850. You can also go to our website where you will find the recommendations of our guests. You can send us email to or send us a Tweet at kojoshow. Kathie, for parents of the littlest bookworms you recommend the latest from the dual behind "A Sick Day for Amos McGee." What makes "Bear Has a Story to Tell" the perfect bedtime story?

  • 13:08:57

    MEIZNERNot only is it a perfect bedtime story but it's a perfect cool weather story. This book will be available to everyone on September 4 and I encourage you to look for it. Bear is a prototypical large being in the lives of the small creatures who inhabit his world. And he is an intense listener. Though he has a story to tell the problems of all the creatures within his realm occupy his attention until the time's almost up and winter has come and gone and spring is arriving. It's a secular story. It's a quiet story but it's got a ton of sweet, sweet humor and respect for the child listener.

  • 13:09:49

    NNAMDIYou know that the Steads, Philip and Erin Stead, like several other children's authors, worked in a bookstore. Why is that important?

  • 13:09:57

    MEIZNERI think they have a real feel for their audience. They understand the world of children's literature and were immersed for years in the very best of children's books and then got to meet the readers up close and personal to make recommendations, to see how things played out, to put their hands on a lot of beautiful picture book art as well as text.

  • 13:10:25

    NNAMDIHaving worked in a bookstore myself and remember it as one of the favorite experiences of my life I can relate. Maureen Johnson, you're a fan of "Toys Come Home," which I understand is the third in a series of picture books. Tell us about the latest installment.

  • 13:10:42

    JOHNSONWell, I'm just totally in love with this series, which is the story of what some toys get up to when their owners are not at home. And that seems very much probably like "Toy Story," but I feel this book is so much bigger and more heartwarming than that. The book features a stingray and a ball named plastic and a buffalo. And they have -- in the past, they've had dance parties and they party in the washing machine. And I just feel that this is a -- it's a very fully imagined world of what -- it felt like my inner four-year-old relates to these toys and what they get up to and where they would, you know, have their little parties if they had their own -- if they were left up to their own devices.

  • 13:11:33

    NNAMDII've already been convinced that there's always a party going on in the washing machine if you just look in there.

  • 13:11:37

    JOHNSONThere is always a party, exactly.

  • 13:11:39

    NNAMDIThank you very much. Maureen, teens are often drawn to stories with a hint of danger or a bit of intrigue. Why do you think mysteries tend to appeal so much to younger readers?

  • 13:11:49

    JOHNSONI think mysteries appeal because they -- appeal to all of us because they engage a little something extra. With any story we sort of are along for the ride. But mysteries ask us to do sometimes a little bit more that we can participate on another level and look for the clues. Maybe put together the story, the mystery or the puzzle in the story faster than the story itself. And I think that universally appeals to everyone, especially kids though who want to know how the world works.

  • 13:12:19

    NNAMDITell us about "The Book of Blood and Shadow," which it's my understanding will keep readers on their toes.

  • 13:12:25

    JOHNSONAbsolutely. It's a fabulous book. "The Book of Blood and Shadow" is a mystery story thriller based on a real life mystery, a real life manuscript, which I'm going to pronounce it wrong but I believe it's called the Voynich manuscript, which is sometimes referred to as the world's most mysterious manuscript. No one really knows what it means. And this book takes that manuscript and builds a story around it that involves a bunch of high school students translating letters in Latin that were written in the 1500s. And they uncover a plot to build a device that will connect humans to God.

  • 13:13:06

    JOHNSONAnd out of this unfolds a murder. The story goes from the U.S. to the streets of Prague. It takes in the history of Prague. So you really feel like you're running through the streets of Prague, both in the 1500s and in the present day. It's a really first rate thriller in the way it's written.

  • 13:13:25

    NNAMDIIt sounds well researched.

  • 13:13:27

    JOHNSONIt's astonishingly good. I can't recommend it highly enough.

  • 13:13:31

    NNAMDI"The Book of Blood and Shadow" by Robin Wasserman is the name of it. We're talking with Maureen Johnson. She's the author of numerous books for young adults, the latest being "The Name of the Star," the first in the Shades of London Series. She joins us from studios in New York. Kathie Meizner joins us in our Washington studio. She is a library manager with Montgomery County Public Libraries. She oversees the Kensington Park Library and Noyes Library for Young Children. 800-433-8850. If you're a kid or a teen give us a call. Let us know what your favorite book is or what you're reading right now. 800-433-8850.

  • 13:14:08

    NNAMDIKathie, you're part of a group that awards standout nonfiction for kids. And you've noticed more and more good books about the Civil Rights Movement for children. Tell us about that.

  • 13:14:19

    MEIZNERIt's kind of exciting. There are a number of nonfiction titles that came out at the beginning of this year. It follows a trend we've seen over the last few years of some really excellent documentary looks at the Civil Right Movement and its antecedence as well as reaching through to the present day. I can think of about five titles that fit nicely together and are well worth sharing with young readers. Ann Bausum's book "Marching to the Mountaintop" takes a look at the 1968 Memphis garbage strike as a pivotal event for the tragic events of the spring of 1968 and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination.

  • 13:15:13

    MEIZNERAnd she creates an amazingly good sort of puzzle, you know, fitting together all the pieces and looking at the events moment by moment.

  • 13:15:29

    NNAMDIThere's another one called "We March" that I'm interested in. It's about a young boy who apparently rises early to participate in the March on Washington with his family in August, 1963. The title of it sounds as if that's his parents telling him to get up, "We March" today.

  • 13:15:46

    MEIZNERIt's a very gentle book and just beautiful. He is a very small boy, perhaps four or five, getting up early with his family, gathering where there are buses. And then the Washington Monument appears. And by the end of the book this small boy is up on his father's shoulders while the words, "I have a dream..." echo all around them. And the book almost sings in its joy. And it really gives a sense that children were part of this. I think, you know, children know that there's a history there. This book really takes it from the child's perspective, what it have been like to be young and to be there.

  • 13:16:32

    NNAMDIYou've also been noticing another trend, it's my understanding, and that is books pairing historic figures. No longer just the individual story, but the relationships between historic figures.

  • 13:16:43

    MEIZNERYes. There are a couple of books out about the relationship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. "Those Rebels, John and Tom" by Barbara Kerley is one of the really appealing picture book stories. Actually, it's very solid historical nonfiction for younger reader, primary grade readers. There's a look at the camping trip. It's actually a more fictionalized story but it's a look at the camping trip that Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir took out into the Sierra wilderness, again for younger readers and a real sense of ebullience in that historical moment.

  • 13:17:26

    MEIZNERAnd then there's a look by Russell Freidman at Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas and how their relationship -- this is for older readers, older elementary age readers -- how their friendship or acquaintance and growing respect for each other shaped some of our nation's history.

  • 13:17:47

    NNAMDIWell, speaking of history let's talk about historical fiction, Maureen, because your latest book "The Name of the Star" is fiction but has ties to the true crime story of Jack the Ripper. How important was it to you to get the details from that case right?

  • 13:18:02

    JOHNSONExtremely important. Not -- for many reasons but Jack the Ripper is certainly one of the most well and passionately researched crime stories in history. It is sort of the touchstone for people who -- you know, if you're obsessed with any kind of historical crime, you're certainly going to know about Jack the Ripper. And getting -- if you get it wrong, it's unacceptable. But I became a little obsessive about it. I...

  • 13:18:27

    NNAMDIYeah, we've got a video that's available on our website right now at about the Jack the Ripper tour that you went on?

  • 13:18:35

    JOHNSONMany of them. And now I can lead them. We got lost from our tour and I redirected everybody because I knew where they were going.

  • 13:18:42

    NNAMDIShe can point out where buildings used to be, where they added a square, all of that stuff.

  • 13:18:48

    JOHNSONOh, yes.

  • 13:18:49

    NNAMDIYou also recommend a novel that takes place during World War II. Tell us about "Code Name Verity."

  • 13:18:55

    JOHNSON"Code Name Verity" is an absolutely astonishing book. It takes place -- I feel like there are, you know, a lot of World War II stories and even just hearing that it's a World War II story kind of -- at this point people are like there are so many of them. But "Code Name Verity" is the story of two girls who work -- one is a pilot and one is working in special operations. And the story begins with one of them having recently been taken prisoner by the Nazis in occupied France. And the entire first part of the book is her statement written while sitting at a table with her Nazi captors.

  • 13:19:39

    JOHNSONAnd it's -- she said, I have two weeks to do this and then at the end of it you'll shoot me. And then she weaves her whole tale. And you don't really know if she's telling them the truth, if she's telling them lies. But you learn a lot about the women who were flying, how they were treated, what kind of missions they were doing and the really extraordinary lengths. The detail in this book is truly astonishing and I think that kids will be fascinated 'cause sometimes when things are loaded with historical detail you think, oh no teenager's going to want to read this.

  • 13:20:13

    JOHNSONIt's absolutely gripping. And to know that really young people were involved in the war effort at such a high level and doing things like flying into occupied France at night, you know, with airplanes that are so far not what we have today. I mean, the risks that people were taking. It's an astonishing story about friendship, about the war, about real bravery.

  • 13:20:38

    NNAMDIAnd it's called "Code Name Verity" by Elizabeth Wein. Is that correct?

  • 13:20:42

    JOHNSONThat's correct.

  • 13:20:43

    NNAMDIHere is Emma in Montclair, N.J. Emma, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:20:48

    EMMAHi. Do you want me to talk about books that I enjoy?

  • 13:20:53

    NNAMDIYes, please.

  • 13:20:55

    EMMASo I've been writing book reviews for our local bookstore so I've been really lucky. And I actually got John Green's "The Fault in Our Stars" early last year. I got to read it in November. It's been like the number one bestseller on the New York Times list for quite a while. And I think it's a really beautiful book. And what he really captures in it is the way that teenagers can feel pain in a very mature way. And I think that many adults sort of forget that. And he does a beautiful job of capturing it, of what it's like to be a teenager and have complex emotions.

  • 13:21:36

    EMMAIt's a cancer book, but it's not a cancer book (unintelligible) way.

  • 13:21:40

    JOHNSONRight. Amazing.

  • 13:21:42

    EMMAYeah. And he -- it's half a cancer book, half a love story. And he just does a beautiful job of really connecting with what it feels like to be a teenager and deal with love for the first time and also the pain of having an illness and how that affects you, your relationships with other teenagers and particular with the parents, which I think some young adult books don't touch on very deeply. And he does a beautiful job of capturing the main character Hazel's relationship with her parents.

  • 13:22:20

    NNAMDIYou know, I'm glad you called about that book but we planned on discussing it because it's my understanding that Maureen Johnson really enjoyed it also.

  • 13:22:28

    JOHNSONLoved it.

  • 13:22:28

    NNAMDIYeah, and Kathie, you seem to be nodding in approval too.

  • 13:22:32

    MEIZNERYes, yes.

  • 13:22:33

    NNAMDIAny other books you wanted to talk about, Emma?

  • 13:22:36

    EMMASure. I also really enjoyed Laini Taylor's "Daughter of Smoke and Bone," which came out last fall as well. And it's written in a very lyrical and sort of poetic manner. She really has a tone that I don't think anybody else in young adult fiction has right now. And it's a fantasy story that really captured me and I don't particularly like fantasy. And I was drawn into this fantastical world.

  • 13:23:05

    EMMAIt's also set in Prague. And the main character Karou is sort of living between the real world and this fantastical world created by Laini Taylor. And she collects teeth and grants wishes. And so she travels to Morocco and around the streets of Prague and meets criminals. And she has bright blue hair and is an amazing artist. And it's, you know, the first book in a trilogy and the (word?) one is a cliffhanger so I can't wait for the fall to get the next one.

  • 13:23:40

    NNAMDIEmma, next time we might book you as one of the reviewers on this show. Thank you very much for your call. Do you write yourself? Do you write fiction yourself at all?

  • 13:23:48

    EMMAYes. One day I really hope to be a young adult fiction writer.

  • 13:23:52

    NNAMDIIt seems like you've got a pretty good start. Thank you very much for your call. You too can call us at 800-433-8850. We're going to take a short break. We're talking about children's and young adult's summer reading. You can send us your suggestions, your favorite reads at our website Send us a Tweet at kojoshow or email to I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:26:14

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about children's and young adult's summer reading. We're talking with Maureen Johnson. She's the author of numerous books for young adults. Her latest is called "The Name of the Star," the first in the Shades of London Series. Kathie Meizner joins us in studio. She is a library manager with Montgomery County Public Libraries. She oversees the Kensington Park Library and Noyes Library for Young Children.

  • 13:26:39

    NNAMDIKathie, many young adults have crossover -- young adult books that is have crossover appeal and it's not uncommon to see a fellow commuter reading the "Hunger Games" or "Twilight" on the metro. Which of the titles that you recommend might appeal to older readers?

  • 13:26:55

    MEIZNERI haven't included a whole lot of young adult material here. I would suggest though that older readers and adults pursue some of the nonfiction that's come out in the early part of this year. Actually Gail Jarrow's book "The Amazing Harry Kellar" is delightful and interesting and a very, very well documented look at a man who really was a mentor to Houdini. He was a consummate showman. He was fascinated from -- with the kind of techniques of magic and showmanship and how they fit together from a very early age. He actually hopped aboard a train when he was ten and left home to enter the world of traveling magic shows.

  • 13:27:45

    MEIZNERThe book is fabulously illustrated. It includes these mysterious and enticing posters that appeared at the beginning of the last century for Kellar's performances. And they show him surrounded by other worldly creatures presumably from the beyond helping him to perform his unusual works of magic, escaping from locked boxes and, you know, having women or creatures appear from nowhere. Really a delight and a look at a time in our nation's history when that was entertainment.

  • 13:28:27

    NNAMDII like this title by Sy Montgomery, I found it intriguing, "Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loves Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World."

  • 13:28:35

    MEIZNERSy Montgomery is a really noteworthy nonfiction writer and she's covered a range of topics usually having to do with animals. This is kind of a department for her in looking at a fellow advocate for the rights of animals. And it's a nice pairing. Sy Montgomery and Temple Grandin have teamed together here to take a look at how Temple Grandin's specific abilities in many ways come out of her autism or Aspergers.

  • 13:29:09

    MEIZNERThe end papers are wonderful. They're the intricate plans -- Temple Grandin's plans for humane practices in the agriculture industry and the meat industry. And, you know, really a look at how her precision and her, in many ways, kind of solitary focus allowed her to achieve great things.

  • 13:29:37

    NNAMDIAre you an adult who just loves young adult fiction? Tell us why you enjoy it. Call us at 800-433-8850. Any titles you might want to recommend to older readers also, Maureen Johnson?

  • 13:29:52

    JOHNSONMore titles. Well, I think just -- I just mentioned that "Code Name Verity" is one of those books that crosses over really, really well because I think there are a lot of people that have interest in that sort of period. And the aforementioned "The Fault in our Stars" by John Green which is an excellent book. I feel like I'm saying that a lot of these are such excellent books but we really are, I think, in kind of a golden age of YA books. There are just so many really good ones coming out.

  • 13:30:20

    JOHNSONAnd like the caller said, it's a story about two kids who have cancer but it is not a cancer book because it correctly points out that in between the point that you're at now and death is a life. That point is a valid point no matter how long that it goes. And it's about falling in love while -- you know, knowing that you have a terminal disease. And it's very, very funny. So that is definitely one that I know has a lot of crossover appeal with adults.

  • 13:30:51

    NNAMDIYou mentioned that we're in a golden age of YA books and you split your time between the U.S. and the UK. And it seems that even though YA books are in a golden age, they don't seem to be that popular among booksellers in London.

  • 13:31:07

    JOHNSONNo, I think they're very popular among booksellers in London. I think that they are somehow a bit misunderstood sometimes. I feel that we have a lot in - a lot of enthusiasm for it here and it's growing. And I think that that's starting to travel to other places but I -- sometimes what happens is when a book appears as a YA book in the United States the booksellers want to sell it as a YA book in other countries. But for whatever reason it gets shelved as an adult book because they say, oh well, we have to put it here. Kids don't read or, you know, for many other strange excuses like that.

  • 13:31:45

    JOHNSONAnd I think booksellers are really at the vanguard in England trying to say no, teenagers do read and they read these excellent books. And they have, I've noticed, big import sections from the United States that say fresh from America as, you know, we're sort of producing -- sort of pumping YA books into England. And they have many of their own great YA writers so I think it's really coming up there. And I know booksellers really want to see it come up even more.

  • 13:32:10

    NNAMDIKind of the flip, the opposite maybe of what they're trying to do with the classics, I read in the New York Times today that how they're rebranding the classics for young adults in the wake of the success of books like movies and books like "Hunger Games" so that they look different. Care to comment on that, Kathie?

  • 13:32:28

    MEIZNERWell, I think it's a great move. I think very, very often children and young adults and we judge books by their covers. So there's an initial acquaintance, an approach that everybody sort of has with the work of pros before they plunge in. And so I think it's a way to create a welcome, to create some courage for readers and to remind readers that there's a lot out there to be discovered by a new generation of readers.

  • 13:33:06

    NNAMDIMaureen, the New York Times said publishers who are wrapping books like "Emma" and "Jane Eyre" in new covers, provocative, modern jackets in bold shades of scarlet and lime green that are explicitly aimed at teenagers raised on "Twilight" and "The Hunger Games." Marketing ploy?

  • 13:33:22

    JOHNSONWell, sure, but you can have marketing ploys for all kinds of good reasons. And if that gets -- you know, if that gets the audience...

  • 13:33:30

    NNAMDIEyeballs to the page, yes.

  • 13:33:32

    JOHNSONExactly. I mean, the cover -- a lot of people ask about book covers to authors saying, well why did you make the cover of your book look like that? And we don't really have a lot of say over what the covers end up looking like. But ultimately the cover is just the packet that the book goes in and has very little relationship to what's inside. It's simply designed to make it stand out in a store which is crowded with thousands of other similarly shiny packages. So whatever -- you have to -- that’s every little -- every book cover is shouting at you and you just want to make a book that shouts the loudest.

  • 13:34:06

    NNAMDIHere is Sammi in Frederick, Md. Sammi, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:34:10

    SAMMIHi, how are you guys today?

  • 13:34:12

    NNAMDIDoing well.

  • 13:34:13

    SAMMIGreat. Thanks for having me on the show. So growing up I was a big fan of the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. I always loved reading them 'cause even -- I first read them when I was in the second grade. And as I got older I would re-read them and I found that they were very layered and I would find new meanings and new messages in the text. And recently I was reading an essay on -- by C. S. Lewis called "On Writing for Children." And he says that he believes that no book that isn't worth reading when you're 50 is worth reading when you're 10.

  • 13:34:43

    SAMMIAnd so I'm wondering if you would agree with this quote and I know you were just talking about the golden age of young adult literature, but whether or not you feel that the young adult literature or the children's literature that's out there today would set up to this standard.

  • 13:34:57

    NNAMDINo book that's not worth reading when you're 50 is worth reading when you're 10. Kathy Meizner.

  • 13:35:03

    MEIZNEROh, I think that the idea that into every child's or adult reader's life some junk must fall. It probably is a good operating philosophy. I think that it is a delight to be young -- a young reader and immersed in a series that to a 50-year-olds' eyes might just stretch out way too long. Children I think have a capacity for seeing past pros that may not be stellar but plots that are engaging and fun.

  • 13:35:40

    MEIZNERAnd I have gone back to some of those Nancy Drew mysteries that I loved when I was quite young. I'm not as engaged with them now but at the time what a wonderful gateway they were into a world of reading.

  • 13:35:57

    NNAMDIWhat do you say, Maureen Johnson?

  • 13:35:59

    JOHNSONI think there's a great argument to be made for bad books and why they're good for you for many reasons. One, why not? Why not read all sorts of things? It's -- you know, you can't -- first of all, it's very hard to determine what a bad book is because the standard is going to change. But if you're caught up in a story absolutely, enjoy it. That -- if that's what gets you reading or -- there's no reason that you should say not -- I almost named some books and then I caught myself 'cause I don't want to classify any book as a bad book.

  • 13:36:31

    NNAMDIThere you go.

  • 13:36:32

    JOHNSONBut you should have -- you should -- there's nothing wrong with the idea of reading for pleasure. I don't know -- sometimes it's considered some sort of vice but it's really not. You should read for whatever reasons that you want to read. And when you're read a "bad" book and then you read a good book it's through the comparison that you can really see where the skill comes in.

  • 13:36:55

    NNAMDISammi, thank you very much for your call. Kathie, animal characters have always featured prominently in children's books. And this season, for some reason, birds seem to be pretty popular.

  • 13:37:06

    MEIZNERWell, let's see. I mentioned "A Home for Bird" which is by Philip Stead. Again, we talked about him earlier. I saw a fellow picture book artist -- not my fellow but, you know, one of those other young guys who makes wonderful picture books, say in a blog about Philip Stead that he's a multi-talented picture book force of nature. And his book out this spring and summer "A Home for Bird" is a terrific kind of adventure odyssey involving a frog who tries to help a companion find his way home. It's obviously a fantasy animal but I think, you know, one of those great creatures that kind of stands in for the child who I think will empathize with all the characters in this book.

  • 13:38:05

    MEIZNERMo Willems has "The Duckling Gets a Cookie From the Pigeon!?" is asking this question.

  • 13:38:12

    NNAMDINo satisfaction for pigeon.

  • 13:38:14

    MEIZNERYou know, it's a book about the power of -- it's either persistence or patience. And, you know, while for once right at the end of the book you actually have the pigeon -- hear the pigeon say thank you, thank you. Poor pigeon...

  • 13:38:30

    NNAMDIPigeon can't get to drive the bus. Pigeon can't score a treat. What's that...

  • 13:38:35

    JOHNSONIt is hard to be that pigeon.

  • 13:38:37

    MEIZNERHe's been asking this bird ever but it just hasn't paid off for him. In this book I think there's a very sweet connection with what he wants.

  • 13:38:50

    NNAMDIMaureen, earlier this week on this show we -- well, we learned that according to the movie "Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer" the blood thirsty scourge caused the Civil War. In one of your picks now apparently they have founded a city.

  • 13:39:06


  • 13:39:08

    NNAMDITell us about that.

  • 13:39:09

    MEIZNERThat's "Team Human," which is coming out this summer. And "Team Human" is a response to -- when you're a YA writer, let me tell you one of the first questions you're going to be asked by some random person. Oh, so you write about vampires? That is just the story of your life.

  • 13:39:27


  • 13:39:28

    JOHNSONThere's this idea that -- you know, that somewhere in your book, one of these little fanged weirdoes is going to pop out of a corner. And so "Team Human," which is by Sarah Rees Brennan and Justine Larbalestier, is a response -- a very funny and very well written response to this idea of, okay, let's just say a vampire is going to your high school. Let's look at some of the logistics of this. And it -- you'll think that that sounds like a shtick, like it's a one-joke book, but it's actually quite a compelling plot with a mystery contained within.

  • 13:40:08

    JOHNSONAnd it looks at, you know, what would actually happen if you had to walk around in a big hazmat suit and your boyfriend was 200 years old and extremely weird and ended up going to high school because there are some real logistical things that have to be dealt with. So if you've ever read a vampire book or if you have been avoiding vampire books, I recommend "Team Human" because it answers a lot of questions that I know were in my mind.

  • 13:40:33

    NNAMDIAnd of course, the movie I mentioned is "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" not vampire slayer and "Team Human" is by Justine Larbalestier...

  • 13:40:43

    JOHNSONLarbalestier, yeah.

  • 13:40:44

    NNAMDILarbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan. We're going to take a short break and when we come back, we'll continue our conversation on Children and Young Adult's Summer Reading. If you have calls stay on the line, we'll try to get to your call. The lines are filled so if you'd like to join the conversation, go to our website,, where you can also see that tour that Maureen is conducting. If you want, you also can send any questions or comments, too, you might have. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:43:11

    NNAMDIChildren's and Young Adult Summer Reading is our conversation. We're talking with Maureen Johnson, author of numerous books for young adults, her latest being "The Name of the Star" is the first in the Shades of London series. Kathie Meizner is a Library Manager with Montgomery County Public Libraries. She oversees the Kensington Park Library and Noyes Library for Young Children. I mentioned, Maureen, "The Name of the Star," it's the first in a series. So far have you found plotting a longer story arc any more or less challenging than writing a stand-alone novel?

  • 13:43:45

    JOHNSONIt's definitely more challenging, but I think it's also a lot more fun because when you build a stand-alone novel, you go to a lot of trouble to build an entire world and then you just sort of knock it down or just leave it there. And I like the idea that you can go back, revisit it, add things to it and really develop it in a big way. It had been my desire for a while to make something big with a lot of history behind it and case files and branches that go in a lot of different directions. It's more work, but it's certainly a lot of fun to just keep expanding on a creation.

  • 13:44:19

    NNAMDIKathie, books that are part of a series are often favorites of young readers who get invested in characters and their parents often love them because they keep their kids turning pages. What books are you having a hard time keeping on the shelves?

  • 13:44:33

    MEIZNERWell, certainly any of the Jeff Kinney "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series, Rick Riordan's mythology, you know, the books about Percy Jackson and all of his adventures. We have readers who look for every one of any sparkly books with magic cats or fairies or other animals. I think again, you know, there's an example of the way that children can immerse themselves in a set of characters and perhaps plots that are predictable, but that speak to them very particularly and very specially.

  • 13:45:17

    NNAMDIMaureen, it's my understand that you recently got deeply invested in "Charmed Life" by Diana Wynne Jones, even though it's not really a new book.

  • 13:45:28

    JOHNSONI have the pleasure of reading that book as an adult and I felt like it turned me instantly into an eight-year-old. And I wanted to go and live in the castle immediately. I wanted immediate admittance to the castle. I'd read "Howl's Moving Castle" before and I picked up this book sort of on a whim and it's so truly magical and it has a real set -- 'cause there's a magic in a lot of books, but this you really do get the sense that magic is absolutely real and possible and it features the worst sister in the world. I mean, I don't think there's...

  • 13:46:08


  • 13:46:09

    JOHNSONYes, Gwendolyn is certainly -- you don't even realize at the beginning how terrible she is, but as it goes on, she is so unrelentingly terrible and brutal and that's, I think, one of the great things about great children's books, is many of them at their heart are actually quite brutal. They deal with some really troubling ideas or situations or realities and this one certainly does not shy away from that.

  • 13:46:41

    NNAMDIMy sister, the informer, as she was known to my brother and me claimed that we remember the history incorrectly. But that's another story. We move on now to Ruth in Falls Church, VA. Ruth, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:46:54

    RUTHHi, Kojo, I love your show and thanks for taking my call. There's a book published recently called "The 12th Stone" by Janna Laiz L-A-I-Z, and she's a Mass. writer. She also happens to be a friend of mine. But I have enjoyed reading young adult fiction for many years as an adult and I really enjoyed her book. It's about a fairy world and the real world colliding and there's a human teenager and a fairy teenager and they have some interesting -- their interactions with their parents, their fairy parents, their human parents, the humans of the, you know, and they interact. And it's very realistic and entertaining and I really enjoyed that.

  • 13:47:55

    RUTHAnd then I'm so glad you mentioned the Diana Wynn Jones 'cause I loved the "Crestomanci" series or however you pronounce that, the one you just talked about, it was very good. Another one of another English writer, another older series is called "The Hungry City Chronicles" by Philip Reeve and they're several books. And in this case, this is thousands and thousands of years in the future and cities have all become large traction moving cities and they go around on large traction wheels and they devour. And it's there -- I think it's called civic Darwinism or something. The bigger cities eat the smaller cities and...

  • 13:48:55

    NNAMDIOh, I see...

  • 13:48:55

    RUTH...suburbs and they sort of cannibalize them. And it is also a story about teenagers trying to survive this and as the series continues, they grow up and they're not one dimensional and I thought it was a really good series.

  • 13:49:13

    NNAMDIThey do seem to survive it. Ruth, thank you very much for your call. We got a tweet from -- well, tweets from both Jason and Carol recommending the "Girls' Ghost Hunting Guide" by Stacey Graham. M tweets to say "'Blueberries For Sale' was always one of my favorite children's books when I was younger. Such a classic picture book" and "'A Picnic With Monet' board books blends" -- this is a tweet from A.J. -- 'A Picnic With Monet' board book blends art greats with a rhyming story and my two-year-old can't get enough of 'The Pigeon and the Knuffle Bunny.'" Thank you very much for your tweets.

  • 13:49:46

    NNAMDIKathie, any parents or grandparents thinking about introducing an old favorite to the kids in their life might want to consider "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" because there's a sequel out that you say may be even better than the original?

  • 13:50:00

    MEIZNERFrank Cottrell Boyce who wrote a couple of novels you may remember the movie "Millions," "Cosmic," "Framed," his titles have a ton of charm and they're all stand-alone books. This is kind of a first, I think, for him writing a sequel. There is a trend in children's publishing, I think, to create some sequels to classics.

  • 13:50:29

    MEIZNERBut his sequel, Ian Fleming's 1964 children's book is absolutely charming. His dialogue is very realistic. It's kind of a family story. Chitty, Chitty Bang Bang's engine is transplanted into a van and goes in search of the rest of it taking the family along with it on a wild adventure around the world. I think it's very endearing, just right for sort of seven to 10-year-olds trying to get their sea legs in reading.

  • 13:51:09

    NNAMDIOnto the phones. Here is Ken in Gaithersburg, MD. Ken, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:51:15

    KENThank you for taking my call, Kojo.

  • 13:51:17

    NNAMDIYou're welcome.

  • 13:51:17

    KENI'm a young adult fiction addict. And I'm a doctor twice over so whenever anybody hassles me about it, I tell them I can read whatever the heck I want.

  • 13:51:27

    NNAMDIDoogie Howser, huh?

  • 13:51:32

    KENI loved the stories written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman for young adults. Terry Pratchett came out with one last year called "I Shall Wear Midnight" about an adventurous young witch who is eventually taking the place of the town witch and they're just marvelous, marvelous books. Also, his series of "Johnny" books, "Johnny and the Dead," "Johnny and the Bomb," these are all beautifully written. And Neil Gaiman is also just a marvelously inventive and imaginative writer. I'm sure your librarian is familiar with them.

  • 13:52:07

    NNAMDIShe certainly is. Here's Kathie Meizner.

  • 13:52:09

    MEIZNERWell, I loved "I Shall Wear Midnight" which was the culminating book in a series about the young witch Tiffany Aching who's growing up in, this is actually a Discworld's setting, but you can imagine it as somewhere in the north of England. And besides Tiffany herself, who is a lovely young woman growing up through the course of these books about magic and about finding one's self and about confronting the powers of evil, there are also the wee free men, the little knee high blue zany creatures who have appeared in a lot of Terry Pratchett's books. Absolutely funny, charming and still with a lot of drama and emotion.

  • 13:53:00

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Ken. We move on now to Jessica in Royal Oaks. Jessica, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:53:10


  • 13:53:13

    NNAMDIIt's your turn, Jessica. You're on the air.

  • 13:53:15

    JESSICAHello? Hi.

  • 13:53:16

    NNAMDIYes, yes, Hi, hello. Go ahead.

  • 13:53:18

    JESSICAHi. Maureen, I wanted to talk about your book, "The Name of the Star."

  • 13:53:22

    NNAMDIOh, please do.

  • 13:53:23


  • 13:53:25

    JESSICAI really, really loved it and it was really good. And I read your other books, you know like "Girl at Sea" and "Suite Scarlett"...

  • 13:53:35

    JOHNSONThank you.

  • 13:53:35

    JESSICAAnd I follow you on Twitter and everything and I was not expecting the haunting, like chilling tone of it that it turned into and the paranormal element of it. It really took me by surprise and it was really cool.

  • 13:53:51

    JOHNSONThank you.

  • 13:53:53


  • 13:53:53

    JESSICAI loved the giant (word?) at the end and can't wait for the sequel.

  • 13:53:58

    NNAMDIYou know, Jessica, you follow Maureen on Twitter. I read where it has been written that it's a wonder that she actually has time to write books because she seems to spend so much time on Twitter.

  • 13:54:09


  • 13:54:09

    JOHNSONI'm on it now.

  • 13:54:10

    NNAMDIEven as we speak.

  • 13:54:13

    JESSICAMaureen, your voice is beautiful. Don't worry. It's not creepy at all.

  • 13:54:17

    JOHNSONThank you.

  • 13:54:18

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Jessica. Maureen, some adults who go back to share much loved books with new readers may find them, well, changed, updated to include technology that did not exist when the books were first written. What's your take on this trend?

  • 13:54:34

    JOHNSONI just encountered this the other night and it upset me tremendously. But I realize this is just my opinion. But I was re-reading -- I wanted to go back and re-read a horror classic that I loved as a kid and I bought the brand new edition. I was super excited that there was a brand new edition of it. And I got to page three -- it was published in 1978, and I got to page three and there was a GPS in it. And then the next page there was a cell phone and clearly passages had been -- the author herself had done this, but passages had been re-written to update the book.

  • 13:55:08

    JOHNSONAnd I actually couldn't go on. I didn't want to read it anymore, which was just my reaction. But one of the great things about, I think, this particular series of books is that they were so spooky and they were so of another world and when you have pieces of technology, say cell phones, you're connected in a way that it's very, you know, you're used to being able to get anybody instantly, you'd be able to reach help.

  • 13:55:34

    JOHNSONAnd I think it's important to remember that not that long ago, there was life without cell phones and if you went into the woods and someone was chasing you with a knife, you don't have a phone in your pocket and you're just going to have to run from the scary man with the knife. And she, the poor author had to go around destroying every cell phone she created. She had to drop them in toilets and throw them off mountain tops and have them eaten by bears, I can't even remember. Many, many things happened to these poor doomed cell phones. But I thought, why not leave well enough alone? I don't think we need -- I think teens can relate to the fact that there were not always cell phones, personally, but...

  • 13:56:13

    NNAMDIWhat do you think, Kathie Meizner?

  • 13:56:14

    MEIZNERYeah, I agree. I think that, you know, it's probably been very difficult for writers with contemporary settings to try to get, you know, children away from their parents and away from that kind of instant help that you describe, with access to a cell phone. I do think that, you know, there's always that piece of the plot where you have to get rid of the immediate access to assistance.

  • 13:56:40

    NNAMDIWell, it's funny because I'm reading Alexander McCall Smith's latest "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" novel based, of course, in Botswana and they get lost in the woods. The Detective Mma Precious Ramotswe gets lost in the woods. But she has no cell phone and I'm saying -- but this is being written contemporarily, how come she doesn't have a cell phone? Nevertheless, I enjoy it anyway. Onto Trish in Washington D.C. Trish, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Please make your question or comment brief.

  • 13:57:06

    TRISHI was thrilled to get a book about Prague, but I'm also going to Budapest and Vienna and I wondered if these women could suggest an interesting book about both Budapest and Vienna.

  • 13:57:17

    NNAMDIThere's a challenge for you.

  • 13:57:19

    JOHNSONOh, that is a challenge.

  • 13:57:20

    NNAMDIFirst you, Kathie Meizner.

  • 13:57:21

    MEIZNERWell, I do think that Eva Ibbotson's book with its Vienna setting and of course now, I'm blanking on the name of it.

  • 13:57:29

    NNAMDIThe name, of course, that's what we do.

  • 13:57:30

    MEIZNERBut please ask your local librarian. The author is Eva Ibbotson, who sadly left this world last year. She's a wonderful...

  • 13:57:41

    NNAMDIEva Ibbotson.

  • 13:57:42

    MEIZNEREva Ibbotson.

  • 13:57:44

    NNAMDIEva Ibbotson is the author.

  • 13:57:45

    MEIZNERAnd it's a wonderful early 20th century Viennese setting.

  • 13:57:50

    NNAMDIAny recommendations, Maureen?

  • 13:57:53

    JOHNSONI, oh, I feel like I've just failed a quiz. I can't think of anything off the top of my head. I know I just read...

  • 13:58:00

    NNAMDIGo to our website afterwards, Trish, I'm sure you'll see a recommendation there, but right now we're out of time. Maureen Johnson is the author or numerous books for young adults, her latest is "The Name of the Star" the first in the Shades of London series. Maureen, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:58:13

    JOHNSONThank you.

  • 13:58:14

    NNAMDIKathie Meizner is a Library Manager with Montgomery County Public Libraries. She oversees the Kensington Park Library and Noyes Library for Young Children. Kathie Meizner, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:58:24

    MEIZNERThank you, Kojo.

  • 13:58:25

    NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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