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The Joy of Sharing Tween Reads

Now that my kids are older, we seldom end the day with a bedtime story. But instead of missing those shampoo heads nestled under each armpit with a big book open in between, I'm enjoying the more independent book sharing we've got going on, especially now that there are so many amazing young adult novels out there I want to read myself.

After all, even their grandmother's book club dug The Hunger Games trilogy.

I found myself staring hungrily at my 13-year-old's school reading list this past weekend when we were back-to-school shopping. These are school supplies I don't mind spending big bucks on. Along with Shakespeare's Macbeth and John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, she'll be reading Truman Capote's Other Voices, Other Rooms, Elie Wiesel's Night and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon, among others. (I think I'm going to like this English teacher.)

Sharing common reads is a conversation starter, a common bond and a good way to debate ideas, values and actions with kids who are starting to form their own opinions about the world. Plus, it's a heck-of-a lot-more stimulating that watching re-runs of Scrubs this summer.

Here's a few of the books my tweens and I have shared that were pure, well-written pleasure for all of us. Since we're always looking for the next great read, please add your suggestions to the list.

Grayson, by Lynne Cox: The true story of a 17-year-old, open-water distance swimmer and her amazing ocean encounter with a lost baby gray whale she tries to help. Her unflappable love of the water comes alive in detailed descriptions so real you feel the chill of the 55-degree ocean off the coast of California and the baby anchovy darting through her legs. A slim, quick read originally written for adults, it's an inspiring story about determination and the joy of connecting with nature.

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman: Dark yet empowering in a Roald Dahl sort of way, this book has its share of scary scenes (a family is stabbed to death in the opening chapter) and warm-and-fuzzy moments (a collection of doting ghosts from different points in history raise the orphaned boy after he crawls into their graveyard). A writer of comic books and graphic novels, Gaiman is wildly creative.

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee: My heart sang when my oldest daughter told me this was her favorite book last year. Even though the themes are heavy-duty – racial injustice and the destruction of innocence in the Deep South – they're told in such a warm, endearing way that the book remains accessible 52 years after it was written.

Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George: I never read this when I was a kid, but I picked it up when my 12-year-old left it laying around the house. I was transfixed by the tale of a young Yupik Eskimo girl surviving on her own in the Alaskan tundra by communicating with wolves. It reminded me of one of the books I loved growing up, Jack London's White Fang.

Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson: Two fifth-graders create an imaginary world in the woods near their homes in rural Virginia and find courage and inspiration in each other. I flipped out when one of my daughter's classmates told me the ending before I finished the book.

A Christmas Memory, by Truman Capote: The tender, semi-autobiographical story of a 7-year-old boy and his eccentric, elderly distant cousin, who happens to be his best friend. We listen to the CD version of this at Christmas.

The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling: Of course. When Books & Books delivered the seventh book the morning it was released, I woke up early to snatch it from our doorknob and was halfway through it by the time my kids woke up.

The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanna Collins: Up there with Potter as some of my favorite books of the past few years. I thank Katniss every day for saving my daughters from Twilight.