WSIRN Ep 106: The anatomy of an excellent reading experience

WSIRN Ep 106: The anatomy of an excellent reading experience

Today I’m excited to chat with Shannon Navin, a Columbus mom and technology professional who came to me with a specific request: to recommend great books that Shannon and her ten-year-old son can enjoy TOGETHER. Today we discuss the magic of bonding over books, what you need to have a great reading experience at any age, and what it looks like to establish your own reading life. And readers, I couldn’t resist asking Shannon about her own personal favorite reads as well.

Connect with Anne: Blog | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | WSIRN Instagram   

Connect with Shannon: Blog | Twitter | Goodreads

Correction: In the intro, Shannon's last name is pronounced incorrectly. It should be pronounced "Nay-vin". 

Books mentioned in this episode:

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Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World, by Kelley Nikondeha (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
My Brilliant Friend: Neapolitan Novels, Book 1, by Elena Ferrante (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
The One-in-a-Million Boy, by Monica Wood (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
Plant A Kiss, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
Pax, by Sarah Pennypacker (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
The Fog Diver, by Joel Ross (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
The Lost Compass, by Joel Ross (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
This Is Not a Werewolf Story, by Sandra Evans (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
Saving Marty, by Paul Griffin (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, by Kathy Appelt (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
Short, by Holly Goldberg Sloan (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
Counting by 7s, by Holly Goldberg Sloan  (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
Better Nate than Ever, by Tim Federle (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• Greenglass House, by Kate Milford (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
Ghosts of Greenglass House, by Kate Milford (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
The Search for Delicious, by Natalie Babbitt (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound

What do YOU think Shannon should read next? Tell us all about it in comments. 

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70 comments

  1. Carolyn says:

    I have a 10 year old daughter who is a big reader and animal lover and we also read together at bedtime 🙂 A series of 2 books we recently enjoyed was Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes and the sequel Sophie Quire the Last Storyguard. She also just finished the Wings of Fire series by Tui Sutherland which she loved. She also loved the Warrior series by Erin Hunter (there are quite a few books in multiple series of the Warrior books) and has gotten a lot of her friends hooked on them too. And of course… Harry Potter!

    • Florine says:

      I would also recommend some of the kids/young adult books from Nnedi Okorafor:
      – Zahrah the Windseeker is a good one. It’s the story of a young girl who discovers she can levitate, and after that, gets into an adventure into the Forbidden forest. It’s a great book to teach kids (and girls) how to believe in oneself, to be resilient, to try new things, it’s about friendship and trust.
      – You can also try Akata Witch (am reading the sequel Akata Warrior now) – it’s been described as the African Harry Potter (even though Nnedi hates that description, it is its own thing) – but it’s got magic, a group of friends, a vilain, etc. It’s really a fun, fast paced book.
      (Not all Nnedi Okorafor’s books are young adults, just make sure you check before starting 🙂 )
      Happy reading!

    • Tina Kramer says:

      Here is a book with a strong female character and a little adventure. I found this book while traveling in the UK last year. It is a series with two books published so far and I have read both. The first book is Rose Raventhorpe Investigates Black Cats and Butlers by Janine Beacham. You can get it for around $10 through Book Depository with no shipping cost to the US, otherwise, I haven’t really found it in the states. The book is about Rose Raventhorpe and how she works with the swashbuckling under ground system of Butlers to solve a mystery. It caught my eye because we were in York, England and I like to read books with a connection to the place we are visiting.

  2. Krista says:

    I have to recommend “Wild Robot” by Peter Brown! I love, love, love this book. My favorite ‘new’ book I’ve read with my older 2 girls (9 and 7). It is so smart, heartwarming, quirky, I know you and your son will love it. The author uses female pronouns for the robot, so that might check off your more female leads request. And it has lots of animals all with distinct personalities, that was similar to your favorites.
    Here is a link the author wrote about his research: http://www.peterbrownstudio.com/uncategorized/the-wild-robot/

    • Elizabeth says:

      Yes, I immediately thought of “The Wild Robot” as well. My son says it is, “Such a good book — best book I have read in my whole lifetime.” Anne mentioned one of her kids becoming an evangelist for a certain book. This is how my son feels about Wild Robot. We read it together, then he re-read it on his own, then he made everyone in the family read it. There are lots of animals, lots of action, it will probably make you cry, and it is a great read-along/read-aloud. The chapters are really short, so my son likes tasing turns reading them. Bonus: Peter Brown is working on a sequel.

  3. MISSY says:

    Loved reading with my son when he was young. We loved No More Dead Dogs-so funny! We also loved Harris and Me which might be the funniest book I ever read. So good!

  4. Lynn says:

    Just wanted to tell Shannon that I loved this episode…as a mom to a 2-year old boy I that loves to read I loved this hopeful glimpse into our future! I may have teared up when she mentioned what her son’s teach told her about their reading time. Thanks Shannon and Anne!

  5. Susan says:

    This was great! I immediately thought of The Green Ember by S.D. Smith—my daughters and I loved reading it together along with its sequel (and we’re anxiously awaiting book 3!). It’s a great adventure story about rabbits with swords with thoughtful characters and both male and female protagonists. It perfectly hits the niche of advanced plotting/themes plus age appropriateness. We gifted it to my 12 year old nephew and he loved it as much as my girls.

  6. Jennifer says:

    Great episode! I read religiously to my sons (I have four but only the two younger ones still get read to). We have loved the Poppy books by Avi. I think this will be perfect for Shannon because the series has a strong female protagonist but is not a ‘girly’ book by any means. Another series we love is The Guardians of G’hoole by Karen Lasky. We’re on book 9 now and I know there is also a spin off series about wolves. The Guardians of G’hoole is about owls in a dystopian society. Mostly male characters but the females are strong, too. The first four books or so were made into a movie a few years ago. The plot is very complicated and the text can be difficult but my 8 yr old is hooked so I imagine he’s comprehending enough. Happy reading!

  7. Heather T says:

    I read the Mistmantle Chronicles to my son when he was aged 8-10. We both enjoyed them and seriously wanted another when finished the last one. I do not usual go for animal books but I thought they were great.

  8. Susan says:

    When I taught 4th grade and parents would mention their kids reading, or wanting to read, The Hunger Games, I would often recommend her OTHER series Gregor the Overlander instead. Several of my students loved it and it made me cry about the death of a cockroach so… 😂

    • Kate says:

      I was just coming here to recommend this! The themes in some of the later books are pretty dark (genocide), but the series is well-written and I love Gregor’s relationship with his baby sister.

  9. Melanie says:

    I’m 36 years old and I loved The Willoughbys. It’s a story that takes many of the tropes of British children’s stories and turns them on their heads in a tongue in cheek way. It’s a fun story so young readers will like it, but it’s also clever so it’s entertaining for adults.

    It’s been a while since I’ve read The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale, so I don’t remember exactly what age the content is most appropriate for, but this book and the sequels are great fairy tale adaptations.

    • Kate says:

      I loved Shannon Hale’s Goose Girl and the other Books of Bayern – really good fairy tales!
      The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly and Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty (and there sequels) are both personal favorites.

      • You guys are awesome! I’ll have to check out all of those!
        We read Serafina…really liked that one! We own Calpurnia…have to move that one up the list. And we’ll have to acquire Goose Girl, etc!

  10. Cathy says:

    Work in technology – yes, I’m a software engineer
    Speak Japanese and lived/studied in Japan – yes, central Japan in the ’90s
    10-year-old son – check here, too!

    I was thinking “The Greenglass House” so agree with Anne on that recommendation. I agree with the previous commenter on “The Wild Robot”, which I read to my children and the loved. It’s more realistic fiction but a strong female protagonist in “The War That Saved My Life”. We listened to that one on audiobook during a summer vacation and it’s frequently recommended on the podcast. My 10-year-old son was recently assigned “Out of My Mind” and seemed to enjoy it about a girl who can’t walk or talk but is smarter than most adults.

    For you, if you haven’t read “Pachinko”, you’ll probably really appreciate it with your background.

    • Cathy…that is super weird! I lived in Nagoya (actually Kasugai) in 1992 and 1993. Are you my doppelgänger? 🙂 Or perhaps I am yours?

      We started Greenglass House after I spoke to Anne and are really enjoying it! We own the Wild Robot and just acquired The War I Finally Won after finishing The War That Saved My Life! We’ll have to add Out of My Mind to the list?

      Thank you so much for including a recommendation for me! I really appreciate it…I don’t know what Pachinko is about but I remember never being able to figure out the Pachinko games in the Pachinko parlors in Japan! Does that have anything to do with why I might like it?

  11. Gretchen S says:

    I read aloud at night with my youngest son until he was in middle school and gently told me it was time to stop. His very favorite book out of all those years was “Framed” by Frank Cottrell Boyce. I loved “Cosmic” by the same author. Both were extremely funny, with interesting things to say about family life — “Cosmic” about dadliness and “Framed” about what makes a child special. Probably the least favorite book was “Where the Red Fern Grows” — too much raccoon hunting.

    • Thank you for the recommendations! I’m slowly preparing myself for Spencer to gently (if I’m lucky!) pull away from our reading together. I just count my blessings that we’ve gotten to do it this long!

  12. Debi Morton says:

    Shannon, I love that you read to your son every night, and just want to encourage you that making it to age 20 may not be an impossible dream. One of my sons who has three children aged 13, and turning 10 & 8 in Jan., reads to each of them individually almost every night. Of course, the 13-year-old is busy so sometimes they punt on a weekend afternoon, if need be, but they both still make the effort to find the time. They just finished the HARRY POTTER series, and it was his daughter who told him what series she wanted to do next, which thrillled his heart. He really never thought he’d still be reading to her at 13, but now he hopes to read to her, and her siblings, on their breaks from college!

    • Katherine says:

      I’ll second the Redwall recommendation!! And I LOVED “Greenglass House” and recommend it all the time! Also, “Watership Down” was a book my 5th grade teacher read aloud to our class. I’m sure she edited/explained a few things for our benefit, but we LOVED it and it remains one of my favorite books. The animal element and slight dystopian feel make it sound right up y’alls alley. It might feel a little slow to start and it is a bit of a time investment (especially as a read aloud), but I love love love it 🙂

  13. Kristin Clark says:

    My seven year old son and I are also big readers, and I loved this episode! I wondered if you had read Woof by Spencer Quinn. We listened to that on audio and read inbetween when we were at home. It has the animal component and also a girl as the main character. It is part of a series too. We also just enjoyed the first of the Molly Moon series – another book with a dog and a girl. I can’t wait to check out some of the titles mentioned in the podcast and also in the comments. Happy reading!

  14. Laura says:

    My daughter and I love reading together (but sadly she’s growing out of it 😢). One of our shared favorites was The Phantom Tollbooth- so entertaining for both kids and adults!

  15. Heather Hale says:

    The Sky Jumpers series by Peggy Eddleman sounds very much like The Fog Diver series. Same dystopian concept at a middle grade understanding. My 11 year old loved them. He also likes most everything Brandon Mull and John Flanagan write.

  16. Shannon, What a special mom you are. I loved this episode and what you shared about you and your son reading together. I’m going to have to check out some of the books you discussed with Anne even though I’m old enough to be a grandmother.

    I hesitate to make recommendations since I don’t have children, but have you and your son read any Madeleine L’Engle? I just reread A WRINKLE IN TIME in preparation for the upcoming movie. That series is wonderful with different Murry children as protagonists in each of the books. They are magical with love being the main theme. The stories also have lots of technical scientific details since both parents are scientists.

    Thanks again for a wonderful episode.

  17. Tiffany says:

    Shannon, I loved this episode; we are totally kindred spirits. I also have a son about the same age as your son, who is a voracious reader on his own and we still read together most nights, too. We’re reading The Greenglass House right now, and I think you’ll love it. My favorite middle grade book I’ve read this year was Wolf Hollow; I didn’t read it with my son, but might read it again with him because I loved it so much. It totally should have won the Newbery, its way better than The Girl Who Drank the Moon. My son had also really enjoyed the Redwall books recently; animals, adventure, and written at a high reading level without being a “kissing book.” Happy reading!

  18. Rita Amer says:

    Hi Shannon,
    Loved hearing about your lovely relationship with your son. It is so sweet to hear about close mother/son relationships.
    I had exactly the same problem you have in that my daughter’s reading level was high and the content of the books was inappropriate, so I wrote a book for her. I’d be happy to send a copy to you c/o Anne. It sounds made for you and your son. I intended it for reading aloud. The characters are animals. It’s a comic thriller where ultimately a mother and son save each other. And it has challenging vocabulary intended to spark conversation AND a very cool artist did illustrations for me. Let me know if you are interested and I’ll send you a copy of The Cat With the Golden Fang.
    Happy Holidays!

  19. I’d been frustrated about trying to keep my TBR list for my son separate from my own TBR…I never know for sure whether a title I added was for me or for him. It just occurred to me tonight that I can create a Goodreads account just for him and put his list there! Problem solved! This way, he’ll inherit a TBR when he gets older.

  20. Lindsey says:

    Hi Shannon,
    When I taught 4th grade, one of the books I read aloud to my students every year was The Wishgiver by Bill Brittain. My classes really enjoyed it. It is about three kids that each buy a wish, and all the unexpected consequences. Your son might also enjoy The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. It’s a fun mystery.

  21. Bethley says:

    Hi Shannon,

    I completely agreed with your feelings about “The Girl Who Drank The Moon”. I think I said the exact same things about the repetitive yet beautiful text and just getting feeling “over it.”
    I have a 4th grade daughter and would second the recommendation of “Out of My Mind.” happy reading!

  22. Selma P. Verde says:

    I recently published a middle grade/young teen read called The Hard Way. It is a coming of age story. It is set in a high school, so it may be a little ahead of where you are at now, but would be a great future read. I will take a look at what you guys are reading and the recommendations Anne made. Sounds like some fun reads. It was a fun podcast to listen to.

  23. Dave Courtney says:

    Loved this podcast.

    We adopted our son from Ukraine 3 years ago. When he came (to Canada) he only knew a few English words, so we spent A LOT of time just reading together. We were told (and we hoped) that simply us reading out loud could go a long way to helping him learn the language. It also reinforced my own love of reading. I wish I had this list three years ago, as the more of the language he learns the less he wants to read unfortunately.

    Is it okay to say that I still checked off nearly every title on my TBR list for myself though? Never too old for these kinds of stories 🙂 They all sounded fantastic!

  24. Heather says:

    This WSIRN episode brought back memories of reading to my son and daughter (grown up and on their own now). I read tons to them, sometimes going back to favourites from my own childhood. I recommend these older books to you and your son: My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara (not at all like the movie by the same name) and Incident at Hawk’s Hill by Allan W. Eckert.

  25. Gale Dupell says:

    The Xanth series by Pier Anthony is worth checking out. Each story involved three different young people/beings that want a key life question answered by wizard Humphrey. To obtain the answer they must do a year of service that often changes wha.

  26. Sharen says:

    Hi, a couple of series are:
    Al Capone books by Gennifer Choldenko are three books told from a young boy’s perspective who lives on Alcatraz where his dad is a guard. They are cute, based partially on actual events that the author details at the end.

    The Peculiar Children books by Ransom Riggs. Lots of action, villains, creative settings, strange powers etc.

    And of course – the Harry Potter books which my kids loved me reading aloud into their later teens!

  27. Molly says:

    After teaching 5th grade for many years, and reading aloud to them, I can tell you some favorites that seem to fit your favorite themes include The Summer of Riley by Eve Bunting (saving the world of one animal), A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (funny and clever with lots of action and strong characters) and classics Watership Down and Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass. You are so lucky to have a boy that loves to read with you!

  28. My recommendation to you isn’t fancy, but it’s been a HIT with every one of my kids, so it must be a winner. I have three kids, ages 12 – 4 and all of them love this series.

    Hank the Cowdog by John R. Erickson

    It’s a series of books told from the perspective of Hank, a self-inflated, well-meaning, not-too-smart-but-thinks-he-is, run of the mill dog. He creates several adventures for himself and has to figure out things the hard way all too often. But, the writing is hilarious and all my kids roll with laughter. It’s told in a way that younger kids pick up on the larger jokes and smarter, older readers pick up on more of the nuances. I highly recommend the audio books, which are also quite funny!

  29. Rachel says:

    The Bailey School Kids were a favourite of mine when I was younger! I also remember reading the Animorph books in around grade 5. I really liked them because there were animals, there was mystery and adventure. And also who wouldn’t also want the superpower of being able to turn into an animal!

  30. Jill W. says:

    I loved this episode. There are so many books I have read with my daughter and with my nephew that are some of my all time favorites. We are big time Kate DiCamillo fans- she is great if you like animals and books with a lot of heart. My favorites are Because of Winn Dixie (the movie is great, too) and Flora & Ulysses. My daughter would say The Tale of Despereaux is her best.
    I also love The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (and every other thing by Neil Gaiman ever), but this is a good one for advanced middle grade readers. NG never talks down to kids.
    My nephew and I really enjoyed the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer. Those are quirky and fun.
    I think The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is generally thought of as a “girl” book, but its quite an adventure and your son would probably love Dickon and his relationship with animals.
    Finally, I recently read and loved The War that Saved My Life and The War I Finally Won, and they were great. So engrossing and it deals with more complex emotional issues for an advanced reader.

  31. Sarah says:

    After listening to this episode I just had to comment. One of the first books I loved was ‘The trumpet of the Swan’ by EB White. The book is about a trumpeter swan who has no voice, so he leaves home to find a way to communicate. It’s funny and whimsical, and of course has an animal protagonist. There is a bit of a love story for the Swan, but it’s not kissing book. I reread it a couple years ago when my daughter was an infant and it definitely held up.

  32. Krista Mercer says:

    If I’m not too late to chime in…I told my 9-year-old daughter about this episode last night, and she immediately wanted to recommend “Mr. and Mrs. Bunny–Detectives Extraordinaire!” by Polly Horvath. It’s a brilliantly funny book about a young girl who discovers she can communicate with rabbits at the same time her parents are kidnapped (by foxes), and she has to work with the rabbit detectives to unravel the mystery. We listened to it on audio and enjoyed it so much that we bought the print edition. Bonus: there’s a sequel!

  33. Hilary says:

    Shannon & Anne- this was such a fun episode! I have a 10 year old and 6 year old and I like to read to them at breakfast. (At night time, i’m usually DONE so we try to get our quality reading time in early 🙂
    I also have a handful of books to recommend.
    The Secret Garden- this is my 6 y.o.’s favorite book. It’s a classic for a reason. T he writing is lovely and the story is captivating.
    The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. This was the Newbery award winner in 1967. You probably read it when you were a kid. A group of kids perform ‘Egyptian rituals’ and perform Egyptian ceremonies and get wrapped up in a real life mystery. It’s a fun read.
    We’re reading The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer- which is a series right now and my fantasy-loving 10 year old LOVES it. A couple of 12 year old twins somehow end up in the Land of Stories (Fairy Tale alternate universe) and they must try to get back to their own home. They have to perform a series of tasks to get magical items to make it happen. These are LONG but good. My only minor complaint is the author sprinkles in questionable languages throughout the books. It’s not everywhere and when you are reading out loud, you can clean it up, but it’s unnecessary.
    Good Luck. This was such a great episode!!

  34. Katie says:

    Such a good list of titles!

    I don’t think anyone has added Wildwood to the list yet. It’s a fun, delightful read. A preteen girl’s baby brother is abducted by a flock of crows, and she goes into the woods after him. A boy from her class follows…
    It reminded me of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe at times, and of the Benedict Society books at other times. I often recommend it for my fantasy-loving students. I also recommend Redwall books but haven’t made a new fan yet… oh well!

    • Katherine says:

      I love recommending Redwall to people! I’m surprised it doesn’t seem as widely known, but it’s so phenomenal! And I feel like it’s accessible to such a wide age range 🙂

  35. Rachel says:

    My twelve year old son just finished The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson. He told me he loved it so much I had to read it. It was good, I found myself bringing it to the dinner table so we could talk about it with the rest of the family. I also think The Ranger’s Apprentice series is a fun read aloud. The Mysterious Benedict Society is one my son and I both enjoyed.

  36. Melanie says:

    I have a 12-year old son and I can second many of the above recommendations as great reads! I wanted to mention the series Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood. Clever, female heroine, children raised by wolves, mysteries and secrets. Loved these! Also Wilderking Trilogy by Jonathan Rogers; Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin; and Fortune’s Magic Farm by Suzanne Selfors. And the My Father’s Dragon trilogy by Ruth Stiles Gannett–quick reads but whimsical adventure. I’ll stop now! 🙂

  37. Michele says:

    A great podcast episode. I loved reading with my children. Adventure and animals and mystery and magic – The Iron Ring by Lloyd Alexander. We loved listening to this book narrated by Ron Keith. My grown kids and I still exclaim, “Send the Monkey!” when we have to do something we really don’t want to deal with.

  38. Andrea Wells says:

    I’m a little late here, but I have to say this episode was one of my favorites!

    Now I need to know how to get my 17 year old son hooked BACK on reading. He loved Mysterious Benedict Society when he was a middle grade kid. He has a hard time now finding books he enjoys. Any suggestions?

    • Jill W. says:

      Did he read the Chronicles of Narnia when he was a kid? If not, its never too late- they are great! If he did and liked them, then I would recommend The Magicians by Lev Grossman and the two sequels that follow it.

      He might also enjoy The Rook by Daniel O’Malley- action-packed book about a secret agency of people in England- it really hooks you in from the beginning and there is a bit of a puzzle to figure out. If he likes it, bonus, it’s a series– Stiletto, the second installment is good, too. I believe there are more to come.

      The Themis Files books (Sleeping Giants and the sequels) by Sylvain Neuvel are very compelling (the story begins when a gigantic metal hand (made of no substance that exists on Earth) is found in a pit). Its told though journals, logs, and interviews, and you have to puzzle out what is going on as the story unfolds. Anne has mentioned those on the podcast.

      Good luck!

      • Andrea Wells says:

        Thank you so much, Jill W! Yes, he did read the Narnia books when he was younger and liked them then. I wish he would reread them! The others you mentioned sound great and are new to me. I will check them out!

  39. Jeff C says:

    sorry if these have already been mentioned, and I can’t even remember if I read these 30+ years ago or if a friend did, but these immediately came to mind: _Tailchaser’s Song_ by Tad Williams and the _Redwall_ series by Brian Jacques.

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