10 Books I Gave a Chance (And the Lessons I Learned From Them) by Holly Kregel

Sometimes, I just don’t want to read a certain book; it seems simple enough to avoid them, really. No, I don’t think so. Thanks though… And most of the time, the reasons are silly: I don’t like that cover or everyone is reading THAT. I’ve been avoiding some of these texts for close to a decade, but for a variety of reasons (friend’s recommendations, class requirements, etc.), I’ve recently given some of these books I originally skirted away from a second chance. And to my surprise, most of them have been pretty good! My top ten “second chancers” are as follows:

1) Al Capone Does my Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

This story follows Moose, an all-American, baseball-loving boy who moves with his family to Alcatraz Island for his father’s job. Moose tries to make new friends and stay out of trouble on the island, both of which are complicated by the presence of his autistic sister, Nat. My heart bursts with pride as Moose spends time with his sister and transforms into an understanding, protective, and proud (younger) big brother.


2) The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Milo, a child who doesn’t like doing much of anything, gets taken on an adventure where he has to do what he hates the most: lots and lots of thinking! It’s hard not to laugh as Milo encounters this land of puns and word play where it’s all too easy to jump to (the island of) conclusions or eat subtraction stew and find oneself hungrier than before. Milo has to learn to think logically to make his way through the Kingdom of Wisdom to save Rhyme and Reason and to restore peace to the kingdom. The brilliant wordplay in the story never ceases to amaze me!


3) Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Raina’s 6th grade year is significantly altered when a trip across the yard results in the injury of her two front teeth. This graphic novel follows her dental journey, teeming with embarrassing braces, fake teeth, and headgear. Meanwhile, Raina is also facing all the debacles of middle school: mean friends, crushes, schoolwork, and teasing. Through it all, Raina has to learn how to get her smile back. Smile taught me that I needed to rethink my opinions about graphic novels.


4) Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes

18 high school students in an urban school. 18 different sets of circumstances. 18 people who feel like no one understands. These young adults use Open-Mic Poetry Fridays in Mr. Ward’s class to find their voices, until 18 different students become one class, friends who understand each other and themselves in a way they never knew was possible. I appreciate how the author manages to write both prose and poetry with 18 different and authentic narrative voices.


5) Graceling by Kristin Shore

Katsa, a young girl with the Grace of killing, longs to leave her kingdom and the authority of her uncle, King Randa, who uses her skills as punishment for disobedient townspeople. Katsa gets her chance when she meets Po, a Grace who gives her enough courage to leave with him. Together, they go on an adventure to find Po’s uncle, and they happen to find a lot more on the way. This has become my favorite novel as of late!


6) Flight by Sherman Alexie

Zits is about to shoot up a bank, or so he thinks. Instead, Zits is sent through time, thrown into bodies of FBI agents, a young Native American child, a pilot, and many others. Zits travels through American history to situations in which violence is someone’s answer for the problem at hand. With each encounter, Zits begins to understand the senselessness of using violence in solving his problems with race relations, his anger at his father, or his struggle to find identity. Alexie takes a character I hate on page 1 and makes me cry for him by the end.


7) The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan and Peter Sís

Neftalí is a dreamer in a world in which dreams are insignificant; his parents want him to grow up, but he wants to continue to live in his curious world of words and stories. Neftali realizes that in order to reach his dreams, he has to set out on his own and explore himself.

Unhindered, Neftali grows up to become Pablo Neruda, and he changes the world as one of the most influential poets in history.


8) Alt Ed by Catherine Atkins

What do the overweight girl, the only openly gay guy at the school, the nice-guy football player, the Christian cheerleader, the bully, and the hard-core chick have in common? All of them could be expelled, unless they attend Mr. Duffy’s group therapy together. Six peers face off in a game of Truths, as they explore stereotypes and social acceptance in ways that take each character out of their comfort zones. These high school characters came alive to me in a way I haven’t seen in a long while; they blossomed into authentic young adults before my eyes.


9) Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Katniss Everdeen has always been a survivor: in her hometown, District 12, she has broken rules and has done whatever is necessary to provide for her family and to get ahead. Now, Katniss has to use those skills to save her life. Thrown into an arena with 23 other children, Katniss has to decide whether her holding to ethical stance against killing others is worth her own death and whether standing up against a corrupt government is right, no matter what the cost. This book was so riveting, I had to go buy the other two immediately afterward.

10) The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

Macy is all about order; she has filled her summer with unexciting chances to “get ahead”: a job at the library, a smart boyfriend, and piling stacks of SAT prep cards. She doesn’t realize the tediousness of her own existence until she meets the Wish Catering Company—exuberant, passionate people working in a state of disorder she finds oddly comforting. Macy makes friends with these people and begins to realize that the life she led wasn’t really living at all… Dessen’s ability to create female protagonists devoid of overdone-high school drama makes her stories new and inviting!


It is through these books, I’ve begun to understand why I avoid certain books as well as the dangers of doing so. Somewhere along the way, I forgot my librarian’s advice and fell into the dangerous habit of prejudging books. But fit is through these “second chancers”  that I’ve learned (over and over) that:


~ I can miss so much by judging a book by its cover.

~I cannot dismiss genres without trying them.

~I should give a book some time to catch my attention.

~It’s not always a bad thing to jump on the bandwagon and read what everyone is raving about.

But most of all, I’ve learned that every book I look at and make an excuse against is just another potential second chancer; and that is what keeps me picking ‘em up!


Holly Kregel is a children’s literature enthusiast and writer from Michigan. You can find her on Twitter as @HKregel.