About Susan Benton
Susan Benton

How many teachers do you know who are also motorcycle mamas? I’ve zig-zagged across the U.S. on the back of my husband’s motorcycle. It’s called riding “two-up” and is a great way to explore the country. You can read some of my published travel articles by clicking the ARTICLES button on any page.

Motorcycling is exhilarating, but it’s not my first love. My first love is reading. I remember the day I learned to read. There, in first grade, I sat stiffly in my reading group circle, on a hard wooden chair. (I didn't really have those glasses you see in the picture below.) I took a deep breath. I swallowed. My heartbeat echoed in my ears. The book trembled in my hands. But without stopping to sound out or ponder a word, I read one complete sentence of Dick and Jane!!

Baby Sue Sue's Mom & Dad

Learning to read launched me on a lifetime love of books. I soaked up new vocabulary. I enjoyed the wackity-smackity words of Dr. Seuss rolling across my tongue. And I marveled at the people who could string them together, page after page, to write an entire book. Then, when I was nine years old we got a home set of encyclopedias. (Thanks Mom and Dad!) You don’t know what encyclopedias were? Well, they were an A-Z set of reference books on about every subject, kind of like the Internet in book form. In the D Volume, color photos of every dog breed simply hypnotized me. I memorized them all. Today, I scour the Internet just like I did those encyclopedias.

Encyclopedia

Somewhere along the way, I decided I wanted to be the one to turn those words into sentences, into paragraphs, into pages, into books. I’ve written three fiction picture books, one nonfiction picture book, and one middle grade nonfiction. I did research on that middle grade book for two years and even traveled to England to search at maritime museums! I am currently working on drafts of two more nonfiction books.

I live with my husband and two cuddly cats in Iowa City, Iowa. We have two smart and thoughtful grown children and two brilliant and funny grandchildren. Read on for lists of some of my all-time favorite books.

Bandit Tiara Cats

Favorite Picture Books

1. The Lorax

The Lorax

When Dr. Seuss gets serious, you know it must be important. Published in 1971, and perhaps inspired by the "save our planet" mindset of the 1960s, The Lorax is an ecological warning that still rings true today amidst the dangers of clear-cutting, pollution, and disregard for the earth's environment. In The Lorax, we find what we've come to expect from the illustrious doctor: brilliantly whimsical rhymes, delightfully original creatures, and weirdly undulating illustrations. But here there is also something more--a powerful message that Seuss implores both adults and children to heed.

2. The Sneetches

The Sneetches

This classic collection of stories by Dr. Seuss includes "The Sneetches," "The Zax," "Too Many Daves," and "What Was I Scared Of?" Beloved by generations, these four wildly whimsical tales touch on moral issues, and while they can be read for sheer pleasure, they are also ideal for sparking conversations about tolerance, the need for compromise, and fear of the unknown. Perfect for young Seuss fans, this is a book that can be enjoyed by the whole family on many different levels.

3. Tikki-Tikki-Tembo

Tikki-Tikki-Tembo

Three decades and more than one million copies later, children still love hearing about the boy with the long name who fell down the well. Arlene Mosel and Blair Lent's classic re-creation of an ancient Chinese folktale has hooked legions of children, teachers, and parents, who return, generation after generation, to learn about the danger of having such an honorable name as Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo.

4. Won’t you be My Kissaroo?

The Kissaroo

There are lots of different kinds of kisses--from sticky breakfast kisses to playful "gotcha!" kisses to special birthday cake kisses--and this charming story celebrates them all! This much-loved picture book that celebrates all the kissable moments between little ones and their grown-ups is now available as a mailable book. Joanne Ryder's playful rhymes pair perfectly with Caldecott Honor winner Melissa Sweet's whimsical illustrations, making this just the right thing to pop in the mail for Valentine's Day, a birthday, or any sweet celebration.

5. Z is for Moose

The Moose

This laugh-out-loud romp of an abecedary features an impatient moose who just can’t wait for his turn. There is something intrinsically funny about moose (the art has a Bullwinkle feel), and this overenthusiastic one prematurely pops up onstage at D, wearing a proud grin, with hapless Duck having been pushed out of the way. Zebra (sporting a referee’s black-striped shirt) leaps out from the corner, shouting, “Moose? No. Moose does not start with D. You are on the wrong page.” Moose then wanders onto Elephant’s page, Fox and Glove are forced to share a stage, and then Moose’s irrepressibly excited mug plops down from the ceiling, obscuring Hat: “Is it my turn yet?” Basically, he is like an antsy kid anticipating his big star turn at M, only to be heartbroken when Mouse is given that letter’s starring role. Zebra, though frustrated, is not deaf to Moose’s offstage sobbing (look to the title for his resolution to the problem). Ideal for kids who are past struggling to learn the alphabet and who will fully get the humor in Moose’s goofy antics.

Favorite MG/YA Books

1. Woodsong

Woodsong

Woodsong is divided into two parts. In the first part, "Running," Paulsen relates anecdote after anecdote about how his dogs and the frozen, wintery adventures he has had while sledding have taught him to be more human. The anecdotes run the gamut from hilarious to tragic, and truly sing with the wonder, violence and grace of the woods. The second part, "Racing," the pell-mell story of Paulsen's first Iditarod--a sled race across the Alaskan wilderness from downtown Anchorage to downtown Nome--burns with feverish intensity as one grueling day follows another. Like Paulsen's novels, Woodsong blends deep introspection with fast-paced action and succeeds admirably on both levels.

2. Bridge to Terabithia

Bridge to Terabithia

Jess Aarons has been practicing all summer so he can be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. And he almost is, until the new girl in school, Leslie Burke, outpaces him. The two become fast friends and spend most days in the woods behind Leslie's house, where they invent an enchanted land called Terabithia. One morning, Leslie goes to Terabithia without Jess and a tragedy occurs. It will take the love of his family and the strength that Leslie has given him for Jess to be able to deal with his grief.

3. Wonder

Wonder

Wonder is a rare gem of a novel-beautifully written and populated by characters who linger in your memory and heart. August Pullman is a 10-year-old boy who likes Star Wars and Xbox, ordinary except for his jarring facial anomalies. Homeschooled all his life, August heads to public school for fifth grade and he is not the only one changed by the experience-something we learn about first-hand through the narratives of those who orbit his world. August’s internal dialogue and interactions with students and family ring true, and though remarkably courageous he comes across as a sweet, funny boy who wants the same things others want: friendship, understanding, and the freedom to be himself. “It is only with one’s heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

4. Amelia Lost

Amelia Lost

Drawing on her training as a historian and her considerable writing talents, Fleming (The Great and Only Barnum, 2009) offers a fresh look at this famous aviatrix. Employing dual narratives—straightforward biographical chapters alternating with a chilling recounting of Earhart’s final flight and the search that followed—Fleming seeks to uncover the “history in the hype,” pointing out numerous examples in which Earhart took an active role in mythologizing her own life. While not disparaging Earhart’s achievements, Fleming cites primary sources revealing that Earhart often flew without adequate preparation and that she and her husband, George Putnam, used every opportunity to promote her celebrity, including soliciting funds from sponsors. The use of a gray-tone background for the disappearance chapters successfully differentiates the narratives for younger readers. Frequent sidebars, well-chosen maps, archival documents, and photos further clarify textual references without disturbing the overall narrative flow. Appended with a generous bibliography and detailed source notes, this is a book most libraries will want both for its fascinating story and as an illustration of how research can alter historical perspective.

5. The Fault in our Stars

The Fault Of Our Stars

In The Fault in Our Stars, John Green has created a soulful novel that tackles big subjects--life, death, love--with the perfect blend of levity and heart-swelling emotion. Hazel is sixteen, with terminal cancer, when she meets Augustus at her kids-with-cancer support group. The two are kindred spirits, sharing an irreverent sense of humor and immense charm, and watching them fall in love even as they face universal questions of the human condition--How will I be remembered? Does my life, and will my death, have meaning?--has a raw honesty that is deeply moving.