Tag Archives: books for boys

Themed Third Throwback Thursday: 1980-1989

The 1980s were my childhood decade. I went from infant to tween in the space of those ten years, and it seems obvious that the books of the decade would stick with me since I was both an early and indiscriminate reader.

[1980-to-1989-book-list]

Here’s a sampling of the historical events of which I was probably completely unaware while I was being a child:

1980–Pac-Man video game released
1981–First woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court (Sandra Day O’Connor, who spoke at my university years later!)
1982–E.T. released
1983–Cabbage Patch Kids popular (now this I remember!)
1985–Titanic wreckage found
1986–Chernobyl disaster
1989–Berlin Wall falls, World Wide Web invented

Newbery medalists of the decade include a number that I remember reading (but not all), and the honor books (some of which I’ll address later in the post) were also standard fare:

1980–A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl’s Journal, 1830-1832, by Joan W. Blos
1981–Jacob Have I Loved, by Katherine Paterson
1982–A Visit to William Blake’s Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers, by Nancy Willard
1983–Dicey’s Song, by Cynthia Voight
1984–Dear Mr. Henshaw, by Beverly Cleary
1985–The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley
1986–Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan
1987–The Whipping Boy, by Sid Fleischman
1988–Lincoln: A Photobiography, by Russell Freedman
1989–Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, by Paul Fleischman

Caldecott medalists, including some of my most remembered illustrators (like Trina Schart Hyman, Stephen Gammell (whose more recent work I didn’t connect to these books), and Chris Van Allsburg):

1980–Ox-Cart Man, by Donald Hall, illustrated by Barbara Cooney
1981–Fables, by Arnold Lobel
1982–Jumanji, by Chris Van Allsburg
1983–Shadow, translated and illustrated by Marcia Brown (French text by Blaise Cendrars)
1984–The Glorious Flight: Across the Channel with Louis Bleriot, by Alice and Martin Provensen
1985–Saint George and the Dragon, retold by Margaret Hodges, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
1986–The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg
1987–Hey, Al, by Arthur Yorinks, illustrated by Richard Egielski
1988–Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr
1989–Song and Dance Man, by Karen Ackerman, illustrated by Stephen Gammell

While a number of the above titles have stood the test of time, my personal favorites will show up again in the reviews below!

Richard Scarry's Best Word Book EverRichard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever: New Revised Edition, by Richard Scarry (1980): Okay, I know that this was not published originally in the 1980s, but it was such a giant in my vocabulary development as a wee lass that I had to include it! My brother, born in the previous decade, had the 1963 version for his edification, but I learned about the bear twins’ clothing, shapes and colors, and parts of the body with a few more females in male-dominated fields and a few more gender-neutral job titles (fire fighter as opposed to fireman, for example). Love, love, love this book. My mom made sure to get each of her sets of grandchildren a copy so they, too, could examine each page diligently as they grew!

Fables, by Arnold Lobel Fables(1980): This book of one-page original fables was a favorite of mine as a child. I’m not sure where I got my paperback copy–either a book fair or a RIF (Reading Is Fundamental) give-away, I think–but I treasured it! It was a Caldecott Medal winner, and each fable has a large, detailed illustration to go with it. Each fable comes with its own explicitly stated moral, such as “Satisfaction will come to those who please themselves” and “Advice from friends is like the weather. Some of it is good; some of it is bad.” It would be a great mentor text for writing stories with a moral (or even just a message), and I might suggest covering the morals up, reading the fables aloud, and letting the class brainstorm what each moral might be. Because the animal characters are so silly, the fact that there is a message to each one won’t ruin the fun!

If You Give a Mouse a CookieIf You Give a Mouse a Cookie, by Laura Numeroff, illustrated by Felicia Bond (1985): I apparently missed this as a kid, but the Kohl’s Cares reprints and accompanying toys were a big hit with my children when they were smaller! (In fact, this particular title was the one we didn’t own, and BoyChild–age 5–discovered how much he loves it when he found it sitting with our library books and made GirlChild read it to him!) It’s a cause-and-effect story that has just enough silliness to disguise the fact that it is a great literacy learning tool!

Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan Sarah, Plain and Tall (30th anniversary edition)(1985): This Newbery Medal book tells the story of a father and his children who are hoping that the father’s advertisement for a wife will bring songs back to their home and hearts. Sarah from Maine answers the letter and comes to the plains for a trial period. Anna and Caleb hope that Sarah, who describes herself as plain and tall, will learn to love their home and stop missing the sea. When she goes into town alone one day, the children are worried that she has decided against staying and is buying a train ticket home to Maine. However, Sarah returns with special gifts and tells them that although she misses the sea, she would miss them more. The book is a fast, simple read and would be a good choice for historical fiction for middle grade readers starting around third grade. I’m going to give it to GirlChild to try! (The book flap says the story is based on “a true event in [the author’s] family history”–always a great way to get story ideas!)

The Whipping Boy (updated cover)The Whipping Boy, by Sid Fleischman (1986): Our cat, a kitten we rescued from the storm sewer on our street, was named Jemmy after this book; it’s one of those that my mom read aloud to us in that memorable way (where she used different voices for different characters but didn’t even realize it) that made the book come alive! An orphan named Jemmy catches rats in the sewer to earn money. He is snatched from the streets to live in the castle as the whipping boy for Prince Brat (not his given name). When the prince tires of Jemmy’s stoic response to whippings and his father’s lack of attention, he makes Jemmy help him run away. There is a circus bear, a pair of kidnapping highwaymen, and a chase through a city sewer–all the ridiculousness and excitement a middle grade student needs! This historical fiction book (quite possibly more popular with boys but obviously something I quite enjoyed!) won the Newbery Medal.

Howl’s Moving Castle, by Dianna Wynne Jones Howl's Moving Castle(1986): I have to admit that I checked this book out and still didn’t get a chance to read it! So many of my fantasy-loving friends have mentioned it, however, that when I discovered it had been published in the ’80s, I had to include it. I have read another of her fantasy titles for young adults, The Dark Lord of Derkholm (which is not quite as dark as the title might imply!), and Wikipedia (that monolith of solid information!) says that she has been compared to Robin McKinley and Neil Gaiman, both authors whose books I have loved (although I can’t read Coraline and look at the illustrations at all!), so I am going to keep my borrowed copy of this book until I actually get it read! It was made into a movie in 2004, so we’ll see if I have to look that up, too, after I’ve finished!

Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters (updated cover)Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale, by John Steptoe (1987): Steptoe retells a folktale first recorded in published form in 1895. The moral points out that being kind and caring is more important than being beautiful (and reaps better rewards), but the illustrations that earned it a Caldecott Honor are worth the purchase price of the book even without the story! Another positive aspect of the book is that the author clearly did research, not only citing the first printed version of the story that inspired his book but also the origins of the names he chose, the inspiration for the scenery in the illustrations, and the people (and related institutions) that assisted him in his research. Additionally, unlike many books where there is a king seeking a bride, there is actual mutual consent and respect shown between the king and the woman he asks (not just chooses!) to be his bride. Definitely a lasting title great for any home, school, or classroom library!

Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen Hatchet (updated cover)(1987): When I discovered many years ago that my husband had never read this Newbery Honor book, I actually read it aloud to him while we traveled! It’s the kind of book I can’t believe a boy in the ’80s would have missed! So many things from the book still linger with me, and the survivalism depicted–both his physical survival and emotional survival–could be empowering to modern readers as well. I’m sure some of the aspects of the story haven’t aged well–Brian would have had a cell phone handy, for one thing, although he might not have gotten a signal in the woods!–but the overall themes and internal struggles still ring true. Gary Paulsen is a master of realistic survival stories (and has lived a rather adventurous life to get the credibility and experience needed to do them real justice), and this is a classic. I think the youngest reader I’d suggest would be probably fifth grade, but the protagonist is thirteen, and there is real meat to the story, so middle and high school readers are likely to get the most out of it.

The MittenThe Mitten, by Jan Brett (1989): I’ve blogged about Jan Brett’s books before, and part of it is because she has just written so very many! The exquisite detail in her illustrations, her lifelike but anthropomorphic animal characters, and her gravitation toward snowy scenes and retellings of traditional tales make her the quintessential author for a primary school library. Because of the way part of the story is told in words and part in pictures, (particularly the images featured around the borders of each page, in this case made to look like decorations pinned to a birch bark panel), readers get several layers of story when the story is read versus when they are able to spend time examining the illustrations. Another great thing about Ms. Brett is that her website contains links for pages to color among other things! The Mitten–the story of how a variety of cold animals squeeze into one lost mitten–is one of her most well-known and loved books.

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, True Story of the Three Little Pigsby A. Wolf, as told to Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith (1989): I’m not sure if I’ve said this before (I’ve said this before), but I love Jon Scieszka! While my first introduction to his work was The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, this book was actually his first picture book! Fractured fairy tales are a genre I have always enjoyed, and this title is a great example. In it, Al Wolf (from his prison cell) defends himself against the claims that he cold-heartedly ate the first two little pigs when what he really did was have a sneezing fit while trying to ask to borrow a cup of sugar to make his granny’s birthday cake (and then eat the pigs when their homes fell down so as not to let them go to waste!). He has been framed! Like much of Scieszka’s work, young readers will need to have somewhat sophisticated reading skills to really get the story independently, but these books are also great to share and discuss with kids (and then let them explore them alone to see the nuances and clever details that might be missed in a first read-through)–great for discussing inference, voice, and point-of-view!

Number the StarsNumber the Stars, by Lois Lowry (1989): Set in Denmark in 1943, this Newbery Medal book tells how a young Danish girl helps her Jewish friend during the Nazi occupation of her country. The family’s determination, inventiveness, and bravery in spite of reasonable fear are clear throughout, and I know that my mother has used this book as a literature supplement to her history lessons in her sixth grade classroom. (Another World War II historical fiction book I can suggest for upper elementary and middle school aged readers would be Michael Morpurgo’s Waiting for Anya (1990).)

I obviously have quite a few favorites from the decade, and the bloggers over at What Do We Do All Day? had a list with even more forgotten favorites on it! (My kids just finished listening to the Wayside School books on audiobook during our summer travels this year!) I do notice a few common threads on both our lists: silly/slapstick, folktales, and historical fiction. I don’t know whether these things were just en vogue at that time and really dominated children’s literature or if we bloggers just have similar taste in our ’80s books!

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BoyChild Chooses: The 12 Reviews of Christmas, Day 12–McDuff’s Christmas

McDuff's Christmas

McDuff’s Christmas, by Rosemary Wells, illustrated by Susan Jeffers (2001)
(previously published as McDuff’s New Friend, 1998)

I’m not a huge fan of Rosemary Wells, but I gave BoyChild free reign on the shelf of Christmas books at the library, and this was one he grabbed for himself (not realizing that the author was also responsible for all the Max and Ruby books we have in our personal library). I do like Susan Jeffers’ work, though, and I was pleasantly surprised by this book (one of several in a series).

McDuff is a West Highland terrier (better known as a Westie) who lives with Fred, Lucy, and the baby. He, Fred, and Lucy are waiting impatiently for Santa to come, concerned that the storm will stop his visit. They all go to bed, but McDuff is woken in the night by a thump. He woofs and wakes up Fred and Lucy, and Fred has to dig him a tunnel to let him outside. McDuff finds nothing and comes back in. This happens a second and a third time, and the third time, McDuff tunnels himself to the garage where the family finds Santa rummaging around for their snow shovel to free his stuck sleigh! Fred and McDuff help Santa dig free while Lucy prepares soup and sandwiches for them. After Santa leaves to finish his duties, they find things in their stockings that are just what they want or need, and McDuff finds a new friend–a tiny black kitten (in a box, not his stocking)! After they open their gifts from Santa, they all fall asleep until Christmas afternoon!

Susan Jeffers’ art is always a blend of realistic and whimsical elements. Swirling snow, glowing bulbs, intricately patterned clothing…the details are soft, the colors bright and welcoming. The perspective changes throughout the pages, sometimes looking down at the scene from above, sometimes from dog level, sometimes with a split frame, sometimes as a two-page spread. McDuff himself sometimes looks more dog-like, and sometimes he has an almost human look to his eyes. From the candy-cane laden bathrobes the adults wear to the windmill pattern on the wallpaper border to the three different sweaters McDuff wears, there is texture and detail to delight the most dedicated of picture-viewing readers. (My personal favorite image is the two-page spread looking down on the brightly lit house in its snow-covered yard.)

This is the kind of book for very young readers and listeners that a parent can read and get a little chuckle, too. From the extremely festive way Fred and Lucy dress (and dress McDuff!) to the humorous exchange between Fred who is feeding the baby (“The baby is full.”) and Lucy who is taking McDuff out for a “walk” (“McDuff is empty.”), there are some things that little readers might not notice but that provide a little comic relief for the adult reader. (I just noticed on another read-through that the text says that Lucy had soup and sandwiches ready, but the table is displaying a large ham, a layered jelly, cookies, pudding, pecan balls, and what appears to be a croquembouche.) BoyChild may not have caught all the visual details the first time through (although I clued him in on the full/empty joke’s meaning), he was able to answer logically when I asked why the family slept all the way until Christmas afternoon–because McDuff kept barking and waking them up all night! I’ve not read the other books in the series, but it might be worth finding for a little BoyChild who loves dogs and all things silly!

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BoyChild Chooses: The 12 Reviews of Christmas, Day 5–Dinosaur vs. Santa

Dinosaur vs. Santa

Dinosaur vs. Santa, by Bob Shea (2012)

Don’t read this book aloud if you happen to have a throat tickle…all the roaring will put you into a terrible coughing fit! BoyChild was super excited to see a dinosaur book in the stack of Christmas books I brought home from my most recent solo venture to the library, so this was, of course, his next selection!

Dinosaur is getting ready for Santa, and he approaches each activity with his usual roaring zeal! Writing a letter to Santa, decorating the tree, making presents for his parents, and…being extra good? (That one’s hard for Dinosaur, but he WINS AGAIN!) Falling asleep on Christmas Eve is hard for Dinosaur, too, and he does all the usual stalling techniques. He then does something “no dinosaur should ever do”…when he hears a jingling noise, he sneaks downstairs and sees Santa’s shadow on the wall! He rushes upstairs again and frets that Santa has seen him and will return his presents…and he drifts off to sleep. When he wakes up, he wins again because the train set he wished for is under the tree, and Christmas morning is a success.

I have read several Dinosaur vs. books, and it took me all this time to actually get that the main character isn’t really a dinosaur. I don’t think. The last illustration in this book is what clued me in. While Dinosaur has pranced through the pages in a variety of so-called ugly Christmas sweaters (I wore those before they were cool! 😉 ), he has always looked like the same little, red dinosaur. His bathrobe-clad parents, however, as viewed from about the waist down, appear to be wearing slippers (which BoyChild thought were gingerbread men feet) and pajamas, and the hand you can see holding the gift from Dinosaur to one of his parents appears to be a human hand (although an odd pale green color) with human fingernails. So, not unlike many little children BoyChild’s age, this “Dinosaur” is actually just playing dinosaur all the time as opposed to being an anthropomorphic dinosaur like I had supposed him to be! I would once again say that the illustrations have collage elements, but here are Mr. Shea’s own words regarding his medium on his most recent book: “Lots of different things. Right now I am cutting shapes out of black paper. Usually I draw with black ink on watercolor paper. Sometimes I scan in textures and work with those. I put it all together in the computer stripping it of any legitimacy.” (I really think I want to start following his website…or maybe visit the online cards and prints shop he and his wife created!) The simple design still conveys a variety of emotions and actions, and the stylized and decorative fonts are as much a part of the illustrations as the little guy is.

The zest for life that the titular Dinosaur shows is so much fun to portray in a read-aloud! You just can’t read it to a little dino lover without a lot of growling, vocal stomping, and ROOOOOOOARS! BoyChild likes to choose these books when I’m just getting over being sick; he apparently feels that my coughing adds something to the story. 😉 This is most definitely a good book for preschool and early elementary aged dinosaur lovers, particularly fans of the other books in this series, like Dinosaur vs. the Potty and Dinosaur vs. the Library!

 

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Themed Third Thursday: Dolls and Toyland

Yes, yes, I know the real phrase. However, I mean to say that this post is all about dolls and toys with lives of their own! One of my best-loved books as an elementary reader was When the Dolls Woke. It was a little scary, but not Wait Till Helen Comes scary, so that was good for me. These books aren’t like that–well, these books aren’t all like that! Some are silly or sweet, some are thought-provoking, and some are a little bit creepy. Or a lot creepy. Take your pick!

[Dolls and Toyland book list (alphabetical order by author, suggested interest levels included)]

Corduroy, by Don FreemanCorduroy, by Don Freeman (1968, preschool to early elementary): Corduroy is a toy on the shelf in a big department store, and he has been overlooked for a long time. When a little girl asks to get him and her mother says no because he’s missing a button, Corduroy decides to go in search of his missing button after the store closes for the night. He makes discoveries along the way (“Could this be a mountain?” [on the escalator] “I think I’ve always wanted to climb a mountain!”), but when he pulls a button off a mattress, he knocks over a lamp and gets the attention of the night guard who brings him back downstairs to the toy shop (not realizing Corduroy is the one who made the noise). The next morning, the little girl, Lisa, returns and buys Corduroy with her own money, and she brings him home to her bedroom. When she sews on a new button because she thinks he’ll be more comfortable that way, Corduroy says that he has always wanted a friend, and Lisa responds as though she has heard him speak aloud and gives him a hug.

The Lonely Doll, The Lonely Dollstory and photographs by Dare Wright (1957, preschool to early elementary): This is not the earliest example of a living doll story I found, but it is unique in that it is a picture book illustrated with photographs of posed toys and with no toy owners a part of the story at all. (They are half-implied in that the doll tries on adult-sized high heels and puts on lipstick she finds, but the doll is lonely and has no one to play with until Mr. Bear and Little Bear show up at her door one day, so it seems as though there is no child at least–and no worries about being caught by any human.) Some of the contents haven’t aged particularly well, but it is the kind of story a modern child could use as a mentor text to create his or her own photograph-illustrated story about what toys do when they’re alone.

Hooray for Amanda and Her Alligator!, by Mo WillemsHooray for Amanda and her Alligator!, words and pictures by Mo Willems (2011, preschool to early elementary): Amanda’s alligator doesn’t like waiting for Amanda to get home when she leaves him. He frets and fusses and hopes she’ll bring him a surprise. Like most Mo Willems books, this one has a lot of silliness and a bit of the unexpected. The alligator seems to be fully living, and the stuffed panda at the end is as well (although she doesn’t look like it when she first arrives). The alligator is kind of suspicious of the panda at first, jealous of her newness and not-sale-bin qualities (the alligator was on clearance), but when they are both left behind, the panda reveals she is not good at waiting either, and they enjoy each other’s company doing all the silly things the alligator is always waiting and wanting to do with Amanda but doesn’t always get the chance.

Babushka’s Doll, by Patricia PolaccoBabushka's Doll, by Patricia Polacco (1990, early elementary): Natasha isn’t a naughty little girl, exactly, but she is rather pushy and demanding. If she wants something from her grandmother, she wants it now, and she doesn’t see why Babushka won’t drop everything she’s doing to do it. Babushka decides it is time for Natasha to play with her old doll, the doll she played with just once, and leaves Natasha with the doll while she goes to get groceries. As soon as Babushka leaves, the doll comes to life and starts giving poor Natasha a taste of her own medicine. At first, Natasha is thrilled to play with a living doll, but she is soon worn out by the persistence and insistence of the little doll. By the time Babushka returns, Natasha is exhausted to the point of tears, and insists once was enough to play with the doll. When Babushka puts the doll away again, the doll winks at her before becoming just a doll again, and Babushka’s mission is complete.

The Velveteen RabbitThe Velveteen Rabbit, by Marjery Williams, illustrated by William Nicholson (1958, early elementary): Because of this story, I spent a good portion of my childhood afraid that my parents were going to torch all my belongings every time I got sick! (I had an over-active imagination and a whole lot of hypochondria…) In it, a simple stuffed rabbit longs to become Real: “Real isn’t how you are made. It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.” When the boy loses his usual sleeping companion toy, his nurse gives him his old rabbit, and soon they are inseparable, and the velveteen rabbit becomes what he knows as Real. On one excursion, the velveteen rabbit meets two living rabbits, and they want him to play, but he can’t. Now, however, he dearly wants to do the things they talk about doing–play and hop and dance–but he is content to stay with the boy who loves him. When the boy becomes sick with scarlet fever, the velveteen rabbit is there to comfort and encourage him, but once he recovers, the doctor orders that all the toys and books must be burned to get rid of the germs, so the rabbit is put out with the other rubbish. He mourns the unfairness of becoming Real only to end up in this situation, and a tear falls to the ground. From it grows a blossom, and from the blossom comes a fairy–the nursery magic fairy. She tells him that her job is to take the toys that have been loved and make them Real, really Real to everyone, not just the child who loves them, and she takes the velveteen rabbit to the forest to be Real. He meets the boy again in the spring while he is with the other rabbits, and while the boy is reminded of his old, beloved bunny, he never realizes that is really the rabbit he is seeing.

Toys Go Out: Being the Adventures Toys Go Outof a Knowledgeable Stingray, a Toughy Little Buffalo, and Someone Called Plastic, by Emily Jenkins, pictures by Paul O. Zelinsky (2006, elementary): GirlChild found this amusing–her favorite character is Plastic, a rubber ball–but I think that the audience range is pretty wide, particularly if it is used as a read-aloud to a younger group (who might not realize how funny melodramatic StingRay is or how practical under-appreciated Plastic is) and for independent chuckles for older readers. The toys interact with one another and with other household objects (the bathroom towels, the washer and dryer), and their peculiar worldview makes even the most ordinary event extraordinary! GirlChild also read the sequels, Toys Come Home and Toy Dance Party, on the plane and in the car when we were on vacation.

The Doll PeopleThe Doll People, by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin, pictures by Brian Selznick (2000, elementary): Annabelle, a 100-year-old 8-year-old china doll, is more restless than usual ever since stumbling upon her missing Auntie Sarah’s hidden journal. Gone for almost half a century, Auntie Sarah recorded things that she never could have seen from inside the dollhouse, and Annabelle starts to have questions–questions the adults in the house don’t really want to answer. When a new doll family moves into the human house (a gift for the younger daughter to keep her from rough-housing with the antique dolls her older sister owns), their carefree, modern ways are just the incentive Annabelle needs to spur her to action (with the help of Tiffany, her plastic counterpart in the other family). The rest of her family is more reluctant, but it’s going to take more than just the two girls to save Auntie Sarah from being lost forever! The endpapers mimic the different ads that would have been contemporary for each dollhouse purchase, highlighting the differences between the two doll families. The first of several in a series.

The Very Little Princess, The Very Little Princess, by Marion Dane Bauerby Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Elizabeth Sayles (2010, elementary): This was not the cute, silly story I expected from the cover and jacket description. That’s not entirely fair–it was that, but it was also a very heart-wrenching story of abandonment and loneliness. (I probably should have expected something sad; this is the author of the most traumatizing Newbery Honor novel of my childhood, On My Honor.) Zoey’s mother unexpectedly tells her to pack to visit her grandmother, a grandmother she never knew she had. They drive for hours before they reach the country home where her mother grew up, and Zoey is greeted at the door by a woman who looks much like her own mother but older. While her mother and grandmother argue downstairs, Zoey escapes to the upper floor of the house and finds her mother’s old room and old dollhouse. A tear–whether of excitement over the doll or from the stress of the argument downstairs–falls onto the doll from the house, and she wakes, startling Zoey. This doll turns out to be Princess Regina, and she considers Zoey her personal servant. Zoey is happy to play along–she’s played this game before with her mother, and she’s eager to avoid the conflict downstairs–but the doll keeps losing her ability to speak and move when she’s left alone too long. While the doll is incapacitated and Zoey is unable to get her to come back, Zoey’s mother leaves, leaving Zoey behind indefinitely, because she “needs to be alone,” and Zoey is heartbroken, weeping on the doll in her sleep. Princess Regina wakes up and fully realizes that Zoey’s tears are what gives her life, so she tries to make her cry more, but in so doing, she comes to understand the deep hurt that makes Zoey cry, and her first feelings of empathy make her cry instead, and she becomes really and permanently real. She, Zoey, and Zoey’s grandmother then work through their fears and pain by taking one day at a time with whatever comes. (I’ve not read it yet, but there is another of these books that is about Zoey’s mother, Rose, and the doll.)

When the Dolls Woke 001When the Dolls Woke, by Marjorie Filley Stover (1985, middle to upper elementary): You might very well have a hard time finding this title for sale anywhere, and I’m not going to claim that it is a literary masterpiece–only that I loved it as a child (and still have my old copy)! Gail, a shy fourth-grade girl who has just started at a new school, is sent an old dollhouse by her Great Aunt Abigail whose Aunt Melissa had received it as a gift from her sea-faring brother, Abigail’s father. Gail is thrilled until she sees that it has fallen into disrepair, that the doll clothes are shabby and their hair unkempt, and her mother tells her that she just doesn’t have time to help fix it up right then. Soon after the dollhouse arrives, however, Great Aunt Abigail follows for a visit, and she gladly works with Gail to refurbish the house. Sir Gregory, Lady Alice, Maribelle, and Tommy are the dollhouse family, and they have a Dutch ragdoll maid, Becky, who replaced the wooden doll, Martinique, who made the other dolls uncomfortable with the tales of voodoo from her homeland. The family, recently woken from a long sleep in storage, believes that Gail has the gift of being able to “hear” them–get an understanding of their thoughts–when they wish hard enough, just like her great grandmother (the one who stashed Martinique away in anger) and Great Aunt Abigail before her. And when they discover that their beloved Abigail is in dire straits, they work to communicate the secret of the dollhouse…a secret only Sir Gregory knew and is just beginning to remember again. (Rereading it as an adult, I really don’t know why I felt it was even a little scary–maybe just Martinique’s voodoo attempts and the fact that she makes the other dolls nervous? It really isn’t frightening at all, and things work out for Martinique!)

The Indian in the Cupboard, Indian in the Cupboard, by Lynne Reid Banksby Lynne Reid Banks (1980, middle to upper elementary): Set in England in the 1970s, the story begins when Omri receives both a plastic Indian and an old medicine cabinet cupboard for his birthday. His mother gives him an old key that fits the lock, and he puts his toy inside and locks it. When he wakes in the morning, he finds that the plastic toy has come to life. His original excitement over having the ability to bring toys to life dims as he realizes the gravity of having such responsibility for the tiny life, particularly when he realizes that “his” Indian, Little Bear, is a real person from history–an Iroquois from the time of the French and Indian War–who has somehow been brought forward in time as a miniature and deserves respect. His friend Patrick doesn’t quite grasp the seriousness of the situation and, against Omri’s instructions, brings a cowboy to life using the cupboard and key, creating additional chaos. Eventually, the mutual respect between Omri and Little Bear allows him to do the hardest thing–send his new friend back to his own time and place. (There is a little bit of language in the book, and, like many older books, some stereotypical depictions. I feel like Omri’s respect for Little Bear and life in general is a strong positive, however.)

House of Dolls, by Francesca Lia BlockHouse of Dolls, by Francesca Lia Block (2010, upper elementary to middle school): The dolls in Madison Blackberry’s dollhouse have an idyllic life. Wildflower (a very old doll that had belonged to Madison’s grandmother) has Guy (apparently an army figure), Rockstar has B. Friend (a studious stuffed bear), and Miss Selene (a fairy doll) has a vast and elaborate wardrobe she shares, and they all have each other. Madison envies them. She envies their finery, their companionship, and their happiness. Her grandmother shakes her head at her for her moods, but she doesn’t engage with her. Her father travels the world for work, her mother is a socialite, and her little brother gets all the family attention, so friendless Madison takes out her frustration on the dolls, taking first their boyfriends, then their clothing, away from them. Miss Selene is hit particularly hard because she had always used the clothing to distract her from something else she had lost long ago. Wildflower decides to communicate with Madison’s grandmother to try to get her to show love to Madison like her own mother had shown love to her before she died. When Madison’s grandmother shares her pictures of her mother with Madison and makes Madison a beautiful dress to rival any that the dolls had ever received, Madison loses her resentment and returns the lost companions and clothing to the dolls. The rest of her family somehow seems to feel the need to show love again, too, and things start to look up for them all. This seems to be a simple book, but it isn’t simple to explain. The brevity competes with the seriousness and complexity of the subject matter, and it is clearly much more than a story about dolls.

The Dollhouse Murders, The Dollhouse Murders, by Betty Ren Wrightby Betty Ren Wright (1983, upper elementary to middle school): I think I’d consider this one Wait ’til Helen Comes scary. (I should not have started it late at night!) There are some definitely dated things in this book (rugby shirts, cassette tapes, and a complete lack of cell phones), but the use of the word “retarded” in the jacket description is what really threw me for a loop. It was used to describe Louann, the younger sister of the main character, Amy, but the phrases “like a little kid” and “brain-damaged” were the only terms actually used inside the book, if I recall correctly. There are two intertwined story lines in this book: almost-thirteen-year-old Amy being pushed to the brink by her mother’s expectations of her in regards to her sister and a decades-old family murder mystery that is being played out in the replica dollhouse in her great-grandparents’ former home. If you have an easily spooked reader, I’d avoid this one (particularly if there’s a dollhouse in the house…), but older readers looking for a not-too-graphically-gory spine-tingler might be interested. I’d recommend you read it yourself first, but, again, I wouldn’t recommend a late-night reading unless you’re braver than I am!

Hitty: Her First Hundred YearsHitty: Her First Hundred Years, by Rachel Field, illustrated by Dorothy P. Lathrop (1929, upper elementary to middle school): Hitty is a wooden doll, skillfully whittled by a peddler who stays the winter with the Preble family of Maine while Captain Preble is out at sea, and the story is told in first person from her point-of-view. (Calculating from the time the book was written, this is likely to have been set in the first half the the 19th century, probably in the 1820s. The date is only mentioned once, near the end of the book, but current events such as wars are mentioned often enough to get a vague sense of the 100-year chronology as the book progresses.) She appears to have limited mobility, and she only is mentioned to use it a few times during the book. (She interprets the other dolls she encounters as being either too rude or too self-absorbed to interact with her, but I got the impression that she was actually the only doll with any life in the book.) When Mrs. Preble and Phoebe join Captain Preble on his next voyage, Hitty begins her worldwide travels and adventures. Through the travels of the doll, the reader experiences life on a whaling vessel, tribal conflict on a tropical island, snake charmers and missionaries in India, higher society in Philadelphia, simple Quaker life, upperclass New York, meeting several artists, musicians, and writers of the time (some of whom appear to be fictional, some real historical people), a Rhode Island mill town, Mardi Gras, a Cotton Exposition, a cargo boat on the Mississippi, a black country family, a railroad station, a home with a vast doll collection, and eventually an antique shop. It really is true that older books have more complex language, and that is part of what makes this Newbery Medal-winning book an upper elementary or middle school title. The other big thing is the need to thoughtfully interpret the events and portrayals of different people in a different era and realize how attitudes of the time might color the way the author characterizes the people Hitty encounters; some of the portrayals are pretty offensive, actually, despite the fact that Hitty is a mostly impartial observer who admirably considers different points-of-view and lifestyles as she changes hands. Could be used in conjunction with a history class on the time between the War of 1812 and the end of World War I.

Doll Bones, Doll Bones, by Holly Blackby Holly Black, with illustrations by Eliza Wheeler (middle school): The illustrations creeped me out more than the contents did, despite their extensive creepiness–I had to store this book cover down! Middle school friends Poppy, Zach, and Alice have an elaborate game they play together with their dolls and action figures. Zach, who has just discovered a skill for basketball and whose deadbeat father has recently returned to his life, is afraid that Poppy’s brothers will reveal his secret to someone he knows and make his life rougher than his father is already making it, but he is devastated when his dad throws his bag of action figures away while he is at school because he feels Zach’s too old for that kind of play. Desperate to hide what happened from Poppy and Alice, Zach lies and tells them he just doesn’t want to play anymore, and Poppy tries to lure him back in by promising to get the Great Queen (the creepy bone china doll her mother keeps locked in a glass cabinet) out to add more excitement to their play. This, however, sets a series of events in motion that involves horrific dreams about a little girl, a middle-of-the-night trek across the state on a quest Poppy insists is the doll’s demand, and a variety of really, really creepy events. (I am seriously getting goosebumps all over while writing this despite having finished the book itself weeks ago!) Definitely not for the faint of heart, there are layers and layers of story in this book, from the doll’s origins to the current struggles of each of the main characters. While you try not to toss the book away in horror, you’ll struggle not to really feel for the kids in the book (even if you’re still a kid yourself)! Again, depending on your kid, you might want to preview to make sure this “don’t try this at home” book doesn’t inspire behaviors you don’t want your child copying (like taking a midnight train out of town without permission). This book received a Newbery Honor in 2014.

There are, I am sure, many more books in this category–Winnie-the-Pooh, for example! If you have a favorite living toys title you or your children have read, share the title in the comments!

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Filed under review, teaching suggestion, theme

Themed Third Thursday: Heroic Reads

A friend of mine is a teacher at a school where the theme next year is “Reading Is My Superpower.” I don’t know if I necessarily agree that reading is a superpower so much as that reading gives me superpowers, but perhaps that’s just semantics. 🙂 I had also forgotten that the Milwaukee Public Library theme last summer and this one is Super Readers, and I stumbled across the display at my local branch and filled up my library bag with some of their suggestions, too. So, if your summer isn’t saturated enough by Marvel’s superheroes (and I will include some of them, just to give you fair warning!), your young readers will have a chance to explore what makes a hero super! (Weird fast fact: My family was playing the board game Life a couple of days ago, and one of the action cards called for the kids to state their superpowers. GirlChild said strength, speed, and wisdom. BoyChild said punching people in the face. Oy. That child.)

Super Reader selection

The Super Reader summer reading display at the Mill Road branch of the Milwaukee Public Library (before I pillaged it).

Superhero Me!Superhero Me!, by Karen Katz (2009, toddler to preschool): Karen Katz appears to have a board book for nearly every occasion! Her typical round-faced, happy toddlers try out different superhero identities, from Super Rexosaur to Puddle-Jumper, in this rhyming touch-and-feel book. My children have always loved these simple, bright books and are drawn to them in the board book section of the library with regularity even now! This is a perfect first introduction to the idea of superhero play for little ones!

Super Duck, by Jez Alborough Super Duck(2009, toddler to preschool): Like all his other Duck books, this Alborough installment features the very eager duck, several somewhat exasperated barnyard friends, and a lot of rhyming! When Sheep, Goat, and Frog are trying to fly a kite, Duck proclaims that he is Super Duck and tries his best to help (with mixed results). When Frog gets swept away with the kite, Duck actually comes to the rescue and gets him safely back to the ground. Sheep and Goat are so happy that they call him Super Duck, too!

Do Super Heroes Have Teddy Bears?Do Super Heroes Have Teddy Bears?, by Carmela LaVigna Coyle, illustrated by Mike Gordon (2012, preschool to early elementary): This picture book asks questions (“Do super heroes make capes with blankies and string?”) followed by italicized answers (“We can turn blankies into most anything.“) Judging by the illustrations (and I didn’t quite get it at first), members of a family are asking questions of one another about super heroes (based on the daily activities the self-styled super hero brother and (potentially) sidekick little sister). Many of the questions are from little sister to older brother and some are the kids to their parents. (A helpful comprehension activity might be to work with your little listener to figure out who the speakers are on each spread.) I have definitely had these kinds of conversations going on randomly throughout the day at my house (topic based on whatever long-term role-play my kids are currently into), so once you get the hang of the abruptly changing speaker concept, this story is pretty representative of real kids doing what they do best–imagining!

Superhero School, Superhero Schoolby Thierry Robberecht and Philippe Goossens (2011, preschool to early elementary): You can kind of tell that this book is a translation (from Dutch, if anyone’s interested) because it just feels a little off in the cadence and phrasing. Still, my kids enjoyed the storyline! Henry (who wears headgear that suggests a jester’s cap) attends superhero school, but he is kind of the class clown and struggles with his superhero studies. He can’t fly, isn’t super strong, and believes pranks to be his only superpower. When a horrible monster comes to the school, Henry’s classmates are quickly neutralized, but Henry’s quick-thinking prank catches the monster off-guard, and his tickles drain the monster’s strength. The others step back in and ship the monster back to the planet he came from, but Henry is celebrated for saving the day!

These Are the AvengersThese Are the Avengers, adapted by Thomas Macri (2012, preschool to early elementary): This early reader book introduces the six Mighty Avengers: Captain America, Ant-Man, Wasp, the Hulk, Thor, and Iron Man. (So, you know, not the cinematic universe version of the Avengers.) The book gives the basic information about the six characters in short, easy to read sentences. (BoyChild enjoys this as a quick read-aloud, but a budding reader with some knowledge about Marvel characters could handle it as a simple text for independent reading.) There are a number more of these books available, and there are games and other activities available on the Marvel Kids website as well. You can compare the different levels and types of books available about Marvel characters by checking out This Is Thor (World of Reading: Level 1, preschool to early elementary), Heroes of Asgard (World of Reading: Level 2, early elementary), and Marvel Adventures: The Avengers: Thor (a graphic novel, middle school to high school).

Ten Rules of Being a Superhero, Ten Rules of Being a Superheroby Deb Pilutti (2014, preschool to early elementary): A young boy and his superhero action figure present the ten rules of being a superhero. (The action figure appears to be living in each scenario, but he is toy-sized and sometimes his movement is controlled by the boy, so I’m assuming all life-like qualities are just the boy’s imagination shown as reality.) My favorite rules are Rule Number 1: “A superhero must ALWAYS respond to a call for help…even if the odds are against him” (and showing a number of other toys in dire situations that need to be rescued) and Rule Number 4: “A superhero must use his power in a good way” (as opposed to the selfish villain thinking about using his powers in a bad way). The last rule, Rule Number 10, is also a good one: “Every superhero needs a sidekick. Because saving the day is more fun with a friend.”

The Day I Lost My SuperpowersThe Day I Lost My Superpowers, by Michaël Escoffier and Kris Di Giacomo (2014, preschool to early elementary): A small child discovers one day (with the help of her father’s hands tossing her in the air) that she can fly! She realizes she has a variety of other powers, too…like making things disappear (although that works better with cupcakes than with peas) and becoming invisible herself (with the help of the underside of her bed). One day, however, she falls when “flying” (with the help of her dog and a string), and she realizes she has lost her superpowers (and hurt her knee)! Her mom comes to the rescue, however, with a magic kiss that makes her feel “all better (even if [her] knee still hurt[s] a little),” and she is excited to realize that her mom might have superpowers, too! The illustrations help tell the story by revealing the reality behind her superpower statements, and they help young readers and listeners feel like they’re in on the joke (as well as give them good ideas for superhero play of their own).

SuperHero ABC, SuperHero ABCby Bob McLeod (2006, preschool to early elementary): While a typical alphabet book has a limited audience (based on those who are still getting comfortable with the alphabet), the contents of this book will bring in a greater range of readers (and will make some parents shy away!). Twenty-six superheroes (or superhero groups) represent the letters of the alphabet, and some of the powers get downright gross (like Goo Girl (who “shoots gobs of goo at gangsters”) and The Volcano (who “vomits on villains”)) and the characteristics silly (Upside-Down Man “wears his uniform under his underwear” and Astro-Man has asthma (?!)) as the real-life-comic-book-artist author puts as many of the featured letter onto the pages as possible. My only gripe with the book is that, although the general public depicted in the art is reasonably diverse, the vast majority of the featured heroes/heroines (and there are a decent number of females) are pretty pale (with just a couple exceptions…and a few aliens).

Dex: The Heart of a HeroDex: The Heart of a Hero, by Caralyn Buehner, illustrated by Mark Buehner (2004, preschool to early elementary): Dexter is a dachshund dog (living in a world populated by anthropomorphic dogs, cats, and rodents) who dreams big dreams. (The ultra-dramatic superhero-esque thoughts are written in comic book handwritten style in yellow text boxes.) He is very ordinary and very small, but he decides that if he wants to be a hero, he needs to make himself one! He begins training by exercising to get strong, climbing trash piles to gain endurance, and pushing himself those extra few circles before lying down to sleep. When his efforts pay off, he completes his transformation with a mail-order costume. His heroic acts are all pretty mild but satisfying–helping a puppy cross the street, finding a lost kitten, and organizing a neighborhood clean-up day–until the night that Cleevis the tomcat finds himself in a precarious situation high in a tree. Dex uses his wits and the resources around him (in this case, a teeter-totter and a crowd of onlookers) to save Cleevis and win his respect…and a partner in crime-fighting!

Superhero, Superheroby Marc Tauss (2005, preschool to early elementary): All in black-and-white enhanced photographs, the story starts in the front endpapers with Maleek (the main character, a young boy) browsing an aisle full of different comic books. (Maleek likes to “catch up on his fellow superheroes’ adventures.”) Maleek wears a costume with goggles and a cape with a large M on it, and he builds inventions in his laboratory. When he reads in the newspaper one day that all the city parks and playgrounds have disappeared (replaced by tall buildings), he and his robot jump into their time machine and go back 500 years to collect plant specimens that he uses to create GIGUNDO JUICE. He sprays his concoction all over the city, and large, beautiful plants spring up to replace many of the big buildings. His work complete, Maleek goes back to his comics again. The last page shows him reading a comic book and with other props around him that appear to have contributed to the superhero daydream he seems to have been having, and the final endpapers show Maleek in full costume wandering the same aisle…which is now full of comics about himself.

Eliot Jones: Midnight SuperheroEliot Jones, Midnight Superhero, by Anne Cottringer, illustrated by Alex T. Smith (2008, preschool to early elementary): Eliot is a quiet boy who spends his days doing quiet things. Once the clock strikes midnight, however, he is a superhero. He answers the call of everyone from the Coast Guard to the queen, and his skills and powers are always up to the task at hand! His mission tonight involves saving the world from a rogue meteor, and he blasts it just in time. At the end of the story, we are back to the beginning, in Eliot’s quiet room, and we are told that “being a Midnight Superhero is very tiring. It doesn’t leave Eliot with much energy. So by day…Eliot is quiet.” This is a cute story that might leave kids wondering what secrets lurk behind the commonplace faces they see every day!

Wonder Woman: The Story of the Amazon Princess, Wonder Woman: The Story of the Amazon Princesswritten and illustrated by Ralph Cosentino (2011, early elementary): This almost-picture-book graphic novel is written in first person as Wonder Woman explains her origins, her powers, and how she came to be Wonder Woman. It even introduces many of her chief antagonists, like Cheetah and Ares, and states her mission: “to teach peace and respect to all…and to show the world how to live in harmony with nature.” Some companion books to this one are Batman: The Story of the Dark Knight and Superman: The Story of the Man of Steel. These books are a simple way to introduce your young readers to the most famous DC superheroes!

Buzz Boy and Fly Guy, Buzz Boy and Fly Guyby Tedd Arnold (2010, early elementary): In this book from the Fly Guy series, Buzz writes a book that stars him and Fly Guy as superheroes! Buzz (Buzz Boy!) is the same size as Fly Guy, and Fly Guy can talk! They use their wits and their superpowers to defeat wicked pirates, befriend a dragon, and return home safely. A great first chapter book (which is mostly a simple graphic novel divided into chapters) for young readers, parents or teachers might (subtly, so as not to spook an inspired reader into thinking it’s a homework assignment!) suggest that the reader write a comic book about himself or herself as a superhero with an animal sidekick.

Fireboy to the Rescue: A Fire SaFireboy to the Rescuefety Book, by Edward Miller (2010, early elementary): As the title suggests, this is more a fire safety book than a superhero story. Fireboy is a narrator of sorts, telling about the good and bad things about fire. Although he is the title character, the book sticks to facts about fire safety, including what you should do in case of a fire (from calling 911 to how to evacuate a home, high-rise building, and school), how firefighters respond, and how to prevent fires. This book serves as a PSA about fire for young readers, and both GirlChild and BoyChild loved it as much as if it had an actual storyline! (GirlChild is really into fire safety anyway because of school, and BoyChild has asked several times (possibly because he heard GirlChild ask, partly because it sounds cool) about the fire escape ladders we’re going to have to buy when we move into a two-story home this summer! The author has written a couple other health and safety books that I’m sure my children would love as well!)

Extraordinary Warren: A Super Chicken, Extraordinary Warren: A Super Chickenby Sarah Dillard (2014, middle elementary): Warren is a typical chicken, but he has grown tired of all the pecking and peeping and general blandness of his life on the farm. None of the other chickens agree, however, and he feels very alone. He happens upon a rat who is digging through the trash and bemoaning the lack of really good food…and he accidentally sets himself up to be on the rat’s menu! He (literally) bumps into an egg on his way home to tell the other chickens about the fact that someone considers him “Chicken Supreme,” and he tells the egg his story and that the egg can be his sidekick. When he leaves his unsuccessful flying lesson that day, he sees the rat with a cookbook and realizes the truth of what’s going on! In his attempts to convince the other chickens of the danger and to stop the rat’s plans, Warren has to rescue the egg, and it ends up hatching. Then Warren and his willing sidekick, Egg, set off together to continue to right wrongs and save the other chickens from the dangers that lurk nearby.

Zero the Hero, Zero the Heroby Joan Holub and Tom Lichtenheld (2012, elementary): Although this is technically a picture book (Joan Holub has an impressive list of both fiction and nonfiction children’s books for a range of ages, and Tom Lichtenheld is the illustrator of BoyChild’s favorite bedtime book (among many, many others)), the concepts explored range from the additive and commutative properties of addition to Roman numerals and place value, making the audience much wider. The fact that zero times anything is zero is vital to the climax of the story (as well as being part of the original conflict). Math teachers who like Math Curse or Sir Cumference and the First Round Table are likely to enjoy this book for their cross-curricular endeavors as well! (And I always have to plug Erin McEwan, Your Days Are Numbered, too–I used to read it to my fifth graders at the beginning of the year!)

Night of the Scaredy CrowsDC Super-Pets: Night of the Scaredy Crows, by Sarah Hines Stephens, illustrated by Art Baltazar (2012, elementary): In this series of books, the superheroes’ pets come to the rescue! And, not surprisingly, the villains’ pets are the cause of most of the problems. This particular book is about Ace the Bat-Hound and the troubles caused by Scarecrow’s pets/minions, Croward and the scaredy crows, as Halloween approaches. A Word Power page at the end of the book gives definitions and pronunciations for some of the more unusual words (like toxic and utility collar). There is quite a bit of text on each page, but there are frequent full-color illustrations to break it up. The text is larger than a typical chapter book but smaller than a picture book, and, at an approximate third-grade reading level, it could be a high-interest book for older kids who need a slightly simpler story that’s still interesting. (Marvel doesn’t have a monopoly on super-hero easy readers, either. The I Can Read series of books has several DC character stories, like Batman: Winter Wasteland (Level 2) and others on Amazon.)

Captain Raptor and the Moon Mystery, Captain Raptor and the Moon Mysteryby Kevin O’Malley, illustrations by Patrick O’Brien (2005, elementary): I’m not sure this technically qualifies as a superhero story…but technologically advanced dinosaurs with space gadgets who fight off a beast who attacks a group of aliens (um, humans) and save the day (combined with the graphic novel format and typical superhero (well, like the old Batman show, at least) cliffhanger moments) certainly make Captain Raptor and his crew seem like superheroes! Jurassic Park meets Tony Stark meets Star Trek, maybe? Although this was shelved with the picture books, the graphic novel style and the realistic, detailed art make this more of a middle elementary and up kind of book.

Flora and UlyssesFlora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K.G. Campbell (2013, upper elementary to middle school): In this Newbery Medal winner, 10-year-old Flora embraces her mother’s description of her as a “natural-born cynic” and strives to observe, not hope. (We can tell by her obsession with the superhero Incandesto and her frequent need to remind herself to observe, not hope, that she is not as natural a cynic as she and her mother try to believe.) When her neighbor Tootie’s new vacuum cleaner, the Ulysses 2000X, runs amok in the yard and nearly kills a squirrel, Flora runs to the rescue and discovers that the experience has somehow imbued the hapless, now hairless, squirrel with special powers–strength, flight, and understanding. Occasional comic-book style panels are part of the story and not just illustrations. Flora and Ulysses (the squirrel) discover things about themselves that they would have never dreamed they’d discover before their first encounter.

Public School Superhero, Public School Superheroby James Patterson and Chris Tebbets (2015, upper elementary to middle school): Technically, there is no actual superhero in this book. In Washington, DC, in an inner-city neighborhood and school, Kenny escapes his mild-mannered alter-ego’s stress by imagining himself as Stainlezz Steel…a hero as brave and heroic as Kenny feels intimidated and embarrassed. (The superhero moments are shown in comic-book style panels, so it’s easy to tell when he’s taking a mental break, and there is typically a segue statement where Kenny acknowledges that it is wishful thinking.) Kenny–a chess-playing, superhero-loving sixth grader–is just starting middle school in an overcrowded, rundown local building, and things aren’t looking good. A misunderstanding (compounded by the lack of interest of the principal) results in his first ever detention, but he manages to hide it from his involved grandmother. When that principal leaves abruptly, Dr. Yetty takes over, and she really cares about both the school and the children in it. Kenny finds himself in trouble once again, but his consequence is to teach Ray-Ray, the boy who instigated the issue, how to play chess. Ray-Ray eventually offers to teach Kenny how to not be so easily intimidated, and Kenny (against his better judgment) accepts…and hides all the shady goings-on from his grandmother, too. The characters and the situations feel very real, and the book demonstrates the idea that we can’t all be superheroes but that we can each do something to make our world a better place.

SidekickedSidekicked, by John David Anderson (2013, middle school): 13-year-old Andrew Macon Bean has a rare sensory disorder that makes him acutely aware of pretty much everything (although, luckily for him, his sense of touch is only slightly amped up so he isn’t tickled to death just by getting dressed in the morning), and that makes him perfectly suited for one thing: suiting up. Yes, his overpowered senses make him a perfect candidate for sidekick training (and, eventually, superhero-dom), and The Sensationalist is born! Drew’s only problem (well, biggest problem–he is thirteen!) is that his assigned superhero doesn’t really want to have anything to do with him or the superhero business anymore. And that becomes even more of a problem when the villain he was thought to have defeated (and who was supposedly killed in an explosion during the final battle) springs his minions out of prison and starts knocking off banks and taking out superheroes…and their sidekicks. Like his erstwhile hero says: maybe it’s time for Drew to save himself! (Companion novel: Minion)

Marvel Encyclopedia: Marvel EncyclopediaThe Definitive Guide to the Characters of the Marvel Universe (revised 2014): This book is really for the die-hard fan. With a foreword by Ralph Macchio and an introduction by Stan Lee, the intended audience appears to be mainly the men and women who grew up with these comic books as their constant reading material, those who care deeply for canon and who can discuss the similarities and differences between different timelines and reboots and all the different forms of media where Marvel super heroes can be found. (It might also help for the uninitiated significant others of these longtime fans to give them an idea of who exactly it is they’re watching in the cinematic universe–my personal background information on these characters all comes from a quick internet search before my husband and I go see a movie together (or afterward when I’m already confused)!) There are entries for individuals and teams, and both heroes and villains are covered. There is a “Factfile” sidebar for the major characters, and each character’s first appearance, powers, occupation, and base are included. A brief summary and illustration (both modern and old-school styles are shown for many characters) of each is also included. For families whose children are old enough to watch the new movies, this book might be a good way to introduce upper elementary and older ages to some of their parents’ favorite characters, and there will be some kids/teenagers who will pore over this volume for hours, I’m sure! BoyChild actually spent some time looking through the book to find pictures of his favorites–Captain America and Iron Man–and ask about other characters he saw, but he’s nowhere near old enough for either the movies or the detailed information in the book, so his exposure was limited to that!

Finally, here are some links just for the adults in the house.

First, a Lunar Baboon cartoon that shows us that encouragement can be a superpower.

Next, a blog talking about an online Bible curriculum from Orange (252 Basics) called Stand Up: Get in the Story.

Finally, a link to Amazon where you can find a vast assortment of mass marketed and indie superhero books and stories for adults, teens, and children! There’s even a (not-for-children) short story written by a college friend of mine–and it’s free to borrow on Kindle with Amazon Prime!

Another finally! I forgot to link to my friend’s custom art page! He does art called Your Face Heroes (I am so proud of the word play!); you send him a couple photographs of the person you want hero-ified along with some information about them to inform his imagination, and he’ll create a custom superhero work of art. Check out his work here! The image to the left is a quick sketch he did of me as Word Girl (not a commissioned piece) from a (very) old photograph!

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Filed under theme

Themed Third Thursday: This is Series-ous

As school wraps up in the next couple of weeks, there are the long days of summer stretching ahead of most families. While I hate to suggest that you force daily education down your children’s throats in their downtime, I do strongly suggest you get them interested in a good book! Sometimes, though, kids read one book they like and then fizzle out, and that’s no good. If a kid gets hooked on a series, however, you’ve got picking a book made simple! Here you will find a great variety of series for a great variety of kids!

Cat the CatCat the Cat and Elephant & Piggie books, by Mo Willems (preschool/early elementary): I reviewed these series in a previous post about Mo Willems’ works. While the Cat the Cat books provide great verbal practice and plenty of repetition, the Elephant & Piggie books provide a fabulous chance to practice expression (both the verbal sort and the facial sort). Both make fantastic read-alouds for preschoolers and up, and both are good starter books for independent readers. The Cat the Cat series is a bit simpler than the Elephant & Piggie books, almost like Dick and Jane (with the limited, repetitive, rhyming vocabulary) but TONS more fun! I personally prefer the Elephant & Piggie books, Elephant & Piggieprobably because I love to read aloud dramatically, and Elephant Gerald is just so dramatic! It’s also a great series for shared reading since the books typically feature just the two characters, and all the words are either spoken dialogue or sound effects (and color coded so it’s easy for the readers to know which line belongs to which reader). These are perfect first series books for early readers!

Fancy NancyFancy Nancy, by Jane O’Connor (preschool to middle elementary): Fancy Nancy stars in books from picture books to early leveled readers to stories for middle elementary readers. Fancy Nancy not only likes a lot of glitz and embellishment in her appearance, but she loves to use fancy words, too! (She defines each of her “fancy” words in parentheses after she uses one, so that helps with comprehension if your reader’s vocabulary isn’t the same as Nancy’s.) Great for celebrating chronic girliness and a well-developed vocabulary, these books appeal strongly to little girls like GirlChild who have a bigger vocabulary than they know what to do with but still love the glitter and sparkle of dress-up and decor. (The website, in addition to having lists of the books and printables for crafts and word activities, also has a great page of tips for the adults of aspiring Nancys with entries about planning birthday parties, tea parties, sleepovers, and encouraging reading.)

Junie B. Jones, by Barbara Park Junie B. Jones(early elementary): I have to start with this caveat: Junie B. is a terrible role model! Her grammar is iffy, her vocabulary is often impolite (she uses “stupid” and “hate,” if you’re concerned about your child picking up such things), and her behavior is something not to be emulated. I personally wouldn’t turn GirlChild loose with these books at this point just because we’d be less likely to discuss the implications of Junie B.’s choices (and it must always be Junie B.!), and GirlChild is kind of into pushing the boundaries right now, but they really are kind of hilarious books. Junie B. is like a less-responsible Ramona Quimby (and I would definitely suggest the Ramona books as a series, too–GirlChild just finished reading them and then listening to them on audiobook this year!), and everything is told from her point of view, so you can almost see why she would say or do the outrageous things that she says and does! (I actually read Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business to my third-graders to help announce my pregnancy with GirlChild way back when!) Once you’ve established that your child isn’t going to be easily led astray by Junie B.’s example, I think you’re safe to let your reader enjoy her! (Although Junie B. is in kindergarten and first grade in these books, many of my fifth graders actually loved reading about her! I think age and perspective enhances the humor since an older reader isn’t in the middle of the kindergarten angst that Junie B. is living in her stories, and the fact that they’re a quick and easy read made them attractive as well.)

Fly GuyFly Guy books, by Tedd Arnold (early elementary): My first Tedd Arnold book was Green Wilma, but I had a good collection of Fly Guy books in my classroom when I taught third grade! Completely silly, easy to read, and complete with covers that catch the eye, these are the kind of easy reader that older kids aren’t embarrassed to be seen reading but aren’t intimidating to younger readers. I have to note that GirlChild refuses to read any of these books because she thinks flies are gross, so you might want to save this suggestion for the less squeamish among your young readers. They would probably appeal to the same sort of kids who would like Jon Sciesczka or Dav Pilkey later in life…

Young Cam Jansen mysteries, by David A. Adler Young Cam Jansen(early elementary): The Cam Jansen books with which I’m most familiar are written for older kids (Cam is starting fifth grade in one of them, and they’re recommended for grades 2-5), but this series is just perfect for early elementary readers. Cam (her nickname, based on “Camera,” because of her photographic memory) and her friend Eric solve simple mysteries based on observation and memory. This series has an Easy Reader Level of 3 (transitional reader), and the Guided Reading range is J-M. Because of the nonthreatening mysteries and Cam’s tendency to talk through the clues, young readers can feel like they have mystery-solving skills and might even work on their observational skills in real life! In addition to the books in the Young Cam Jansen series, the original series can help extend an interested reader’s book list once they have become more confident readers.

LuluLulu books, by Hilary McKay (early to middle elementary): Lulu is “famous for animals”; her cousin, Mellie, is famous for losing things (among other things). They are both in Class Three (3rd grade, perhaps?) at school. (The author is British, and the school is presumably also in the UK.) Lulu’s parents have rules about her pets (pretty much that she can have as many animals as she wants as long as she cleans up after them), and her teacher does, too: No. More! (She’s not really an animal person.) Each book in this series is about Lulu having an animal adventure either with her own pets or an animal she finds. The author has also written a series about animals that features a boy protagonist, Charlie. (The author says one of her favorite parts of being a children’s writer is reading letters from kids, so maybe having your children use the Contact Me page on her website or maybe try her publishers (since I can’t find a direct address for her) would be a good extension idea!)

Ivy and Bean, by Annie Barrows and Sophie Blackall Ivy and Bean(middle elementary): Seven-year-old Bean has no intention of making friends with boring, well-behaved Ivy across the street just because her mother says she should. Ivy (who we come to find out is not nearly as boring or well-behaved as she appears) feels similarly about wild-and-crazy Bean. When circumstances intervene (Bean tries to escape punishment when a prank on her sister goes too far, and Ivy helps her hide), they realize that they are well-suited for friendship after all. Ivy has aspirations to become a real-life, potion-making witch (although none of her spells have worked out so far), and Bean is happy to contribute to Ivy’s ever-changing room set-up with its activity zones. (Bean’s mom sets some ground rules for their potion-making plans, including no poisons or explosions, but she is happy to have them play together.) And this is how Ivy and Bean begin their unusual and loyal friendship!

Adventures of the Bailey School KidsThe Adventures of the Bailey School Kids, by Debbie Dadey and Marcia Thornton Jones (middle  to upper elementary): While I inherited several of these from the fifth grade teacher who had my classroom before me, I had never actually read one!  They are pretty solidly middle grade level readers, but the amount of “education” happening in the pages (in the one I read, Werewolves Don’t Run for President, readers get many only-slightly-subtle lessons in government, and there is an appendix with additional facts as well) means that there is content for older readers, too. It’s not surprising that the authors are a teacher and librarian team who used to work together in a school! I wouldn’t try to extol the virtues of the educational aspect to your young readers, but they might end up learning something in spite of themselves. The series begins with the Bailey School Kids (two boys and two girls) in third grade, and they believe their teacher, Mrs. Jeepers, is a vampire. Each book has a similar scenario: 1) Adult behaves oddly. 2) Children believe adult to be some mythical creature. 3) Children solve some issue but never clearly prove or disprove theory about mythical creature. The authors use a lot of loaded figurative language (“howled with laughter,” “Mr. Youngblood stalked across,” “voice was as low and growly as a Doberman pinscher’s”) to support the characters’ assumptions. For a teacher wanting to use these books, the aspect of using loaded language and perspective to influence a reading audience is something that can definitely be used with older students.

The Time Warp Trio, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith Time Warp Trio(middle elementary): These books are deceptively short in that they pack a lot of educational value (and silly, silly stuff!) into their brief pages. Joe’s uncle, a magician, gives him a special book for his birthday: The Book. The Book has the power to transport Joe and his friends Sam and Fred anywhere in time (and, in a couple cases, myths and their summer reading list!). Scieszka and Smith’s quirky humor can make delving into the Wild West, King Arthur’s court, or the Stone Age a hilarious way to pick up tidbits of information about history that might spark further investigation (and we all know that historical and speculative fiction are gateway books to nonfiction research!). Perfect for that hard-to-engage reader with an unconventional funny bone!

Boxcar ChildrenThe Boxcar Children, by Gertrude Chandler Warner (elementary): I read the first Boxcar Children book aloud to both kids, and they were enchanted from the start. Now they play Boxcar Children on a pretty regular basis (GirlChild is either Jessie or Violet, and BoyChild is always Benny!), watch the movie on Netflix regularly, and GirlChild has gotten into the mystery series that follows. While none of them stack up to the original, the extremely lengthy series has been pretty popular in my classrooms (and you don’t get over 100 titles in a series without there being a market for them!). It’s been a long, long while since I had read any of them, so I went ahead and reread Tree House Mystery (#14) just to get a feel for them, and the kids have already aged enough that Benny (the  youngest, just learning his alphabet in the first book) is older than ten, and Henry (the oldest) is driving. More recent additions to the series (like #132, Mystery of the Fallen Treasure) seem to be a modern reboot: Benny is six again, and Henry Googles things on his cell phone. (This is decidedly odd in that the originals were set in the ’30s or ’40s, so the unaccompanied minors living on their own in the woods thing wouldn’t have been as strange as it would be were it happening in the 2000s!) The mysteries are typically pretty mild and the children well-behaved and conscientious. This might be a good series for the kind of child who wants to read mysteries but is sensitive to frightening things or situations (like GirlChild) or as high-interest, low-reading-level series for those who can tolerate well-behaved children and simple mystery stories. And the first book, at the very least, is a good read for any child! (For the truly dedicated, there’s a Boxcar Children Museum in Connecticut in the author’s hometown, and Patricia MacLachlan has even written a sort of prequel!)

Clubhouse Mysteries, by Sharon M. Draper Clubhouse Mysteries/Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs(middle to upper elementary): By the Coretta Scott King award winning author of many YA books and the Sassy series for tween girls, this series has a cast of four black preteen boys from Ohio who, out of boredom after their neighborhood basketball court is destroyed, create a club they call the Black Dinosaurs. They build a clubhouse using old fence sections, and when they dig to bury their club treasures, they discover a buried box full of bones. (This is where the first mystery comes in!) While the slim volumes and attractive but somewhat juvenile cover art make these books look like they are geared toward middle elementary (the kids on the cover look to be second or third graders to me), the characters are actually just out of fifth grade (and are illustrated as such on the inside illustrations), and many references in the book are to historical events and topics that are likely not studied (in school, at least) until fourth or fifth grade (like knowing who the Tuskegee airmen were to better understand a reference to Tuskegee University). GirlChild enjoyed the book, actually, and asked for the next one in the series, but I am fairly sure she didn’t get anything deeper out of it than that some kids made a club and found a box of bones. This six-book series was apparently first published under the title Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs and had more realistic cover art, and I can definitely see it as a teaching tool (for introducing some of the topics brought up in the books) for younger students or as a high-interest/lower-reading-level book for upper elementary (although I think the original covers would make the series more marketable to older kids than the current ones).

Secrets of the ManorSecrets of the Manor, by Adele Whitby (middle to upper elementary): Each book in this historical fiction series focuses on the girls from a noble family based at Chatsworth Manor in the English countryside. The first Elizabeth and Katherine were twins, and the eldest daughter from each following generation is named after the matriarch of that family line. The first Elizabeth’s family line remains at Chatsworth Manor, and Katherine moved to America upon her marriage, so her family line lives at Vandermeer Manor in Rhode Island. As suggested by the title of the series, this is, in part, a mystery series…like American (er, and English) Girl meets the Boxcar Children (but with more money). While the storyline in the first book seemed pretty predictable and slightly anachronistic in regards to attitudes and behaviors, I am not entirely familiar with the time frame in which these books take place (1848-1934 for the first six books in the series (and not in chronological order!)), so I could be stuck thinking of Regency manners and unaware of progress in that area. GirlChild adores these books (the peerage is a step down from royalty, I guess, but it’s close enough for her!), and I’m sure she’ll be excited to read the new ones (set in Paris) that are just coming out, too!

A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony SnicketA Series of Unfortunate Events (upper elementary/middle school): Another quirky series best enjoyed by readers who revel in wordplay and a bit of Gothic parody, I am feeling a distinct reminiscence for Northanger Abbey as I reread the first pages… If your child is sensitive and will take these books seriously (like GirlChild at this point in her reading life), they probably will not enjoy these books at all. If, however, they seem to the sort to really enjoy Monsters Eat Whiny Children and anything by Jon Scieszka, this is more likely their thing. (I’m hoping GirlChild will grow into them, and I see BoyChild as a future fan!) The Baudelaire orphans, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, live a life which is, in fact, a series of unfortunate events from the time of the mysterious death of their parents and their subsequent placement in the care of an unscrupulous relative, Count Olaf. Written from the point of view of a man who is following their trail and reporting their misfortunes, these thirteen books are full of well-meaning but bumbling adults, perilous events, last-minute saves based on Violet’s inventions, Klaus’ intelligence, or Sunny’s sharp incisors (Really.), sly humor, and fabulous vocabulary. If your reader is the sort to tent his or her fingers and plan devious plots (but not actually the sort to go through with them–that’s too far!), he or she might find this series worth a try! (I think the characters in Ivy and Bean might like these books when they’re a little older, actually…)

Who Was...?Who Was…? books (elementary): These biographies are the perfect sort to keep in an elementary classroom. They are written as narratives with occasional inserts of background information on the times or events being discussed. They are written chronologically, are easy to follow and interesting, and the more difficult aspects of lives are not gone into in gory detail, but they are discussed. (For instance, Who Was Ronald Reagan? discusses his father’s alcoholism, his divorce, the assassination attempt, and his Alzheimer’s disease.) Although these books are not written for research purposes, they would make great first-reads for someone needing to write a biographical report because they introduce topics about the person’s life that the reader can then use to guide and inform their further research. (Also includes What Is…?/What Was…?/Who Is…? books for other nonfiction reading!)

Other series previously reviewed/mentioned:

Topsy and Tim

Themed Third Thursday: Princess Possibilities: Princess Posey and The Rescue Princesses and The Royal Diaries

Themed Third Thursday: My Bin of Books: How Do Dinosaurs…? and Pigeon and Llama Llama and Magic Tree House series

Themed Third Thursday: An Incidental Christmas: most of the titles, so click through to the post to find links for the series!

The Very Fairy Princess

Rainbow Magic Fairies (Christmas) (and all the rest on Amazon)

Fun Fourth Friday: Andrew Clements: Keepers of the School

Themed Third Thursday: Anthropomorphic Animals: Geronimo Stilton and Warriors

Themed Third Thursday: The Naughty List Edition: Horrible Harry and Artemis Fowl

(And that’s not all! I just got tired of linking! Search “series” in the search box on the right sidebar to find more!)

What series books would you recommend for summertime reading for kids? Leave your suggestions in the comments!

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Book Blog Recommendation: Ms. Yingling Reads

Ms. Yingling Reads

(image taken, of course, from the Ms. Yingling Reads blog with the express purpose of linking back to her blog!)

I stumbled across this blog today while checking Pinterest. (I guess those annoying “Related Pin” pins are worth something after all!) It got my attention because it was a link to her fantasy books list (and the image was intriguing), but when I read the tagline–“books for middle school students, especially boys”–I knew I’d need to share since that’s clearly an audience I don’t get to cover very often in this blog. The Ms. Yingling Reads blog goes back to 2006, and Ms. Yingling, a teacher librarian, writes reviews that feature a concise summary and an explanation of strengths and weaknesses of the book in terms of marketability to kids or classroom use. There are also lists of books for different genres or topics–adventure, fantasy, historical, humorous, and sports–with very brief summaries for quick picks. The blog also features a sidebar with links to other blogs and websites with books for boys and other book reviews and blogs that are worth exploring. If you are a teacher, librarian, or parent who is trying to get a middle school child (especially the boy variety, if the tagline is to be believed) to read age-appropriate material, this might be a good place to look! (I don’t guarantee that  you’ll find everything on the list age-appropriate–that’s an impossible task!–but “every book its reader” and all that! Enjoy!)

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