Sunday, August 6, 2017

Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain


I expect an unusual amount of adventure from my books if the main character is a boy named Huckleberry, and this classic surely didn’t disappoint.  Huck Finn lived in the town of St. Petersburg, Missouri, a frontier town where danger waits on its borders.  When Huck’s alcoholic father kidnaps him from his new court-appointed guardian, it’s up to Huck and his friend Tom Sawyer to make their escape.  Once free in the wild, the boys partner up with Jim, a runaway slave, and set off on a mission to help him free his own family.

One fact that’s often overlooks in this classic adventure story is the downright brutality of everyday life in the frontier South.  The original book has been banned many times for its use of the word “nigger”, and subsequent versions have been edited to remove this phrase.  As with most of Mr. Twain’s other works, though, the author is not known for pulling any punches with his writing.  His stories and books are often gritty, but they are always honest.  Huck Finn, one of the best examples of Mr. Twain’s writing, is certainly no different.  

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster


This book tells the story of Milo, a bored young boy who unexpectedly receives a tollbooth as a gift.  Not knowing quite what to do with this present, he drives through it in his toy car and arrives in the Kingdom of Wisdom.  There, he meets two troubled princesses named Rhyme and Reason, and sets off on a quest to restore order to the Kingdom.  Along the way, Milo rediscovers his love of learning while exploring the literal meaning of many common idioms.

This story is a great adventure on the surface, but what really makes the book is the epic quantity of puns inside.  Anyone who enjoyed the wacky antics of Amelia Bedelia would probably love The Phantom Tollbooth as well, particularly the part where Milo finds himself “jumping” to an island called Conclusions.  This is a smart, funny adventure for young men of all ages, and if you haven’t read it already then you’re missing out.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Book of Three, by Lloyd Alexander


Taran is a young boy who dreams of being a grand hero, mostly as an escape from the drudgery of his real job:  that of assistant pig-keeper at Caer Dallben.  Taran’s responsibilities include caring for a mystical pig named Hen Wen, who one day runs away into the forbidden forest.  Taran gives chase, an act which leads to an epic adventure with an absent-minded sorceress named Eilonwy, a mighty prince named Gwydion, and an odd man-beast known only as Gurgi.  Together, the group faces off against The Horned King, an evil warlord who rules the land with an iron fist.

One of the reasons that I love this series is that all of the the five books follow Taran through his adventurous childhood in the land of Prydain.  The wide-ranging cast of characters is based largely on Welsh mythology, a country where Mr. Alexander was stationed during World War II.  Although Mr. Alexander wrote over forty books for children, the Prydain series are his best-known works.  If you’re looking for a way to escape the drudgery of your own “normal” life, just pick up a copy of The Book of Three from your local library and stand by to be swept away!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Al Capone Does My Shirts, by Gennifer Choldenko


Moose Flanagan is a young boy whose family moves to Alcatraz Island for his father’s new job in the infamous prison.  When he’s not busy caring for his autistic sister, Moose becomes close friends with the warden’s troublesome daughter Piper.  The two come up with a number of money-making schemes, including convincing other kids that for a price, they too could have their laundry done by one of the world’s most dangerous gangsters…Al Capone!

Although parts of this book are just as hilarious as the title, the story is more than just a barrel of laughs.  The most touching parts are about how Moose tries his best to care for his autistic sister, Natalie, or how his parents make such huge sacrifices to provide a better life for their kids.  This book is an amazing story built around a unique setting, and it’s no wonder that Ms. Choldenko eventually wrote two sequels for us to enjoy!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Mad Scientists' Club, by Bertrand Brinley


This excellent series is about an odd group of friends drawn together by their shared interests in science and technology.  Their unique talents often cause them to become involved in any number of hare-brained schemes, such as creating a remote-control sea monster in their local lake or rescuing a stranded Air Force pilot.  The Mad Scientists are a force to be reckoned with in their small hometown, and their adventures are guaranteed to have any young readers heading for their own toolshed...just as soon as they stop laughing!

These books were originally released during the 1960s and 1970s, but were re-released in 2001 after being out of print for some time.  You might have to do some hunting around your local library or used bookstore to find a copy, but it’ll be well worth your time.  I was amazed to find that several of these stories were originally published in Boys Life, a popular scouting magazine.   Even better, all of the Mad Scientists’ technology is accurately described, so an enthusiastic young reader can easily mirror their projects.  Keep a close eye on your boys after they read these books, or else you might find them trying to build their own hot air balloon!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck


This semi-autobiographical novel tells the story of Rob Peck, an eleven-year-old boy growing up on an impoverished Vermont farm.  While skipping school one day Rob finds himself assisting a neighbor in the delivery of a pair of calves, and he earns himself an adorable piglet as a reward.  Rob names the cute animal Pinky, and raises it to become a prize-winning pig.  As the Great Depression deepens, however, Rob’s quickly discovers that the responsibilities of running a household are much greater than raising a cute little pet.

Written in 1972, this great story was among the first generation of books to be considered “young adult” novels.  Although the book is not nearly as well-known as Mr. Peck’s popular “Soup” series, this book rivals such other YA greats as “The Outsiders” or “The Chocolate War”.  Although there are a few graphic scenes in the book, it’s important to note that these narratives about animal husbandry and butchering meat are also just descriptions of daily farm activities.  “A Day No Pigs Would Die” is probably one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read, and I’d recommend it for any young men who’d like to a true glimpse into the rural lifestyle. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Horrid Henry, by Francesca Simon

http://amzn.to/2alqLgy

Henry is one of the naughtiest boys ever, one who lacks any kind of manners or personal hygiene.  To make matters worse it seems like he’s always being held up in comparison to his well-behaved brother, Perfect Peter, and his charming sister, Moody Margaret.   Henry’s wild, out-of-control behavior naturally lands him in a number of hilarious situations…even on one special day when he tries his hardest to be absolutely perfect!

It always seems like girls of this age group have a number of chapter books they can choose between, from Junie B. Jones to Ramona Quimby, but it’s hard to find that perfect book for boys of this age.  The short chapters of the “Horrid Henry” series are perfect for first- or second graders, and even the most reluctant reader would find themselves drawn in to Henry’s crazy adventures.  I highly recommend the Horrid Henry series, even though this boy would make an absolutely terrible role model!