Sunday, January 7, 2018

Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, by J.K. Rowling

2017 marks the fifth year that I’ve been keeping this blog as a side project, and I can’t believe that I never got around to adding the Harry Potter series to my list!  My apologies to J.K. Rowling, as the slight was most definitely not intentional!  Let me correct my oversight by introducing you to Harry Potter, a young orphan boy taken in by the Dursley family.  On the approach of Harry’s eleventh birthday, he begins to experience strange powers that he can’t yet understand.  Then one day, a mysterious visitor arrives to inform Harry that he’s actually a young wizard, and also that he’s due to begin school at a magical academy for witches and wizards!  Hogwarts Academy is the escape that Harry has been dreaming of his entire life, and it’s a glorious experience…at least, until he learns about Voldemort, the evil wizard who killed his parents!

This book is the first in a series of seven novels, all of which are rightfully considered to be modern classics.  The continuity and backstory between the books runs amazingly deep, so it’s important to read them all through in sequence.  Some of the Harry Potter books can run quite long by middle grade standards, although it’s a safe bet that the awesome story will serve to pull young readers along through the pages.  If by some unfortunate circumstance you haven’t yet read “Sorceror’s Stone”, you really have no one to blame but yourself! 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Journey to the Center of the Earth, by Jules Verne

Otto Lidenbrock is a German professor who believes that there are several volcanic tubes spread across the Earth which lead directly to its core.  Searching for irrefutable proof of his new theory, Otto takes his nephew Axel and their guide Hans deep into the caves beneath Snaefellsjokull, an active volcano in Iceland.  There, much to their disbelief, the three explorers encounter a number of natural hazards and even some prehistoric creatures!

Mr. Verne first published this book in 1864, and I think that one of the reasons behind its longevity is its outlandish plot.  Of course it was written back in a golden age of science and exploration, when academics were making major leaps of progress in all fields of study.  Most of Mr. Verne’s books have strong elements of science and discovery worked into the plot, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any of them to readers of all ages.  Upon reading “Journey to the Center of the Earth” for a second time, however, I found myself marveling at our modern levels of scientific progress.  Could it be possible that today’s generation might have its own young Jules Verne among us, a budding author who’s already hard at work writing stories about genetic engineering or deep space exploration?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Big Red, by Jim Kjelgaard

“Big Red” was a champion Irish Setter; from the moment Danny saw him, he knew Red would be his dog.  Danny was just a lowly trapper, a boy who knew more about the ways of the woods than fancy kennels and dog shows.  But when the two meet for the first time, they quickly become inseparable and Red’s owner entrusts him to Danny’s care.  In the harsh wilderness that Danny calls home, Red proves to be a reliable, loyal companion…even when faced with a legendary enemy!

Mr. Kjelgaard is the prolific author of more than forty novels for young men, and it seems as if I’ve done him a disservice by waiting so long to include him on this list.  Although he was born over a hundred years ago and many of his books have now gone out of print, a good number are still available in retail shops today.  “Big Red” was even made into a Disney movie, a sure sign of its powerful and moving story.  These animal-focused books were some of my favorites growing up, so do yourself a favor and start searching for some of Mr. Kjelgarrd’s writing yourself! 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

My Dog Skip, by Willie Morris

This autobiography tells the story of Willie Morris, a 9-year-old boy growing up in rural Yazoo City, Mississippi.   When Willie falls in love with a lively puppy named Skip, the two of them grow up together in a small town which seems to have no shortage of adventures.  Although this book is more of a reflection on the author’s childhood than it is a plot-driven story, I’d still have no hesitation recommending it to young readers.  After all, reading a memoir like “My Dog Skip” will invariably cause children to think about the imminent responsibilities of life in the real world, as well as how they’d like to remember the present.  If you love dogs (and who doesn’t?), I’d recommend you order a copy today.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson

Jessie Owens is a lonely, artistic boy whose only friend is his tomboy neighbor, Leslie Burke.  While exploring a creek near to their homes, the two decide to form an imaginary land where they can disappear from bullies at school.  This land is called Terabithia, and both Jessie and Leslie rule over their loyal subjects.  All is well in this secluded, magical land…at least, until the peace is shattered by an unspeakable tragedy.

One of the reasons that I like this book so much is because it’s such a painful read.  Young men often have a hard time coming to terms with their own emotions, and it’s reassuring that there’s at least one strong literary character who they can use as a role model.   I don’t want to give away any of the story here, but watching Jessie struggle with his emotions sends an unspoken message to boys that it’s okay to feel a certain way.  “Bridge to Terabithia” is a powerful, unforgettable story that all young men should read at least once in their lives.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Whipping Boy, by Sid Fleischman

Prince Horace is a spoiled brat, one who’s constantly causing trouble in an attempt to get his father’s attention.  He’s a kid who’s in serious need of a good spanking, but since he’s the prince no one can raise a hand against him.  Instead, his family has taken in an orphan boy named Jemmy, whose sole purpose in life is to receive punishments on behalf of the prince whenever Horace misbehaves.  It’s a horrible life and Jemmy longs for his freedom, which suddenly comes one day when Prince Horace decides to run away from the castle!

I read this book for the first time in second grade, and one of the main reasons it appealed to me back then was because of how Prince Horace’s unfair arrangement was laid bare from the beginning.  Imagine, being punished for doing absolutely nothing wrong…or even worse, having someone intentionally do something wrong in order to get you in trouble!  This unjust way of life is immediately identifiable for anyone who’s ever had the thought that “life isn’t fair”, and it’s no wonder that Mr. Fleischman was presented with the Newbery Award for his great story. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

White Fang, by Jack London

This book is about a rough dog named White Fang, who’s actually three-quarters wolf.  Born in the wilds of Canada’s Yukon Territory, White Fang survives by moving between Indian tribes, ferocious wolf packs and even a dog-fighting ring.  White Fang’s struggles finally come to an end when a gold prospector buys the dog and brings him onward to California.  There, a warm, sunny retirement awaits…or does it?

One of the things I like best about Mr. London’s writing is the fact that he doesn’t shy away from depicting the grisly realities of life on the frontier.  Tough men headed west expecting to live a tough live, and by all accounts they weren’t disappointed.  This book is written in a similar style, although I do have to say that the depictions of violence and cruelty aren’t too excessive.  If anything, this book is an accurate depiction of what frontier life must have been like, and it doesn’t hurt one bit that the main character is a heroic dog!