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! 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

S.O.R. Losers, by AVI

The South Orange River (S.O.R.) School has a great reputation in sports, to the point where they’ve never lost a game this season.  That winning record is about to change, however, when some non-sporting kids decide to form SOR’s first soccer team.   When their overeager parents force the team to continue on after their first blowout loss, the kids rack up an impressive losing record that only serves to bring these misfits closer together!

Growing up, I read a ton of sports books by awesome authors like Matt Christopher.  While these books were great, most of them were usually about talented kids who excelled on the playing field.  Avi’s book is much different, because it shows that sports can still be beneficial for those of us who weren’t blessed with a ton of athletic ability.  Be sure to pick up a copy of this classic, and I guarantee you’ll be laughing out loud until the final whistle!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeline L'Engle

Meg Murry is a brilliant student, although all her friends and teachers tend to regard her as a troublesome kid.  Her parents are scientists, and her genius father has been inexplicably missing for several months.  One stormy night, Meg and her brother Charles are having a late snack when their eccentric new neighbor, Mrs. Whatsit, bursts in with an amazing announcement.  Mr. Murry is apparently still alive, although his research has somehow caused him to be propelled off through space and time into a mysterious fifth dimension known as a tessaract.  Armed with this new knowledge, Meg sets off with Charles and her school friend Calvin in an attempt travel through space-time and rescue her father!

I’ve never been a huge reader of science fiction, but this book is an example of a story that transcends the genre.  It’s been a perennial favorite for readers of all ages, no doubt due to its amazing story and well-thought-out plotline.  I’ve made it a personal goal to read further on into Ms. L’Engle other books in the series, collectively known as “The Time Quintet”, and if you’re looking for an amazing adventure then you’re more than welcome to join me!