Sunday, December 14, 2014

Dune, by Frank Herbert


When Frank Herbert created “Dune”, he did so much more than just write a book.  Instead, he built an entire galaxy!  This is considered one of the best sci-fi books of all time, and with good reason.  “Dune” tells the story of young Paul Atreides, whose noble family assumes control of the planet Arrakis.  Although the planet is a barren desert wasteland, it is the only source of the spice “mélange”, which is the most powerful substance in the universe.  As Paul learns the secrets of his new home, he quickly becomes embroiled in the politics of a galactic Empire.

Be forewarned, this is a LONG book for young adult readers, tipping the scales at nearly 900 pages!  It’s definitely not a beach read, but rather something that you’ve got to lose yourself in over the course of a few weeks.  If you’re hesitant to take on a challenge like “Dune”, keep in mind that this book inspired a generation of science fiction books and movies, including the Star Wars series!  There are also a number of Dune sequels, and many people consider this book to be the sci-fi version of “Lord of the Rings”.

One other neat thing about “Dune” is that it’s been adapted into movie versions on at least two occasions.  I really enjoy seeing a movie once I’ve read the book, since it allows me to see how the same story can be told in different ways.  One thing’s for sure, with all of the “Dune” books and stories that are out there, filmmakers will never run short on inspiration!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Jumanji, by Chris Van Allsburg


I love reviewing the occasional picture book, especially if it’s one that older audiences can enjoy as well!  Chris Van Allsburg’s story is about Judy and Peter, two ordinary kids who discover a mysterious board game called Jumanji.  The game is actually infused with magical powers, so the kids find themselves faced with all the dangers of the jungle!  Wild animals running loose, a powerful monsoon, even an erupting volcano!

One thing I enjoyed about Jumanji (and this is true for all of Mr. Van Allsburg’s books!) is how his illustrations can simply suck you into the story.  In this book, it almost feels like you’re playing the game right next to Judy and Peter!  The awesome illustrations don’t just tell the story along with the narrative, they support it by helping you to imagine yourself in those surroundings.  It’s no wonder that this book is so popular with boys of all ages, especially those with a healthy sense of adventure!

Let’s imagine for a second that you could actually get drawn into one of the games that you have at home.  Is there any particular game that you’d like to experience the way that Judy and Peter did?  Would it be a board game like Monopoly or Sorry!, or would you like to get drawn into a video game?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card


Sometime in the not-so-distant future, Earth has survived two invasion attempts from an alien species known only as “The Buggers”.  In anticipation of another onslaught, the nations of Earth create an international space fleet to defend themselves.  As a young child, Ender Wiggin is selected for training at their academy, where he learns the fundamentals of combat by participating in battles against other student armies.               

I’ve never really been a huge reader of science fiction, but I strongly recommend this book because of the underlying themes.  Younger readers might want to hold off because there is some violence, as well as some curse words, but probably nothing that your average fifteen- or sixteen-year old young man hasn’t been exposed to already.  Besides, anyone who’s overly disturbed by these things has obviously missed the whole point of the novel.  “Ender’s Game” doesn’t just have my recommendation--- it’s also endorsed by the US Marine Corps, and it’s required reading for their officer candidates!

“Ender’s Game” is a book that I would recommend for almost all high-school boys, but especially for any of them who’ve ever considered joining the military.  I had the unfortunate opportunity to see combat in Iraq, and for me, it was a life-changing experience.  By putting the realities of warfare into a fictional setting, the author allows us to get a huge amount of insight into what war really is.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein


When I first picked up a copy of “Where the Sidewalk Ends”, I didn’t realize that it was a book of poetry.  My older brother just told me that it was a good book and that I should read it, so of course I did.  To be perfectly honest, I probably wouldn’t have started reading it if I’d known it was poetry, but once I opened the cover it was too late to quit.  Shel Silverstein’s hilarious line drawings sucked me in, and the outrageous verses kept me turning the pages.

This is a poetry book for boys who don’t like poetry, so it quickly became one of my favorites.  I really appreciated the fact that you can open it to any page and pick a poem to read at random, so there’s no need to read the book from beginning to end.  Of course, you’ll undoubtedly end up with a few (or a few dozen) favorite poems, so there’s a handy index included at the back of the book.  Silverstein wrote many other books, including a couple other compilations of poems, so there’s a lot more to enjoy after you finish “Where the Sidewalk Ends”!    

One thing I enjoyed about Silverstein’s writing style is that he’s just so much fun!  The silly poems and outrageous drawings will get a laugh out of almost anyone.  Also, this book is a great inspiration for your own writing projects.  The topics are simple, dealing with things like chores or annoying siblings.  Even a kid who never thought about writing poetry would be tempted to put a few verses down on paper after reading Silverstein’s work!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Solitary Blue, by Cynthia Voigt


So you think you know what it means to be lonely?  Let me introduce you to Jeff Greene, a boy who was raised by his father after his mother ran off.  Jeff’s dad is a college professor who has very little time to spend with his son, so he leaves the household chores to a series of graduate students.  With his mother gone, Jeff spends his days dreaming of her…until one summer, she invites him to visit her in Charleston, South Carolina.  Over the course of the next few years, Jeff gradually explores his relationship with his parents, and discovers his own kind of solitary happiness.

One of my favorite parts of this book was the way that it lets you keep pace with Jeff as he explores his family tree.  You can almost feel Jeff’s sense of emotional numbness when his mother leaves and he’s left in the hands of uncaring babysitters.  Also, Jeff’s dad seems genuinely cold in comparison to his mother, but over time we discover that he’s actually a loving parent who’s rearranged his life in order to support Jeff’s needs.

To be completely honest, I was a little put off by the way that the plot developed slowly at the beginning.  I wasn’t sure who Jeff Greene really was, or why I should care about him.  If you find yourself feeling that way during the first few chapters, my only advice is to keep reading through it.  It seems like the author wrote the book that way on purpose, to help us understand Jeff’s sense of withdrawal.  This is a very deep book, and about halfway through you’ll feel like you’ve dived all the way inside the story.

One last note is that “A Solitary Blue” is the third book in a series called “The Tillerman Cycle”.  If it’s important to you to read a series in order, then by all means go back and start at the beginning.  I had heard that this book could be read on its own, so I decided to jump right into the middle of the series.  While I agree that this was a fine book on its own, now my reading list has gotten a lot longer since I’ve got to go back and see if the rest of The Tillerman Cycle is just as awesome as “A Solitary Blue”!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Castle, by David Macaulay


What can I say about “Castle”?  It’s kind of like a picture book about architecture, with an awesome story set in medieval Europe.  This is one of those books where I won’t be able to describe it no matter how hard I try, so you’ll just have to go out and read it for yourself.  “Castle” tells the story of a typical medieval fortress, from its planning stages through the actual construction.  The story even includes a fierce battle that tests the building’s defenses!  It’s an awesome look inside a huge construction project that spanned several decades.

One awesome thing about this book is that the author actually takes you inside each piece of the castle’s architecture with his blueprint-style illustrations.  The narrative is excellent as well, because the story explains why each step of the building process was so important.  When you read this book, you not only learn about all the steps in building a castle was built, but also why this type of building was so important to life in the dark ages.     

Macaulay’s book is a great choice for visual learners, those people who understand an idea better once they’ve had a chance to “see” it up close and in detail.  I’d guess that the book is probably geared towards 10- or 12-year old boys since it includes a lot of really technical details, but it’s so easy to read that younger boys might appreciate it as well.  Whatever your age, don’t miss out on reading this classic!    

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick


After his parents die in a tragic house fire, Hugo Cabret becomes an apprentice to his uncle, who lives inside the walls of a Paris train station.  Hugo learns how to maintain all of the station’s clocks, and he takes over the job when his uncle mysteriously goes missing.  When Hugo recovers a mechanical robot from the ashes of his old home, he embarks on a quest to repair the delicate machinery that serves as the only link to his family.

While this thick book can look quite intimidating at first, it’s actually a very fast read.  Over half of the pages are illustrations, which definitely add a lot of weight to the story.  You’ll find yourself flipping through the illustrated scenes of action and suspense so quickly that you’ll feel like you’re reading a movie!  I won’t give away any of the ending to this awesome book, but I guarantee you’ll appreciate the visual format once you’ve followed Hugo into his discoveries about the origins of French movie-making!

This book is kind of an amazing invention itself, and it was neat to get a chance to explore the history of popular culture.  Most of the history classes I’ve taken were more concerned with war and politics than with culture, even though things like movies and television shows can have a huge impact on the way we live our lives.  Take a moment to look around at some of the “modern technology” you use every day.  How do you think that the next generation will feel about our iPhones or iPads?  Will they appreciate how this technology has changed our lives, or will they just laugh at these old antiques?