Sunday, July 24, 2016

Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson


When an old sailor calling himself “Billy Bones” comes to lodge at the Admiral Benbow Inn, he pays the innkeeper’s son Jim Hawkins a few pennies to be particularly watchful of strangers.  After a visit from some mysterious men Billy dies suddenly, leaving Jim and his parents to open his sea chest and examine the contents.  They find some money, a journal and a map, which presumably leads to a cache of buried treasure.  With thoughts of gold doubloons, Mr. Hawkins’ friends start equipping a ship for the voyage…complete with Jim as the cabin boy, and a shady crew led by a one-legged cook named Long John Silver.

This book has everything:  mutiny on the high seas, bloodthirsty pirates and buried treasure.  It’s the ultimate work of escapist literature for boys, and it was pleasantly fulfilling to learn that the author spent his share of time on tropical isles.  For five years until his death in 1894, Robert Louis Stevenson lived with his family on the Pacific island of Samoa.  Mr. Stevenson was one of the best-selling authors of the 19th century, and it’s easy to see why as his writing still inspires adventurers today.  “Treasure Island” is a must-read for boys, and a must-re-read for young men of all ages.     

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Melvin Beederman, Superhero, by Greg Trine


Melvin Beederman is a brand-new superhero, fresh out of training.  His first assignment takes him to the city of Los Angeles, which hasn’t had a superhero since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar retired.   In a dry-cleaning mishap and epic wardrobe malfunction, Melvin’s powerful cape accidentally finds its way to a third-grade girl named Candace Brinkwater.  Even though Candace and Melvin end up sharing some of the same superpowers, they both still have one weakness… bologna.  Will the evil McNasty Boys be able to exploit this weakness and continue their crime spree?  You’ll just have to read the books to find out!

There are eight books in the Melvin Beederman series, and I’d bet that all of them are as funny as the first.  If you’re looking for a smart new superhero, then Melvin’s your man.  The hilarious illustrations by Rhode Montijo are the icing on the cake, and I’d recommend these books to any boy who’s ever been tempted to wear his underpants on the outside!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Ultimate Ending series, by Danny McAleese


One of my most popular posts on this blog was about the classic “Choose Your Own Adventure” series, which have been a favorite choice for millions of boys over the past thirty years.  I think it’s clear that today’s generation has another new favorite on its hands with the “Ultimate Ending” series of books by up-and-coming author Danny McAleese.

The first book in the series, “Treasures of the Forgotten City”, will have you searching for the ruins of the lost city of Atraharsis, using only your wits and a cryptic journal left behind by your grand-uncle.  Danger awaits at every turn, and it’s up to you to find the fabled star gems by uncovering the clues within each riddle.  The second book in the series, “The House on Hollow Hill”, is set in an allegedly haunted house scheduled for demolition.  Will you and your friends survive the former occupants’ ghastly tricks, or will the house’s secrets remain lost forever?

Both of these books are very fast-paced, and boys young and old will appreciate the adventurous settings.  As I write this post there are already six books in the “Ultimate Ending” series, and I’m sure Mr. McAleese is hard at work on a number of sequels.  I actually read “Treasures of the Forgotten City” as an e-book, and one neat feature was the fact that I could quickly tab backwards if I made a mistake.  (I’m not giving away any spoilers but yes, there are a number of fatal traps and other ends in these books!)

If you’re looking to turn a reluctant reader on to the next big thing, then I’d definitely recommend the “Ultimate Ending” series.  With their short, action-packed chapters, one of these books will be like a condensed Dan Brown novel for kids!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Challenger Deep, by Neal Schusterman


Caden Bosch is a young man suffering from mental illness.  In one world, he’s a brilliant high school student and a natural athlete who’s starting to display some unusual behavior.  In his mind, he’s actually an artist-in-residence on an exploration ship heading towards the deepest point on Earth.  As Caden quickly descends into his illusions, his mind becomes split between worlds, unable to tell which is real.

As I read this book I noticed that a lot of the “Challenger Deep” narratives didn’t seem to make sense to me, which was probably the author’s intention.  For people suffering from mental illness, their hallucinations or visions would probably only seem reasonable to themselves.  Even though it was a struggle to follow everything that went on in this alternate reality, I greatly appreciated having the chance to peek inside Caden’s mind.  By the end of the book I was actually rooting for him, hoping he could overcome the struggle of his split worlds.

One of my favorite parts, though, was the way that Mr. Shusterman seemed to humanize those with mental illness.  By having Caden stay in a home with others in the same condition, he changed from a mentally ill kid to just one of many mentally ill kids.  I think it’s important to remember that even though we might not personally know someone in this condition, there’s a small but significant slice of the population who battle with mental illness.  This book is sensitive yet powerful, and it will cause you to take another look at the world around you.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Maus, by Art Spiegelman


I’ll start this review by saying that “Maus” is definitely not a book for boys, but it may be a hit with young men who’re ready for something different.   This is a graphic novel created by cartoonist Art Speigelman, which tells the story of his father Vladek’s experiences as a survivor of the Holocaust.  Although the story jumps back and forth from the present to the buildup of World War II, the interview format makes it very easy for the reader to identify with Vladek.  It’s hard for us to comprehend how over six million Jews died during the holocaust, because so many individual lives quickly become nothing more than a statistic.  By writing “Maus” as a graphic novel, however, Spiegelman allows the reader more insight into the lives which were lost, and also a look at the many survivors who were tragically scarred.

One unique method that Spiegelman used was to depict his characters as animals.  The Jewish victims are seen as mice, the Nazis as cats, and the American GIs are shown as dogs.  By using cartoonish animals as the actors in this human tragedy, Spiegelman lightens the weight of mass murder enough to keep the reader from feeling overwhelmed.  Even though this book is technically considered a graphic novel, it’s actually a powerful memoir that will leave the reader changed by the end of Volume 2.

I absolutely loved Maus, and it’s one of those classics that I keep at the front of my own bookshelf at home.  Again, it’s probably not the best choice for younger boys due to the mature themes, but it’s an absolute must-read for anyone old enough to study the Holocaust.  

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Bagels from Benny, by Aubrey Davis


Benny loves to help out at his Grandpa’s bakery, and the customers love the crusty bagels with their soft insides.  When Grandpa explains to Benny that God, not him, should be thanked for the wonderful bagels, Benny decides to do just that.  After some thought, he leaves God a bagful of bagels in the synagogue each week.  Miraculously, it appears that God is actually eating the bagels…or is He?

This picture book is an awesome story of gratitude and sharing.  It’s hard to review a book so short without giving away the ending, but I’ll do my best since it’s such a powerful story.  I loved the way that both Benny and his Grandpa discovered a way to help others through their work, and I think it’s important to remember just how much a simple thing like food can mean to someone in need.    

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Monster, by Walter Dean Myers


Sixteen year-old Steve Harmon is a young man who loves making films, and he’s actually starring in his latest production.  It’s the story of how he became involved in a robbery plot that went bad, and resulted in the death of an innocent shopkeeper.  Steve is now sitting in the courtroom, on trial and facing a possible life sentence.  The scariest part of Steve’s movie?  The story is all happening in real life.

One of the best things about this book is the creative format.  By presenting the story as a screenplay rather than as a traditional novel, we get a much better insight into how Steve views the world.  It’s almost as if the stress of being on trial for his life has caused Steve to step out of his body, and now he analyzes the proceedings with all the excitement of a dispassionate bystander. 


SPOILER:  Another thing that I appreciated was the fact that Mr. Myers never really told us whether or not Steve was truly innocent.  That was a very interesting plot device, since I found myself feeling sympathy for a young man who may very well have played a crucial role in this murder.  “Monster” is a highly-charged but thoughtful read, and I’d be very happy to recommend it.