Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Bully of Barkham Street, by Mary Stolz

Nearly everyone’s had a run-in with a bully at some point in their lives, but how many of us have ever stopped to think about why these kids behave this way?  Mary Stolz’ classic book forces the reader to do just that by telling the story of a frustrated boy named Martin Hastings.  Beneath the gruff, thoughtless exterior is a chubby boy who’s actually a little bit lonely himself.  Acting out is a way for him to get attention, and inevitably Martin comes into conflict with his next-door neighbor, Edward Frost.  This book is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, albeit someone that you might not necessarily like…at least not at first!

One great thing about “The Bully of Barkham Street” is that it’s actually a companion novel to another book called “A Dog on Barkham Street”.  This book was published a few years earlier, and it tells the same events through Edward Frost’s point of view.   I’d recommend reading both books, but no matter which you read first you’ll be able to see the conflict from both boys’ points of view.  Apparently, boys will be boys no matter the decade.  If you’re looking for some great insight into the way boys think, look no further than the Barkham Street books!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Holes, by Louis Sachar

Stanley Yelnats is a teenage boy from a poor but hard-working family of farmers.  The family blames their continual bad luck on a curse of bad luck set in motion by his pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather, and the latest example of this comes when Stanley is wrongfully accused of stealing a priceless pair of shoes.  Stanley is sentenced to a period of hard labor, digging precisely-measured holes in the ground at a prison camp.  Over time, Stanley discovers that he and the rest of the inmates aren’t just digging as punishment, but rather searching for something…

Besides the fact that this book is such a great story, one other reason for its phenomenal success is that it’s just plain fun!  Yes, Stanley’s last name is his first spelled backwards, and that’s just one of the small details buried within this book for careful readers to find.  The supporting cast is just plain hilarious, and it’s no wonder that Disney decided to make “Holes” into a film.

If you’re looking for a modern classic that will have boys howling with laughter as they fly through the pages, look no further than “Holes”.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Marvelous Inventions of Alvin Fernald, by Clifford B. Hicks

Since 1960, boys and girls alike have enjoyed reading about the adventures of Alvin Fernald and his Magnificent Brain.  Whenever his brain clicks into action, a glassy stare comes into Alvin’s eyes and not even his troublesome sister, lovingly known as “The Pest”, can distract him from his work.  Whether it’s creating the Foolproof Burglar Alarm for his bedroom door or developing the Sure Shot Paper Slinger for delivering newspapers from his bike, Alvin is always in search of another marvelous invention.  In this book, the first in the series, a set of mysterious circumstances surrounding the Old Huntley Place is all the inspiration that Alvin needs for his sleuthing.

The Alvin Fernald books were already modern classics when I discovered them as a child, and although they might be slightly hard to find they are actually still in print today!  The author, Clifford B. Hicks, also served as an editor for Popular Mechanics magazine, so one neat feature of these books is that all of Alvin’s creations are actually realistic!  Based on the descriptions in the stories, a tinkering reader can easily re-create some of the inventions within.  Mr. Hicks seemed to know both the inner workings of machines, as well as young boys’ brains, which makes these books such enduring stories today.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Hardy Boys, by Franklin W. Dixon

Frank and Joe Hardy are a pair of teenage brothers and amateur detectives.  When they’re not attending high school in the city of Bayport, they often find themselves entangled in any number of local mysteries.  Whether they solve one of the confidential case files that their father (a detective) is working on, or they accidentally stumble across a villain’s concealed activities, action and adventure seem to seek out the Hardy Boys. 

One fun fact is that while the “Hardy Boys” series is supposedly authored by someone called Franklin W. Dixon, all of the books were actually created by ghostwriters.  There have been over 200 books added to the series over the past century, so it’s very easy to pick one up at random and dive in.  Each book is a self-contained novel, so you don’t have to start with any particular book like you would with “Harry Potter” or “Lord of the Rings.”

The Hardy Boys are the type of teenagers that every boy dreams of being, so it’s no wonder that their popularity has endured for so long.  Over a million of these books are still sold each year, so I’m betting you’ll find it easy to put your hands on a copy!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt

Tired of her family, ten-year old Winnie Foster starts to consider running away from home.   One day, during a walk in the woods, she meets a teenage boy named Jesse Tuck.   Jesse and his family lead her deeper into her family’s land, where a magical spring puts forth water which has granted them eternal life.  As Winnie begins to find herself falling in love with Jessie, she becomes sorely tempted to drink the water herself.  All the while, a mysterious stranger from the Tucks’ past is following, offering a temptation of an entirely different sort…

This book was written in 1975 and I originally read it as part of a grade school curriculum, but I was amazed to find that the story is just as good today.  The theme is very thought provoking:  would eternal life be a blessing, or a curse?   “Tuck Everlasting” is a suspenseful page-turner, and well worth the time that any young man would spend reading it.    

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

This story centers around the life of Liesel Meinger, a nine-year-old girl living in Germany during World War II.  After her brother dies, Liesel is taken in by a set of foster parents who’re also hiding a Jewish man from the Nazis.  This man, Max, teaches Liesel to read in secret.   Entranced with the power of the written word, Liesel begins to steal a number of banned books in order to save them from being burned by German censors.

Even though the hero of this book is a girl, I’d flag it as a must-read for all young men.  While Anne Frank’s diary might provide a more intimate view of what it was like to hide from the Nazis, I found “The Book Thief” to be a more accessible story.  The book is narrated by Death himself (who remarks that World War II was a very busy time for him), so it’s actually very easy to take a peek into these characters’ challenging lives.  “The Book Thief” has definitely earned my highest recommendation.

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.