Sunday, June 25, 2017

Al Capone Does My Shirts, by Gennifer Choldenko


Moose Flanagan is a young boy whose family moves to Alcatraz Island for his father’s new job in the infamous prison.  When he’s not busy caring for his autistic sister, Moose becomes close friends with the warden’s troublesome daughter Piper.  The two come up with a number of money-making schemes, including convincing other kids that for a price, they too could have their laundry done by one of the world’s most dangerous gangsters…Al Capone!

Although parts of this book are just as hilarious as the title, the story is more than just a barrel of laughs.  The most touching parts are about how Moose tries his best to care for his autistic sister, Natalie, or how his parents make such huge sacrifices to provide a better life for their kids.  This book is an amazing story built around a unique setting, and it’s no wonder that Ms. Choldenko eventually wrote two sequels for us to enjoy!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Mad Scientists' Club, by Bertrand Brinley


This excellent series is about an odd group of friends drawn together by their shared interests in science and technology.  Their unique talents often cause them to become involved in any number of hare-brained schemes, such as creating a remote-control sea monster in their local lake or rescuing a stranded Air Force pilot.  The Mad Scientists are a force to be reckoned with in their small hometown, and their adventures are guaranteed to have any young readers heading for their own toolshed...just as soon as they stop laughing!

These books were originally released during the 1960s and 1970s, but were re-released in 2001 after being out of print for some time.  You might have to do some hunting around your local library or used bookstore to find a copy, but it’ll be well worth your time.  I was amazed to find that several of these stories were originally published in Boys Life, a popular scouting magazine.   Even better, all of the Mad Scientists’ technology is accurately described, so an enthusiastic young reader can easily mirror their projects.  Keep a close eye on your boys after they read these books, or else you might find them trying to build their own hot air balloon!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck


This semi-autobiographical novel tells the story of Rob Peck, an eleven-year-old boy growing up on an impoverished Vermont farm.  While skipping school one day Rob finds himself assisting a neighbor in the delivery of a pair of calves, and he earns himself an adorable piglet as a reward.  Rob names the cute animal Pinky, and raises it to become a prize-winning pig.  As the Great Depression deepens, however, Rob’s quickly discovers that the responsibilities of running a household are much greater than raising a cute little pet.

Written in 1972, this great story was among the first generation of books to be considered “young adult” novels.  Although the book is not nearly as well-known as Mr. Peck’s popular “Soup” series, this book rivals such other YA greats as “The Outsiders” or “The Chocolate War”.  Although there are a few graphic scenes in the book, it’s important to note that these narratives about animal husbandry and butchering meat are also just descriptions of daily farm activities.  “A Day No Pigs Would Die” is probably one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read, and I’d recommend it for any young men who’d like to a true glimpse into the rural lifestyle. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Horrid Henry, by Francesca Simon

http://amzn.to/2alqLgy

Henry is one of the naughtiest boys ever, one who lacks any kind of manners or personal hygiene.  To make matters worse it seems like he’s always being held up in comparison to his well-behaved brother, Perfect Peter, and his charming sister, Moody Margaret.   Henry’s wild, out-of-control behavior naturally lands him in a number of hilarious situations…even on one special day when he tries his hardest to be absolutely perfect!

It always seems like girls of this age group have a number of chapter books they can choose between, from Junie B. Jones to Ramona Quimby, but it’s hard to find that perfect book for boys of this age.  The short chapters of the “Horrid Henry” series are perfect for first- or second graders, and even the most reluctant reader would find themselves drawn in to Henry’s crazy adventures.  I highly recommend the Horrid Henry series, even though this boy would make an absolutely terrible role model!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O'Dell


Karana is a young native girl who lives on an island off the coast of California.  Her people have a peaceful existence in their little fishing community, at least until a traveling group of Russian fur hunters engage the tribe in battle.  After her depleted tribe flees for the mainland, Karana becomes the sole occupant of her little island.  Her story is one of self-sufficiency, although over the years she is always plagued by one burning question:  will her people ever return for her?

Yes, I’m aware that the main character of this tribe is a girl, but I’m still willing to recommend it as a perfect read for young men.  It’s an adventure story first and foremost, sort of like another generation’s Robinson Crusoe.  For any boys who’ve ever daydreamed about how peaceful it would be to get stranded by themselves on a remote island, this book might be all it takes to change their mind…



Sunday, April 16, 2017

Moby Dick, by Herman Melville


The narrator of this story is Ishmael, an outcast from society.  While he never really explains much of his own personal circumstances, “Moby Dick” begins with Ishmael taking to the sea in the hopes of changing his life.  He signs on board a Nantucket whaler called the Pequod, which is run by an iron-fisted tyrant named Captain Ahab.  Once on the open seas, it becomes apparent to the crew that this sailing is not driven by the huge profits that come from harvesting whale oil, but rather so that their driven Captain can seek revenge on the whale that disfigured him.  The Pequod’s crew travels the high seas, searching for any sign of that cursed white whale…Moby Dick!

I’ve read “Moby Dick” several times in my life, and it’s important to know that there are many different versions of this book.  The original text by Mr. Melville is 600 pages long and steeped in detail—it’s still a fantastic read today, although younger readers might be perfectly happy with an abridged version or even an Illustrated Classics format.  Whatever version you choose, be sure to add “Moby Dick” to your reading bucket list.  Adventure awaits you on the high seas!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Pigman, by Paul Zindel


John Conlan and Lorraine Jensen are two high school sophomores with a knack for getting into trouble.  Their favorite hobby involves making prank phone calls and seeing how long they can keep their victim on the line, an activity which leads them to meet Mr. Angelo Pignati.  After a visit to “The Pigman’s” house, John and Lorraine become fast friends with this elderly widower.  When Mr. Pignati suffers an unexpected heart attack, however, John and Lorraine volunteer to keep a close eye on his house.  Unfortunately, they end up doing more a lot more harm than good…

Without giving away any of this awesome story, it’s important to know in advance that “The Pigman” is a very sad, realistic book.  Many libraries still keep it on their list of “banned” books due to its depictions of underage drinking, drug use and sexuality.  It’s kind of remarkable that this book was actually published back in 1968 since its themes are way ahead of its time, but I think that “The Pigman” will quickly become a favorite to any young men in search of a haunting, mature read.