Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Boxcar Children, Graphic Novel by Shannon Eric Denton

I’m a huge fan of graphic novels!  I loved all the comic books that I used to read as a kid, but over the years I’ve gotten away from the worlds of Batman and Superman.  Graphic novels are kind of like comic books, but each book usually tells a self-contained story instead of being one part in an ongoing series.  Also, unlike comic books, it’s socially acceptable for a grown man to read a graphic novel in public!

I had never actually read any of the “Boxcar Children” mysteries by Gertrude Chandler Warner, so I was really excited to find this graphic novel at my library.  The Boxcar Children are two boys and two girls who become orphans after their parents die.  Afraid that they might get split up by their foster parents, the children decide to run off together.  They end up building a camp in the woods, and taking shelter inside of an abandoned railroad boxcar.  The Boxcar Children impressed me with their resourcefulness, and they did a pretty good job of running a house by themselves.

One thing I noticed about this book was that there was much more of an emphasis on pictures rather than words.  Some pages only had one or two sentences.  The illustrations did a great job of telling the story so I don’t feel like I missed out on anything, but I’ll definitely have to go back and get the original book for comparison!  Most of the sequels that follow in this series are mystery chapter books, and that’s definitely something that I’d be interested in reading.

From time to time, most kids come to wonder what would happen if they were suddenly alone in the world.  I think that the Boxcar Children were lucky to have had each other to rely on when their parents died, and that was a big reason why they were so successful in the woods.  Have you ever thought about what it would be like to live on your own?  Would you feel lonely, or scared?  Or maybe you might enjoy the time to yourself?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Accidental Genius of Weasel High, by Rick Detorie

I was immediately drawn to this book after reading the title, which is one of the more interesting ones that I’ve come across.  The story is about Larkin Pace, a high school student an amateur filmmaker.  “The Accidental Genius” is one of those books where the main character is telling his own story, and writing it down as a long-term diary as part of a school assignment.

This book is probably always going to be compared to “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”, because the author includes hilarious cartoons to complement his writing.  However, the two books are actually very different.  This is mostly because Larkin Pace is a high school kid with high school problems, like dating, school bullies, and exploring a career.  The subject matter is a little bit more mature than the “Wimpy Kid” series, but somehow that makes the cartoon illustrations seem even more welcome.  The pictures serve to lighten the mood while Larkin discusses the problems and challenges of his life.

The book’s chapters tend to focus on the most memorable events that happened to Larkin, so you really feel like you’re sneaking a peek at someone’s most personal thoughts.  I liked how the author didn’t include any dates in each chapter—it almost seems like Larkin started his writing assignment on a regular schedule, but falls out of a routine.  He tends to provide his updates after the most impressionable moments occur, which makes this book seem even more like a student project!

One thing I noted in “The Accidental Genius” was that there were no major life-changing events that happened to Larkin.  He’s a (mostly) normal kid, with a (mostly) happy family, with a (mostly) normal group of friends.   But somehow, following his experiences over the course of a year makes for a really interesting book!   This book made me think about all of those times when I’ve been bored in class, or a little uninterested with my own (mostly) normal life.  Do you ever feel that way?  Have you ever considered that someone else might be interested by what we do?  

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain

When I first read “Tom Sawyer”, I was captivated by the setting almost as much I was by the story itself.  Rural Missouri must have been an awesome place for Tom Sawyer to grow up!  It seemed like there was more than enough opportunity for adventure in this small town, with all the open land and hidden caves.  Living along the Mississippi River would definitely allow a boy to explore to his heart’s content.

Tom Sawyer and his best friend, Huckleberry Finn, are definitely not the most well-behaved boys in town!  They’re the type of kids who would sneak off to a graveyard at midnight, which is where their adventure actually begins.  These two friends stumble into a gang of graverobbers, and secretly witness a murder!  From there, the boys become wrapped up in the manhunt for an outlaw named Injun Joe, and the search for his secret buried treasure.

As much as I enjoy the excellent books that are being written today, not many of them have the main characters involved in dangerous situations like these.  I guess that people today might think that a story that involves a murder or a manhunt wouldn’t be appropriate for kids?  In my opinion, things like this are essential to a good adventure story.  If Tom Sawyer wasn’t in any kind of real danger, do you think that you would care as much about him?

“Tom Sawyer” is one of those classic books that everyone should read, and it definitely gets my highest recommendation.  It really made me think back to my own hometown, and the small adventures that I had there when I was growing up.  Take a second to think about your own home.  Has anything ever happened to you there that you might consider to be an adventure?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dodger, by Sir Terry Pratchett

“Dodger” is the story of a poor but street-smart orphan who lives in Victorian-era London.  Dodger makes his living as a “tosher”, which means that he wades through the city sewers in search of lost coins and jewelry.  It’s a rough life, and it’s made even more challenging when Dodger stops a kidnapping in progress.   From that point on, Dodger is drawn into a web of crime and espionage, relying on his wits to carry him through.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit London once, but I didn’t know a whole lot about the city’s history.  The author’s writing is very detailed, and after a few chapters you almost feel like you’ve gone back in time.  Horse-drawn carriages are everywhere, as is the dirt and filth of a huge city.  It’s an unlikely place to find a hero, but that makes Dodger’s brave acts seem even more impressive.

Through the course of the story, Dodger gets to meet notable people from that era, including Charles Dickens and Sweeney Todd.  Introducing them as characters seemed a little gimmicky at first, but I was grateful that I got the chance to learn more about them.  After I had finished the book, I had a whole separate list of people and places that I wanted to learn more about.  I also liked the way that the author left a little opening at the end of the book, in case he ever wanted to write a sequel.  Even if he doesn’t, it kind of makes the reader wonder about what will happen to Dodger next.

Reading books about the world out other places or other historical periods is a great way to experience another person’s life.  Is there another place that you’d like to visit?  What about a period of history that you’re particularly interested in?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Indian in the Cupboard, by Lynne Reid Banks

“The Indian in the Cupboard” was one of my favorite books when I was in school.  I think that it was on our fourth-grade reading list, and I remember that our teacher read it to us out loud, one chapter every day.  I was so impatient back then that I checked it out from the library and finished it myself at home, because I couldn’t wait to see how the story turned out!  Even reading it now, the book is just as good as I remember. 

This book is about Omri, who gets an empty cupboard for his birthday present.  Completely by accident, Omri places a plastic Indian inside the cupboard and locks it with a family heirloom key.  The Indian comes to life, and Omri quickly discovers that he can bring other plastic toys to life as well.  Working with his friend Patrick, Omri quickly turns his messy bedroom into the Wild West, complete with a cowboy and horses.

This sounds like an awesome way to play, but the situation quickly gets out of hand. Omri discovers that his toys are real people, with real problems.  The cowboy is an uncontrollable crybaby, and the Indian wants to build a home and take a wife.  Even worse, Omri and Patrick begin to fight over who owns which toys.  It’s a tense situation, and it’s especially difficult for them to keep this magic a secret between them.

I’d recommend this book to just about anyone, even if you don’t really like books about magic.  The magic in this story is just sort of there in the background, and the real plot is about what happens to the characters.  You can’t help being amazed as these tiny people learn to adapt to this huge new world around them, and how Omri learns to be responsible for the people he brought to life. 

After I read this book again, I spent some time looking at all of the bulldozers and excavators that my son keeps in his room.  If they somehow turned real, I bet that they’d turn our house into a construction site!  Do you have any favorite toys of your own?  Do you ever wonder what would happen if they somehow became real?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Diary of a Wimpy Kid, by Jeff Kinney

When I started this website, I was actually meaning to focus more on the “classic” books for boys--- stories like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.  You know, stories that talked about life in the great outdoors, where a young man has to fight off bears on the frontier or something.  That’s why I was a little hesitant to pick up a copy of “Wimpy Kid”, but I sure am glad that I did!  This book is quickly becoming known as a modern classic, and it’s a great reminder to readers everywhere that awesome new books are being written every day.

The story is about an pretty awkward guy named Greg Heffley, and how he adjusts to his first year of middle school.  It seems like everyone around him is taller, stronger, smarter, and (most importantly) more popular than he is.  Greg struggles to fit in to the new social circles at school, while doing his best to stay close with his best friend Rowley.  It’s a really difficult balancing act, especially since Greg is kind of a jerk!

I was laughing out loud as I worked my way through this book.  Greg gets himself into some crazy situations, and the cartoon illustrations really add a lot of humor to the book.  I really appreciated the fact that Jeff Kinney included at least one cartoon on every page.  This book would definitely appeal to a reader who enjoyed shorter stuff like comic books or magazines, or someone who might never have considered reading a novel.  If that sounds like you, then trust me on this one and pick up a copy of “Wimpy Kid”.

The “Wimpy Kid” stories have expanded into several sequels, and a few movies as well.  That’s great news if you love this book as much as I did, since it lets the story keep on going while you sink even further into the characters’ world.  I think that one reason these books have been such a hit is that they could take place anywhere.  The author never really states where Greg lives, so the stories could take place at any school or town in America.

Take a second to think about a few of the funnier things that have happened at your school.  Do you think that one of them might make an interesting story?  What about a book, or even a movie?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Call of the Wild, by Jack London

“The Call of the Wild” is the story of Buck, a dog who gets stolen and shipped off to Alaska where he’s forced to work as a sled dog.  Over time, Buck transforms himself from a house-pet into a rough, hardworking dog.   Eventually, Buck comes to embrace the tough life of a sled dog, and decides that he’s meant to live wild and free.

For me, one of the most interesting things about “Call of the Wild” is the way that Jack London makes Buck the main character.  It’s nice to read the book and discover what a dog might actually be thinking and feeling, especially during the times that Buck spends working with humans.  I also liked seeing how Buck changed as a dog, as he went from being a house pet to living in the wild. 

The author goes into a lot of detail about the tough living conditions that the gold prospectors and other frontiersmen endured during this period in history.   Moving so far away from civilization was a dangerous situation, and Jack London tells us about the incidents of crime and violence that were part of everyday life.  Sometimes it’s hard to read about animal abuse and cruel behavior, but I think that Mr. London is showing his readers a certain respect by being both gritty and factual.

 “Call of the Wild” is a very short book, but it really gives you a lot to think about when you’re finished.  How do you think you would fare if you were living and working on the cold, wild frontier?