Friday, June 22, 2012

Uncharted Territory: My Read-Aloud Chapter Book Journey with My Six-Year-Old Boy

When my oldest, Matthew, was four we dove into the world of chapter books with the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osbourne.  It was a great series to start us off.  While my little Nolan napped each afternoon, Matthew and I sat shoulder-to-shoulder on the concrete stoop of our condo and entered new worlds together.  Those were magical times.

Now a six-year-old, Matthew started to tire of the expectability of his favorite series, so this January we ventured out.  All my childhood favorites are too girly for his tastes, so I find myself in uncharted territory.  This adventure into the literary unknown makes me ridiculously excited.  Here is our journey in chapter books this year to-date:

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.
I can't even remember how I picked this as a starting point; I was terrified of the movie as a child.  But from the first page, Matthew was completely enthralled with the book.  The quirk, the humor, the air of mystery, and the chocolate reeled my boy right in.  He will never be the same.  He sobbed at the end, not wanting it to be over, and our read-aloud bar got set impossibly high.  Be forewarned:  it's hard to compete with Charlie.

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl.
The logical next step to replace his beloved Charlie.  Another boy protagonist; another Dahl masterpiece.  A tad darker than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, there were times I had to verbally edit as I read.  James's guardians are very cruel and Matthew's only six -- I needed to bring their mean rants down a notch.  Overall, we loved the outrageous, unexpected journey of James and his insect buddies.

Next I tried to read him two of my recent favorites, The Tale of Despereaux and Because of Winn-Dixie .  He turned down both after the first chapter.  A Roald Dahl lover to the core, he wanted immediate surprise and humor.  So we went back to Dahl.

Matilda by Roald Dahl.
Another totally quirky story about a girl genius with very unloving parents and a horrible headmistress at school.  Matilda discovered two things over the course of the story -- a unique gift she possessed, and what it means to love and be loved by her sweet teacher, Miss Honey.  Full disclosure: I found myself caught totally off-guard when suicide became the topic of one dialogue.  While if I had pre-read Matilda I might have waited until he was a bit older, I'm not sorry we read it.  Matthew fell whole-heartedly in love with this heroine.  He outraged at her mistreatment, sympathized with her intelligence, giggled at her antics, laughed his head off at her hilarity, and celebrated her victory with his whole being.  A win.

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl.
When I discovered that Dahl had written a sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I knew Matthew was going to go off his rocker with excitement.  He was practically bouncing off the walls.  Even crazier than the first, it was a bizarre ride.  Though I didn't love it as much as the original, Matthew was thrilled to live on a bit more with his favorite fictional kid and the wacky Mr. Wonka.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.
Don't miss this one!  Hugo is more than a book -- it is an experience.  This work of art creates a hybrid genre -- part novel, part wordless illustrated story.  Pure magic.  This was my first book of the new year.  I was thrilled when it later passed Matthew's high first-chapter-standards and got the green light from him.  I loved reading this book on my own, but reading it to Matthew was even better.  Selznick creates the perfect mixture of mystery, friendship, history, brains and that magical quality that makes a great story great.  Read more about our Hugo experience {here} and {here}.  As an added bonus, Matthew now realizes that there is brilliance beyond Dahl.

The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me by Roald Dahl.
Still, call me crazy, but after Hugo we went back to our tried-and-true Mr. Dahl.  This is a fun, quick read.  I love how Dahl writes about the absurd like it's mundane and every day.  Entrapenuerial animals that have intellectual conversations and own their own window washing company?  But of course.

How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell.
The movie lured my boys into a love affair with fire-breathing creatures.  After thoroughly exhausting our local library's arsenal of dragon-loving picture books {see our favorites here}, we decided to give the-book-that-inspired-the-movie a try.  Full of names like Snotlout and Dogsbreath and lots of Viking crudity and bravado, this one was way outside my girly comfort zone.  We didn't dislike it, and were slowly plodding our way through, when we exceeded our library renewal limit.  We broke a cardinal rule and left it hanging, unfinished.  Looking back, the worst rule we broke was seeing the movie before reading the book.  Always a bad idea.

100 Cupboards by N. D. Wilson.
A woman at the bookstore suggested this one when I said that I had a six-year-old boy that loved Charlie and Hugo.  About a boy that goes to live with his relatives for the summer and discovers a wall of teleporting cupboards hidden beneath the plaster in his attic bedroom, it's an intriguing storyline.  I had a tough time reading the first few chapters, but now that I've hit my stride, this one is a hit.  One night, mid-read, Matthew randomly exclaimed, "Mom, I love this book!"  Almost every night he begs me to not to stop -- because he cannot stand the suspense.  It has all the ingredients for Matthew love:  boyhood, friendship, humor, and lots of mystery, suspense and imagination.  With a dash of baseball for good measure.  We are coming dangerously close to the ending.  Luckily there are two other books in the series, which is probably where we will head next.  **Update: The ending took a sudden dark turn, including a blood drinking witch.  Was not expecting that!  With only one chapter left, we have yet to finish it because Matthew is terrified and won't let me read another page.  We're moving on to a safer option.

The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary
So much of life is about timing.  I bought The Mouse and the Motorcycle two Christmases ago, but Matthew wasn't interested at the time.  But this month is the moment for Ralph to shine.  My boys love their Hot Wheels and are currently on a Tom and Jerry kick; so when Matthew was freaked out by 100 Cupboards, I hoped that a mouse and a red motorcycle might be a great rescue.  It was a hit.  A simple, light story with a motorcycle and a cute rodent was just what we needed.

Mr. Popper's Penquins caught Matthew's attention
while on a book-scoping trip to the bookstore yesterday.

Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater.
When we first saw Mr. Popper's Penguins at the bookstore, it looked like just the kind of absurdity we adore around here.  As it turned out, it lived up to our expectations and more.  A total delight.  Matthew loved it so much that he said, "I wish we could keep reading this all day and all night!"  If you are looking for a fantastic read for a young boy -- this is it.   (Also, FYI, we watched the movie this weekend.  Though the boys enjoyed it, the movie is nothing like the book.)

Herman by Tyler Roberson
When I was at the Traverse City Book Festival two years ago, my booth was right next to the author's.  Herman  is the short, simple story of a young orphaned farm boy who rescues an orphaned green heron chick and nurtures it to freedom.  The story is based on a snippet of Tyler's father's real life as a boy.  I made a mental note to remember this one and even saved Tyler's card.  I knew Matthew would love this book one day.  Just recently Matthew grew interested in herons and I excitedly ordered Tyler's book.  I liked the slow, homey storytelling and so did Matthew.  It's good to learn to appreciate this kind of story -- that gives a window into a slower, different life than the busy-paced one we are so familiar with.

Our potential What's Next List
We've found it tricky to find good writing, memorable characters, and intriguing story-lines that are  appropriate for Age 6.  But it's a fun challenge.  Some of the ones we plan to try out next are:

1.  Dandelion Fire by N. D. Wilson (the next book in the 100 Cupboard Series)... **or maybe not.
2.  Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms by Lissa Evans.  This one looks like a sure bet to me.  A smart boy, a mystery, inventions and a magic workshop.
3. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.
4.  Something by E. L. Konigberg - From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler or The View from Saturday.
5.  The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo if I can ever convince Matthew to let me get past the first chapter.  I know he'd love it.
6.  Maybe The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane , also by DiCamillo.  Too sad?  Too old for him?  I haven't read it yet, but love her writing style.  Thoughts anyone?
7. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.
8.  The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks.  This one is based on a reader's recommendation in the comments.  Thank you!
9.  There's always more Dahl!  If all else fails, we still haven't tackled The BFG , Fantastic Mr. Fox or Danny the Champion of the World .  

I thought he might like The Borrowers or Charlotte's Web, but they have joined the ranks of books that he is decidedly not interested in right now.  Ha.  I have a discerning reader on my hands.  He definitely knows what he loves and what he doesn't.

Suggestions, anyone?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Nolan's Pick of the Week: Smiley Shark

Each week I plan to feature one of my three-year-old's favorite books of the week.  His preschool book instincts are different than mine, and I love to see what speaks to him.  This week Nolan picked out Smiley Shark all by himself at library.  He was so proud of his selection, insisting on carrying it to the car himself.

It turned out to be a great book.  Smiley shark is discouraged when everyone seems to run away when he smiles and no one wants to be his friend.  In the end he is given the opportunity to save the day with his winning smile, winning the hearts of his underwater community in the process.  Both boys (3 and 6) wanted me to read it again and again.  It's been our go-to lunchtime book this week.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Free from Amazon This Week: Mary Twomey's The Silence of Lir

My friend, Mary Twomey, has written a four-book series called Saga of the Spheres.  The first book in her series, The Silence of Lir, is available for FREE this week at Amazon -- June 1st - June 5th.  I am not typically a sci-fi/fantasy girl, but I've been broadening my genre horizons lately and I'm looking forward to reading this one.  Writing a book is a dream of mine, so I am in awe of those who have already forged that path.  Though I haven't read it yet, I've heard really good reviews so far, especially about the depth of her characters.

I figure, if Suzanne Collins could make me cry over a cockroach in Gregor The Overlander , maybe Mary can make me shed a tear for a wombat in The Silence of Lir.

For fun, here is the series trailer:

Visit Mary's website {here}.  Read her guest post at my friend Rebecca's blog {here}.  And don't forget to download her free book from Amazon {here}.