Thursday, January 1, 2015

Books I Read To My Son In 2014

I have always read out loud to my son, every single day of his life since he was two days old (that first book was Your Personal Penguin by Sandra Boynton), and easily my favorite time of day with him now (he's almost eight now) is just before bed, when Will reads to me and then I read to him.

When I first started going on tour for Unearthly, bookstores would often offer me a free book of my choice, as a thank-you for appearing at their store. At first I was always too exhausted from the event to really take advantage of this, but then I hit on the idea that I could bring back a book for Will from each of the bookstores I visited. I only made one firm rule about this: it has to be a hardcover, so his library will stand the test of time. This tradition has been such a great thing for us. Once I procured all of the classics I had read and loved as a child, I had to ask the booksellers to recommend books for me to take home to my son, and so we have come to read a lot of amazing books that we wouldn't have known about otherwise.

We've read a lot of stellar books this year.

1. Peter and The Sword of Mercy by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. We began the year by finishing this book, which is the fourth and final book of the Peter and the Starcatchers series. This series is my son's favorite series, even over Harry Potter. If someone asks him what his favorite book is, he doesn't hesitate before he says, Peter and the Starcatchers. It is a wonderful, WONDERFUL retelling/prequel of the Peter Pan story. My son loved it because a) it involved pirates b) it was magical, but a different, completely new kind of magic than you've ever seen before and c) you feel in a way like you're getting the backstage pass to some classic story. As an adult, I loved this series as much as Will did, and it lit a desire in me to someday, if the right idea strikes, write a children's chapter book--there's just something so enthralling and deeply personal about children's books. This series is probably best for ages 10-12, I think. Most of the books Will loves fall in this age range, and he does fine with them, but if you have kids who scare easily, you might want to wait a while for this series. It has some pretty dark and frightening villains.

2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Book 2) by J.K. Rowling. We have a rule in this house that we can only read one Harry Potter book a year, and so we basically begin every year by reading the next Harry Potter. I don't know what it is about Harry Potter, but Will loved the first book more than he had ever loved any other book up to that point. There's just something about this world and these characters that is fascinating to him. He loved book two equally well. We started reading the third book last night.

3. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. I had never read this before, so it was a new experience for both of us. Will liked it, but he quickly forgot about it after we finished. It stuck with me way longer, of course, and I can see why it is considered such a classic. I think of it as a head-book, though, full of big thoughts and ideas to ponder, and I will always choose a heart-book over a head-book.

4. The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks. This was try number two for this book this year--we started it last year and didn't finish. It didn't seem to hook Will, and I was a bit uncomfortable with the depiction of the Indian in this book that was written before the age of political correctness. But Will wanted to read it it this year, and it was amazing the difference a year made. He was the perfect age this time to understand the dynamics between the boy and his best friend at school, in this story. And I thought, on this second read, that the Indian character, was shown as a heart-felt human being, at least, in spite of how the way he talked and thought sometimes made me cringe.

5. Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman. Will liked this one, and it was a quick read that delves into Norse mythology. The young boy hangs out with Thor, Odin, and Loki, who have all been turned into animals, and must go on an adventure to get them changed back. Still, I think I was expecting a bit more because I have such high expectations of Gaiman and this was such a quiet story. We had a go at The Graveyard Book, but it was quickly clear that it was too scary for Will, and he felt the same way about Coraline.

6.  Dinosaurs Before Dark (The Magic Treehouse #1) by Mary Pope Osborne. We read these on my iPad, and they are brilliant. The series (and there are more than 50 books in this series) is about a brother and sister who discover an abandoned treehouse in the woods. The walls of the treehouse are lined with non-fiction books about history and places, and when they open a book to a certain place and wish they could go to that place and time, they are magically transported there. They always run into a bit of trouble, but it is easily solved. Will loves these and is always up for reading them. They are perfect for a seven-year-old, and they are educational and fun. We've read the first seven of them. Big thumbs up.

7. Disney After Dark (Kingdom Keepers #1) by Ridley Pearson.
We listened to these on tape in the car on longer drives (and on shorter drives, and any other time Will could talk me into it.) I thought this was a sure-thing because it's written by one of the Peter and the Starcatchers authors, but I had a hard time wanting to stick with this book. It really shows how much I love my son that I made it through this entire novel, because I really didn't like it. I have a couple theories about this: 1) I didn't like the narrator of the book on tape. This was my first try at a children's book on tape, and the sound of this guy's voice was grating to me. I probably would have liked the hardcover way better. 2) I am way more interested in Peter Pan than I am in Disney World.

I should point out that in spite on my own lack of enthusiasm about this book, Will adored it and wanted to keep reading through the series.

8. The Reptile Room (A Series of Unfortunate Events #2) by Lemony Snicket. This one was especially good, I thought. I am holding back on letting Will watch the movies, because these books are so darned good. What I love about these in the playfulness of the storytelling mixed with these independent, orphaned children, who have to use their individual skills to get themselves out of some really dire scraped. Snicket doesn't talk down to kids--he meets them where they are, and my son loves this.

9. Holes by Louis Sachar. This is one of the books Will obsessed over for weeks afterward, it so captured his imagination. It was probably a bit old for him, because of the backstory of Kissing Kate Barlow (spoiler alert--she becomes an outlaw after the town kills the black man she loved), but it was a good opportunity for us to talk about our country's racial history and racism, so I thought it went okay. Will was very taken with the idea of the boys digging a new hole every day, hoping to find a long-lost treasure.

10. Fortunately The Milk by Neil Gaiman. Now I can feel better about reviewing a Gaiman book because WILL LAUGHED SO HARD at this one. It was just so much fun to read, because he was so tickled by the different twists and turns, and the way it all ended up. It's hard to describe this one, but it's a nice fast read with bigger letters and a funny narrative.

11. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. I got this on Audible because we were about to drive the kids 1200 miles (because I moved to Idaho! Yay!!) and if I was forced to listen to any more Kingdom Keepers I was going to hurt someone. And then . . . this book had the same narrator as Kingdom Keepers! Groan. So, that didn't happen, but Will was interested in the story, so when we got home I bought him the hardcover and read it to him. It too was probably a bit old for him--he didn't get some of the humor and the pre-teen thinking about the opposite sex, but he really liked the adventure part of it.

12. The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Completely Fantastical Edition by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi (which is all the books in one hardcover). Another one that Will obsessed on. The story is about three siblings who go to live in their uncle's old house, where something strange is definitely afoot. They find a secret room that contains an old, secret book about the unseen world around them: the world of magical creatures like fairies, brownies, and trolls--a field guide, that holds such important information that the evil creatures of the world would kill to have the book. It's so good for kids because KIDS LOVE SECRETS. It also has a lot of sympathy for the children of divorce, as these children are, and the way the breakup of their parents affects each child differently. After we were done reading, which took a while because the book is over 600 pages, Will got a blank book and started to write his own field guide, about vampires. He quit because it turns out that he doesn't really know much about vampires, and I wasn't super helpful in giving him that information. :)

12.  Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe. This was a reread by Will's request, since we read every book in this series last year around Halloween. I love the narrator of this novel, who is a dog who tells the story of when his family brings home a strange rabbit that the family cat is convinced is actually a vampire. What so impresses me about this series is that it was written in the 1970s but it continues to be so darn entertaining.

13. Eliot and The Goblin War by Jennifer Neilson. This was our other Halloween read this year, and Will really liked it. It's about a little boy who inadvertently sets off a war between the brownies and the goblins. I thought is was playful and fun.

14. Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl. Will loves anything by Rolad Dahl, and we have read them all a few times over, but this is one of his favorites, so we read it again this year. I finally got around to seeing the film, which everyone gushes about, and I liked it well enough, but I like the book so much better. Sorry, George Clooney. Will received Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator for Christmas (thanks Grammy and Granddaddy!), and I can't wait to get started on that.

15. The Time Travelers by Linda Buckley Archer. This is the story of two British children, one of whose father is a scientist, who have an accident with an anti-gravity machine in the lab and end up being transported back to 1773. It's like the kids version of Outlander--ha ha! It was a long book, and it took us a long time to get through it, so I was kind of looking for something else by the end, but Will stayed engaged the whole time. I thought he would get confused when we got to a section where the author considers the problems of time travel (duplicates and / or alternate universes, anyone?) but I think Will liked that part the best--it was what he talked about when he mentioned the book to guests at the dinner table. It ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, so we'll be waiting for the next one. (I hope the next one is shorter. I know a lot more about England in 1773 now, though.)

16. There Is A Bird On Your Head! by Mo Willems. So I've listed all the books that I've read Will this year, but I haven't given much attention to the books Will has read me. There are too many of these to list, really, but I will say that the overall winner this year for Will has been the Mo Williams Pig and Gerald books. Ironically enough, Will is a bit behind in reading at school. Some of this is my fault, I think, because we moved past the "easy" books when he was around five and have been reading chapter books ever since, and Will no longer has any interest in reading, for himself, from these simpler books when he could be enraptured by Peter and the Starcatchers. We've done a lot of BOB books, which were like pulling teeth for Will, but when we hit on Pig and Gerald, he started to enjoy himself more. These books are simple, about a sentence per page, but they do have a few harder words in each book. They often have a very subtle lesson about manners or friendship in each book, and, more importantly, they are funny. They always make Will laugh, and he loves to perform them for you. Will's favorite is There Is A Bird On Your Head!

I could hug Mo Willems.

So that's it, our year in summary. And, because this is the first year I've done a post for children's books, here are some more books we've read over the past few years that I highly recommend:

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Lasky. This is based on a true account of a gorilla who grows up in a glass cage in a mall. So good! I cried a bunch at this one, so beware.

The Peter and the Starcatchers series, as I mentioned before, if your little one is brave and seeking adventure.

Almost any book by Roald Dahl, especially the classics. Will's faves are Fantastic Mr. Fox, James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and The Witches, although The Witches does strike terror into his heart just a bit.

The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary. We've read this whole series and we both thought it was wonderful. Get ready to make a convincing motorcycle engine noise.

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White, but bring tissues and coach your kid not to summarize the story to people as "that book about the pig and the spider that makes Mommy cry really hard."

The Guardians of Ga'Hoole by Kathryn Lasky. The movie was okay, but it actually condensed the entire three novels of the series into 90 minutes, so I felt like we missed a lot, like maybe the entire point of the books, really.

The Nathaniel Fludd Series by R. L. LaFevers. This is about a boy who is born into a family of beastologists--people who take care of magical creatures. Will LOVED these, and I am stalking Robin's website to hear when the next one will come out.

How To Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell. These are totally, COMPLETELY different from the movies, and for once I think the movies are actually better, but Will loved the saucy humor of these books. They are full of little boy humor, though, so beware, and the boys are pretty mean to each other.

The Traveling Restaurant by Barbara Else. This is another one of those fun adventures on a ship, so Will loved it when he was going through his private phase but I was a little tired of reading about out-and-out pirates. This was a cool one, and the stakes were crazy high for a kids books--at the beginning the main character catches the evil-queen-figure trying to poison his baby sister, and then he is separated from his parents and has to search far and wide to find them.

William Joyce's The Guardian series. Your kid has probably seen the movie Rise of the Guardians, but the books are completely different and also amazing. And it is a fun series to get into, as you can read Nicholas St. North And the Battle of the Nightmare King (Book 1) at Christmastime and the easter bunny one at Easter and so forth.

Anything by Kate DiCamillo. Despereux is great, and The Magician's Elephant is really good, too, but our favorite is The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, which is like if the Velveteen Rabbit was spoiled and selfish and had to go on an EPIC adventure to grow into someone who can truly experience love.

Any suggestions for what I should read to Will next? Leave it in the comments below.

1 comment:

Laura Odom said...

Check out the Sonlight catalog in the "Readers" section for the age range that your son is in. We don't homeschool any longer, but Sonlight's reading list was one of our favorite parts about it. They had wonderful read-alouds that we loved!

Some of our favorites at that age (although I have three girls): Where the Red Fern Grows, A Wrinkle in Time, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler, Wonder, and the complete Narnia series by C.S. Lewis, starting with the Magician's Nephew. (We were going to just read that one, but they kept pressing me until we'd read the entire series.)

He's probably at just the right age for the Encyclopedia Brown books too. :)

Happy Reading!