Saturday, April 26, 2014

_Little Joe_ by Sandra Neil Wallace

A few weeks ago, I brought Little Joe home from the library. My oldest saw it and exclaimed, "Little Joe! That was the best book I read last year!" I agree with him. 

My other reader was not convinced. In fact, he decided to go "green beans" on me about Little Joe. No matter how much I tried to convince him that if he tried it he'd like it, he insisted he did not want to read it. So, as I make him eat at least a few green beans, I made him read the first few chapters of Little Joe. He still would't admit that he liked it, but I could tell he did (just like with green beans).  Not wanting to read or like the book became part of his identity, but when I watched him reading it, I could tell by his face that he enjoyed it. 

Eventually, after he was finished reading the book, I was able to get him to admit that he did really like it. When I asked him why, he replied, "I like Little Joe because it's so real."

Me, too. Sandra Neil Wallace's story about a young boy, Eli, raising his first calf, Little Joe, is real. The relationships of the characters are real; especially central to the plot is the relationship between Eli and his father. The descriptions of nature are real. The farm life is real. This book captures the beauty of real, everyday living.

Boys who enjoy outdoors and animals should enjoy this book. Parents who enjoy their sons reading well-written, non-obnoxious, and detail-rich (but not overwhelming) books should put this in their hands. Eli is also a great (real) role model for boys; he's a young boy (9 years old) who is a hard worker, doesn't complain all the time, and is respectful and kind. Don't miss this one!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

In My Defense

In a former life, I was a public school teacher. I taught many students who did not read. I struggled to find books that would interest them. It was my goal to get them reading, and the thought of steering them away from something that would actually have them reading made me squirm.

Now I am a mom. I am more conservative. I am still a teacher since I homeschool. I have no problem motivating my children to read because they take after their bookworm parents. Now the thought of allowing them to read anything they're interested in makes me squirm, especially because of a substantial amount of trash that resides on library and bookstore shelves, cloaked in attractive book jackets.

I recently read an article that made me feel less guilty for keeping an eye on what my children read. "In Defense of Book Banning" by Mark Hemingway is something any parent of readers or future readers should read and consider. It's what I would have written were I smarter and a better writer. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Golden Name Day by Jennie D. Lindquist

If you've ever read this book, published in 1955, you are almost certainly questioning why in the world I am including a review for it on this blog. With female main characters, lots of tea parties (even if they're not tea parties technically), tons of flowers and dresses, a few kitties, dolls and such, this is about the girliest book I've ever read.

Illustrated by Garth Williams, it has a similar feel to a more popular series he illustrated--the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Due to her mother's (unnamed) illness and prolonged hospitalization, young Nancy must leave the city and go and live with Grandma and Grandpa (who are not her real grandparents, but more like "adopted" grandparents) in the country. Grandma and her family endeavor to keep Nancy busy so that she does not become too sad about being away from home and her own family.

The grandparents are of Swedish decent, and we are introduced to many of their customs. The one that most fascinates Nancy is name day. The Swedish almanac has a chart which assigns to each name a special day on which everybody with that name celebrates his or her name day with a party and much fun. Nancy's name, because it is American, is not in the almanac, and she spends the book searching for a way to have a name day all her own.

Truthfully, there is not much action to this book. But it is beautiful with such poetic details of nature as to fascinate any nature-lover. This book was pure and true to life and non-offensive in every way I can imagine. And I was reminded of how my own grandmother used to keep me busy with so many little projects and fun activities when I used to stay with her so far away from home and my parents.

But what about the boys!?  Well, the reason I am reviewing this book at all is my oldest son loved it. He was the one who found the second book of the trilogy on the library book shelf and asked me to find this one (through ILL) since it is out of print. At first, he was interested because Garth Williams illustrated it, and my boys were really into the Laura Ingalls books. Then he read it and insisted I read it.

Why did he like it?  Well, my son is one who stops to smell the roses. He struggles to buckle down and complete some assignments because he is so easily distracted by little joys. He relishes his little sister's giggles, the bird on the patio, and the way the glass of ice water collects condensation. In this book, he liked the apple blossoms at night and every other little portrait of nature. So, if your boy is like this, perhaps he, too, would delight in this book.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Look-Alikes and Look-Alikes Jr. by Joan Steiner

So what if there's not many words in these books? So what if there's no real story and no information? These books rock!

Artist Joan Steiner creates mind-boggling (and beautiful) scenes from ordinary objects--candies, crumbs, socks, you name it.  In Look-Alikes, Look-Alikes Jr., Look-Alikes Christmas, and Look-Alikes Around the World, the more you look, the more you see. And you definitely want to look and look and look.

I have no idea how long it took Joan Steiner to create these amazing dioramas. I can't even fathom how she was able to imagine them in the first place. But I do know that my boys and I love looking at them together. We challenge each other to find a diaper pin in this picture or a bar of soap in that picture. It's fun "together" time to curl up with one of the Look-Alikes books.

Look for these gems at the library. Better yet, buy them as gifts for your boys. Or yourself. Or anybody.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

_The Littles_ by John Peterson

My first exposure to The Littles was the Saturday morning cartoon when I was in elementary school. When Scholastic listed The Littles to the Rescue in the book club paper that was sent home with us each month, I just had to have it. It was the first chapter book I owned. I think it might be the first chapter book I ever read, but I can't quite remember.

My husband brought another one of the series into our home from his childhood. Then we've somehow added another one or two since. When it came time for our first son to start reading chapter books, this series seemed like a good choice.

These books feature small people creatures with tails living inside the walls of humans. They adapt human things for their own use--like a soup can for an elevator and a needle for a sword. The Littles are fun because you can see life from a different perspective and because the ordinary for us is adventure for them.

I just finished reading the first book, The Littles, with my 6 year old, and he begged for me to read another one. Just like his brothers before him, he's hooked on the series. I'll be keeping my eyes open for more of them at yard sales this summer. If you have a young boy just learning to read, consider this series for one of his first forays into the world of chapter books.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Rock River by Bill Maynard

"What is brave?" is the question Rock River deals with. Young Luke (almost 12) spends the summer with his family at their cabin on the river. He and his friends roam all over the countryside, exploring and having good kid fun. Luke, whose family is still dealing with his older brother's death on the river, navigates dangerous waters as he tries to figure out if he is brave or not.

This novel, aimed at the middle-school reader, is not a book that reaches out and grabs you. In fact, I struggled to get into it at first. However, once the plot gets moving, it's not so bad. While not a literary classic, it's worth a read for the boy who's hungry for the outdoors and adventure. The messages about bravery, friendship, and family are decent, too. I probably wouldn't recommend that you search out this book, but if it falls in your boy's lap, let him give it a try.