Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Five Great Books for Boys Not About War

We have a wonderful bookstore near here, and I often take the big kids on dates to it, to wander the aisles and pick out one little treasure to take home. Simon will do a little bit of gender bending, but not a lot. Mostly his tastes are pretty classic "boy." And he likes series. So I often find myself poking around the boy series, and they all seem to go like this- troll war, owl war, bear wars? Hmm, Greek god war, oh, there's a cat war there.

They are all great, epic series, I am sure, but Simon is only 6 and not that into war. So! Here, benefit from my searches, 5 great middle great books for boys not about war.

1) Homer Price, by Robert McCloskey

These are hilarious books. Robert McCloskey, of Blueberries for Sal fame, draws a sort of milder Dennis the Menace type character who lives in Ohio and stops snake oil salesmen and gets in trouble with infinite doughnut producing machines at his uncle's diner. It's 6 small town stories, very innocently but funnily written. It was published in 1943, so though I'd say it was progressive for its time, there are still some odd depictions of race, and the rest of the tone reflects the time it was written. For me this is a positive, and Simon found it novel, and not so unrelatable as a lot of early 20th century boy adventure novels.

2) The Neddiad, by Daniel Pinkwater

We just got this book last weekend, for two reasons. One, I am a shameful book judger by the cover, and this is a great cover. Love the doodle turtle. Also, the little staff recommendation card under the book said "Tom Robbins for kids!" I didn't need to know anything else- I love Tom Robbins.and think Jitterbug Perfume is one of the most tragically underappreciated great works out there.

As you can tell from the title, this is an epic (NOT in dactyllic hexameter, you'll be relieved to hear). Nedd is moving from Chicago to Hollywood, with no regrets of course, because he wants to be like Dartagnan from the Three Musketeers, and go away to have adventures. I don't know that I would exactly say this is Tom Robbins for kids, but as I said, that's a pretty high bar for me. But this is definitely for kids who like that sort of thing- matter of fact appearances of Yiddish shamans, saving the world with a "French substitution," and Galapagos turtles. You know if you have one of these kids.

3) Boom, by Mark Haddon

Another book by an author better known for his adult fiction- Mark Haddon also wrote the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, fixture of book clubs all over the country circa 2008. Is it just me, or are more and more adult fiction authors dipping into not just YA, but children's? And apparently he made a couple of efforts before this one really took off.

Jim, our narrator, and his best friend Charlie, discover there are aliens in their small British town. Of course there is conspiring, loads of plot, and some zaniness. It's very tonally like Men in Black, and of course there's a very happy ending. Great for a little something different. As I said, I'm not sure why this book didn't take off the first time around. It's not Great Literature, but it's a great boy book; the friendship between the two boys is particularly well drawn, I thought.

4) Great Brain, by John Fitzgerald

You don't really need this reviewed for you. I'm just reminding you. Right! The Great Brain! That kid who lives in a Mormon frontier town in Utah, but is not a Mormon, scams his buddies and brothers out of money by being clever, has great escapades along the river. There's a whole series, of course. This is a lot like Homer Price- earlier, so more context, and harder vocabulary (shhhhh, don't let on there's learnin'), and plenty more beating up, but not graphically or cruelly so.

5) Lawn Boy, by Gary Paulsen

This book somehow weaves its way from a bum present by a grandmother of an old lawn mower to a wrestling sponsorship arranged by an ex-hippie stockbroker. I still don't exactly know how, but what I love about Gary Paulsen is how clearly he shows the perspective of the character he is writing. It's terribly wry, which might fly over the heads of some of the younger readers, but I actually found this one very approachable for my particular 6 year old. If not this one, Paulsen is quite prolific- try another one.

Our hero here is a capitalist through and through, and this is his triumphant journey. I doubt that is going to sell this book to your adventure wanting boy, so, hey, wrestling!

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