Oldie but Goodie

8th Grade Reading: Books of Death vs. Books We Love

My 13-year old son came home from school today and complained about his reading assignment, Tuesdays With Morrie, by Mitch Albom. My son said, “We’re on page 30, and three people have died already!”

This year in 8th grade literature is referred to as the Year of Death in my house. My older son went through it three years ago and still talks about it. He had to survive reading Tuesdays With Morrie, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Glory Field by Walter Dean Myers, Night by Elie Wiesel, and Romeo and Juliet by you-know-who. This September, the recommended book to read for fun is Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige (who took Judy Garland’s birth name for the narrator), a violent book that many people have enjoyed despite the blood and gore.

My son won’t touch it.

I have put a lot of effort into finding books for my boys to read. Reading is in direct competition with video games, so it’s important to have a book going all the time, too. The older one has enjoyed Gary Paulsen, Rick Riordan, J.K. Rowling, and lots of other pretty normal boy books. He also enjoyed Great Expectations, which I made him read two summers ago when I realized the school district did not have any Dickens in its curriculum. But my younger son has been a special kind of challenge. He liked The Giver but didn’t like the sequel. He liked The Lightning Thief but none of the others. He has refused to try the Harry Potter and Narnia books. I begged him to read Susan Cooper’s Over Sea, Under Stone, but I was rejected. He liked several of Margaret Peterson Haddix’s books, but he seems to have outgrown them. Of course he has enjoyed the Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Big Nate books, but he’s outgrowing those, too. I have brought home stacks of books taken from recommended lists by our library, Goodreads, Guys Read, all great sources, only to have him choose only one book that sounds okay. Then he’ll read about a third of it before he gives up. This happened with A Wrinkle in Time and several other great books. I have been horrified about this for months.

I am happy to say that he loves nonfiction astronomy and cosmology books. He has read several books by Neil deGrasse Tyson, including Death by Black Hole a couple of times and currently Space Chronicles. He reads Astronomy magazine. When I emailed his teachers to ask them why he doesn’t read fiction, they told me he reads and understands well but doesn’t like a lot of books. Now, can I just say that the 8th grade reading list is not helping instill a love of books?

Miraculously, I recently handed him a book that he likes and is reading on his own. I couldn’t believe it when I first caught him reading it. He is two-thirds of the way through it, and I’m pretty sure he’s going to finish. And the winner is . . .

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THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH by Norton Juster!!

Now for some books we do love!

Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting
Katherine Paterson, Bridge to Terabithia
Katherine Applegate, The One and Only Ivan
R.J. Palacio, Wonder
Jerry Spinelli, Wringer
Lois Lowry, The Giver
Bobbie Pyron, A Dog’s Way Home
William F. Hallstead, Tundra
E.L. Konigsberg, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Lana Krumwiede, Freakling, Archon, and True Son (The Psi Chronicles)
Margaret Peterson Haddix, Among the Hidden, Found, and Sent
Louis Sachar, Holes

Let me know what you think! Any other book ideas?

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Categories: Books we love, Oldie but Goodie | Tags: | 7 Comments

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble

I just found out that my favorite childhood book was banned.

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I’ve posted recently about Harry the Dirty Dog and other books my family members and I loved, but Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, by William Steig, has always been my personal winner as well as the Caldecott winner of 1970. When I bought a used copy from a library sale, my boys were very little. I got choked up reading it to them back then and again rereading it now. Sylvester’s parents represented my parents, and I imagined that I was as adored a child as Sylvester. (Mom?)

Sylvester-family-together

What I say is Phooey on you banned books people! Pigs can be anything they want to be!

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I am not the only person who loves Sylvester. The School Library Journal named it #55 on the Top 100 Picture Books list last year. It was also recognized as one of the top 100 books of the 20th century by the New York Public Library, the California Teachers’ Association, and the National Education Association. Other bloggers have posted about it more knowledgeably than I can. Anyone can find worksheets, activities, lesson plans, and videos. But I don’t believe we have to justify art with curriculum connections. I love Sylvester because it’s a beautiful story with great illustrations. It touched me personally. I don’t love it because it can teach children about philosophy, emotions, character, perspective, and improve their critical thinking. Those things are valuable, but don’t we degrade the art experience by stuffing it with learning objectives? When my son wants to go to a Bon Jovi concert, I don’t require him to write a one-page biography of John Bongiovi with endnotes and create a video exploring the roots of modern rock music from the Delta Blues through the Beatles, focusing on politics and racism. I just let him have fun.

Read an essay about Steig’s art from Roz Chast at the Paris Review. You can also check out the New Yorker’s lovely article about William Steig shortly after his death. The Jewish Museum in New York held a retrospective of Steig’s art in 2007-08.

If you haven’t had the joy of reading Sylvester, I don’t want to spoil it for you. Suffice it to say there is a reason to discover why it is one of the most beloved children’s books ever written.

Do you love Sylvester or another book? I’d love to hear about it!

Categories: Books we love, Oldie but Goodie | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

Harry the (Wonderful) Dirty Dog

Happy Picture Book Month! Meet another one of my personal childhood favorites, the Harry the Dirty Dog books by Gene Zion, illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham. I still remember the happy feeling I got from Harry’s transformative bath (is that a spoiler?), the bird’s nest, and how much Harry was loved by his family. I don’t have too many memories from my early childhood, but 40 years later, I do remember these books and how much I loved the stories. That’s as good a recommendation as any book is going to get! Needless to say, I was thrilled to find them reissued when my boys were little.

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My favorite is No Roses for Harry! I love the bird and the great sweater Harry gets at the end of the book. (Is that a spoiler, too? These books have been read for almost 60 years, can we still have spoilers?) The books are wonderful for reading aloud or for newly independent beginning readers.

Gene Zion was talked into writing the Harry books by Ursula Nordstrom, editor for Harper’s Department of Books for Boys and Girls for more than three decades. She was responsible for many of the most beloved books of the last century. Read a fascinating blog post from Maria Popova about Nordstrom and Maurice Sendak.

Here is Betty White’s charming reading of the first Harry book (from Storylineonline).

Which Harry book is your favorite? Do you love these books as much as I do?

Categories: Books we love, Oldie but Goodie | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

Reblog Thursday: Bunnicula from Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac

Happy Bunnicula for Halloween! Anita Silvey’s incredible website, the Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac, is a great resource for history and thoughtful information about some of the greatest kid lit in the world. Halloween is Katherine Paterson’s birthday, and for Halloween 2012 Anita featured The Great Gilly Hopkins, a book I read only recently. Can I just say that I loved Gilly from the moment I met her? She is as real and lovable as anyone I’ve ever known.
But today we are celebrating a rabbit named Bunnicula. Enjoy and go visit Anita’s Amazing Almanac!
TODAY OCTOBER 28
Illustrated by Alan Daniel
Elementary • Fantasy

A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
OCTOBER 28:

Around this time of year, I prepare myself for Halloween madness. I’ve never enjoyed scary nights or stories. So today my recommendation is for anyone who wants a quasi-horror story that uses the elements of horror but blends them with a lot of humor.

First published in 1979, Deborah and James Howe’s Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery has been captivating young readers ages seven through nine for almost thirty-five years. Julie Roach of the Cambridge Public Library in Massachusetts recently confirmed that it still never fails to intrigue young readers during book talks. And its current cover, which prominently displays its slightly creepy protagonist, draws independent readers to it instantly.

Narrated by Harold the dog, the story concerns the strange goings-on in the Monroe household after they bring home a bunny they found abandoned in a movie theater. Since they were watching Dracula on the silver screen, they name their new pet Bunnicula. The entire family scurries around to make him comfortable and to find a cage and food for him—all, that is, except Chester the cat, who remains leery of the new household occupant.

In fact, Chester starts to vary his routine so that he can observe what Bunnicula does after the family goes to bed. For suddenly, the family’s vegetables, start turning white one at a time, all their juices gone. And Chester has a theory: clearly Bunnicula must be a vampire rabbit. So as Harold watches, Chester devises all kinds of schemes, including strewing garlic around the cage. Is he right about Bunnicula? Or is this just a case of sibling rivalry gone awry?

When Bunnicula first appeared, it won ten Children’s Choice Awards, included the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award, chosen by children in various states. Now part of a popular series of books, with more than eight million in print, Bunnicula continues to entrance adoring fans. Husband-and-wife team Deborah and James Howe plotted an intriguing story, used situations appropriate for the age group, and kept readers guessing about the outcome in a hundred-page book.

And, of course, the premise is absolutely delightful. To get to it, author James Howe asked himself the question What would be the silliest, least likely vampire possible? The Howe’s first children’s book, Bunnicula, was written while Deborah and James, both out-of-work actors, were spending a lot of time watching old vampire movies on television. Because of their training, they focused naturally on character and dialogue, two of the book’s greatest strengths.

So, Happy Halloween week. I hope yours is not marred by white vegetables, but is full of laughs and joy—and just scary enough for you.

Here’s a passage from Bunnicula:

I jumped on my chair, curled up real quick and kept one eye open, pretending to be asleep. Slowly, the door to the kitchen squeaked open. This little head poked out from around the corner and looked to either side to see if the coast was clear. Then…guess who came bouncing out all by himself, and with that idiotic grin of his plastered all over his face?

“Well…I guess it wasn’t Mr. Monroe,” I said.

“Not unless he wears bunny pajamas and gets very tiny at night.”

Originally posted October 28, 2013.

Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery
Categories: BlogShare, Books we love, Oldie but Goodie, Reblog Thursday | Leave a comment

Oldie but Goodie: Al Perkins’s The Digging-est Dog

Today I’ve chosen one of my husband Phil’s childhood favorites, a beginning reader called The Digging-est Dog by Al Perkins and illustrated by Eric Gurney. Phil remembers reading this book over and over when he was little. Then as a parent, he read it several hundred times to his own kids. When I proudly showed him my new copy, he grinned and grabbed it from me. “See?” he said, pointing to the dog on the cover. “Look at that face!” Then he did his best imitation of the dog’s happy, panting expression.

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Title: The Digging-est Dog

Author/Illustrator: Al Perkins/Eric Gurney

Publisher: Random House, 1967

Genre: Fiction, Easy Reader

Ages: 3-7 years, preschool-grade 2

Themes: animal rescue, persistence, fitting in, fixing mistakes, forgiveness

Opening: “I was the saddest dog you could ever see, Sad because no one wanted me. The pet shop window was my jail. The sign behind me said, ‘For Sale.'”

Phil’s favorite part: “I fell on my ear. I fell on my face. I fell on myself all over the place.”

Synopsis: A rescued dog who has to learn how to dig doesn’t stop until he has dug up the whole town. When he realizes what he’s done, he has to own up to his over-enthusiasm and put things right.

What I thought: I liked the sad dog on the first page who instantly turns into the happy, energetic Duke after his new owner Sammy buys him at the pet store. From a glass cage to a forever home on a farm… lucky dog! The rhyming text is cute and has a good rhythm, and with my kooky sense of humor, I laughed a lot at some of the rhymes, like “gates” with “Thwaites” and “Thayer” with “chair.” REALLY?! A star-nosed mole, of all things, makes a guest appearance as Duke is learning to dig, unusual in a book without too many extras in the illustrations. Al Perkins and Eric Gurney are the same duo who produced Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumbanother long-lived and much-loved rhythmic beginning reader from 1969. 

The Digging-est Dog appears to have been in print since it was first published 46 years ago, a testament to its enduring popularity and appeal to kids as well as the grown-ups who remember it fondly. Thanks Phil!

Enjoy and let me know what books you remember best!

Categories: Books we love, Oldie but Goodie, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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