21 March 2009

Kid lit you probably already know about, recommended

I'm always on the lookout for decent read-aloud material featuring strong boy and strong girl characters, compelling plot lines, thoughtfully resolved moral dilemmas, and a vocabulary that challenges my Eldest. Who isn’t? One can read the Chronicles of Narnia only so many times.

I ran across The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart. Upon previewing it, I liked it. It isn't necessarily enduring literature, in the vein of The Swiss Family Robinson and whathaveyou, but it is a lively book that fits our criteria for good family reading.

Many reviewers compare it to Lemony Snickett's Series. There are some similarities, not the least of which is the brilliant but lonely orphaned characters thrust into consequential, problematic scenarios outside the scope of your average kid. But where Snickett gets a bit nasty (and profane), Stewart keeps everything above board. And where all of Snickett's adult characters are bumbling idiots or dirty murderers, Stewart's adult characters (the good guys, at least) are intelligent, humble, respecters of children, and deeply concerned with moral issues—while at the same time gently ridiculous, just to keep things hopping. More along the lines of P.L. Travers and Roald Dahl, but even then less dark in the application.

Plus, Stewart takes more than a few humorous pot shots at the Great Society’s method of handling Things. I know how much y’all likes a good pot shot. :D Check out The Mysterious Benedict Society sometime; you know, when you need a break from affecting that British accent required by so many other beloved read-aloudables on your family shelf.


Joy said...

Girl, you have no idea how many people are wanting baby news. I did notice the ticker saying 2w3d, and now I see it's gone. Hmmmm.... Praying for your safety--both of you!

Melrose said...

Hey, thanks for this post, could you expound more on books that are good for a beginner listener? My eldest (3) is just into listening to chapter books at night and I started with The Magic Treehouse books. They're an adorable series featuring a little girl and boy that travel forward and backward in time to discover all sorts of things. They're fantastic for his age as they have short chapters and some pictures every so many pages. They're also written very simply while providing decent amounts of facts about each place and time. It's amazing how much he's learning! (warnings: some inappropriate talk in a couple books "Im going to kill her!"-that happened twice, and there's also talk of "magic" in several)

What are some other ideas for the eager young reader that cant read to himself yet?

Cheryl said...

What would you say is the grade/reading level of this series? I know that's hard because everyone reads at different levels--but can you give a ballpark age?

Melrose said...

yea, at the book store it says "Pre-K, K" each chapter is like a small children's book going something like , "Jack and Annie climbed the roap ladder to the tree house and looked around. The tree house was full of books. There were books everywhere. " etc

Reb. Mary said...

Melrose (Melanie, is that you under the glasses and moustache?): We've done a "Magic Treehouse" or two hereabouts. Have you ever noticed that it's often Jack who hangs back and is afraid to try something while Annie is always charging ahead bravely and having to save him? Maybe it's just my hyperactive feminist detector malfunctioning again, or maybe it was just in the couple that we read... I do like the series concept, and they have "Research Guides" to accompany some of them. The Knights/Castles info volume was particularly popular around here.

Joy said...

LOVE the Magic Treehouse books. I hear ya, Reb. Mary, but as the mother of 3 girls, I think it's uber-important for girls to know that they're equally as smart, strong, and indispensible. They will need these attributes when they become mothers.

For young readers who can't yet read to themselves, Dr. Seuss books. Warning: they will soon be able to read to themselves! :)

Gauntlets said...

Joy: I'd like some baby news myself. :D When the baby is born and all is (DV) well, I'll post something here. :)

Cheryl: I don't plan to hand this one over to my reader for a while yet. My general rule of thumb is that a child may read a book when he or she is of roughly the same age as the main character in the book. There are, of course, some exceptions here and there. And when we're reading aloud, we fudge that rule quite a bit.

The dominant character in TMBS is 11. I'd guess that means it's geared toward kids anywhere from 4th to 6th grade.

RM: I have the same complaint with Magic Treehouse. :P

Melrose: For the really little guys, we read Kipling's Just So Stories, Salton's Bambi, MacDonald's Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books, and White's Charlotte's Web/Trumpet of the Swan. When our boy was three, he sat still for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but I don't think he really got it. You might also try Howe's Bunnicula--not exactly great literature, but fun. :)

Dakotapam said...

I like Time Warp Trio for boys...it is like Magic Treehouse, but a bit older reading level... like second grade and up, and is a group of boys. Also Detectives in Togas is a great read aloud for all ages or is good read by themselves for third grade and up. All four of my boys loved listening to me read it on our long drive on last year's vacation!

Rebekah said...

I'm uncool with one-dimensional characters as it's a sign of weak writing. If one character is always a fumbling idiot, the author is lazy or worse. If it were a female character, we'd all be offended.

This is a virtue of Harry Potter--good mix of boys and girls with a good mix of strengths and failings. Although there is some snogging, you'll note that Bill and Fleur don't shack up (!). Also, the girl who plays Fleur in the Goblet of Fire movie has more than a passing resemblance to my beautiful associate Reb. Mary. :D

The original Bobbsey Twins series is another good one for "school age" readers (probably beginning at 3rd grade for independent reading, could go younger for listeners). The older twins are 11ish, the younger are 5, I think, so a nice age spread for the whole fam. A boy and a girl per set, and all equally clever and fallible. Pre-feminist.

The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander also have strong male and female protagonists, although there's a bit of feminist creep for the crazy suspicious such as myself. Probably 4th-6th grade level for independent readers, a few years younger for listeners.

Melrose said...

I love all the reading ideas, I cant wait to check them out!

As for magic treehouse, I have a completely different take on the characters! Maybe in a couple of them Jack came across as slow or cowardly, but we've read the first 9 books and just started 10 tonight. The author seems to be molding each character towards maturity and working on their individual weaknesses. I now see Jack is wise and cautious, thoughtful and reserved. Annie is daring and hasty, quick to run her mouth and lacks self control. Sometimes Jack is so cautious he loses opportunity to do what needs to be done and Annie's bravery saves the day. Other times Annie's haste and lack of judgement gets them into trouble and Jack's calm wisdom gets them out again. Sure the author is no Rowling, but they're for 3 year olds :)

Melrose said...

oh yes, and it is me, Melanie, under the clever disguise :) I changed my name because with placement looming a mere 4 weeks away I did not want to draw attention to myself on my blog.

Lauriinnc said...

My three boys ages 13,11 and 9 are loving this book. We've been reading it awhile, it is very thick, but never dull. I love the vocabulary, and love how it is about good vs evil and indoctrination. It doesn't seem quite as dark as Lemony Snicket...I couldn't go past book 4 myself but the bigger girls read all of them. I like it that there is a sequel.