I've always felt rather guilty that I'm not so good at getting down and playing with my children. I don't play Legos or dress up or wrestle or things like that (that's Andrew's specialty) but I do love reading to them and I'm really hoping that that makes up for some of my less-admirable mom qualities when all is said and done and the votes are counted.
Last week I wrote about encouraging your child to read. Spencer (12) hit a difficult age where suddenly he wasn't reading as much as he used to. He'd made his way through Harry Potter and the rest of the fantasy hangers-on but had hit a wall. What to do next? Well he did nothing and for some reason I wasn't really paying attention.
But when I finally realized the situation I decided to reintroduce him to good books--particularly some good writing--because he's getting to the point where his language skills and communication skills need to be sharpened (that's been a struggling point in school for him lately--reading comprehension) and he needs to get a more adult dose of the English language.
So this week I'm writing about the books I've been introducing into David's and Spencer's diets just like a fine dish of fruit or veggies and even more wonderful.
First Spencer and I read The Lord of the Rings (which took us about ten years to get through) then David and I recently finished The Hobbit (much easier) and we're about to finish our latest read, Treasure Island, which I expect to wrap up by the time this post goes to press (knock on wood). You should hear my Long John Silver voice. It's amazing I tell you. The boys love it though he does sound rather like a weeny in my feminine pirate drawl.
If some of these seem like too much for your child you might consider getting the book in an abridged-for-children format. Many of them are available as Illustrated Classics which will at least introduce a bit of the work to them at an easier level.
1. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. I'm going to read this one next then follow up with Huckleberry Finn which is even meatier. Tom's adventures really ought to appeal to my boys and the way he gets away with things and weaves in and out of trouble out to please them (though it's really going to tax my dialect abilities). What makes these books wonderful is not only how the boys will relate to the main characters but there's no romance (they hate that) and as they're written from a boy's perspective the language is simple and straightforward. Easy to understand though there are deeper themes to discuss.
2. Tales of Mystery and Suspense by Edgard Allan Poe. Short stories are extra great for reading aloud because:
a) They can be read in one sitting.
b) The writing is usually better because the language is distilled to its essence.
The Telltale Heart, The Cask of Amontillado, the Mask of the Red Death, The Pit and the Pendulum--they're going to love the horror and suspense of it all and if I can "civilize" my boys while still letting them enjoy the kind of things boys usually enjoy then all the better.
If they like those then maybe we'll try The Fall of the House of Usher though I never liked The Murders in the Rue Morgue. An orangutan??? Really??? That is so not scary it's ridiculous.
3. Grimm's Fairy Tales. Speaking of scary stuff they don't call these "grim" for nothing. Have you read the original tales? They are so far off of the Disney versions they're hardly the same stories. What I find interesting about these tales too is that as I understand it they were written as a reflection of the culture in Germany at that time. To justify the good and punish the bad, to warn children of life's dangers and help people cope with the inexplicable.
Sounds good to me but they're also fun to read. Once the boys realize we're not talking singing forest critters and pink princesses I think they'll enjoy them quite a bit. Sometimes I wonder if our society does Disney-fy everything as an attempt to sanitize the life out of things. But that's another post . . .
4. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. This is the most readable of Scott's historical novels but seriously? What's not to like about knights and castles and fair maidens? It's a little heavy on the romance but I think I can convince them to swallow it if I make the sword fights really, really exciting. There are other books about knights--The Once and Future King or The Idylls of the King by Tennyson, but they're not nearly as age-appropriate. I found T.H. White's novel quite boring myself so I don't think I could bring myself to read it to the boys.
5. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. While David Copperfield or Bleak House are really better novels I think this one about an orphan boy will appeal the most. The sense of right and wrong is so strong in this classic that I can just imagine how my boys will respond to Oliver's plight. A good story to make them feel lucky and educate them about what other children have had to live with but also a "good triumphing over evil" story. I got them into A Christmas Carol over Christmas which they they tolerated that so I think after a few others on the list they'd be ready to tackle this one. "Please, sir, I'd like some more."
6. Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne. David has already mentioned that he'd like to read this one (thank you Hollywood for the help there) and Verne has so many great adventure stories to chose from: 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, Around the World in 80 Days and The Mysterious Island to name a few. Of all Verne's novels though I think this one conflicts the least with technology.
I can just picture trying to read Around the World in 80 Days to Spencer. He's sure to say, "What's the big deal? We can get around the world in 80 hours!" Ditto on the submarine thing so even though the center of the earth scenario seems highly improbable I think it has the best chance of flying with my little 21st-century techies.
7. The Sea Hawk by Raphael Sabatini. I read this myself a couple years ago. It's about a nobleman who gets kidnapped and sold into slavery but who becomes a pirate and yada yada yada . . . it's terrific. A bit heavy on the romance but really, really a fun read. I happened to mention it to the kids as I was driving them to school in the morning until every morning they asked me "So what happened next?"
I've got this on order from Alibris.com and hope it gets here soon. Sabatini has scads of great adventures stories: Bellarion, Captain Blood, Scaramouche. I think they'd also like Captain Blood which is another knight-turned-pirate story guaranteed to please, the others wouldn't be face paced enough for them.
8. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. Paulsen's books aren't particularly difficult or challenging from a vocabulary standpoint but sometimes that's not all that can be learned from a book. Hatchet and it's sequels are about a boy who learns to survive in the wilderness after a plane crash leaves him alone. It's a bit of a coming-of-age book that has enough Man v. Wild graphic details to keep the boys listening (sheep's eyeball anyone?) but what appeals to me is the more adult-theme of the book. Children being called on to do extraordinary things--that's going to appeal to my sons and appeal to me as a parent.
9. Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs. This is one I actually haven't read myself but I've heard it's different from what you'd expect and quite a page-turner. Though I'm sure "page turner" can be highly subjective. I'm curious to give it a try and see if it lives up to the expectations. I have heard, however, that Tarzan is the fictional character most frequently made into movies. Or in other words, there have been more movies made about Tarzan than any other character that was previously in a book. Interesting. I think I would have said Dracula if I'd had to guess but Tarzan makes sense too.
10. Dracula by Bram Stoker. Which brings me to number 9. Have you read Dracula? Okay it's seriously about the scariest thing out there. Stephen King thinks he's scary and while I'd admit that possessed Cadillacs, prom queens gone wild and buried UFOs are a little odd they really can't compare to a MONSTER THAT SUCKS OUT YOUR BLOOD TO LEAVE YOU UNDEAD. That, my friends, is what real scare is about. Not only is it scary but if you start analyzing it as a Victorian work there are so many metaphors and so much imagery it starts leaking out the pages.
But for a story that will scare two boys I know this one will do.
11. The Master of Ballantrae by Robert Louis Stevenson. Another historical swashbuckler that they ought to enjoy. They've liked Treasure Island though the only thing I'm worried about is having to do accents again. I'm not so good at accents. My Scotch accent is absolutely an abonimation--more like Bob Dylan drunk than anything remotely Scottish so I'll be pretty lame at it. Maybe all the practice will do me good--I do a fair Irish accent. Why is Scottish so much harder to duplicate?
I like this one better than Kidnapped or Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde though it's not so famous.
12. Lord of the Flies by William Golding. This one's an easy read--really easy--and as a story it's quite the thing though I think David is a bit young to appreciate it while Spencer would find it interesting.
Boys stuck shipwrecked on an island by themselves until they regress to the basest instincts and total depravity. Yes, that ought to resonate with my little neanderthals.
13. Lost Horizon by James Hilton. A fictional adventure story of a secret land in the Himalayas--yes, this is the real story of Shangri-la. It's not particularly long but it's adventurous and will give them a taste of adult fiction without the "adult" part they don't need.
14. Kon Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl. Written in 1950 about the real-life experience of Thor Heyerdahl and his crew who set out in a raft from South America to prove whether it was possible that the Polynesian people traveled across the ocean to settle their islands. Full of adventure and sea life it is guaranteed to be a hit with my future biologist.
15. King Solomon's Mines by Sir H. Rider Haggard. I haven't read this one either but it's based on the story of colonial explorer Frederick Courtney Selous and is the first in the African adventure genre. About a treasure hunter, Allan Quartermain, there is gold and bad guys and quests for glory--sounds appealing and I'm hoping that the plot carries as well to the page as it sounds.
16. The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling. I loved the Mowgli stories and even better I loved Rikki Tikki Tavi, the story of the mongoose in India. The beauty of Kipling in these stories is his turn of the language. The "Just So" stories are a great read too, "O Best Beloved" and I could read "The Elephant's Child" over and over again.
If the jungle isn't your thing you might try Captains Courageous about a rich boy who is stuck at sea and learns to be a man. Sounds promising doesn't it? It's short and full of manly stuff--just what my boys need.
17. The Mark of Zorro by Johnston McCulley. Another classic adventure story that I haven't actually read but I've heard it described as "Like Tarzan only more exciting and a better read." I'm not sure if this reflects more on Tarzan or on Zorro but either way I'd like to try it and see if it's adventurous enough to thrill boys used to The Force and He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named.
18. The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. This is kind of a surprising story because you expect the guy whose invisible to be the hero and to be a sympathetic character but no--he's not nice. I warn you now. But that doesn't mean the story isn't pretty good. I've wondered if War of the Worlds or The Time Machine are better reads, I haven't read them and this is my only experience with H.G. Wells.
19. The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin. I haven't yet read this and am interested to hear from any one who has but it's a fantasy work that predates Potter by 30 years but with fewer pages and better writing. A young boy who leaves home to enter a world full of wizards and magic? Gosh that sounds familiar . . .
20. A Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. This is a short, easy read about young, handsome Dorian Gray whose portrait is painted by a friend. But this isn't just any portrait, Dorian soon learns that any evil acts he commits are magically recorded on the canvas rather than on his own face. As Dorian falls farther and farther into dark paths the picture transforms while he remains as beautiful as ever. A bit of the supernatural and a dose of morality at the same time. Perfect.
So there are my picks for our future--any suggestions of your own? I realize that this list is particularly heavy on the fiction and that there are wonderful non-fiction books as well so please, leave me your best reads. I'd love to hear them (and read them).
Just as a point of interest here are a few other book lists that might appeal if you found yourself agreeing with me on these that I've chosen:
National Geographic ranks the Extreme Classics: 100 Greatest Adventure Books Ever Written. I've only read a few of these but I'm printing it off for future reference.
Life After Potter: 10 Adventure Novels That Will Keep Youngsters Reading. Some seem pretty easy, I'd recommend these for those still in elementary school.
300 Recommended Books for Junior High Students. A pdf document that you can download or view to see what a junior high grade level for reading really means.
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