Saturday, March 29, 2008

Children's Chapter Books

A while back I posted on The Mysterious Benedict Society. I recently heard from a reader, Erica, who also enjoyed it. I am glad you liked it! Did you figure out the final mystery? I am so curious about that.

Erica was also expressing frustration in finding really good children's books. Since I wanted to respond to her, I decided to do it here.

I love children's books. Sometimes when life just gets to be too much for me and I don't want to tempt myself by getting into an adult book, which might occupy my thoughts for several days, I pick up a young adult novel.

Now I agree with the Erica that there is tons of junk out there. Even award winners are often just plain bad. At best many books are simply trite, meaningless drivel.

Worse yet are the books for young people that aspire to push the envelope. The authors often seem to be saying, "Let's expose these poor sheltered children to the freedom of amoral living." Or those that preach as righteousness a value choice that ought to be personal choice.

Then there are the books that are filled with poor writing. Stilted dialog, run-on sentences, cheesy descriptions. Things that make reading them a chore even when the topic and general plot appeals.

Then there are those that seem to want to fill a young person with angst.

But really there are just tons of great books out there.

I consistently find my favorite children's books among those recommended in the Sonlight Curriculum catalog. As far as curriculum is concerned, I only qualifiedly recommend it. I have used Sonlight for at least parts of the last seven years. Really like some things about it. But not everything. That is a different post, perhaps.

With a very few exceptions, I can pick up and really enjoy any of the hundreds of books we have bought to use with the various curriculum levels. There are some cheesy ones. And a few boring ones. But by and large I love the books that the writers of this program incorporate into their curriculum.

Another recommendation, however, with regard to Sonlight is that you request a paper copy of their catalog. It is much easier to use than the web site, which unfortunately is slow and difficult to use. The catalog includes a brief description of each book and they are organized by historical topic as in American History or Eastern Hemisphere.

Even if you don't homeschool, or if you do but want to supplement your child's current reading material, just having the recommendations available for the various subject areas is so handy.

I know there are other homeschool catalog out there that are probably organized in a similar fashion. Since I have used Sonlight, that is the one I am most familiar with.

Other books I really like for kids are the Tomie dePaola chapter books based on his growing up years in a culturally Irish and Italian urban setting. I think they are called the 26 Fairmont Avenue series.

My friend Laura highly recommends books by Elizabeth Wainright. I have read Gone Away Lake and really enjoyed it.

The Ralph Moody books are great stories based on Moody's growing up years in various localities throughout the country during the early 1900s or so.

The Westing Game was a fun contemporary mystery.

I'm am not really much of a fantasy fan, but I enjoyed the Spiderwick Chronicles. (Did anyone see the movie? I wanted to but missed it at our cheap theater.)

I really like the stuff I've read by Patricia Riley Giff.

And some by Sharon Creech. But she is one who I think tries to push the envelop or make some deep statement on human existance. I like them for me, but would probably not recommend most of them for young adults. Too much emotion or something. Too much troubled youth stuff.

I remember reading Everything on a Waffle and thinking it was kind of fun. But it was perhaps seven or eight years ago, so I should really read it again now that my kids are of an age to read it.

I guess I could go on forever when I get on the subject of children's books. I would be interested in hearing about favorites from readers. Let me know what you and the young adults in your life like to read.


Anonymous said...

Hi Mary,

I wanted to let you know that our family is really enjoying The Mysterious Benedict Society. We're about halfway through. It had been awhile since we'd done read aloud, and this was a great one to get us back on track.

I picked up the books A Long Way From Chicago and A Year Down Yonder, both by Richard Peck, at a thrift store recently. I haven't read them, but Rainbow Resources gave them good reviews. I think those will be our next read alouds. Just as a side note, one of the main characters is named Mary Alice.

Madeline and I each read The Corps of the Bare-Boned Plane ( by Polly Horvath, same author as everything on a waffle. It had some teen attitude, but overall you might like it.

Have you read Summer of the Monkeys? ( We really liked that one last summer.

A picture book that Henry gets from the Library every time he sees it is Noodle Man ( I think your kids would enjoy it if you could get a copy from your Library.

We are going to be taking a "foray into Egyptology" in a few weeks. Any book suggestions?


theMom said...

I recently read A Year Down Yonder and chuckled at the girl's name, too. I liked the book and had made a mental note to check out the other one; but haven't yet.

Regarding your upcoming foray,..
Mara Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw we enjoyed.
God King by Joanna Williamson we all really, really liked.
I know we read The Golden Goblet also by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, but I can't remember how well we liked it. I'll ask Matt later. He will know.
Hittite Warrior, also by Joanna Williamson is another book I highly recommend. The actually setting is the area that is now Israel, during a war between the Hebrews and the Canaanites, I can't remember which specific altercation. However, the political situation between the various parties also involves some Egyptian info. I can't remember exactly what right now. But I do remember having some historical pieces kind of falling into place while reading it. So even if you don't end up using it with the kids at this point, I recommend it for the HS mom or anyone else who want to learn.
Williamson seems to perfectly hit the balance between fiction and historical fact. Any of the books I have read by her have been absolutely enjoyable fiction; while at the same time, when I am finished, Williamson leaves me wanting to know more about the real events. And her historical detail is such that when doing further research, I have always been able to easily find what I am looking for.
Shadow Hawk by Andre Norton sounds familiar, but I don't think any of us have read it. I see on Amazon that it did get a recommendation from Cathy Duffy in 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum.
I also see that there is a Landmark book, The Pharaoh's of Ancient Egypt by Elizabeth Payne. Again, I have not read it, but we love most of the Landmark books we have.
And have you ever read The Cat of the Bubastes by Henty? If you've never read a book by G.A. Henty, be aware. Although they are recommended for junior high aged kids, I find them more challenging than most books written for that level. But they are all good and this one is no exception.

If you do an Amazon search on God King, you will get many, many titles in the horizontal recommendation thing they have that you can scroll through.

This Amazon recommendation tool is one of my best sources for books at a certain level on a certain topic. I find a book that I know I like and use it for the initial search. Then Amazon comes up with many others that are similar; then using the links and subsequent reviews on each book I can make a decision whether or not to request it from the library to go along with whatever we're studying.