Thursday, January 17, 2008

Recent Reading (KidLit edition)

In reading to The Daughter at night, we've recently started to read chapter books a bit at a time, each evening, as opposed to the single-volume storybooks that were the rule until then. This has opened up lots of new vistas for reading, and it's really rejuvenated a time of night that had for a while felt more like a chore than a treasured portion of our daily routine. I've generally tried to choose books that are slightly above her reading level, so as to keep her challenged and exposed to new stuff, and I've tried to choose books that I'd like to read as well.

(UPDATE: A reader asks how old she is; The Daughter is eight, and she's in third grade.)

Here are some of the books we've read:

:: Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl. This is simply one of my favorite books of all time, be it for children or adults. This one is just sheer, total delight. This story of a young boy living alone with his mechanic father in rural England is full of charm, humor, and also some excitement when our hero, young Danny, learns his father's deepest and darkest secret. It's a wonderful "underdog blue-collar folks against the arrogant wealthy" type of tale, with one of the best endings I know. Why this book hasn't been done into a proper movie, I can't imagine. (Apparently it was filmed in Britain, but I've never seen it or even heard of that production until now -- a TV film for the BBC, perhaps?)

:: James and the Giant Peach, also by Roald Dahl. This was new to me, actually; I love Dahl, but somehow I got through childhood without reading this one, although I did see the Tim Burton-produced movie several years ago, which turns out to have added quite a bit to the story. No matter; the main portion of the tale, in which James is liberated from the clutches of his vile Aunts when he comes into the possession of a giant peach, and the friends he makes inside that peach when he meets the insectoid denizens of the fruit, is the real meat of the story. This is classic Dahl, in which supernatural doings are presented simply as a normal part of the world, and in which our author thinks nothing of having the hero's parents killed by a rhinoceros on page one.

:: Stormbreaker, by Anthony Horowitz. We bought this book at the book fair at the school's Open House this year, mainly because it had a really cool cover. It's actually a halfway decent book, the first in a series of spy thrillers featuring thirteen-year-old Alex Rider, who is recruited by MI6 after his caretaker uncle is murdered while investigating an enigmatic industrialist who is about to donate free computers to every school in Britain. It's a pretty violent story, and there were times in the reading that I wondered if it would have been better left until she was older. She really enjoyed this one, however, finding the suspense sequences pretty spine-tingling. I imagine we'll be tracking down the subsequent volumes in the future.

:: Larklight by Philip Reeve is an amazingly fun book. We had a blast with this one, as we'd hoped, given that the book is subtitled "A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space". It's literally a steampunk space opera: a SF adventure that assumes that certain scientific theories of the nature of the universe long-since disproved in the real world are actually true. Hence, the book posits the existence of the aether, strange beings on every planet, spaceships that literally look like seafaring vessels in the sky. There are space pirates, malevolent aliens living in the ruins of Saturn, ancient races on Mars, a spacefaring British Empire, and a harrowing journey into Jupiter's Great Red Spot. If you can accept the nature of the world Reeve has created here, Larklight is a rollicking blast of a story. We recommend it highly. Of all the books we've read lately, this is the one that earned the most heartfelt howls of protest from The Daughter when I told her that the page we were on was where we'd stop for the night.

Reading. I like it.

(Each of these books is good on the merits, so don't eschew them if you don't happen to have kids around.)


Anonymous said...

Curious to know, how old is your daughter? I'm always looking for suggestions on great books to read to my kids, so I'm wondering how age-appropriate some of these would be for mine.

I read James and the Giant Peach as a kid, but don't remember Danny, Champion of the World. That one, I will definitely look up! :-)

Alex Shapiro said...

Great choices! And here's another to add to the list: The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster. It is as wonderful a book for the adults in the household as it is for their marvelous daughter!

Anonymous said...

I'd like to recommend the Phantom Tollbooth (by Norton Juster). I was introduced to it by my second grade teacher (who read a chapter a day of various books to us and I had to buy it and read it because her reading it was way too slow for me....)

Anonymous said...

I'm thankful to you for shown me some of the good books around the world. Thanks for the excerpt too, that is the thing really made me to read those books.
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