Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

I love Neil Gaiman's books. He can create the most fascinating, dynamic, unique worlds. I have read all of his adult books. But I am not as enamored of his children's literature. I feel it is a bit dark (who am I kidding, it's really dark). I liked Coraline as a story, but it is not something I have given either of my kids and probably won't for some time. So, it was with trepidation that I picked up The Graveyard Book. I was surprised when I found out it had won the Newberry Medal - the highest honor a children's book can receive in the United States.

I will admit to being pleasantly surprised. I really enjoyed Gaiman's story. While dark - the premise is that a young boy's family is killed and he is raised by ghosts in a graveyard to protect him from the murderer - the story is not graphic or scary or otherwise inappropriate for a children's story. Yes there is suspense and there is implicit violence, but there is nothing over the top (a phrase I could frequently use with Gaiman).

One of the reasons I liked this book was the way Gaiman put the chapters together. There is a clear overarching story that follows from the beginning to the end. But each chapter is episodic. You could read an individual chapter as a complete story - a point Gaiman makes about his own book. In fact, the chapter about the witch was originally published as an independent short story. When reading to kids, having a complete story is a nice touch.

Another feature is Gaiman's incredible creativity and novel way of seeing the world. His ghosts resemble characters in other literature, but they all have a Gaiman twist which keeps them original and engaging. His perceptions of death and the afterlife while familiar are not overly dark if a kid were reading the story.

Possibly an odd aside, but the copy I read included Gaiman's Newberry acceptance speech which was amazing. It had Gaiman's wry humor, a respectful amount of humility, but also a poignancy. Gaiman reminded his readers/listeners that great literature to a child is nothing more than a book that creates an escape. What we read as kids doesn't ever have to win awards or even be memorable five years down the road so long as it creates a world to explore.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

(Not Beginner) Chapter Books

Now that my kids have jumped into reading I am beginning to realize how many levels of books it is necessary to have. I knew about the categories of pictures, beginning readers, and chapter books. But my kids are smack in-between beginning readers and longer chapter books. They can handle chapters, but don't want 150+ pages. They still like pictures on pages, but want themes that relate to them. Thank goodness for librarians and classroom teachers. I have been compiling a list to meet the needs of Eldest who loves to read, likes adventure/fantasy stories, prefers human protagonists to animals, wants to read Harry Potter, but is still only 7. It's harder than I would have thought. But, in case, you have an avid reader who is still developing his reading ability, here are some suggestions that we are working on:

The first category is the emerging bridge between graphic novel/chapter book which is really popular in my house:

  • The Diary of a Wimpy Kid (probably the first in this genre. Its popularity has helped create many others)
  • Big Nate (undoubtedly riding on the popularity of Wimpy Kid, but Eldest enjoyed it)
  • Magic Pickle (one book in the series is a pure graphic novel. Eldest was disappointed the others had actual chapters...)
  • Frankie Pickle (while being forced to clean his room, Frankie fights a monster with an old tuna and mayonnaise sandwich...)
  • Dragonbreath (while this seems to be popular for many kids, Eldest has turned his nose up at it. Too cute-looking maybe???)
  • and of course... Captain Underpants (just in case you don't have a young kid and haven't heard of this series)

As for actual chapter books, without the graphic novel concept, it has been tougher. Eldest has told me in the past that he can't see the pictures in his head, so he really prefers the visual. But I'm working on encouraging more chapter books as we seem to be running low on age-appropriate graphic novels. I'm liberal in what he can read, but hardcore manga is not okay. Yet.

Here are a few books that have caught on in our house or we are planning to try this summer:
  • Black Lagoon chapter books (Eldest picked up the picture books at school, so he knows the series. He can read these in one sitting, but he's reading!)
  • Naruto chapter books (based on the Japanese manga show, this series has been toned down for a younger audience. It appeals to Eldest but is *clean* enough for mom)
  • Dragon Slayers Academy series (these are popular with a lot of kids. I am trying to convince Eldest to read them, but haven't had any luck yet)
  • Secrets of Droon series (same as above. I think if I could get him started, he'd like the series, but so far Eldest has resisted)

I would love any other suggestions or ideas. Anything to encourage a love of reading...