Sometime this past fall The Coop stumbled upon the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. These are insanely popular with the 2nd grade boys. In fact, I believe Cooper's first desire to read them came from wanting to fit in. Whatever it takes to get them reading, is fine by me. After he zipped through the first book his competitive spirit kicked in and he asked for the next one. I complied. Frankly, I bought the entire series right then and there because I had previously never seen him so into reading. What is interesting is what has happened to the cast offs -- the books he finished that he tossed aside, lost under his bed, or just left in a rumpled stack on his nightstand.
Mason picked up the first one on the way to Thanksgiving in Utah. And now he has read them all. I share this not to brag, but to start in on a one-sided conversation on how difficult it is to find captivating, age-appropriate reading material for an advanced reader who is a BOY.
When I realized he how fast he was reading the series, understanding the series, and perhaps comprehending it at a level that even his older brother was not I started to look for other books. First I checked out the Newbery Medal and Honor Books, 1922-Present. There are some seriously good books on this list. Seriously.
Before you get all judgey, please understand that I'm not suggesting that these books should be written differently. I'm just trying to paint for you the picture of my current challenge: to imagine my sweet, lovely, naive, 6-year-old reading these novels.
I thought I'd have the greatest amount of luck by going WAY back to a simpler time. You know, a time before school shootings, porn stars, and childhood obesity. I examined 1924's winner: The Dark Frigate. First, I should tell you that I had to look up what a frigate is. So for starters, this book is about an English orphan who signs up to sail across the ocean for Newfoundland to avoid being hanged. Off to a great start, eh? As I read the reviews online I was thinking back to the day when I took my sweet boys to see the pirate exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and there was an actual shin bone from the youngest pirate in history on display. Their faces were pricelessly terrified and gobstopped. Anyway, the orphan joins a group of pirates on their murderous expeditions. Needless to say, I thought bloody battles on the sea were a bit much. Though, the more I think of it, maybe Mason would love it.
So, I tried books from the 50s. What did Donna Reed let her boys read? I found The Door in the Wall set in plague-ridden London. Ummm... this makes me nervous. Then I find out the main character is basically abandoned while his father is at war and his mother is serving the Queen. He's taken in by a friar who makes him live in a monastery. Enough, that doesn't work for a 6-year-old living in the suburbs.
What about what won the Newbery the year I was Mason's age. That is how I came to read about Jacob Have I Loved. I already knew this was a "girl" book. But maybe. Then I figured out it was about sisters, one of which lives in the shadow of the other and I was like, "Ummmm NO."
In a last ditch effort to find something on the Newbery list I looked at books that had won after Mason was born. One immediately screamed at me, because I have read it and loved it -- The Graveyard Book. Here's the thing, it starts with a toddler surviving the grisly murder of his entire family. Then the boy is raised by ghosts, in a graveyard. It is so good. You should read it. I'm just not sure my 6-year-old should. But I haven't ruled it out.
On to the next idea. I also perused genres for "boys" books. Here's a trend, lots of stories of professional athletes (Mason is NOT interested), and strangely just as many stories of boys who were either slaves or fought in wars. Whether you pick up Swords of Steel, Johnny Tremain, Amos Fortune, Free Man, or Rifles for Watie, you are asking to do a lot of explaining when the reader is 6. I'm just saying, until Martin Luther King Jr. day this past month, my 6-year-old didn't even realize there was a time in our history of inequality based on race. (PS -- I know it's still unequal but my children don't.)
Fast forward to the current century and you find books like James Patterson's Middle School books, Rick Riordan's heroes and olympians series, The Captain Underpants mess of books (don't get me started), and 39 Clues. These are all fine. But, I was hoping for something that was redeeming, intellectual, maybe even didactic. Riordan's books are perhaps the closest to what I was hoping for.
What I settled on were a few of my favorites and I'm still wishing there was an American Girl series for boys. He started Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Even though Harry is an orphan living with an awful foster family he's about to live in a magical world in a magical school and fly on a broom. So, the fantasy can comfort even if the adventures are intense. It is probably a weak copout to say that being able to shut the book and say, "It's just pretend." is good enough. But for now, it is.
In the meantime I'm going to be reading a lot of youth books to find something that I can safely give this voracious reader. Open to suggestions.
Also, how happy am I that my boys read??!?!?!?