And Now For Something Completely Different…

..well, not that different. But today, April 2, is International Children’s Book Day; instead of a review, I thought I’d post some recommendations for children of all ages. (Or if you’re like me, and perfectly happy to read kid’s books because they’re books and they’re there and some of them are really quite good)

For the very young:

 

 

Chu’s Day is a wonderful little picture book by Neil Gaiman. There’s a sneezing baby panda in it.

 

 

 

 

 If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, by Laura Numeroff, is another good one; this time involving mice and cookies.

 

 

 

 

But No Elephants, by Jerry Smath, is about neurosurgery. Kidding. It’s about an old woman grudgingly acquiring a houseful of animals; hijinks ensue.

 

 

 

For 4-6 (or so) year olds:

 

 

The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish (again by Gaiman) is hilarious, and the title basically explains the whole story.

 

 

 

I Want My Hat Back is by Jon Klassen, and the first time I read it I laughed so hard I could barely breathe.

 

 

 

 

Where’s My Cow, by Terry Pratchett, is a great take on the Spot-the-Dog type books.

 

 

For kids getting into chapter books:

 

 

Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective by Donald J Sobol is a great book in an equally enjoyable mystery series.

 

 

 

 

Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien is one I read as a kid; I loved it.

 

 

 

 

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate diCamillo is absolutely adorable–a huge-eared mouse saves the day for everyone. 

 

 

(good grief, they’re almost all animal stories. let’s change that with the next category!)

For the more advanced readers (but still age-appropriate):

 

 

The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud is a great adventure story set in an alternate-reality London.

 

 

 

 

The Outlaws of Sherwood, by Robin McKinley is one of the best retellings of the Robin Hood story in the history of ever.

 

 

 

 

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (by Avi) is a book about a girl crossing the Atlantic when a mutiny breaks out aboard the ship.

 

(Of course there are so many other choices, including classic options like Treasure Island or Johnny Tremain or Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm; but if you’re reading a review blog I’m pretty sure you’re familiar with them, so I thought I’d look for things a little less ubiquitous) Aaand, those are some of my suggestions for the book-loving child in your life. And if they don’t love books, give one of them a shot anyway. You never know what might ignite the spark.

Happy International Children’s Book Day!

 

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The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud

Three young teenagers sent to spend the night in an extremely haunted house that no one’s survived, a house with a room that bleeds and a screaming (obviously) staircase. What could possibly go wrong?

Fifty years ago, ghosts came back. Well, they’d always been around, sort of, but now they’re back in massive numbers, and they’re dangerous–they kill people. No one’s sure why they’re back, but exorcism is big business–so big, in fact, that there are agencies specially set up specifically to deal with The Problem. Oh, but there’s one slight catch: only kids can see ghosts. Once they age out, they’re useless, so they start training young.

Enter Lockwood & Co., London’s smallest ghost investigation agency. It’s made up of Anthony Lockwood, the leader; George Cubbins, the obnoxious, slappable know-it-all; and Lucy Carlyle, the newest recruit. Lockwood and Lucy are investigating an ordinary (or is it?) house haunting when things to terribly wrong. The house burns down, Lockwood gets taken off in an ambulance, and the homeowners are demanding reparations: £60,000 in four weeks, or their agency is getting shut down. They don’t have that kind of money; and to make things worse, after the whole fire debacle no one’s hiring them.

Then fortune smiles upon them: an extremely wealthy man asks them to investigate his manor, Combe Carey Hall. It’s the most haunted house in Britain, and no one’s survived the night in the west wing of the house. One of the rooms bleeds, there’s a staircase that screams, it’s dangerous and mysterious and just what they need–Fairfax is willing to pay them enough to save the agency.  They’re desperate for the money, but can they survive the night in a house that wants them dead?

I don’t know about you, but I love children in peril stories, and this book is so much fun. It’s a supernatural thriller with a good story, better characters, and a great mythology. Over a dozen types of ghosts populate the pages, all of them familiar but with a new, more sinister edge. Oh, and just a FYI: it’s classified as a kids book, but don’t let that throw you off. Johnny TremainThe Wizard of Oz, and Treasure Island are all technically kid’s books as well. It’s well-written and engaging, and if you’re looking for a ghost story, a thrill, or just something highly entertaining, give The Screaming Staircase a try.

Favorite Line:

“Oh, he’d sue us, all right,” Lockwood agreed. “But who cares?”

Don’t read if: you can’t stand rapiers, salt bombs, skulls in jars, lockets, or that one guy who always eats all the donuts.

 

The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin

Sam Westing is dead. His sixteen heirs are summoned to hear the reading of the will. But something about the whole situation is…strange.

For one thing, many of the heirs had never met Sam Westing. For another, the ones who had met him didn’t like him. And then, of course, there’s the matter of the actual inheritance.

Westing died a millionaire, and is leaving it all to one of the sixteen. They’re split up into pre-assigned pairs, given envelopes with cryptic clues, and told to solve the puzzle. Only thing is, they haven’t been told what the rules are or what the clues are for; never mind the answer, they haven’t even been given the question! Within the walls of Sunset Towers (where all the heirs coincidentally [or is it?!] reside) live a cook, a judge, a doctor, a housewife, a bomber, a bookie, a thief–and, according to Westing’s will, a murderer.

This is another old favorite from my childhood. A teacher told me a little about it, and soon enough I was engrossed. I must have read it a dozen times as a kid, and even now I read it once a year. It’s so well done, so clever, that every time I read it I pick up some subtle clue or funny bit that I missed every time before. It never feels old, never feels stale, even now when I could probably quote the entire thing by heart.

Join the heirs as they try to solve the mystery (and figure out what, exactly, the mystery’s supposed to be). Everyone’s a suspect. Everyone’s hiding something–and some of them are even aware of the secrets they’re keeping. Pay attention, stay on your toes, and maybe you could be the winner of the Westing Game.

Favorite Line:

Friday was back to normal, if the actions of suspicious would-be heirs competing for a two-hundred-million-dollar prize could be considered normal.

Don’t read if: you object to doormen, braids, the stock market, spare ribs, painted crutches, or the Fourth of July.

The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster

For my first review here (no pressure!) I’m looking at the book that, in many ways, started it all. I’d read about a book in another book, and it sounded interesting, so I went to the local library to see if they had it. They did, and the rest, as they say, is history…

The Phantom Tollbooth is a book about Milo, a boy with plenty of time. He comes home from school every day to a room filled with every toy imaginable and is far too bored to play with any of them. One day, though, he comes home to find a very large package addressed to him, and (having nothing better to do) opens it. It’s…a tollbooth. A purple, undersized tollbooth, to be sure–but it’s very definitely a tollbooth. A bit bemused, but still feeling like he has nothing better to do, he hops into his toy car, drops some change in the booth, and finds himself–

Somewhere else. It’s an entirely unfamiliar world, but he soon acquires two companions to help him on his way–a faithful watchdog named Tock (who goes ticktickticktick) and a slightly unpleasant, rather unhappy fellow named the Humbug. Tasked with rescuing two lost Princesses and saving the land from encroaching doom, they travel throughout the Kingdom of Wisdom, and meet strange people (Officer Shrift,  Dr Kakofonous A. Discord, and the Everpresent Wordsnatcher) and see even stranger places (Dictionopolis, the Island of Conclusions. and the Forest of Sight), along the way.

This book is fantastic. It’s one huge metaphor taken very, very literally, and it’s full of clever–well, I hesitate to call them puns, because they go so far beyond a simple surface play on words, but that’s the best I can manage.

I loved it as a kid; I thought it was a great adventure story. I love it even more now that I actually get all the references and little asides. For any kid who finds chapter books a little too easy, and for anyone beyond–hop in Milo’s little car and join in on the adventure.

Favorite Line:

Being lost is never a matter of not knowing where you are; it’s a matter of not knowing where you aren’t–and I know perfectly well where I’m not.

Don’t read if: you don’t like fun, or adventures, or literal interpretations of abstract concepts.