Making Reading Fun - Part Two

This column is part two in a three-part series focusing on suggested ways to make reading literature a pleasant activity. Last week we looked at books for children, starting with board books and going through picture books. This week we're discussing middle grade readers and next week we'll finish up with novels written for young adults.

Don't Overface Your Reader

Overface is an expression from the world of horses. It's when you try to get your horse to jump a fence that is scarily big, either too big for you or too big for the horse, and one of you panics and it all ends in tears, or maybe broken bones. While the chance of broken bones while reading is fairly slight, the tears are a definite possibility. They may be metaphorical tears that only manifest in a refusal to read any more books by a certain author or indeed, any books at all, but they are tears just the same.

One odd result of the popularity of the Harry Potter books is an entire generation of children who are forced, or at least expected, to give up reading age appropriate books because they're reading Potter books above their grade level. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, well-meaning friends of the family; all sorts of people are thinking that because a child has read a great big thick book with few, if any, illustrations, that the child is only going to want to read those types of books from now on. And so The Spiderwick Chronicles, a wonderful series about some children that move to a mysterious house and encounter fairies and mayhem, soon to be a major motion picture, is thrown out, simply because the books are small and have lovely illustrations. That's a terrible shame. It also means these same children, who have already expressed an interest in magic, won't be reading such classics as Roald Dahl's delightful and frightening tale of one boy's journey away from a set of wretched aunts, through the clouds, across the ocean and to a new land; James and the Giant Peach. They also won't even have a chance at The BFG, which stands for Big Friendly Giant, the Roald Dahl book my middle son recommends the most for anyone who has read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and wants more from the same author.

Just like a well-balanced diet is best for physical health, a wide variety of books will supply the best fertilizer for your child's imagination. (Okay, I'm sorry, that was a terribly sappy thing to say but the science behind it is good.) If you're offering your child books that are easy to read to counterbalance the harder books, funny books to lighten the deadly serious ones, and giving them plenty of genres to choose from they're bound to find something they want to read.

Daniel and Jill Pinkwater are a terrific author/illustrator team to introduce to your reader. Their books are funny and exciting and are written for a range of ages, so a younger child can enjoy and continue to be entertained by the Pinkwaters as they get older. I just finished reading The Hoboken Chicken Emergency, a charming story about Arthur, a boy who sets out to get the Thanksgiving turkey only to find the butcher doesn't have one for his family, and Henrietta, the 266 pound chicken he brings home instead. (Less than a dime a pound; such a bargain!) When the family is reluctant to eat the bird, Arthur and Henrietta bond, with the boy teaching her tricks like how to swing on the swing at the playground. Unfortunately trouble ensues and Henrietta goes on the lam, angry and misunderstood, wreaking havoc on the town.

You may also want to take a look at the Pinkwaters's Larry the Polar Bear series, starting with Young Larry. While written with first and second graders in mind, middle grade readers can still enjoy them. When my 11-year-old pen pal in Brooklyn heard I was writing about books for her age group she sent me an instant message to tell me to suggest the Larry books. She also strongly recommends Each Little Bird That Sings, the darkly comic coming of age story of a ten year old called Comfort who has a dog named Dismay. Comfort has been to 247 funerals, a large number, but maybe not so big given her family runs the funeral home. You can read an excerpt from this multi-awardwinning novel here.

Before I close, I have a couple more suggestions for you, including an author I have suggested in a previous column. I'm a huge fan of Edward Eager's Magic books, as are my three children. Half Magic is the first book and tells the story of four siblings who find an ancient talisman that grants precisely one half of a wish, a tricky gift to manage at the best of times and made even trickier by the fact that the children have no idea they have the magical item. You can read an excerpt here.

When I was a young reader myself I was enchanted by Natalie Babbitt's book The Search for Delicious, a story about a kingdom on the brink of civil war because the inhabitants can't agree on the definition for the word delicious. Naturally everyone has their very own favorite thing that they think is the epitome of deliciousness and twelve year old Galen, the boy chosen to find out what the people think, is caught up in the middle of the strife as he travels the kingdom, meeting all sorts of amazing creatures in his quest. I thought this book would be long out of print and was really pleased to see it's just been reissued in a brand new edition for 2007.

Next week we'll take a look at some book suggestions for your young adult reader. To quote many writers and librarians I've spoken to over the last couple years, some of the very best writing going on today is happening in the YA field.

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from the youngun who had this to say when he read last week's column, "King Snake is a fantastic picture book. The artwork is witty, funny and well done. The plot is hilarious and smart. Pretty much any kid is guaranteed to love it." Have you got a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me and I'll run the most interesting ones. You can reach me at