Monday, January 7, 2008

Pigs, Mice, and Stories That Speak to a Boy's Heart

First, you'll never guess what showed up on my doorstep the day after I posted my last entry. . . . Fruitcake! I found the whole experience hilarious and delicious. Just goes to show how life's surprises can make us smile.

The holidays brought lots of new books into our home. My sister gave me Alice Sebold's The Almost Moon, which I'm looking forward to diving into. My daughter, a bigger bookworm than myself, got Fablehaven by Brandon Mull, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, and Tale of Hill Top Farm by Susan Whittig Albert. My oldest son got Dangerous Book for Boys, three Geronimo Stilton titles, and the new Nixie's Song by DiTerlizzi and Black. And my youngest son's library (age 7) included three books by Arnold Lobel: Small Pig, Ming Lo Moves the Mountain, and Owl at Home. Arnold Lobel is his favorite author, and has been since he started choosing his own books last spring.

Which makes me wonder about the whole "boy" book genre that editors look to fill. These Arnold Lobel titles aren't packed with "nail-biting" action and adventure. Nor are they mystery, or science fiction, or fantasy. The characters aren't quippy, fast-talking boys, or loaded with "bathroom" humor. They're just simple stories, about simple, charming characters that find themselves in simple situations encompassing subtle, clever humor. Not to say, that my son is simple-minded. Or quiet. Or mild-mannered. He's all boy--into football, soccer, basketball, and getting dirty, or snowy, or muddy on the playground, just like anyone else. He loves pirates and science fiction and action movies. And he's super smart for his age--IMHO. A good student. Who happens to like good, solid stories. Like those written by Arnold Lobel.

Mouse Soup was his first book. And after we finished it one night before bed, he wanted to read it again. Then, after we read it about 5 times over the next few days, he discovered that there were other Arnold Lobel books listed on the back cover of Mouse Soup, and he wanted to read those, too. So, Mouse Tales and Grasshopper on the Road were quickly added to his collection.

But this wasn't our first introduction to Arnold Lobel. After organizing bookshelves over the holidays, I realized that this author had also been a favorite author of my older son. Lobel's, Frog and Toad were reread many times by both he and my daughter.

So, is there a "boy" book? A magic plot or combination of story elements that editors dream of publishing? I suppose there is. But there are also simply good stories. Stories that draw a child into another world, open their eyes to a way of being that they can relate to, or want to relate to, whether they be boy or girl, child or adult. And I guess I like seeing that experience happen in my children, thanks to authors like Mr Lobel. So, I'd like to thank him, and other authors like him, who worked and are working to bring good stories to life.

If you're looking for good books for the young child in your life, here are a few of my son's favorites (age 7, first grade).

The Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo.

Any book by Arnold Lobel: Frog and Toad, Mouse Tales, Mouse Soup, Small Pig, Grasshopper on the Road, Ming Lo Moves the Mountain, Owl at Home.

Harold and the Purple Crayon adventures by Crockett Johnson.

Olivia (etc.) by Ian Falconer

Henry Hikes to Fitchburg by D.B. Johnson

Click, Clack, Moo. Cows That Type (etc.) by Doreen Cronin

And click below to learn more about Arnold Lobel