Sunday, December 8, 2013

Want a Boy to Read? Listen First

This article is courtesy of Jake Ball.  Jake started in 2006 after realizing that there was no website that was a truly independent bookstore that is 100% dedicated to juvenile literature. He loves engaging with the authors, illustrators and publishers who work hard to produce high quality children’s literature.

Jake and his wife have 4 children.  Jake tells us his poor children are often used as product testers and they have more books than might be considered healthy.

Below Jake's article offers four solid tips on how to get boys to read.

Want a Boy to Read?  Listen First
The tasks of helping children, especially boys, establish a strong reading habit is a perennial challenge for parents and teachers.  This task has been made more difficult as electronics occupy more space in our daily lives.  As a bookseller and the father of three boys, I am often asked by parents and educators which books are “best for boys”.
I appreciate that parents and educators want to spur an interest in reading through providing books that appear to be popular among boys.  However, encouraging boys to read requires a more comprehensive set of actions than simply providing popular books.
Below are some techniques I have used and observed regarding the task of turning a modern boy into a reader.  This is not an exhaustive list.  Just one with which I have found success.
1. Listen
What do you like to read, historical fiction, True Crime, motivational or some other topic?  If you love to read about sports history, you would not react well if someone were to demand that you read How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.
Before you place a book in the hands of a boy, you need to listen to what he is interested in.  Pay attention to what he talks about and what hobbies he enjoys.  As you pay attention to his interest, you will learn about what kind of reading material he’ll go for.
If you want to take this a step farther, go to a bookstore and see where he ends up.  It might be in the car section, sports or another topic area that you may not have considered.  If you take the time to listen and present books along his interests or better yet, allow him to select his own books, chances are he’ll be much more willing to read.
When you acknowledge his interests and preferences, he will feel validated and want to demonstrate his knowledge on the chosen subject through reading.
2. Schedule time for reading
If you want to get something done, you need to make time for it.  Schedule a little time each day that is dedicated to reading and nothing else.  In our house, the 30 minutes before bed is set aside for reading.  Our boys use the time to unwind from the day and it is now an indispensable part of our evening routine.  
It may be difficult to start a regular schedule.  But, it will be worth the effort once a habit is established.  A good corollary to scheduling reading time is also making a schedule for electronics.  Having a balanced approach with both electronics and books will help the entire household.
3. What are you reading? 
Children model their parents’ behavior.  The best piece of parenting advice I’ve ever heard is this: You can’t give your child something you do not possess.  If you do not read at home, it’s almost laughable to expect your son to become a reader.  Turn off the TV, pick up a book and conspicuously read it.  Reading isn’t just good for kids.  Consider using the time you’ve set aside for a boy’s daily reading for you to read also.
4. On his level
Boys do not like to struggle through material that is above their reading level.  They want to be successful.  Often a boy in first or second grade does not have the skills to take on a dense chapter book and they have no interest in picture books they consider to be “for babies.”
Enter the graphic novel.  This genre has blossomed over the past 10 years.  The bridge graphic novels build between beginning readers to chapter books is wonderful.  A good graphic novel contains illustration that tells the story along with the words.  The interplay of the words and pictures allows a boy to comprehend the story and feel successful in reading.
We have seen great commercial success with series such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Captain Underpants and more.  However, there are many graphic novels and series that are very good.  Seek the help of a librarian or a bookseller to discover graphic novels that the boy(s) in your life will enjoy.
The above four techniques are the most direct and simple ones of which I am aware.  Of the four ideas, listening is the most important.  Parents and teachers need to listen and observe what reading challenges may exist with a boy.  If there is a stumbling block in acquiring reading skills, it will take a coordinated effort to overcome it.
There certainly is no lack of high-quality reading materials from phonics and very early readers to the growing Young Adult genre.  Making strong reading habits requires adults who are engaged in the task of building readers out of boys.  Attentive parents and teachers can apply the right materials at the right time to build success.  By becoming a partner in reading with a boy, parents and educators will find success and open up a world of literature to new generations.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Black Bottle Man

Forced to move every twelve days, what would happen to your life?
It’s 1927. Rembrandt is the only child in the tiny community of Three Farms and his two aunts grow desperate for babies of their own. Hope and Hell arrive in a mysterious black bottle, and on a moonless night a dark spell is cast. Soon after, a man wearing black top-coat, and a ‘glad-ta-meet-ya’ smile comes to visit. The devil seeks payment, and a dangerous wager is made. Until they can defeat him, Rembrandt, Pa, and Uncle Thompson must embark on the journey of their lives, for if they stay in one place for more than twelve days terrible things happen. But where and when will they find a champion capable of defeating the Black Bottle Man? Time ticks. Lives change. Every twelve days.

The unique book comes to us from Canadian author, Craig Russell.  He grew up on what may be the flattest half-section of land on the planet, six miles north of Carman, Manitoba. He is now a lawyer and lives in Brandon.

Here's the rave from our friends in Canada:

“An extraordinary book. I was completely captivated. You can read it as an adult and be quite moved by a story of profound love, of commitment to family, of humility, of grace under pressure; so rich with metaphor and allegory, depth, complexity. It’s really one of those books you read as a teenager and love it, and then pick it up again thirty years later and have a completely different, equally rewarding reading experience.” — Nikki Tate, CBC All Points West

“One part travel narrative, one part spiritual fable, one part historical fiction, and one part adventure story—this tragic tale pulls readers in with its strong voice, richly depicted setting, and chilling confrontations with a shape-shifting Satan. Russell weaves magic into the narrative.” —Meghan Radomske, CM Magazine.

“Russell has told his fable…and it is done beautifully.”  —Alison Edwards, Resource Links

“Read it.  Because it’s not likely you’re ever going to find anything like the Black Bottle Man again.” — Stephanie Yip, What If? Magazine

“…this fable will intrigue teens who like historical fiction and the satisfying thrill of rooting for a persistent, humble hero.”  — Joan Marshall, Bookseller

“A truly unique story. The author tackles his “fable” with imagination and great turns of phrase.”  — Jury comments, Manitoba Book Awards

“Scenes alternate effectively between an urban present and the various times and places of Rembrandt’s travels, with a particularly moving evocation of the Dirty Thirties.”  — Jury comments, Manitoba Book Awards

Click here to purchase Black Bottle Man.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Storm Boy

On this wind-stormy day in Seattle, I can think of no better book than Storm Boy.  This week, not far from my home, Orcas have been hunting and frolicking off our shores.  A pod performed a mysterious display of delight as a ferry loaded with ancient native artifacts neared Bainbridge Island, WA.  Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman said the whales were “welcoming the artifacts home as they made their way back from Seattle, back to the reservation.”  To learn more about this interesting story, click here.

Here's the Storm Boy plot: In the storm-tossed seas along the rugged Northwest Coast, an Indian boy is thrown from his canoe into a great mystery. Washed ashore before an unfamiliar village, the boy finds his arrival has been eagerly awaited by the strange and giant "people" there. Just who are these beings? And what do they intend for their guest? What follows both answers-and deepens the mystery.

Careful attention is paid to historical detail both in the story and the vibrant illustrations. Storm Boy follows the rich mythic traditions of the Haida, Tlingit, and other Native peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast, whose stories often tell of individuals cast mysteriously into parallel worlds inhabited by animals in human form.

A portion of the proceeds from this book is donated to the Haida Gwaii Rediscovery Program for tribal youth.

Click here to learn more about Storm Boy.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Before They Pass Away

An awe inspiring new book has been published called Before They Pass Away.  This epic journey explores 29 tribes in the most remote and inaccessible parts of the globe.  This is a remarkable work of art and is unfortunately cost prohibitive for most people and institutions.  However, I highly recommend the website as a learning tool to be used in the classroom and at home.  You will delight in Meeting each Tribe.

The author and photographer beautifully captures the essence of his journey by stating on his website, "There is a pure beauty in their goals and family ties, their belief in gods and nature, and their will to do the right thing in order to be taken care of when their time comes. Whether in Papua New Guinea or in Kazakhstan, in Ethiopia or in Siberia, tribes are the last resorts of natural authenticity."

Click here to view the stunning photos and learn about the tribes.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Sam Silver Undercover Pirate

Skeleton Island and The Ghost Ship introduce young Sam Silver, an ordinary boy who leads a normal life living above his parents’ restaurant. When he finds a magic gold coin, he is sent back in time to a pirate ship that once belonged to his ancestor, Joseph Silver. In Skeleton Island, Sam must befriend the wary, knife-wielding pirates and lead them to buried treasure. In The Ghost Ship, Sam and his crew must face a ghost ship that is causing trouble on the high seas.  These are fun out-loud-reads with Swashbucklers of all ages.

Click here to learn more about Skeleton Island.
Click here to learn more about The Ghost Ship.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Jack Strong Makes A Stand

Jack Strong isn’t particularly noble. He’s not a rebel. He’s not an over- or under-achiever – nor, despite his name, is he particularly strong. He’s just a middle grader who’s tired of being told what to do and being rushed from baseball to cello practice; Junior EMT to Chinese lessons, and from math tutoring to soccer games. Not to mention tennis and karate! He insists his well-meaning parents have overscheduled his life and, when he finds no room for negotiation, he takes his protest to the living room couch and refuses to move.

Good for Jack!  We can all learn from this anti-hero. Enough is enough!  I'm right with Jack and have a good mind to put my foot down and go on strike, too.  What will I cut from my own child's schedule?  Both soccer teams are really important.  Should Girl Scout's be cut or gymnastics?  What about the art camp?  She's such a talented artist.  Should I deny her art lessons?

We can all relate to Jack's predicament.  It is particularly timely as millions of overscheduled kids head back to school and gird for crushing schedules devised by parents determined to make their kids perfect or close to it. With college applications years off, but nevertheless top-of-mind for parents with children in the middle- and high- school years, Jack Strong’s crisis is one we know all too well.

Kids who liked Diary of a Wimpy Kid, will enjoy this story.

This unique book is by Tommy Greenwald.  Tommy is an advertising executive, and also the lyricist and co-creator of the hit Off-Broadway play John and Jen.

To watch the trailer, click here.

To visit Tommy's home page, click here.

Friday, September 13, 2013

After the River the Sun

After the River the Sun is a wonderfully written novel with a moving and intellectually challenging plot.  I'm humbled by Dia Calhoun's mastery of her craft.  This is a great story for boys, girls, and adults.

"A boy draws on Arthurian legend to ease his grief
in this companion verse novel to Eva of the Farm (2012)."
"Having recently witnessed his parents’ deaths from a drowning accident, Eckhart Lyon is sent to live with his uncle Albert, one of his few living relatives, on a trial basis. A gaming expert, the boy is certain he’ll never enjoy his strange uncle’s rural home without modern technology, but he grows to appreciate helping his uncle rebuild his orchard and hanging out with Eva, from a neighboring property. Despite these brief, comforting moments, he struggles with unrelenting guilt, feelings of cowardice and a desire to make his uncle’s house a real home. Calhoun’s precise verse (“Suddenly the stars beating down / were too bright, / the river too loud”) make Eckhart’s anguish palpable. The boy soon likens himself to Sir Gawain, who proved his worth to his uncle, King Arthur, before becoming a knight. Eckhart’s quest for home and courage is a true test, as his uncle grapples with his own grief and despair and will not commit to Eckhart’s future. A sudden tragedy allows the boy to heed the call of bravery, show his knightly spirit and forge a new family.

About the Author:
Dia Calhoun is the author of Eva of the Farm as well as the fantasy novels Avielle of Rhia, The Phoenix Dance, White Midnight, Aria of the Sea, and Firegold. She makes frequent school visits, sings Italian arias, fly-fishes, gardens, and eats lots of chocolate in her spare time. She lives with her husband, two cats, and two ghost cats in Tacoma, Washington.

More Praise For After the River the Sun…
"In After the River the Sun, Dia Calhoun has written a quietly powerful story of a boy who steps out of a fantasy world of knights and monsters into a real-life quest for family and home. Calhoun deals with loss, healing and friendship in language that is both direct and lyrical, making every page of this marvelous book a pleasure to read."
-Frances O’Roark Dowell, author of The Second Life of Abigail Walker and Chicken Boy.

Click here to learn more about Dia and her great books

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Martin McMillan and the Secret of the Ruby Elephant

A novel for boys (and girls) interested in skateboarding, travel, and adventure:

Thirteen-year-old Martin and his friend Isabel skate their way through another fast-paced adventure. The 15th century Ruby Elephant is stolen from a special Thai art exhibit at the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History, where Martin’s father is curator. The family heads to Thailand with Dr. Sommat, the owner of the statue, and his granddaughter Junya. The figure is part of a mysterious legend that holds the secret to a hidden treasure. With Junya’s help, the friends must decipher a complicated puzzle of clues involving Buddhist symbols and ancient artifacts as they track down an international gang of thieves and try to stay out of harm’s way.

“…The writing is smooth, clear, and entertaining, moving the plot along and coloring in the scenery beautifully without getting bogged down in too much explanation or detail…This is a highly entertaining read, and I look forward to the next in what will hopefully be a long and successful series.”
-- Indie Reader

This unique book is by Elaine Russell.  Visit Elaine’s website for more on the book and be sure to watch the cool slide show by clicking here.

Monday, June 17, 2013


For a good summer skateboard read, try Vertical.  Skateboarder Josh Lowman witnesses one of the best skateboarders in town (the local bully) commit a crime. For days he agonizes over whether to tell anyone. Meanwhile, his friendships with a fellow skater, a girl in his English class, and a cool math tutor (a college student who skates) slowly steer him toward a new kind of courage.


“I think Vertical is awesome! It felt like I was reliving the early years where my passion for skateboarding was so new, fresh, and profound.”

—Danny Way, three-time X Games gold medalist

“Berend captures perfectly the bravado and angst of teenage boys hooked on wanting to risk it all and terrified of losing something they can’t define. A tightly drawn tale of when to speak out and the cost of friendship, Vertical glides in and out of trouble as deftly as Josh Lowman’s skateboard.”

—Sarah Collins Honenberger, author of the bestseller Catcher, Caught

“Vertical gives you the true feeling of what it’s like to have an obsession with skateboarding.”

—Mike McGill, skateboarding legend

“I really felt a connection to this book and all of the skateboarding parts. It just feels real.”

—Mitchie Brusco, youngest athlete to compete in the X Games 2011 Mega Ramp, first person to land the 900 in Mega Ramp competition

“The narrator’s voice is very authentic. Skating details are incredible. . . . The tension builds gradually and becomes a real page-turner. . . . Teens will appreciate the appeal of day-to-day skating challenges overlaid with larger life challenges. Being a teenager often does feel like being at the top of a large half pipe and what kid doesn’t want to feel that exhilaration of soaring above it all?”

—Laurie Stowell, Ph.D., California State University, San Marcos, Literacy Education

Click here for Vertical

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Boys in USA Likely to report they spent no time reading for pleasure

Below is information about an excellent research-based report from Canada.  I found it interesting that boys in USA were most likely to report they spent no time reading for pleasure.

Key findings of the report include:

Reading is associated with cultivating the disposition for civic participation at large;
“Foreign-born Canadians engage somewhat more in reading newspapers and election coverage in newspapers than non-foreign-born Canadians” (p.10);
Later-life avid readers were likely read to at an earlier age than non-avid readers, demonstrating the importance of instilling a joy of reading in school-age children;
Engagement with literature enhances professional efforts (“good readers make good doctors”);
Our definitions of “pleasure reading” and “reading” need to be more broad; there are many deep and comprehensive reading experiences beyond engagement with fiction;
Readers see Internet use as quite different than engaging with a book, even when the online activity involves extended periods of reading;
“Even though reading is typically thought of as a solitary activity, reading and being a member of a group that reads a particular author or collection of books has direct social benefits through social interaction”; (p.17)
Teens in particular identify the importance of working in groups as a key component to fostering literacy;
Evidence supports the idea that giving students control over choosing what they read encourages them to read more;
Because of academic obligation, even students who report that they enjoy reading frequently don’t read texts other than those assigned to them.

Click here to access full report.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Wild Boy

“One day in 1798, woodsmen in southern France returned from the forest having captured a naked boy. He had been running wild, digging for food, and was covered with scars. In the village square, people gathered around, gaping and jabbering in words the boy didn’t understand. And so began the curious public life of the boy known as the Savage of Aveyron, whose journey took him all the way to Paris. Though the wild boy’s world was forever changed, some things stayed the same: sometimes, when the mountain winds blew, “he looked up at the sky, made sounds deep in his throat, and gave great bursts of laughter.” In a moving work of narrative nonfiction that reads like a novel, Mary Losure invests another compelling story from history with vivid and arresting new life.”

Wild Boy: The Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron is the story of a boy found living wild in the forests of France. He is known in history as Victor of Aveyron, and was sighted and (after his final capture) studied, by many eyewitnesses who were keenly interested in a real, wild boy. Mary Losure wanted to tell the story as the BOY, not the scientists, experienced it. So she went to France and retraced the route of his long-ago journeys.

This is a spellbinding story and is fun to read out loud with boys and girls.

To learn more about Wild Boy, click here.

To buy Wild Boy, click here.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Tumtum and Nutmeg

Hidden in the broom cupboard of Rose Cottage are two grand gates that lead to the loveliest little house you’ve ever seen. Nutmouse Hall.
Shh, don’t tell anyone, this is the home of Tumtum and Nutmeg…

Thanks to a teacher tip, I discovered Tumtum and Nutmeg.  These are awesome and charming stories for boys and girls.  You are never too old or too young for stories like these.  I bought an Apple App. version of the first book in the series.  Currently reading aloud to my twelve-year-old daughter; what a great way to stay connected.

About the author: Emily Bearn grew up in London, and started out in journalism at the age of 20 when she joined Harpers & Queen magazine. She has since worked for The Times and The Sunday Telegraph, where she spent eight years as a feature writer. She and her daughter live in Hammersmith, and share their house with two (very helpful) mice.

To learn more about Tumtum and Nutmeg, click here.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Judy Blume; Not Just For Girls

From Chicagoland, a mother recommends, the Fudge series by Judy Blume. She says, "My 4th grader LOVED them. He is dyslexic but, like most dyslexics, loves good narrative.  And Judy Blume…not just for girls.  Peter Hatcher – in the Fudge books – is a 5th grade boy. Themes are sophisticated, real, funny.  My son laughed his head off."

Click here for more on Judy Blume.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Brothers Plad

Once there were two brothers.
They loved life and they loved adventure.
They needed rugged shirts for their adventures.
They chose flannel plad.

As featured on the television show, The Generations Project, Vermont dyslexic carpenter Sean Plasse (Watermelon Tourmaline) and brother banker Matt Plasse (Hignus Harkaway), have written the best book for boys...The Brothers Plad and The Mystery Trout. Beautifully illustrated by Vermont illustrator Kevin Ruelle (Legrand Poisson), published locally by First Rise, LLC, it is a homestitched pladventure of daring, danger and determination. It is NOT for wizards or wimps. Purchase today. Plad up!

The Brothers Plad comes highly recommended by one of our New England Boys Read Advocates.  Below is her best-practice story:

"It was about this time last year that I contacted you with a heavy heart regarding my 7, now 8 year old son and his lack of interest in reading.  I am happy to report with we are back on track!  After being inspired by your site to be a better advocate for my boys education, I began working with the school and local library using lists found on your website.

While perusing your website an add for a local author(Vermont) popped up.  The advertisement was for a book for boys who like hunting and fishing.  I contacted the authors and convinced the primary grades to read the book in their classrooms as well as offer the book in the library.   The authors agreed to come to the school and do an inspirational presentation which was the most awe-inspiring giggly event of the year.  If you do not have The Mystery Trout by the Plad Brothers. 

At the time we did not employ one male in the entire K-8 school other than the 1/2 time janitor.   I had to point out to the school board that we have really let our kids down by not employing a male teacher.  We have a new male gym teacher, principal, and a kindergarten teacher.  There is a nice balance in the school and everyone, men, women boys and girls are happy!  

I just wanted to thank you for sparking my advocacy."

Click here to learn more