Thursday, October 27, 2011

Recommends for Reluctant 13 y.o. Boys

For Aimee……Reading for a Thirteen Year Old Boy Who Isn’t a Book Lover

I admit….I became a school librarian out of my love of literature. If I could fill a library with historical fiction and poetry I would. The thing is most of the students I work with are not interested in either. Furthermore, they are often admitted “nonreaders”. I find myself looking for ways to get kids reading anything…..especially reluctant boy readers.

Below is an “off the top of my head” list of reading recommends from my super short time as a middle school librarian. However, I’m just getting started in this line of work. There are lots more great reads that moms, friends and other librarians can recommend. I hope they do! Please do.

Reluctant readers can be put off by text heavy pages. There’s tons of great reading material that isn’t word-dense that boys will read. Try the “cereal box” reading philosophy. If something interesting and short is out next to where they are eating, they probably will (don’t tell them that a librarian said it was ok to read and eat at the same place!)

·         Picture books – are often of a much higher reading level than what you might think. Great picture books for boys are by authors such as Chris Van Allsburg, Jon Scieszka, and Patricia Polocco.

·         Almanacs—especially illustrated almanacs such as Time Almanac for Kids

·         Photography Books

·         Record Books such as Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and others

·         Chicken Soup for the Soul books have lots of short and great inspirational stories

·         Short Stories – so many short story books are of those scary tales!

·         Cook Books –growing boys are more interested in food and maybe they will cook for/with you!

·         Audio books in the form of playaways, CDs or interactive e-books are a great way to take in a story.

Old Fashioned Chapter Books

·         Anything by Gordon Korman – a great new book and football story is Pop! Mr. Korman’s website is out of this world great for middle level readers. Go there!

·         Anything by Rick Riordan – The Percy Jackson series is just one

·         Hank Zipzer Series – funny books by Henry “the Fonz” Winkler about a kid with learning challenges

·         Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam by Cynthia Kadohata

·         Love that Dog! By Sharon Creech is a great book in verse

·         Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James Swanson is a non-fiction capturing the minds of boys everywhere!

·         Holes by Louis Sacher…even better than the movie…but watch the movie after reading!

·         Home of the Brave is a great book about a Somali “lost boy” who is new to the US

·         Breathe by Cliff McNish is a great old fashioned ghost story

And finally, the hard truth is that kids will read more if they see us reading too. We parents and adults have to be seen enjoying reading for them to catch the spirit too. Assign yourself some good middle level reading (trust me, so much of it is as good or better as stuff for adults) and allow them to “steal” a chapter or “read ahead”. Sometimes, that friendly competition can get something started.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to a Nation

When I finished listening to The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing I found myself at a bit of a loss for explaining what the story is. I tried to explain to my eighth grade daughter in this way….it’s a historical science fiction of sorts.

Octavian is the son of an African princess re-named Cassiopeia by the white man who purchased her while pregnant and brought her to live at the Novanglian College of Lucidity in Boston, Massachusetts in the late 1700s. Octavian knows only an odd life of privilege and scientific observation as the college’s academicians are engaged in all kinds of ongoing experiments. Eventually, Octavian learns that he is the college’s largest and most valuable experiment….which is why I include science fiction to my description of the book. The pseudo-science of the 1700s is very much part of this novel.

The college sets out to observe whether or not African boys have the same capacities as white, European boys. Octavian shows not only at least equal ability but a tremendous capacity for learning the Classics, language and music. He also demonstrates a keen ability to observe in the scientific sense and  by scientific method. This is all well and good for Octavian and his mother until the college loses its funding source and must align itself with a corporation of southern businessmen who fund the college and re-direct the experiment of Octavian to prove that African boys have less capacity for thought, reason and learning than white European boys.

Octavian escapes the college just as revolution breaks out in  surrounding Boston. He has good reason to question what and for whom liberty is being fought for during his participation in the Battle of Bunker Hill as a runaway. After re-capture and return to the college, Octavian battles the desire to end his life, obtaining freedom through death--witnessed during his stint in the patriotic forces, and confronting his “enlightened” masters. When given an opportunity to escape to freedom again, will he take it?

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing earned the National Book Award in 2006 and many, many additional literature prizes. Much has been written about its unsettling gothic tone and unique look at the American Revolution and its portrayal of the lives of African Americans in our History. There are several links below that can shed better light on the book than I can. The best link, in my opinion, is the interview of the author by NPR about the book.

The Astonishing Life … is a great read for older teens, as M.T. Anderson intended as well as for adults fascinated with the Revolutionary War era. I think it would make a fantastic book for US History teachers to read and discuss….the tone, perspective and direction of the novel would definitely impact my teaching of the time period and events. I would ask students to consider more questions about freedom and property and enlightened ideals.

Anderson, M.T. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation. Volume I. New York: Listening Library, 2007. CD.

Additional Reviews and Interesting Information:

Fabulous Audio Interview of author M.T. Anderson on NPR