Monday, December 9, 2013

Reading below my level...and loving it!

Lately I’ve been reading on a younger level. Not because my brain is fried (though that is a bonus) but because I’ll be booktalking to primary and secondary teachers and need to cram for the experience. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by  the books that friends and fellow librarians have recommended to me. I'd forgotten how much fun tween lit was!

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman
With Mum away at a conference its Dad’s job to make sure the household runs smoothly. Things are fine the first night, but the following morning our narrator discovers that Dad forgot to get any milk. As the narrator and his/her sister wait (for what seems like forever), Dad goes on an incredible series of adventures on his way home from the store. Fortunately, the milk is saved in every encounter.

This delightfully quirky novella is not a picture book but neither is it a full novel. Illustrated with black and white drawings, which helps bridge the gap between those two worlds, the story is full of wit and humor. Whether it’s an encounter with aliens who want to redecorate the Earth or traveling through time with Professor Steg (a stegosaurus who has built a time machine hot air balloon), each page brims with fun and absolute over-the-top craziness. As I read it (it took about 30 minutes or less) I could easily imagine my mother and nephew having a blast reading this book together (Gabriel will especially love the wampires). I put this around an 8-year-old reading level.

What We Found in the Sofa and How it Saved the World by Henry Clark

While waiting for the bus one morning, River, Freak, and Fiona find an old green sofa by the side of the road in front of the old Underhill House. In the sofa cushions (they dared each other to look) they found a zucchini colored crayon, an old coin, a plaid sock, and a double-six domino. This assortment of lost items starts the three friends down an adventure the likes of which they could never have imagined. Soon they are involved in a mission to stop Edward Disin from reopening a portal into a world called Indorsia and bringing an army to Earth to enslave the population – a process he’s already begun through the use of technology and chemically-laced food products. How will three middle schoolers battle this evil genius? With the help of a tessering sofa, a double-six domino linked to the most powerful computer in the world, and a zucchini colored crayon.

While this novel touched on a few more mature topics (River’s parents died in a car crash; Freak’s dad is an alcoholic and abuses him), it does so in a very gentle manner. Tweens who aren’t ready for these subjects may not really notice them within the plot. What they will notice is the adventure, the friendship, and the humor. The characters are wonderfully drawn and their dialogue is fantastic. I laughed out loud several times (and read passages to my husband out of context – he wasn’t as amused for some reason). The outlandish science fiction concept is over-the-top, but so is the rest of the novel, so it doesn’t seem out of place. Boys and girls will enjoy this one, and reluctant readers might be surprised by how much they like it. This one is listed for ages 8-12, but I'd say age 10 or 11 is about right unless reading comprehension levels are high.

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