Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate Di Camillo
I wish that I read aloud to my kids more often but time always seems to get away from me. I tried making it a part of the bedtime ritual but putting three kids to bed at night with varying bedtimes, and a strong-willed son begging to watch his beloved sports teams, slowly chipped away at this precious time. Whenever I do get the chance to snuggle in bed with the boys and read, I find it peaceful. Our latest family read aloud has been the 2001 Newbery Honor Book, Because of Winn-Dixie. Opal is a young girl, recently transplanted to a new town, struggling to find her footing. She forms a lasting bond with a stray mutt she rescues from the local supermarket. Winn-Dixie is more than just a furry companion; Winn-Dixie helps Opal to rediscover her confidence.
Mercy Watson series by Kate Di-Camillo
Middlest is an avid reader (one out of three ain’t bad!) but at 5 years old he was stuck in an in-between stage. Picture books weren’t holding his attention long enough and many of the early readers, while fun, they lacked any sense of “literature”. Feel free to insert your eye-roll here, but it bothers me that so many books marketed towards kids are gender-biased and lack both a creative storyline and complex characters. So I was thrilled when we discovered the Mercy Watson series about a precocious pig adopted by a delightful couple. Mercy gets up to all sorts of shenanigans much to the chagrin of her neighbour Eugenia. The chapters while short are the perfect length for emerging chapter readers and each storybook is chock-full of imaginative plots and expressive dialogue that make read-alouds lots of fun too!
So, I am basically of the opinion that Mo Willems should be king of the world. I believe this as a matter of course, but my conviction is strengthened each and every time Youngest (6) and I read his Elephant and Piggie books. The Elephant and Piggie books are the funniest, most durable learn-to-read books you will ever encounter. We currently have I am a Frog and I Will Surprise My Friend on high rotation. By “high rotation” I mean I’ve read these books 50 times. And each and every time they get a belly laugh. Youngest reads them all himself, whether he has them memorized or not I don’t care because what these books teach is that reading is some of the most fun you will have all day. We are the proud owners of every last book in the series, and I think they are the best value for book money I’ve ever spent (or had spent on me–some were very gratefully received gifts).
Middlest (9) and I are currently on book two of Kevin Crossley Holland’s Arthurian trilogy. We are in it for the long haul with this series, and I rather like the very slow pace at which we are reading. (He has to wait for a night when I can read to him alone and when his dad is not home and reading The Bobbsey Twins to him and Youngest.) The books are lush with detail about medieval life, and the protagonist narrator is a boy who graduates from page to squire to knight. All the while, he is able to follow the story of King Arthur in a seeing stone provided to him by Merlin. The book tackles difficult issues of illegitimate children, infidelity, and some of the cruelties and inequities of the feudal system. It’s a good book to read at a slow pace because the action stops and starts a lot, but we are both enjoying the pace.
I am also reading Lois Lowry’s The Willoughbys to Youngest and Middlest. It’s a hilarious and rather dark send-up of children’s books, including the Bobbsey Twins. (The kids gasped aloud tonight when we got to the part where the Willoughby children reference them! Hey! Books talking to each other!) The Willoughby children do not like their parents and make plans to become orphans. The parents feel much the same about their kids and are greatly inspired by the story of Hansel and Gretel. Nefarious plots ensue. One of the best bits is the author’s bio on the back flap:
Influenced in her childhood by a mother who insisted on surrounding her with books instead of roller skates and jump ropes, Lois Lowry grew up lacking fresh air and exercise but with a keen understanding of plot, character, and setting. [And Oxford commas. Ed.] … Today she is a wizened, reclusive old woman who sits hunched over her desk thinking obsessively about the placement of commas.
Eldest (13) just finished school for the summer today. He is not reading anything. When he is finished not reading anything (I’ll give him until Monday), I have a fun summer read lined up for him: Itch and its sequel Itch Rocks. Itchingham Lofte is a child hero much like Alex Rider (in fact, Anthony Horowitz is a big fan of the books), who is an element hunter: he collects elements from the Periodic Table, sometimes by doing experiments to isolate them. The first book opens with him burning his eyebrows off, but his mother’s ire is nothing to compare to the danger he gets into when he discovers a new element. The publishers sent me a copy of both books, and I think they will be the perfect summer read.