Friday, March 27, 2009

reading with the junior bibliotonics

Much of what I read on a daily basis is children’s books, and yet I rarely, if ever, write about them. So I’d like to make this a regular feature, where I comment on what the boys are reading and on what I’m reading to them.

For the record, they both are nutters for comic books. I was completely prepared for this and have no need to fight the urge. Mr. Bibliotonic has a comic book collection that we joke will pay for their college tuition,* so I feel as if the boys may be somewhat genetically predisposed to reading in this colorful format. Also, a few years ago at a Talking Volumes event, I listened to Michael Chabon talk about what his kids read, and comic books were, not surprisingly, sanctioned in his household. As a family, we make biweekly trips to Uncle Sven’s Comic Shoppe, which is as close to a neighborhood bookstore as we have.

In addition to comic books, the boys are drawn to books that are part of a series. I know that series breed familiarity, which is comforting. It’s just that, as the adult doing the reading aloud, I find this tendency to be so limiting. I secretly hope that each son will take the responsibility to read series books on his own so that I may get to all the books in which I am interested. I know that is such a selfish thing to say, but I feel the clock ticking. It is an honor and a priviledge to read aloud to my sons, but it won’t be long before they decide that they don't want to read to any longer—and I’ll still only be a quarter way through Tunnels.

So what are the boys reading?

Son Number One, who is nine-and-a-half years old, is currently smitten with Warriors, and I’m reading this series about cats aloud to him. The cats lived in the wild, in four separate clans. The focus is primarily on Fireheart, a former “kittypet” who now makes his home in the forest with Thunder Clan. Fireheart is smart and fiercely loyal to his clan, even though he sometimes crosses paths with his sister Princess, a house pet. Also, his best friend, Graystripe, has a mate in a rival clan, which can only spell trouble. I’ve learned a lot about cat behavior, such as sharing tongues and predilections for fresh kill. Ultimately the books are about survival. Surprisingly, the books I have read have been really well written. Somewhere near the middle of book 3, I found myself very invested in Fireheart and in what happens next. We’re on book four of six. There are spin-off series, which I cannot see myself reading, 'cuz I’m not joking when I say that Tunnels beckons. On his own, SNO has started the first book in the Guardians of Ga’hoole series, which is much like Warriors, except that it’s about owls.

Second Son, who is just about to turn seven, is an emerging reader, excited to tackle almost anything on his own, even if it takes an hour to read one page. This is rewarding for him and for me. I have been reading aloud Deltora Quest, a fantasy series in which Lief and Barda set out from Del, to save Deltora from the evil Shadow Lord. The series has eight books. In each of the first seven, Lief collects one of the seven gems that belong in the Belt of Deltora, which, once reassembled, will serve to conquer the Shadow Lord. The final book describes the return journey to Deltora. Second Son and I recently finished book five, Dread Mountain, which had a very satisfying ending to make up for the lackluster bulk of the novel. With only three books—each weighing in at about 125 pages—left to read, Second Son doesn’t seem as excited about books six through eight as he was about books two through four. I feel like I have a lot invested…no pressure, though. This series also has a couple of multi-book spin-offs, god forbid.

During the DQ interlude, I am helping Second Son to fix his Secret Agent Jack Stalwart addiction. This is a series featuring a nine-year-old who is an operative for a super-secret organization that fights evil around the world. At the same time, Jack is looking for his brother, Max, also an agent, who is allegedly at boarding school, which is merely a cover. Max is actually missing in the field—kind of a twisted premise for the series’ target audience. Simple and short, these chapter books are utterly formulaic so I’m unable to distinguish one plot from another. Each book is set in a different country, but it’s a rather gratuitous gesture, as all the info about geography, peoples, and culture is superficial at best. In my opinion, the series stinks, but young master Second Son finds it very satisfying. So who am I to judge?

*In truth, the collection may pay for a semester of college tuition. But that’s something, considering that a year at Carleton currently costs more than I earned last year. A little depressing.

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