J, who is now 7 years old, has become rather a prolific reader and there are a few book series for young readers that have been responsible for encouraging him on his reading journey. Currently, my aim for J to get him to progress towards chapter books that not only increase his vocabulary and reading fluency, but also widen his imagination or scope of interests. Choosing books that appeal to little boys has been quite a challenge for me! I was brought up on a steady diet of Laura Ingalls and Anne of Green Gables, both of which are wonderful book series but do nothing to engage J’s attention. I have since discovered that in order to encourage J to stay with a book for more than a few pages, the book had to contain some or all of the following aspects:
- Text as well as illustrations – a great black and white wall of text was just too intimidating for a young reader.
- Fictional subject matter that involves intelligent young male heroes, fast-paced action and a little bit of cheeky humour.
- Factual subject matter of the slightly yucky kind.
So, here are…
J’s current Top Three Favourite Chapter Book Series
1. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket This is a series of 13 books, each with 13 chapters, following the melancholy adventures of the three Baudelaire orphans, Violet, Klaus and Sunny. The books trace the lives of the Baudelaire orphans as they pass through various foster homes before going on the run from the police, whilst being pursued by a self-proclaimed ‘distant relative’, Count Olaf, who is bent on acquiring the Baudelaire’s considerable inheritance. Along the way, they uncover the mystery surrounding their parents’ deaths and encounter all manner of exciting things like secret organisations, venomous snakes and delicious pasta. The author, Lemony Snicket, is as much a character in the books as well as their narrator and commentator – and his satirical humour is evident throughout the novels, often warning the reader that very few positive events take place in each book and even suggesting that the books be discarded in favour of more cheerful pursuits. The stories are accompanied by beautifully detailed black and white illustrations by Brett Helquist which are Victorian in style and add to the gothic nature of the books. The pictures often hold clues as to the true nature of people and events in the story that are not fully described in the text, and this adds an extra dimension to the books as the reader has a chance to play detective (which J thoroughly enjoyed).
Mummy Guide: These books are extremely well-written but the subject matter is a little bit on the morbid side, so if you have a particularly sensitive or anxious young reader then proceed with caution. Additionally, binge-reading these books is not recommended as you will feel miserable at the unfairness of it all. However, the underlying theme of maintaining a courageous and positive outlook in the face of adversity as well as the concept that moral decision-making is not always straight-forward are both great learning points!
2. Horrible Science by Nick Arnold The Horrible Science books are basically little encyclopaedias covering a variety of science-related topics from physics, chemistry and biology, often in gruesome and disgusting detail. Every page is peppered with silly jokes and hilarious cartoons by Tony De Saulles which make each book a fun and engaging read – so it’s absolutely perfect for kids who are still entertained by toilet humour (which is all kids, really). J loves these books because they help to answer all his questions about the world and provide him with plenty of subject matter for creeping out his classmates.
Mummy Guide: These books are not afraid to be yucky and gross (because science is often messy) but there are no sexual themes or gratuitously written descriptions of gore.
3. How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell This is definitely our current TOP favourite chapter book series not only because the books are such an entertaining read and have dragons in them, but also because the main protagonist is one of the best role-models we have ever come across. (Did I forget to mention that there are dragons in these books?) At the moment, there are 11 books in the series, with the twelfth (and final) instalment due to be released in September of this year. The books are set in a fictional Viking world and record the experiences of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third and his tribe of Hairy Hooligans. The books generally deal with various aspects of the Viking Instructional Programme which also involves the capture and training of both small hunting dragons as well as larger riding dragons. This inevitably leads to Hiccup, his puny hunting dragon, Toothless, and his asthmatic best friend, Fishlegs, getting into some awful (and life-threatening) misadventure. As the books are meant to be the memoirs of an elderly Hiccup looking back over his young life, they are full of funny annotations, notes about dragons and crudely drawn sketches of various characters.
Mummy Guide: The books do involve quite a bit of violence (eg. sword fighting, hunting animals, people getting eaten by dragons etc.) but there are no graphic or gory descriptions. There’s also plenty of ridiculous potty humour of the sort that tends to appeal to little boys (eg. burping, farting, characters going through Advanced Name Calling training). However, Hiccup is a very well-written hero and his journey traces the struggles of his character as he grows into a good leader. One of the main themes of the series involves him having to make tough choices between what is right and what is easy, and through his actions, we can see the power of forgiveness, humility, compassion and loyalty.
Update: MPH Bookstores Singapore has kindly offered to sponsor a copy of How to train your Dragon: How to Ride a Dragon’s Storm by Cressida Cowell to TWO lucky Owls Well readers! Hooray!!
To take part in this giveaway, just complete the following:
1. Be a fan of the Owls Well Facebook Page
2. Share this Facebook post (set to public) and tag a friend
3. Leave a comment below telling me about a chapter book or book series that you or your children have enjoyed. Don’t forget to leave your Facebook name and your email address so that I can contact you if you win – or if you’re really shy, you can email your details to me separately at firstname.lastname@example.org
(This giveaway is open to people with a Singapore mailing address and ends on 7 April 2015. Winners will be picked via Random.org – just make sure you complete the 3 required steps!)