Tuesday, August 31, 2010


By David Shannon

(Blue Sky Press, 1999)

Thoughts of a new school year can make everyone nervous—students, parents, teachers, even principals. There are high hopes that things will be different, better. Yet sometimes hopes are dashed as soon as the rules are stated. Author and illustrator David Shannon explores this scenario in David Goes to School, his follow-up to No, David!

As a teacher and principal, I see David every day. There's one in every class, usually more. He's impulsive, excitable, a dreamer. Full of energy, he seems to be recognized more for his infractions than his contributions. David is the type of student who requires us to look at the classroom from a different vantage point. Shannon's David is looking for fun and, sadly, school can seem like anything but. He reminds us that students need regular physical activity, short body breaks that occur in addition to scheduled P.E. sessions. David's need to express himself must be channelled in a positive way so as not to squelch his eager mind.

In the author's note, Shannon nudges educators, saying, "[K]ids haven't changed much over the years, and neither have school rules, some of which date back even farther than the invention of sneakers." Ahem. That smarts a bit. It's a reminder that we need to think about why we do things in particular ways and what that means to learners who can be challenged, even labelled, by these rules. To be fair, Shannon does awknowledge that, while yes is a "wonderful word", there remains a place for no. He notes, "'[Y]es' doesn't stop kids from running in the halls."

Through Shannon's simple text and exuberant, endearing illustrations, he helps us see the earnest personality in David. It's a book worthy of review by all educators.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Written by Cary Fagan

Illustrations by Nicolas Debon

(Tundra Books, 2008)

Perhaps this book appeals to me due to my lifelong affinity for The Island of Misfit Toys from "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer". But that's only the beginning. Thing-Thing tells the story of what happens when a spoiled brat named Archibald Crimp (no doubt, a second cousin of Veruca Salt) unceremoniously rejects his father's latest desperate birthday gift, pitching it out a sixth floor window of the Excelsior Hotel.

That gift is Thing-Thing, a strange stuffed animal—"not quite a bunny, but not quite a dog either." The remainder of the book chronicles the rejected toy's adventure as it descends toward the busy city sidewalk below. Floor by floor, we see a variety of activities momentarily interrupted by Thing-Thing sightings. There's a distraught hockey player nursing an injury, a crazed businessman shucking a 17-battery must-have and then there's a love-struck Alex, nervously attempting to propose to the more assured Bethany.

The pages alternate from Thing-Thing's world en plein air to the simultaneous life moments inside the Excelsior. Nicolas Debon's illustrations match the text perfectly, mixing up the point of view. At times, the toy looks in; in other instances, the hotel patrons look out. Perhaps the most engaging pictures capture the fall, from aerial and side views. The book's design is also fresh, with curvy text and falling letters. One spread is a centerfold, requiring the reader to turn the book to read, as a nesting robin observes Thing-Thing's descent. As a bonus, the book jacket, when removed and reversed becomes a poster.

For the squeamish, rest assured, there is a happy ending, at least for Thing-Thing, if not Archibald.

I have read this book several times to primary and early intermediate classes and it is always a hit. Thing-Thing is instantly likable. The changing perspectives make for a lively read. While all the hotel characters attract interest, nothing catches kids' attention quite like the boy-girl scene with hearts dancing around their heads, topped by reference to a kiss. "EWWWW!" Yes, they love it.

And so do I. Not just one page, but the whole darned thing. For me, Thing-Thing is just the thing!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Written by Harry Allard

Illustrations by James Marshall

(Houghton Mifflin, 1981)

I may as well start with something stupid. Actually, four Stupids. This is not a literary picture book. There are no award stickers blocking the puffy cover images of Mr. and Mrs. Stupid and their dim children, Petunia and Buster. They gather in the living room to stare intently at the blank screen of an unplugged television. They sleep under the bed. Buster mows the rug while Petunia uses a sprinkler to water the house plants. It should come as no surprise that, when the power goes out, Mr. Stupid thinks they've died. And they mistake Cleveland for heaven. How stupid is that?!

It's the kind of book that may make adults groan, yet young readers will delight in picking up the absurdities in the text and in the illustrations. (One running gag by illustrator Marshall is the mislabelled art that hangs about the Stupids' house (e.g., a butterfly is identified as "COW"; "LAKE STUPID" is a bucket of water).

I did not know about this book until a speaker at the 2010 annual summer conference of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators cited it in his keynote. The pages he shared generated hearty laughter. I felt like the stupid one. How had I missed this? It's not only a book, but one of a series of four. "The Stupids" even became a feature film starring Tom Arnold in the 90s. (It bombed. I blame its star.) It took me twenty-nine years, but I am no longer ignorant.

If you're in the mood for Mr. Bean or Monty Python-lite, the Stupids may even produce the giggles. Sometimes we all need to lighten up.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


As I tried to name this blog, I was reminded of the Blog Clog. The logical, desirable names were all taken. (Story of my life, but that's another blog.) It came down to dlfkrtnspaoi24 or BoyzRead. While "dlfkrtnspaoi" has a nice ring to it, I was a bit put off by having to share the moniker with twenty-three others. (I draw the line at nineteen.)

This is a blog intended to promote boys' reading. There are others out there, but I hardly think the topic is overdone. Many guys out there still find reading as much fun as flossing. I should know. From sixth grade until I hit thirty, I was one of them.

Some of the items featured will be the high quality reads that everyone can identify by the embossed sticker on the cover. But only some. When I was a kid, I viewed that sticker as reading repellent in the same way a mosquito regards a tasty looking calf muscle that's been slimed by a liberal spray from the OFF! can. Ruins the feast. (As an aside, do calves have calf muscles? Since all their other muscles are calf muscles in that they are the muscles of the calf, is the anatomically correct calf muscle, then known as the calf-calf muscle? I won't even get into what happens when the calf dons a muumuu. Gary Larson, get out of my head! Excuse my while I take my Tylenol.)

I knew that award winning books made librarians all warm and fuzzy inside. But my school librarian (we had them back then) wore a butterfly brooch and walked around with her index finger glued to her lips. I couldn't see how my interests would in any way match someone who had such a need for tranquility. "If you're all really quiet, you can hear the robin singing outside," she'd say. It was December and snow was falling. That's when Mrs. Gordon lost all credibility.)

As I matured, I realized that sometimes stickers were a good thing. (Loved the scratch 'n' sniff era. Aah, root beer. Ketchup. Skunk!) But an enticing title, a cool cover design and, most of all, a thumbs-up from a best friend will get a guy to read more than any shiny (even smelly) sticker. It's the content that needs to be highlighted—quirky characters; a snort-inducing passage; a compelling plot; a fascinating info topic; an accessible, perhaps original, navigation system for nonfiction.

Boys' reading interests are broad. What I love or even what one's best friend loves might be as repugnant as The Bobbsey Twins to you or a boy you know. I'm just one guy trying to get other guys to identify their inner reader. I'll state my biases upfront. I'm not an action adventure reader. (After awhile, I just want the bad guys to kill the protagonist so we can all for a bike ride.) Wizards are fine once in a while. Dragons? Meh. Sci fi? I'd rather read about Bert and Nan, Flossie and Freddie.

Humor works for me. I prefer something slightly higher brow than farts and dog poo, but I can see how the base stuff makes some guys blow snot out their noses. A good thing as long as I am beyond projectile distance. More than anything, I enjoy books that portray guys who think and feel, rather than just act. (I think the importance of "show, don't tell" has been overstated.) I grew up with male characters that solved mysteries, trained and became the local team's sports hero or took the form of a sports car driving mouse or an ice cream loving monkey. At times, they were good reads. But I wanted to know that boys could be more than crime solvers, jocks and lovably anthropomorphic creatures.

That should give you insight as to my own bent. I will, however, stray from my comfortable path on a whim. At some point, I'll still feature that monkey and his ice cream parlor escapade, but I hope to celebrate more evolved characters and plots, too. (Perhaps a monkey that saves an ice cream business is indeed highly evolved.)

In this blog, I'll showcase books, websites and other reading sources that may be of particular interest to some boys. I'll also post entries about getting boys to read and I encourage blog visitors—and regulars (fingers crossed)—to engage in a discussion by leaving comments. Let me know if my word is gospel or if you think I should be thrown on a pyre with every Captain Underpants book ever printed.

By the way, the name of the blog didn't come just by default since all the good ones were taken. (Again, that's another blog.) I'm the kind of stickler who finds salvation (and great humor) in repeated readings of Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots & Leaves. The slangy (sloppy?) reference to Boyz instead of Boys is not an homage to overrated boy band Boyz II Men (although they hit a homer with "Water Runs Dry"); rather, it's a reminder that, when we consider ways to get boys hooked on reading, we have to shake off standard conventions. Like it or not, people talk at regular volume in the library, comics can be way cooler than Charlotte's Web (blasphemy?) and there is a place on the shelf for a dog with flatulence.

We may disagree on the content, but let's agree to read. And to get boys—yes, and girls—reading!