He’s afraid of elevators, tunnels, bridges, airplanes, thunder, substitute teachers, kimchi, wasabi, the dark, heights, scary movies, scary dreams, shots, and school. And of course, girls, because the scary thing about girls is that they are not boys. He won’t go to school without his PDK – personal disaster kit – complete with emergency plans of how to survive show-and-tell.
Meet Alvin Ho. He is the middle child in an Asian-American family living in Concord, Massachusetts. In Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things (written by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeUyen Pham), Alvin is navigating the second grade (using the advice of his older brother Calvin), all while learning how to be a gentleman, like his dad.
The Alvin Ho series is full of warmth and is downright hilarious. If you are looking for a fun read the entire family can enjoy, consider these books. They are also appropriate choices for those reading at a third to fourth grade reading level. There are six of them in the series. And don’t forget to check out Alvin Ho’s Woeful Glossary at the end of the book.
The Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel has been a go-to favorite collection for many years. Frog’s easygoing manner and upbeat outlook perfectly counter Toad’s sometimes surly, but always loyal nature. Perfect for early readers, these books have simple sentence structure and vocabulary, yet still manage to entertain both young and old.
I was pleasantly surprised to find the same warmth in the Mouse and Mole series by Wong Herbert Yee. This series has received acclaim from readers and critics alike, with Mouse and Mole: Fine Feathered Friends even receiving the Theodor Suess Geisel Honor as a distinguished book for beginning readers. Mouse and Mole share a tree – Mouse lives upstairs, Mole lives in the ground below. The premise sets up the characters’ different personalities, but each one strives to be a good friend to the other.
The Mouse and Mole series is charming and delightful. The reading level may be slightly more advanced than Frog and Toad, with a slightly more difficult vocabulary. The Mouse and Mole books also have more of a cohesive plot throughout the entire book, whereas the Frog and Toad books are more of a collection of short stories. Both series emphasize the value of friendship, and their light humor and heart will make them favorites for young readers.
Imaginative lands. A child in time-out. An unforgettable adventure. An epic childhood story told and illustrated by a picture book master. These are a few common characteristics between the classic Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and the more recently published Zephyr Takes Flight by Steve Light.
Many are familiar with the iconic Where the Wild Things Are, but at its most basic premise, Max is sent to his room without any supper only to start a crazy adventure to the land of the wild things. Similarly, Zephyr is sent to her room after causing destruction with her model airplane. She enters into a “wondrous place” full of flying machines, where she lives out her dreams of flying. Adding another wonderful layer to this story, we also find that Zephyr is a creative engineer in the making. (Go girl inventors!) She uses her ingenuity to help Rumbus the pig fly, after which he and his friends return the favor and assist Zephyr home. And just as Max enjoys his supper in Wild Things, Zephyr returns to a plateful of pancakes.
I am generally not a fan of survival and wilderness stories, so the fact that I tore through The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford and Pax by Sara Pennypacker is a testament to the authors and the gripping stories they have written.
Published in 1960, The Incredible Journey tells the tale of three household pets who make their way through the wilderness in an effort to return home. The book is jam-packed with action, full of encounters with wild animals, hostile weather conditions, and challenges against the forces of nature. It may not be an appropriate choice for the faint of heart or sensitive child, as there are descriptions of the pets hunting and eating birds and rodents, but this is all just a reminder of how nature works. I know I kept turning the pages, hoping Luath, Tao, and Bodger would defy the odds and reunite with their loving family.
Similarly, Pax is a beautifully written story about the special bond between a boy, Peter, and his pet fox, Pax. Pennypacker throws us immediately into the action with one of the most gut-wrenching opening chapters I’ve ever read. Peter’s father forces him to free his pet fox into the wild before the boy goes to live with his grandfather. For the remainder of the book, Peter and Pax desperately search for one another. Although human characters are scarce, the ones in the story are unconventional and richly brought to life. Likewise, the animals (we meet a few more foxes along the way) are well characterized. Through alternating points of view, we join Peter’s quest to reunite with his fox, while also following Pax as he learns how to live in the wild for the first time.
These stories of adventure will especially resonate with animal and nature lovers, and I believe they will appeal to both girls and boys. I would suggest The Incredible Journey be read by children ages ten and older. I find Pax to be more appropriate for a slightly older audience – perhaps twelve and older, unless the child is an advanced reader and more mature.
Dr. Seuss’s ABC was my favorite book as a young child, and it remains one of my favorites to this day. When I first read it to my daughter, I couldn’t believe how much of the book was still locked in my memory. Given how many times I had read the book myself, this should have come as no surprise, even though it had been about 20 years between readings.
There are TONS of alphabet books on the market. Today’s reader can find an ABC book on nearly any topic. Perhaps this is why it is all the more impressive that Oliver Jeffers managed to write an alphabet book that will go down as a “classic” – Once Upon an Alphabet.
The introduction summarizes the premise for the book: “If words make up stories, and letters make up words, then stories are made of letters. In this menagerie we have stories, made of words, made FOR all the letters.” Sure enough, the book is composed of short stories, each 2-3 pages in length, highlighting each letter of the alphabet. In addition to featuring Jeffers’ signature artistic style, the stories themselves are full of wit and humor that appeal to both kids and adults. This book is definitely worth a second, and a third, and a fourth read.