Some of my earliest blog posts (books for boys, books for girls, and books to read aloud) were my recommendations of what I consider some of the best books for children, especially if I felt those books were being forgotten as the latest Harry Potter or Rick Riordan book came out and pushed these excellent books into the distant past in the minds of adults and children alike. I recently gave one children’s book (The Black Book of Secrets) it’s own review because I liked it so much and thought it had exceptional benefit.
It’s time to recommend some other books.
The Mysterious Benedict society
If my Google search told me true, Trenton Lee Stewart has written three “Mysterious Benedict Society” books, and a prequel. I’ve read the first two of these books (the third is waiting to be read), and they are a delight.
In the first book, four gifted children, Reynie Muldoon (the perceptive leader), George “Sticky” Washington (retentive genius), Kate Wetherall (physical adept), and Constance Contraire (a brilliant but cranky two-year-old) are recruited by Mr. Benedict to investigate a school for children. He little knows the dangers they will face. In the second book, the children decide to rescue their beloved benefactor, Mr. Benedict and his trusted aide “Number Two”, when they are captured by Mr. Benedict’s evil, twin brother.
There are thoughtful touches throughout these books, and if they seem at times a trifle obvious to an adult, that isn’t always the case. And if some of the situations are preposterous, given the premise of the series, they aren’t overly so. These books are, to be honest, enjoyable, pleasant reads with an undercurrent of danger through which the children are always rescued.
And while they aren’t “socially relevant” or “deeply moving,” I consider that a reason to give them a try.
The Case of the Baker Street Irregular
In 1978, Robert Newman wrote a book following Andrew Craigie, and orphan whose guardian mysteriously disappeared. Andrew is a solid, sympathetic narrator. His plight comes to the notice of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, and the game is afoot.
Many Sherlock Holmes pastiches have been tried with varying degrees of success. Some have been dreadful. Others have been true to the original Conan Doyle stories and gripping. Despite the fact that Andrew (and not Watson) is the narrator, this book deserves to be placed in the faithful and gripping category. In writing this post, I discovered he wrote at least three other “Baker Street Irregular” Sherlock Holmes mysteries. I must give them a try!
Son of Interflux
If you read my past posts, you would know that Gordon Korman is one of my favorite children’s authors. He knows how to craft believable characters, put them in humorous situations, and then let them reach critical mass. He also remembers that children are reading, and his books are free of profanity and adult situations — at least the ones I’ve read. Mr. Korman is a prolific author, and I have many more books to read.
In this book, written for teenagers, Simon Irving is embarrassed by his father, the head of Interflux, the company that is a “good neighbor” to his town of Greenbush, New York. But his embarrassment grows worse when Interflux intends to build directly beside his high school. Simon decides to marshal his friends and meager forces to thwart his father’s plans, and Simon creates “Antiflux” to compete with his dad.
And the fun begins.
In this book, Mr. Gordon avoids the stereotypes you might expect. The ending is particularly satisfying. It turns out that dad (and Interflux) isn’t such an ogre after all!
The Blackthorn Key
Kevin Sands’s The Blackthorn Key is set in England of 1665. The hated, Puritan reign of Oliver Cromwell has been supplanted by the return of King Charles, and orphaned Christopher Rowe is learning the trade of apothecary from his master, Benedict Blackthorn. A series of murders (many of apothecaries) is disturbing London. The danger begins to look as if it is coming closer to his master, and Christopher is understandably concerned.
This book was chock full of interesting tidbits of scientific knowledge and historical information. It’s basically a boy’s book, with the female characters having adjacent, small — but important — roles. It’s a book that elevates intelligence and learning, and a story that demonstrates the virtues of courage, friendship, and justice.
Cameron Boxer is a middle-school gamer, intent on his mission of saving the world from alien intruders, when he ignores an admonition from his mother to keep an eye on things in the kitchen. It is only when the fire company arrives that he realizes that — perhaps — he was a little too engrossed in his game.
His parents are understandably (and from Cameron’s point of view — unreasonably) furious, and they clamp down on the gaming. To prove he and his friends are actually model citizens, Cameron and his friends invent a fictitious “good deeds” club. Not only does it fool their parents, everyone else is fooled, too, and Cameron (who identified himself as president) must now do something before his parents find out it was all a hoax.
And how does a beaver fit in to all of this?
This is another Gordon Korman book. (It’s hard not to put more of them here.) This is well worth the read.
Because of Winn-Dixie
What with one thing or another, I had never read Because of Winn-Dixie until just recently. It was an unpardonable oversight. While primarily a “girl’s book,” (most of the characters are girls and women), it’s an exceptionally well-written book with a gentle, compassionate, moral tone. Many of Kate DiCamillo’s turns of phrase are unexpected, interesting, and sometimes humorous, as our protagonist, India Opal Buloni, makes friends in her new home town — and all because of a stray dog she dubs “Winn-Dixie” because that’s where she finds him. Opal learns that not every person is what she seems. Every person has a story that, once understood, inclines our heroine to charity and understanding.
It’s not a long book. My copy was undersized with big print and wide margins. But what this book lacks in length, it makes up in heart.
I never know from week to week on what topic I will blog. It was certainly very difficult not to include more books by Gordon Korman here!