Every year kids across Illinois get to vote for their favorite books in the Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award program. The list of 20 nominees is developed by teachers and librarians, but kids ultimately decide the winner. Any Illinois student in the 4th through 8th grades who has read (or listened to) at least 3 of the books (and whose school or public library registers) can vote. Voting takes place in February; winners are announced in March.
The nominating committee always includes a variety of books– some shorter, some longer, and various genres, including fantasy, sports, humor, historical, and realistic fiction. There are always some that will appeal more to girls, and some to boys. I’ve read all but one of the 2012 nominees, and here are some good ones I think boys will like. (I’ll put more in a later post.)
Woods Runner, by Gary Paulsen (lexile: 870; AR book level: 5.5; 164 pp)
Thirteen-year-old Samuel is a “child of the forest” — his parents moved to the frontier in Pennsylvania when he was a baby, and the woods are the only world he has known. He can hunt and track better than anyone else in their little settlement. But his world is turned upside down when one day he returns from hunting to discover his village burned, his neighbors killed, and his parents missing, captured by British soldiers at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War.
Samuel resolves to track the band of soldiers to New York and somehow rescue his parents, meeting along the way both enemies and friends. Between chapters Paulsen includes short historical notes, highlighting facts that put the story in context. You’ll get a good picture of how the war impacted the lives of both soldiers and local families, seen through the eyes of a young man who must rise to a heroic task.
Heart of a Shepherd, by Rosanne Parry (lexile: 850; AR book level: 5.2; 161 pp)
Not many boys I know in the Midwest have stitched a family member’s cut, birthed a calf, or rescued sheep from a wildfire. These are the kinds of challenges faced by 11-year-old Ignatius (whom everyone calls “Brother”), the youngest of five boys in a rural Oregon ranching family. With his father called up for duty in Iraq, his mother in Europe, and his brothers all away at boarding school or in the military, it’s up to Brother and his aging grandparents to manage the family’s ranch. Brother is eager to prove to his father and siblings that he can handle the responsibility, but it’s hard work. And he wonders: are ranching and military service (the only work the rest of his family has ever known) really his calling?
The characters in this book are solid and good — the father cares for his family, his ranch, and the men under his command. The grandfather is a wise, chess-playing, philosophical Quaker; grandmother is strong and nurturing, devoutly Catholic, and can fix anything with a motor. A hired Ecuadorian shepherd and a young itinerant priest round out the cast of adult characters who ultimately help Brother realize his own calling as the story reaches its very moving climax.
This is Parry’s first book, and is a wonderful portrayal of a family where hard work, love of country, family, and faith form a solid foundation for a boy’s discovery of who he is meant to be.
Powerless, by Matthew Cody (lexile: 800; AR book level: 5.2; 279 pp)
There are plenty of great stories in which kids discover they have previously-unrecognized magical powers, special abilities, or a unique birthright. Here’s one where the hero is special precisely because he doesn’t.
Twelve-year-old Daniel is the new kid in town, and soon discovers a secret: among his new friends (and a couple of enemies), some have superpowers — one is super-fast, one can fly, and yet another controls electricity. Most use their powers to do good in their little town of Noble’s Green, Pennsylvania (“The Safest Town on Earth”), but there’s a bigger mystery afoot: why do they have these special abilities, and why do the powers always disappear (along with any memory of them) on the day they turn thirteen?
As the only ordinary kid among them, and a fan of Sherlock Holmes, Daniel tries to use his sleuthing skills to discover the answers, and save his friends from losing their powers. In the process he’ll uncover an old story involving a World War II hero, a classic comic book, and a dark villain who must be defeated in the book’s harrowing final battle. This is Matthew Cody’s first book — it’s brilliant, fun, fast-paced, and ends with hints of a sequel. [P.S. 2013: The sequel is Super — just as good as the first.
Peak, by Roland Smith (lexile: 760; AR book level: 5.0; 246 pp)
See my previous review here.