Every year kids all across Illinois get to vote for their favorite books in the Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award program. I’ve read all of this year’s 20 nominees, and in a previous post highlighted some that I thought were especially appealing to boys. Here are some others that I think boys will like.
One-Handed Catch, by M J Auch (lexile: 710; AR book level: 4.2; 246 pp)
Eleven-year-old Norm’s life is pretty average for a 6th-grader in a small town, 1946, just after World War II: school, working at his dad’s general store, drawing, and, above all, playing baseball. Everything changes, though, when he loses his left hand in an accident at the store. He has to re-learn how to do so much, from tying his shoes to playing in the school band. And can he summon the courage to keep trying to learn how to pitch, bat, and catch a baseball again? I won’t tell you the ending — but it made me want to stand up and cheer.
This is a great, encouraging story about dealing with loss or adversity, and the perseverance to keep trying when others may think it’s hopeless. A closing note also describes how it’s loosely based on the author’s husband, who lost his hand as a boy.
Masterpiece, by Elise Broach (lexile: 700; AR book level: 4.8; 292 pp)
A masterpiece can be an amazing work of art — as well as a very unlikely friendship between a boy and a beetle. Eleven-year-old James lives with his mom and stepfather in a Manhattan apartment, where they are often too busy to give him much attention. Marvin, the beetle, lives with his loving family in James’s kitchen. When James receives a pen-and-ink set from his artist father for his birthday, Marvin wants to give him a present, too. So at night, using just his legs and the ink, Marvin creates for him an intricate drawing, a perfect copy of a scene outside his window.
James discovers who his new friend is, but of course everyone else thinks James is the artist. So his father takes James to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to show off his supposed talent, and James (with Marvin’s help needed) is recruited to create a fake copy of a real masterpiece to catch an art thief. Things don’t go as planned, though, and James and Marvin have to use their wits to catch the thief in the suspenseful climax.
The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, by Rodman Philbrick (lexile: 950; AR book level: 5.6; 217 pp)
Telling the truth don’t come easy to me, but I will try, even if old Truth ain’t nearly as useful as a fib sometimes. — Homer Pierce Figg
Homer P. Figg is good at stretching the truth, but the adventures that befall him in this story are wild enough without any embellishment. The year is 1863, and the U.S. is in the midst of the Civil War. Homer and his older brother Harold are orphans, living in Maine with their no-good, mean, scoundrel of an uncle, Squinton Leach. The last straw for Homer is when Uncle Squint sells off Harold to take the place of rich man’s son in the Union Army. So Homer tries to follow Harold’s regiment, determined to somehow rescue him.
Along the way, Homer falls in with an assortment of interesting characters, including escaped slaves heading north on the Underground Railroad, ruthless slave catchers Smelt and Stink (yes, that’s their names), and the unscrupulous Professor Fleabottom of the Caravan of Miracles traveling medicine show (where Homer briefly stars as the “Amazing Pig Boy”). He’s finally reunited with Harold — and plays a major role — in what turns out to be a pretty important battle. You’ll have to read to find out the rest.
Those who’ve read Mark Twain will find Homer reminiscent of Tom Sawyer, and Philbrick’s writing style and clever use of language a lot like Twain’s. Homer’s adventures are funny, but readers also learn a lot about what life was like during the Civil War era.
The Magic Thief, by Sarah Prineas (lexile: 680; AR book level: 4.5; 411 pp)
“A thief is a lot like a wizard. I have quick hands. And I can make things disappear. But then I stole the wizard’s locus magicalicus and nearly disappeared myself forever.”
Young Conn is a pickpocket on the streets of Twilight, but one day he picks the pocket of the wizard Nevery, stealing the stone that is the center of his power. It should kill him, but it doesn’t, and Nevery is intrigued. He takes on Conn as his assistant, and then apprentice.
Nevery, as it turns out, is just returned to the city after a 22-year exile. For some reason, the city’s magic is draining away, and he and Conn must find out why before it’s too late. But before Conn can be recognized as a wizard’s apprentice, he must also find his own locus magicalicus. Fantasy fans will be delighted with the mystery, the magic, and the main character Conn, who goes from homeless boy to hero as the series is completed in the two sequels:
Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld (lexile: 790; AR book level: 5.3; 448 pp)
It’s World War I, but nothing like you’ve seen it before. One the one side are the so-called “Clankers” — Germany & Austria-Hungary, whose technology is built on steam-powered machines. On the other are the “Darwinists” — Great Britain and allies, who have learned to manipulate DNA to fabricate functional living creatures, everything from message lizards that can mimic a voice to giant gas-filled whales that serve as airships.
Into the fray are cast two unlikely heroes. The first is Austrian Prince Aleksander, son of assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, whose deaths triggered the war. He is fleeing for his life with a few loyal servants. The second is a 15-year-old girl, Deryn Sharp, who wants so badly to serve in the British Air Service that she poses as a boy to get aboard the giant airship Leviathan. As you can expect, circumstances will bring them together, and even into the heart of the war — but will it be as enemies, or allies?
The story is full of amazingly clever technology on both sides of the conflict, as well as plenty of suspense and adventure. I loved it, and couldn’t wait to get my hands on the two sequels that complete the series:
- Behemoth (lexile: 810; AR book level: 5.4; 496 pp)
- Goliath (lexile: 790; AR book level: 5.3; 560 pp)