Whether or not your young reader is fascinated with beetles, he or she will like Beetle Boy by M.G. Leonard. Set in London, it’s the story of 12-year-old Darkus Cuttle, who rescues his father from the clutches of the no-good Lucretia Cutter with the help of his good friends, his archeologist uncle, and some very special beetles.
Larrabee and I read this book aloud together and found it entertaining. The characters are engaging (especially the beetles!), and there is plenty of action. We also learned quite a bit about different types of beetles and their elytra (hard protective sheath wings).
In fact, it’s the kind of book that makes you want to befriend a beetle. We’re looking forward to the next two books in the trilogy.
You won’t be surprised to learn that I liked The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold. It’s a book about imaginary friends, after all.
This book came highly recommended by Larrabee, and I agree that it’s a perfect summer vacation read (or read aloud). It’s a British book about an imaginative girl named Amanda Shuffleup, her best (and imaginary) friend Rudger, and the sinister Mr. Bunting, who eats imaginaries. I found it both entertaining and profound.
As you can see from the cover, the illustrations by Emily Gravett are amazing too.
Thank you to Aunt Kay and Uncle Christian who gave this book to Larrabee for his birthday.
And thank you to my own imaginary friends, Little Wolf and Annie, for joining me on many a childhood adventure. I still remember you.
Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac is the story of a Navajo boy who serves in the Marine Corps during World War II, sending messages in an unbreakable code based on his native language.
The narrator and protagonist, Ned Begay, is fictional, but the main events in the book really happened. Blaine and I both enjoyed learning more about this little-known piece of history.
The book is presented as a story told by Ned as an old man: “Grandchildren, you asked me about this medal of mine. There is much to be said about it. This small piece of metal holds a story that I was not allowed to speak for many winters. It is the true story of how Navajo Marines helped America win a great war.”
He then goes back to his childhood. He left home at age six to attend a state-run boarding school where he was forced to cut his hair and required to speak only English. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, he was fourteen years old and too young to fight, but two years later, he joined the Marines. After boot camp, he was sent to code school to learn a code based on the Navajo language. He and his fellow Navajo code talkers played a key role in many battles in the Pacific theater, including on Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. After the war, he returned home and became a teacher, but for many years, he was not allowed to tell anyone about his work as a code talker.
Bruchac says in the Author’s Note that the book “can be read as a parable about the importance of respecting other languages and cultures.” Some of the most interesting parts of the book are its explorations of the differences between Navajo, white American, and Japanese cultures.
The Ruins of Gorlan is the first book in John Flanagan‘s popular Ranger’s Apprentice series. It’s an action-packed fantasy in a medieval setting.
Fifteen-year-old Will is an orphan and ward of Castle Redmont. He dreams of being a knight and hopes to be selected for Battleschool on Choosing Day. Instead, he’s apprenticed to a Ranger named Halt to learn the ways of the kingdom’s intelligence force. But before he can finish his training, he and his master are called on to defend the kingdom from the dreaded Kalkara.
I read this book aloud to Blaine many years ago. I remembered enjoying the scenes in which Will learns to use a bow and to hide in plain sight, so I recently read it to Larrabee. It’s really aimed at older kids (12+), though. Blaine has read several other books in this series and in the spinoff Brotherband Chronicles.
The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz is a seriously cool book. One of the best I’ve read this year. It was deservedly a 2017 Newbery Honor book.
Don’t let your kids be put off by the book’s subtitle: “Or, Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog.” Yes, it’s set in medieval France. And yes, the main characters are an oblate of mixed race with superhuman strength, a peasant girl who sees visions of the future, a Jewish boy with the power to heal, and a greyhound who has been resurrected from the dead. And it also has dragons, demons, knights, monks, and royalty.
This book sounds strange, but, believe me, it’s a page-turner. It’s reminiscent of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales in that it’s told by a series of characters telling tales in a pub about the three children and their dog. The resulting story manages to be suspenseful, funny, and thought-provoking. And, as a bonus, it’s illustrated (or rather illuminated) by Hatem Aly.
Thank you to Larrabee, who read it first and recommended it to me, and to Grandma and Grandpa, who gave it to Larrabee for his birthday.
Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban is the story of ten-year-old Manami Tanaka, a Japanese-American girl whose family is forced to move from Bainbridge Island to the internment camp at Manzanar in the spring of 1942. Manami can’t bear to leave her dog behind, so she tries to smuggle him under her coat, but the soldiers discover him. In the desolate prison far from home, Manami misses him desperately and loses the ability to speak.
Although this book deals with difficult topics, it is appropriate for younger elementary school readers. Events are seen through Manami’s point of view, and the story has a hopeful tone.
If you read this book with your child, I also recommend taking a look at Ansel Adams’ photographs of the internment camp at Manzanar.
If you’re looking for a zany adventure to add to your summer reading list, Larrabee recommends Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans! by Gary Northfield.
Julius is just trying to get away from the stinky watering hole and his annoying big brother when he’s captured by Roman soldiers. They take him, along with a warthog and a lion, all the way from Africa to Rome itself. Improbably, he ends up training as a gladiator to fight in the Colosseum on Emperor Hadrian’s birthday.
It’s not a short book — at CCLXVI pages. But it’s an easy read with lots of funny comic-style illustrations.
Along with the wacky cast of animal characters, the story contains nuggets of real historical information. Years later, when Larrabee studies Ancient Rome in school, he’ll probably find himself saying, “I learned that from Julius Zebra.”
P.S. Never call Julius a stripey horse. And check out his next adventure in Julius Zebra: Bundle with the Britons.