We Recommend, Double Whammy Edtion

Another edition of We Recommend, in which we do our very best to
solve book-related questions, needs, and other miscellany, and then
turn them over to you, the readers, who really solve them. Need help
finding the right book? E-mail
us with some information about your reader, likes and dislikes, and
anything else, and we'll do our best. Now, on to our

I don't know about you but I am finding that in summer all kinds of sibling issues come up. Without the strange and hierarchical overlord that is school, other things emerge: lots of fights, lots of playing, a whole different easy but fraught feeling. So when I got the following e-mail, it just made sense, somehow:

My daughter:  10 years old, a young 10 in that she is not in to “boys”
but still in to fantasy play, art, imagination.  Very creative, very
bright. She
loved the Harry Potter books. She
read the Mysterious Benedicts Society (all within a week I think).  She
liked the first, but felt the next two were not as good.
is reading Warriors right now and seems to like it (a book a day at this
point), but I am not so sure about that series from the few excerpts I have
read (lots of violence). I
want to find books with heroines, or strong females.  Examples of working
hard to achieve something you want and has complex plots that keep her mind
loves imagination and fantasy.  She really like Time Traveler’s
Wife, until I found out she was reading it and stopped her (due to adult
content).  This is why I say she likes somewhat complex plots – the time
travel complexity of the story line she really liked.

My son:  8 year old, again a young 8 in terms of maturity level.  He is
sensitive emotionally (teachers call him young at school because he will still
cry when frustrated. I call him sensitive as I can relate since I was that way
all the way through school). He
has a harder time staying engaged when he is reading.  We read out loud
every day and he loves it, but is not as comfortable reading himself.  He
will pick up Captain Underpants (read an entire one yesterday morning before
getting out of bed, first book all the way through on his own in one sitting
J) and likes
funny stories.  He loved Judy Bloom’s Superfudge series too, but we
read that series out loud. I
am looking for something that will keep his interest but is going to teach him
a little more vocabulary and reading skill than Captain U. Perhaps expand his
mind and give him positive role models too.

Just to let you know, there was more to the e-mail (it looks a little odd up there, as though someone just sent me something that said "my daughter, my son" when there was a lot more context, a lot of which I edited out due to length). But that's not the point, is it?

I must say, first, that I'm a bit leery of books that offer positive role models, probably directly in proportion to the extent that I wish for positive role models for my children. I just feel that sort of thing tends to come back and bite you in the ass. They end up choosing the bad role model in the book, or they find some entirely irritating quality in the good role model and that's all they hang on to.

But I keep getting off the point. We are here to find books for these people. So here I go:

For her, I would say (based almost entirely on her unbelievable similarity to Diana's reading taste), The Sister's Grimm:


They are all appealing, and they sound just right for this particular person (though I have no problem with the Warrior's series, as long as I don't have to read it myself). For a grownup it's overblown and heavy-handed, but it seems to offer every kid I know a real way to connect to some deep strangeness within themselves, which can only be a good thing. Note: Diane believes that the perfect book for her would be The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, but we thought if the mom felt uneasy with the violence in Warriors this might not be good for her (but the kid would love it).

Now for him. Hmm. That's a bit harder. It sounds like he'd rather read things that are easier for him, which makes sense.

See, here's the thing: as I've said before, at length, I think if reading Captain Underpants brings him joy, then he should read Captain Underpants. I mean, finding a book that thrills you, that gets you to sit in a chair, rapt and unmoving until you finish it—this is a wonderful thing. He has found love! Maybe it's not the most complex thing in the world, but he's only 8. Soon the time for Captain Underpants will be past, and he'll have missed this particular allotment of joy. And he had it all lined up!

But if truly truly they want something else, and he's all into Star Wars and all of that, then I—very reluctantly—offer this:


This book is not as good as Captain Underpants. It is not as insane, or silly, or rude. I doubt it will be loved quite as well. But it probably could be said to have a more complex storyline. And then again, if he doesn't love either, Encyclopedia Brown might work.

No doubt you readers have much more to recommend, and a wealth of "books for boys" (forgive me) to offer. On to the comments with them, and help out these siblings!

13 thoughts on “We Recommend, Double Whammy Edtion

  1. Surely the 10 year old has read Wrinkle in Time, etc. by Madeleine L’Engle. If she wrinkles her nose, check about A Swiftly Tilting Planet which has the time travel element.
    Perhaps the Pern books? And surely she’s read the Lloyd Alexander Prydain series? (The High King, Taran Wanderer, etc.).
    I’ll be back with thoughts for the boy–not from me but my neighbor, who has an old seven year old and had lots of “when he’s ready” suggestions for my boy.


  2. For 10 yo, there are some time-travel-y, fantastical Cynthia Voigt books out there: On Fortune’s Wheel, Jackaroo, etc. Her other books are wonderful too. Some may be a little old for a 10 yo, but some are not.


  3. I think Sisters Grimm is the perfect suggestion for the daughter. MemeGRL’s L’Engle suggestion was also good (though if the mom was worried about “adult content” she should steer clear of Pern). Also, I’d add maybe she’s ready for the Tamora Pierce books. Yes, there’s some adult content, but it’s handled in a kid friendly way.
    For the boy, the Stink books by Megan MacDonald!!! My boys ADORE these. I think every kid whose parents are sick of Captain Underpants should hand their kids a copy of a Stink novel. They’re sweet, they’re funny, the family relationships are real and the books are chock full of random strange facts that Stink finds interesting. They’re still boyish enough that boys want to read them, but they’re not made up of fart jokes.


  4. Oh! I am so excited to recommend Laini Taylor’s Dreamdark books: Blackbringer and Silksinger. I just read them and LOVED both. They are Harry Potter like, but the main character is a girl who is a Faerie. It is fantasy with adventure and a war brewing…I think she will love it!
    As for the boy, well. My son is 6, so I am not sure. But, if he is reading Captain Underpants, would he like The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series? Disclaimer: My kids have read them, I have not. They loved them. They also love the Weird School series by Dan Gutman. Same disclaimer applies.


  5. oh yes, the sister’s grim would be fantastic! i am right there with diana on the alchemyst series. there are some intense battles, but i feel like the intelligence of each character is far more prominent and celebrated than their respective physical strengths.
    but in the end, i think my vote has to go to the ‘kiki strike’ books by kristin miller. has diana read them? a band of pre-teen vigilantes masquerading as girl-scouts who protect the streets of new york, as well as labyrinth of forgotten tunnels beneath the city. um, yeah, AWESOME. there is very little violence or romance, but they make up for it with a whole lotta action and smarts. some of the most phenomenal tween books around.
    for her son, maybe the ‘time warp trio’ series, by john scieszka? i was also going to suggest the ‘wayside school stories,’ by sachar, but am starting to think this guy likes some quirky humor. how about ‘the hoboken chicken emergency’ by m.t.anderson? i think it might even be a series now.


  6. Totally second the Kiki Strike books if she hasn’t read them already–but she must have, they’re TOO perfect!
    “Un Lun Dun” by China Mieville?
    It has a young heroine, about 12 I think. It is a little scary but no more than Harry Potter IMO.
    How about Joan Aiken’s Dido Twite series? They’re odd and less overtly magical than HP but no less fantastical for that. Dido is one tough little bird.


  7. I second the Wayside School suggestion! The stories are completely silly and bizarre and awesome in the best way. Also, this may be a little above his reading level, but what about Bruce Coville? If he’s into space/alien stuff, I think the “My Teacher is an Alien” books are great (if a bit scary).


  8. I am a broken record recommending this all the time, but yet again, for the heroine-needing, thoughtful-adventure-enjoying girl in us all, I’m recommending Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men. I think you can feel great about giving it to her–it’s magical, never soppy, often bracing, funny, scary, and strangely real.
    And for the young sir, I recommend the How To Train Your Dragon books by Cressida Cowell. (NOT the movie versions.) These books clip along fast for the plot-hungry reader, but have enough complexity of language and character to keep amused any adults in our house who are pressed into reading them aloud.
    Again, sorry to be a broken record, but these have been great standbys both in our house and whenever I have press-ganged friends and customers into reading them.


  9. People have mentioned already most of the books I was thinking about for this girl, though I would add the Diane Duane Wizard books as a possibility and maybe Diane Wynne Jones…
    But does anyone else find this sort of sad — “a young 10 in that she is not in to “boys”” Jeez…I would hope she wouldn’t be into boys until 12 or 13.
    Anyway, she might also really like the Swing in the Summerhouse/Diamond in the Window books. And, a bit harder to find, perhaps, how about some William Mayne? The Twelve Dancers, or Earthfast?


  10. If she goes with the Tamora Pierce she should start with the Page, Squire, First Test ones. Some of the other ones set in Keladry might be a little too violent as yet. How about Once Upon a Marigold for the daughter?Or the Dealing with Dragons series? And has she done the Gail Carson Levine ouvre (Ella Enchanted, etc)?


  11. Oh, I have a great one for the boy! He sounds a lot like my 7yo son, and he loooooves the Melvin Beederman books: http://www.melvinbeederman.com/
    They are funny, silly, and I like that they do some clever stuff with format – like having the narrator suddenly stop limiting himself to phrases like “he said” and starting to intrude into the story. Anyway, they are a scream, and I think they’d be the right level for a Captain Underpants fan.


  12. I loved the L’Engle books and am actually reading the “Dealing with Dragons” books right now. They’re both exciting, creative in their fantasies, and seem appropriate for a 10-year-old. I was a little older than that when I read “A Wrinkle in Time” but can’t think of any reason why I shouldn’t have read it at 10. I know I absolutely loved it when I did get to it.
    For the boy, I second the “My Weird School” books. My son (going into 2nd grade) also started with Captain Underpants and devoured them all. But when he’d finished all of those books, he was a little bored and kind of floundered. He jumped right into “My Weird School.” It has a very “kid” sense of humor. For example, the main character often offers up pieces of advice, like, “Whenever someone says something you don’t like, say, ‘So’s your face.’ That’s the first rule of being a kid.” And they’re always the first rule. The teachers are silly, and though the kids bicker, they usually have to save the day. The chapters are pretty short, and they tend to have pencil illustrations ever few pages, which really helped my son with the transition to all-text books. Along those lines, he really likes the Geronimo Stilton books, about a timid mouse who unwillingly has adventures. Bright colors on the covers, silly jokes, occasional illustrations (color), and interestingly to me, the text itself often changes color or font to reflect the mood of what’s being said. I think it could really help a kid who’s looking for confidence on reading on his own. And really, my son adored CP and is now reading Harry Potter and everything else he can; so I have no problem with them reading what they want, because it gives them the tools to read all kinds of things!


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