It's time, once again, for We Recommend, in which readers ask for suggestions, and we try our very hardest to come up with the perfect book in answer (and then you guys come up with even more amazing choices in the comments). Looking for a recommendation? E-mail us! We're very agreeable.
OK, people, this time it's serious.
That's right: a challenge.
A very smart friend has a very particular 11-year-old son. I've met him and I can say that he's funny and quirky and tough to charm, everything you might want in a reader (if you're the kind that likes a challenge). Oh, and he has more than a passing acquaintance with the Pokémon phenomenon. But perhaps I ought to let her tell you herself:
He has read Jeff Smith's Bone 14 times from start to 1,134-page finish. He has also read the Percy Jackson series all the way through 8-9 times. He'd be happy to just keep rereading them forever. ("mom, the reason why I don't want to try new books is that I'm content with what I have")
He has read all of Tin Tin and Asterix a few times over. Likes most smart graphic novels/comic book series–even ones aimed for adults. He's read all the Unshelved series over a number of times. Also endless DC and Marvel, and a good number from the Horrible Histories series (british–very good.) Humor and history–especially ancient and to a lesser extent medieval history–he loves.
Lately he reread D'Aulaire's Greek myths and has (to my great surprise) read a couple of the Padraic Colum Homer.
He hated The Hunger Games and The Giver. Wasn't into those books about art–Vermeer whatever, Blue whatever. All those were assigned in school. I buy him books he should like–smart riffs on superheroes, history–and he makes snap judgments based on the titles and covers. Ugh!
And I don't know if it's still true but last year he would open a book, read the first page, and say "no main character as narrator" and discard it.
I just bought him, on a rec. from twitter, the first of the Cronus Chronicles. It sounds perfect for him but I just don't know if he'll cotton to it.
You've got your work cut out for you, darling.
Wow. Now first of all, we have something really excellent going for us. What, you ask? It is this: we are not his mother. We're that much closer already. But then things get stickier. Because we have to, you know, recommend something. I admit it, I've talked you readers up quite a bit, along with tooting my own horn when I had a chance. So now we've got to make good: what is the right book for this gentleman?
It's got to have history. It's got to be at least a little bit funny. A first-person narrator couldn't hurt. A comic book feeling to things might help. My gut says to avoid like the plague anything with romance and/or sentimentality.
I thought maybe The Lord of the Rings
? Except maybe not—it's not quite goofy enough. I thought maybe The Bronze Bow
? It's an awesome book, as I remember, and it's for sure set in ancient times. But I remember, too, after reading it telling my parents, "Gee, Jesus must have been a pretty good guy," which is not so much the thing to tell your Jewish parents, as it turns out. So for him? I don't know, it's a pretty great book but it's going to bring up some conversations about Jesus. And it's not so funny, really.
The Golden Ass
went through my head. Funny? Yes. Ancient times? Sure. But it's too dirty for a mom to give her 11-year-old son.
And then I thought, to hell with history! Just give him something funny. How about The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy?
But that's not really what he was looking for, is it.
Time was running out! And I am not so well read in this…genre…as I wish I were. Especially not among contemporary books. So I did what any sane person would do when faced with a challenge like this. I asked my kids.
Diana says Talking to Dragons
. It's a fantasy set in what she thought were medieval times. First person male narrator. According to the author, it owes a lot to Rocky and Bullwinkle. For those of you who know it as book four of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, it turns out it was the first one the author ever wrote, but it was then followed by four "prequels."
Phew. So there you go. We came up with one good possibility. Now readers, please!, in the comments—give it your best shot.