OMG We Still Recommend!: Adventures with One-Parent Families

It’s We Recommend! In which we post a request that's been sent to us, and do our best to get that person the right book. Know a kid who needs a book to read? Send us (thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com) his or her likes, dislikes, favorites, quirks, and any other reading information that might be helpful, and we will think on it, and pose it to our oh-so-helpful readers. And look in the comments—all the best recommendations are there.

Oh, it has been a long, long time! Books have come and gone, blogs have vanished, and I have been doing a bunch of other things, but at the back of my mind ye olde Diamond in the Window has been simmering. And then I got a real live email in my inbox, asking us to recommend a book, and I thought: yes! In this difficult and troubling world, of course I want to recommend books if I can. So let's get the old gang together and see if we can figure out a book for this reader.

Recently I’ve been bemoaning the lack of children’s books that do not fetishize the nuclear family—and I thought, I know who might be able to help!

So, brief background, recently separated from my husband.  Our son is eight.  He loves the Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novels, Wayside School.  He’s enjoyed a few Roald Dahl books but not enough that we’ve read them repeatedly, and he still loves picture books—Island Boy by Barbara Cooney is a favorite right now.  He likes adventure and humor and a little bit of magic, and self-sufficient kid protagonists.  I’d really love to have something wonderful to read with him that features a single parent or divorced parents or same-sex parents as something unremarkable, you know? Not a book ABOUT divorce, but a book where some kid with divorced parents has a fabulous adventure. I would so appreciate suggestions!

Now this is a challenge! It's tough—a lot of books that have one parent, but are too mature for an 8-year-old—To Kill a Mockingbird, for instance, One Hundred Spaghetti Strings,and When You Reach Me all fall under that category. So great! But maybe more for someone who is 10, or even 12? Then there are books that are just right age-wise and have a single parent, but part of the story arc is about matching that parent up again to a mate: Half-Magic by Edward Eager fits here nicely, and it is wonderful, but I am not sure that this is a message that is comfortable. The Roald Dahl books make a lot of sense, but our kid here is not loving them. So I have come up with these old school books that I think might just possibly work. Maybe. 

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Oh how I love The Magician's Nephew. Digory Kirke lives with his mother only, who is very sick (so that's a bit of a sticky situation) and his foolish terrible uncle. It's magical and wonderful and I still think about the magic rings. So—maybe. Though the sick mom thing is troubling.

And then there's this:

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I think I never knew that this was a sequel to Freaky Friday, but it didn't matter—it was great. The narrator is Annabel, but Boris, who is a major character, lives with his mom and is the hub around which the story revolves. And it's funny, and magical, and terrific.

But! I am 100% sure that there are more modern books that would be even more perfect. So, readers, if there are any of you out there still: help a family out! What should this 8-year-old read?

Terry Pratchett, Thanks for Everything

The other night Chestnut and I were talking about a Terry Pratchett book—I don't even remember which one, there are so many constantly circulating around the house, maybe Lords and Ladies?—when Diana appeared from the other room and said, "Wait, the one you're talking about is great, but this one is also really great, and you should read it." She shoved it into Chestnut's hands, and Chestnut started reading.

This is one—one small one—of the many ways in which the great Terry Pratchett has reached out from England (and now from Beyond the Grave) and made  huge amazing differences in my world, and (no doubt) the lives of more people than I can count. His books ferry busily back and forth between the girls' rooms, he is quoted (with great gusto) at dinner, he is searched for in the morning, so his books can go to school with them, providing some spot of light to remind them that the world is larger than it might appear.

The most wonderful xkcd said it well. Thanks for everything.

We Recommend: Picture Books, You Guys!

It's We Recommend, our occasional feature that means 1) someone wrote to us and asked for a book recommendation, 2) we came up with an idea, 3) you wonderful readers will chime in with many fabulous recommendations in the comments. Are you looking for a recommendation for your child (or yourself)? Just write to us at thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com, and we will happily ponder until we find the perfect book for you. And truly, look in the comments, it's where to find all the best picks.

Hooray, we got a request for a picture book! See here:

"He is 3 and loves almost everything.  Particular faves:  Where the Wild things Are, Amos and Boris, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, the Mother Goose illustrated by Rosemary Wells. More importantly, what I like: fabulous illustrations and poetic language.

We would love some recommendations."

He is 3 and loves almost everything! Oh how far this is from my current life with a 13 and 15 year old. Not that they aren't awesome—they are. But loves almost everything? Not exactly.

This list makes me want to reread all these books again. They're just so good and crazy and wonderful. And boy do we hear the "More importantly, what I like…."

So let's think. Or really, let's be honest (or at least, I will try to be honest) and admit that for me this isn't about thinking at all, but about a heartfelt ache, because with great art I don't really think (which is maybe something I should worry about), I just react. And here is the book that I love, with fabulous illustrations and, as far as I'm concerned, poetic language.

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This book is awesome. It's strange and dark and sweet and bizarre, and I could (and have) read it over and over and over. 

But I put this here, knowing that other people have a different definition of poetic language, and likely different choices. What are they—would you put them in the comments for this enthusiastic 3-year-old and his mother?

Things I Believe to Be True or, What’s YOUR Favorite Dr. Seuss?

I'm realizing that "half-baked theories" could also probably be called "things I believe to be true," which is slightly disturbing, given that there should be more than a whisper-thin divide between these two categories. But alas: I convince myself.

Anyway, I was talking with a very, very smart poet friend yesterday, and I found that he had never read Go, Dog, Go! Which was bad enough. What was worse was that I had to then try to explain the "plot" of Go, Dog, Go! (Note: the Wikipedia link above actually has a pretty awesome description of the book—pithy, accurate, and suitably awed.)

Anyway, I was struggling. "It's all these dogs, and they're different colors, and it's like, they're doing different things that are not necessarily connected…." And then I hit upon the closest literary equivalent: "It's a little like One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish."

AND HE DID NOT KNOW WHAT I WAS TALKING ABOUT.

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OK, people. I don't like to get bossy here. I don't like to tell people what to think and what to believe. Except it came clear to me in a blinding flash—and yet is has always been clear. One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish is the best Seuss book there is. The. Best. Bar none. And if you haven't read it yet, or read it to your children yet, you should.

There are so many reasons this is true I have trouble listing them. Let's start with this:

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Or maybe this.

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Oh my god look at the water. Look at the fat fish's expression. And then there is the best thing in the whole world, the one that still haunts my imagination:

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That last one comes from this site, which has a name you will not be comfortable with your child seeing. But Clark!

It's just the best book. There's the thing with the long hair. And the wet pet. And just…yeah.

Is it possible that any of you have other Dr. Seuss you love better than this? It doesn't seem so to me in my current state of mind. But…it's possible?

We Recommend: Wild Man Edition

It's We Recommend, where (when?) people write (or call) us asking for the perfect book for their reader, and we try our darndest to comply. Looking for a recommendation? Just email as at thediamondinthewindw (at) gmail (dot) com, with the age, reading level, likes, dislikes, loves, longings, losses, and anything else that might be helpful abour your reader. And the secret of it all? The best recommendations are in the comments.

This one is for someone near and dear to me, my most excellent nephew, who is a prodigious reader and something of a wild man. See here.

He is 7 years old, reads A LOT, and also tears around. What's the thing that keeps him calm when indoors (where it's sometimes better to be calm)? A nice fat stack of books. Previous successes have been: The Secrets of Droon. Animorphs, though, was too scary. The "according to Humphrey" series was a big hit, as was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (he hasn't read the others yet, given that Animorphs was too scary. Another miss? The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler: too confusing. He is only 7, after all. What do you got?

Well. A few things we've recommended in the past: Dragons of Deltora, and Deltora Quest. Also, of course, The Box Car Children. Magic Treehouse they've left far behind them in the rear view mirror. Hmmm. I happen to know they've read all of Roald Dahl and Ramona the Pest. Wait a second—is it possible they haven't read….the Fudge books????

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Holy cow. If it's really true they haven't gotten to these yet, I think I've done it. Though it's not exactly a stack.

But now, I step back for the experts: do you know of a perfect, thrilling, absorbing stack of a books for a very nice avid reader?