Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Fiction of 2015: Read-Alouds

It's that time of year again: an onslaught of book recommendations as readers reflect on the past twelve months and make their lists for the coming year. Some of you may really need ideas; others of you (like me) lament the hundreds of books already languishing on your "want-to-read" shelf at Goodreads. Either way, I'm happy to share what I enjoyed and didn't this last year. It's so much fun when my friends pick up and fall in love with books I recommended!

Because I count all the chapter books I read with my boys, my list gets lengthy, so this will be the first of four posts: read-alouds today, then grown-up novels, then two posts' worth of nonfiction.

We made our way through recommended favorites from friends and "best books" lists, plus a few classics/throwbacks to my childhood and a couple of follow-ups from authors we love. The unmatched top of the list definitely goes to The Warden and the Wolf King, Andrew Peterson's epic conclusion to his Wingfeather Saga. I recommend this series to everyone I know. You have to give it through book two, because the over-the-top quirky humor in book one calms down quite a bit and it takes a while to get the sense of the scope of the story he's telling. But oh, what a story. We will revisit these for years to come.

I think I'll break with  my usual pattern of listing them in reading order and instead organize them by ratings, with our favorites first and the duds at the end.

My rating system:
***** Loved it, would definitely read again
**** Liked it, would recommend
*** It was OK
** Didn't really like it
* Hated it

The Warden and the Wolf King - Andrew Peterson*****
I think the best way I can sum this up is to quote a line from one of the last chapters (no spoilers): "What [Andrew Peterson] did was magnificent." An epic finish to a series that goes on my all-time favorites list, one I will return to again and again. Albert Camus once said, "Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth." That's exactly what AP does in this series: he is a brilliant storyteller who uses a grand and thrilling made-up tale to entertain, to inspire, and to reveal deeper truths in beautiful, glorious ways. Cannot recommend highly enough.

James Herriot's Treasury for Children - James Herriot*****
I'd been hearing good things about this for a long time; I finally got my hands on a used copy and my 4yo and I both loved it. A collection of about eight charming stories about ordinary animals (sheep, dogs, cats, horses) written by a country vet. Sweet stories and lovely illustrations. A keeper for our shelves.

The Water Horse - Dick King-Smith****
A sweet little read-aloud about the origins of the Loch Ness Monster. Relatively short, charming story; kept my boys' interest and mine too. 

Paddington on Top - Michael Bond***(*)
I'd probably give this 3.5 stars, but I'm rounding up. It was a fun little book. My almost-5yo and I enjoyed reading it after falling in love with Paddington in the first book. I didn't realize there were so many more books about this sweet, mischievous bear.  

Pippi Longstocking - Astrid Lindgren****
Full of ridiculous, nonsensical whimsy, but fun.

How to Train Your Dragon - Cressida Cowell***
My boys really enjoyed this, but it was not my favorite read-aloud. I didn't *dislike* it--just not really my style. I'm also surprised that the movie was given the same title and promoted as "based on" this book, because they bear almost NO resemblance other than the setting and the characters' names. The dragons and their relationships to humans are wildly different and the plot is not remotely close. It's a wholly different premise and story. This is apparently a whole series, and I can see my boys getting into them on their own, but I probably won't read any more to them, and they won't be ready to read them for themselves for another couple of years (just because of the vocabulary level). 

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane - Kate DiCamillo***
An intriguing, unusual story with gorgeous illustrations...but I seem to recall finding the ending a bit unsatisfying, and it generally just wasn't a favorite. 

The Charlatan's Boy - Jonathan Rogers***
This was pretty dark and heavy. A bit much for my kids at their ages and not particularly enjoyable for me. 

The Chalk Box Kid - Clyde Robert Bulla***
This was a quick read, and maybe would have been better to just let my 8yo read on his own. It was OK, not particularly amazing, but not bad. We finished it in just two sittings; the chapters are short and the vocabulary simple. 

Peter Pan - J.M. Barrie***
Another of those classics I had never actually read. I'm amazed that my 8yo hung with it, but he definitely did and seemed to enjoy it. Pretty sure the vast majority of it went over the 4yo's head, based on the questions he was asking in the last chapter. The language was difficult and I felt like even I had a hard time following at points. Definitely not a favorite, especially not for read-aloud. 

Treasure Island (Junior Classics for Young Readers) - Robert Louis Stevenson/Nancy Fletcher-Blume***
Not having read the original, I can't speak to how faithful an adaptation/abridgment this is, but we liked it well enough. It was definitely more accessible at this level (with illustrations as well). It did make me curious to read the full version, but in reality, there are too many other books on my list so I probably never will. 

Two Times the Fun - Beverly Cleary**
Having loved the Ramona books, I had high expectations for this and was very disappointed. The stories were repetitive, simplistic, and boring. I feel like they were on the level of a beginning reader...but what 6-7 year old beginning reader wants to read simple, relatively pointless stories about four-year-olds?

The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter - Beatrix Potter**
To say I didn't like Beatrix Potter feels about as sacrilegious as saying I didn't like Winnie the Pooh...but there you have it. We abandoned it 2/3 through because it was hopelessly overdue at the library, and I confess the *only* reason we checked it back out and finished it later was so I could count it in this year's book total and not have wasted all the time we spent getting through the first 280 pages. I found most of the stories tiresome, especially the long ones; I honestly don't see what all the fuss is about. 

Hello, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle - Betty MacDonald**
I have NO IDEA why these are popular or why I remember enjoying them as a kid. So formulaic and pointless. The children are insufferable, the parents ridiculous, and you get no insight whatsoever into the character of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Granted, this wasn't the first in the series as I originally thought, so maybe that one is better--but this one doesn't motivate me to pick up any others in the series.

What read-alouds have you and your kids enjoyed that we should check out in 2016?


Danielle said...

Yay, book posts!

I wonder if we have the opposite tastes in children's literature? Ha ha!

We're still on Peterson's book 1. We stopped mid-way for a while to read other things. We're definitely going to finish it. But the kids groan when I pick it up, so getting all the way to book 2 doesn't sound fun to me. Maybe I should wait until they can read it themselves, hmmm, I don't know. I want to like it. Did your kids like it? Did you just plow through if they didn't regardless?

Funny, I HATED Pippi Longstocking. Absolutely. We just picked up Peter Pan read by Jim Dale to be our in-the-car audio book. Interested in this one as I've never read it either. We also all LOVE Paddington on audiobook and Winnie-the-Pooh is definitely better read by Stephen Fry and Judi Dench than me reading it. But I'm with you, I don't like reading it out loud!

But now Beatrix I adore! But they have to be read from the little original books, imo. I love Tom Kitten, Roly Poly Pudding, and The Tale of Two Bad Mice. We even had our own Hunca Munca growing up. Her biography is intriguing too.

Amy said...

Haha, maybe! I so wish you'd stick with the Wingfeathers though! :D I really did not love the first book the first time through. It annoyed me. But IT GETS SO MUCH BETTER! If you persevered through the first half of A Tale of Two Cities you can persevere through this, haha! Just last month a friend on Goodreads posted this review of book 1:

This was my third attempt at reading or listening to this book. The first time (a couple of years ago) I couldn't get past the first chapter - the writing style was so annoying to me. The second time (several months ago) I kept falling asleep while listening. My friends who had read the book encouraged me to keep reading, that it would get better. So I tried it one more time. In the beginning, I was no less annoyed and no more captivated, but I followed the advice of my friends and pressed through. Once I got to chapter 8 or so, I finally began to get interested enough to want to keep reading. And my friends were right, of course - it was definitely worth persevering for.

As far as my kids liking it...I'll be honest, they weren't into it either. We actually listened to the audiobook of book 1 in the car. I don't think they were paying a ton of attention. We started book 2 in the car and they weren't into that a whole lot either--it wasn't until I gave up on the audio version and started reading it to them (partway through book 2) that they really got hooked. But in the end Elijah was eager to "read Janner, Tink and Leeli!"

Cannot understand your adoration of Beatrix though! :P