Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cats, Chickens, and Tree Houses

It all started when one of my grandsons was beginning to read "chapter books," a category of literature I hadn't known by that name before then. He didn't start with The Boxcar Children as my children did; what got him excited was a series about talking cats. I wanted to be able to chat with him about his reading so I got my hands on a copy of Warriors, a series by Erin Hunter. I did get pulled in to the politics and magic of wild cat clans made up of individuals with names like Ravenpaw and Bluestar, clans that fight territorial wars and look down on "kittypets," their derogatory name for tame kitties. Hunter has written 19 books in this series so far, but perhaps Grandson B. grew out of them; he hasn't gotten around to reading the last story.

Another grandson, in 2nd grade, recommended the Magic Tree House Mysteries by Mary Pope Osborne. 28 have been published at this writing, and he's keeping up. I let him read several chapters out loud to me a year ago, and then I came home and read one of the series myself. Through time and earth travel that happens when they are in their tree house, the two children enter into historical events great and small all over the globe, in many different eras and cultures. The format is a vehicle for learning lots of social studies and even science trivia.

My most recent exploration of children's literature came as a result of blogger contacts, where I heard about the books by Frances O'Roark Dowell. The two I've seen so far use a conversational first-person style that reminds me of The Sugar Creek Gang books of yore. In Chicken Boy the main character is a 7th-grader from a decidedly dysfunctional family; he spends the latter part of the book in a foster home, even though the reader has become sympathetic to the good hearts and potential of the family members who are neglecting Chicken Boy.

I liked the grandmother, and Boy's school friend who gets him involved in a science project to prove that chickens have souls. A bit of philosophy hooks me in, especially when added to the fact that Boy gets several chickens to raise at Grandma's. Grandma and Friend have a discussion on this question of souls, and Grandma concludes, "I'd believe a tree had a soul before I believed a chicken had one."

Overall Chicken Boy is full of hope. Our 7th-grader gets over some of the major obstacles of entering junior high without a supporting family, by having kind friends and teachers and extended family. Even before Social Services enters the picture, you get the feeling he might make use of limited resources and succeed in life. Instead, the foster family provides a refreshing and not unrealistic option in his case, and it is hopeful as well. At the end of the book we don't know if and when the original family will come together again.

Why do some children read Warriors and some books about foster children? It is heartening to think that borderline neglected children are finding Chicken Boy in the school library and taking it home to read. It could give them ideas for making the most of adversity, and ease some anxiety about the future. If just one child is uplifted by this book, the author will have accomplished a great blessing.


M.K. said...

My 10 year old daughter has loved the "Warrior" series and has quite a few of them. She's read some Treehouse books also. But the series she desperately loves, and lives in, is "Redwall." Have you read any of these? She has read some of them 7 or 8 times. She's just about outgrown them.

I truly am mesmerized by how children become emotionally attached to books and the worlds in them. Adults seem to lose that ability, as they lose their childhoods.

Pom Pom said...

I love Frances' books. Shooting the Moon was wonderful. Dovey Coe, too. Juvenile fiction delights me, especially the heartfelt stories.

GretchenJoanna said...

Several of my children did love the Redwall series, so plenty of those books were floating around here for some years. I never read one myself, but I was tempted.

Emily J. said...

I grew up not far from Sugar Creek, but didn't know about the books until I was a grown up - they are still circulating among homeschoolers.

What is it about series books that children love? Same thing that draws us to catching up on favorite blogs?

Like you mention, reading tastes vary greatly amongst my kids - all the more books to have. One likes historical fiction, another humor and "reallife" stories (will have to look for Chicken Boy) and the third loves series books - now plowing through the Guardians of Ga'hoole series about owls which is similar to the Warrior stories. All three join in the Redwall fanfest - we listened to several on tape, so I enjoyed them too, and then they'd go recreate scenes.

Thanks for sharing the recommendations!

Matt said...

I just started reading the first Sugar Creek Gang book to my 8 year old. He loves it and begs me to continue after we finish our daily chapter.

Gumbo Lily said...

I recently read Frances' book "Shoot the Moon" and really liked it. I think it's interesting how kids pick out books to read. Some of my kids were into _Hank The Cowdog_, _Little House books_, and _Little Britches_. It probably has something to do with the fact that we are agricultural people.


The dB family said...

My son read all of the Redwall books and now the two oldest girls are pouring over them. My son even convinced us to get him the Redwall cookbook. The kids have made several recipes out of it. Those mice and mole know how to eat well :o).


Left-Handed Housewife said...

What a treat to stop by and see your kind words about Chicken Boy! I'm so glad you liked it. In fact, I believe you have made my day!

The books arrived home safe and sound. I'm happy you got to spend time with them--and now I get to look at them anew after their travels cross the country.


M.K. said...

G-J -- I read your recent post, "Will I be Me?" b/c it popped up in my Google Reader. Then I came here to your site, and it's not here. I wanted to say that I think it is the best post I've ever read from you, a really excellent, pondering, articulate piece. I hope you'll repost it!

M.K. said...

Whoops! I meant "Will I Be Myself."

GretchenJoanna said...

It's coming, M.K....I accidentally hit "publish" when I wasn't finished with it. Thanks for the encouragement!

M.K. said...

Well, I noticed that the last paragraph was a little odd :) Looking forward to it! Actually I wanted to post a link to it on my Facebook for my friends to read, if that's okay.

GretchenJoanna said...

M.K., I always assume that once I've posted a blog, it's free to share as a link wherever you like. I'm honored.