Persephone Magazine is written by women, for women, and frequently about women, but I’m sure I’m not the only woman who has boys in her life that she encourages to read. I have two boys who are turning fifteen this year (holy crap – Drivers Ed!!!) and we have gone through a lot of books together over the years. We went through some trial and error, trying to figure out what kind of books they like and what I could recommend. They went through a scary book phase in early middle school so I found some John Bellairs, who scared me so badly when I was younger that I still get the shivers hearing some of the old titles. When I asked them about the books later, they just shook their heads pityingly and said they were “kind of scary.” Apparently I am a lightweight. We persisted though, and now I can recommend books for one boy with a 90% success rate and I can at least help the other one decide between two options he’s considering.
The 4th to 8th grade range is a great time for ‘lite’ versions of classics, or actual classics if they are good readers. They are classic for a reason and kids are kind of impressed by a story that’s been around forever. I’m talking Mark Twain, Treasure Island or The Phantom Tollbooth type stuff. Diary of a Wimpy Kid isn’t bad either, nor is How To Eat Fried Worms. However, you probably know about all of them already, and my expertise is fantasy, so here are a few selections that got universal approval in my house that you may not have heard of yet.
The Name of This Book Is Secret
By Pseudonymous Bosch
Pseudonymous Bosch is funny and weird. I would love to have dinner with him some time – whoever he is – I promise to have lots of smelly cheese and chocolate. He talks to the reader throughout the book, frequently telling them to stop reading because if they ever learn ‘the secret’ they could be in danger. The story is set in modern-day somewhere (he can’t say where, for our safety and his) and stars Cass* and Max Earnest* (*not their real names). They are a bizarre pair of kids who stumble upon an ancient alchemy cult that is exploiting children with synesthesia. Learning about synesthesia (and exploring more on the interwebs) was one of the best parts of this book, it is a truly fascinating subject.
By Angie Sage
This is book one of the Septimus Heap series. It is very Harry Potter-ish, but a little bit lighter in tone. I could easily see her stories as graphic novels or animated movies. The characters are charming, the bad guys are evil and her names, for characters and spells etc., are fun. “Magyk” is about the Heap family, their mysterious adopted daughter and their missing seventh son of a seventh son. It’s predictable, but I liked the people so much that it just made me anticipate the happy ending that I guessed was coming – if that makes any sense.
Midnight For Charlie Bone
By Jenny Nimmo
This is the start of another Harry Potter-esque series. Charlie Bone is geared to a slightly younger audience than Harry, the overall tone is lighter and the bad guys aren’t quite so bad, but I enjoyed it as well as my son and my mother. In Charlie’s world magic manifests itself as a specific skill, usually right before puberty. Charlie finds out that he can hear people in pictures speaking, and later learns to travel into the pictures to speak with the people directly. It sounds like an odd skill, but comes in quite handy. Each book in the series has layered story lines, one that finishes that book, another that lasts for a few books and the main arc that continues for the entire series. While it is very, very similar to Harry Potter in a lot of ways, I never felt like it was a knock-off or a waste of time to read both.