Ever since he was a toddler, Dylan has loved soccer. He plays soccer, watches soccer, and reads about it. I've stocked his shelves with fiction and non-fiction about the sport, and he's devoured most of the books I've given him. If your kids are passionate about something, you now have a sure-fire way to get them to read!
One of his all-time favourite chapter books is Football Academy by Tom Palmer. Perfect for readers aged 7-10, this six-part series centres around a group of boys selected to Manchester United's under-twelve team. It's a premise that will appeal to many young soccer players and athletes. This is also a good series for reluctant readers.
Football Academy is filled with plenty of on-field action such as training and games, but the books aren't just about what happens on the pitch. We also see how the boys navigate the day-to-day challenges of school, family, and friends; all while following their dreams. Wholesome and engaging, these books explore timeless themes that kids can relate to.
We meet Yunis, who wishes his father was more supportive of his soccer endeavours (Striking Out). There's Ben, who is hiding the fact that he can't read or write (Reading the Game). Tomasz is bullied by Ryan, the team captain (The Real Thing), and Craig is dealing with the fact that his father is in prison (Captain Fantastic). Jake is worried he's not good enough to be on the team (Boys United), while James only plays football because it's his dad's dream (Free Kick). Each book focuses on a different character, and supporting characters in one book become fully fleshed out in another.
When Dylan was younger, he read Football Academy many times. In fact, he enjoyed the books so much, he wanted to share them with the rest of the family. During a summer road trip when he was nine, he read Boys United out loud to us as the miles whipped by outside the car.
After we returned home, he and I continued reading the books at bedtime. He was at an age where we hadn't read together for awhile, so I was grateful to curl up with him amongst the pillows to immerse ourselves together in a book. For that, I thank Tom Palmer!
Books in series: 6
Football Academy: Boys United
Football Academy: Striking Out
Football Academy: The Real Thing
Football Academy: Reading the Game
Football Academy: Free Kick
Football Academy: Captain Fantastic
I picked up The Night Fairy, by Laura Amy Schlitz, as a 6th birthday gift for one of Kate's friends. With its gorgeous jacket, beautiful thick pages, and lovely colour illustrations by Angela Barrett, The Night Fairy feels as if it's brimming with magic.
There's no shortage of books about fairies, and I've read my share of them with Kate (I'm looking at you, Rainbow Magic Fairies). Most often, fairies in children's books are sweet and cheerful, and live in worlds full of glitter and sunshine.
Flora the Night Fairy, however, is not a typical fairy. She is feisty, ill-mannered, and bossy. There's a reason for this: she lost her wings after an encounter with a bat. Unable to fly, she is stranded in a garden and forced to fend for herself in a world of predators and danger.
In the book's notes, Schlitz explains her inspiration for writing The Night Fairy: "[Little girls] adore the prettiness of fairies...but they are also nature lovers and lovers of adventure...I couldn't help thinking that these little girls who love fairies deserve something lively."
Fairy-lovers will delight in the details of Flory's miniature world. She takes refuge in a birdhouse, and turns it into a cozy home. She weaves blades of grass into baskets, ties cobwebs into ladders, and knots flower petals into gowns.
She's also tough: a thorn becomes a dagger and a way of protecting herself from danger. "Fairies are magical creatures, but they can be hurt—even killed—when they are young and their magic is not strong," the book tells us. From the bat that accidentally bites off Flory's wings, to the raccoon that eats goldfish and the spider that catches prey in his web, Flory "recalled the thing that no animal and no fairy should ever forget: the world is full of predators." It's all part of nature and the cycle of life, and Flory realizes "every creature in the garden had to eat. That was the law."
We find out that had Flory lived with other fairies, she might have sang and danced, and been taught manners. Instead, her struggle for survival has made her self-centred. Eventually, she develops relationships with the creatures around her and realizes she can't force them to obey her. When she risks her life to save a hummingbird and her babies, she finally learns to consider others.
The Night Fairy is a lovely, timeless book. It combines the wonder of a fairy-tale world with a strong heroine and a good dose of adventure.
A couple of years ago, our family visited Washington, D.C. There were a few things the kids really wanted to see: the Washington Monument, the Spy Museum, and The National Museum of American History. How did these iconic American sights end up on the radar of two Canadian kids from the other side of the continent?
When my son outgrew Dan Gutman’s uber-popular My Weird School series, I was thrilled to find The Genius Files for middle-graders. It was the perfect blend of Gutman’s trademark humour and silliness, combined with a more challenging plotline. Dylan devoured the first book in a few days, and then his sister gladly picked it up too.
The Genius Files is a five-part, action-packed series about 13-year-old twins being chased across the United States by villains. They have some close calls: almost being pulverized in a shredder, nearly drowned in a vat of liquified SPAM, and being kidnapped on a high-speed roller coaster. I skimmed the beginning of the first installment, Mission Unstoppable, to get a sense of the writing. The opening line was irresistible: "There were ten items on Coke McDonald's to-do list on June 17, but JUMP OFF A CLIFF was not one of them." This was followed by the hilarious explanation of why the twins are named Coke and Pepsi.
It’s an appealing read. Gutman weaves together history and geography as the McDonald family's epic road trip takes them to real-life places and tourist sights. He interacts with readers, asking them to look up random facts, follow along on Google Maps, and to check the cover of the book (“Go ahead, I’ll wait.”). It’s fundangutman.com/dans-books/the-genius-files/ to have the author speak directly to readers. “That’s all you need to know right now…let’s move on to the good part,” he says. We purchased the entire series, and based on how many times it's been read and re-read by the kids, it was a worthwhile investment.
Back to our visit to Washington. Our experience at the National Museum of American History was enhanced by the fact that our children were the ones excitedly leading us through the exhibits. The museum is one of the stops in the second book, Never Say Genius, and the kids wanted to see everything Coke and Pepsi did: the Star Spangled Banner, the Greensboro Lunch Counter, John Bull, and Dorothy’s Ruby Red Slippers. Dylan even knew that Dumbo the Flying Elephant was on the third floor because he remembered that's where the twins found it in the story.
The Genius Files is a fantastic choice for young readers who enjoy fast-paced suspense with lots of humour. Parents will love that they are learning something too.
Books in Series: 5
The Genius Files: Mission Unstoppable
The Genius Files: Never Say Genius
The Genius Files: You Only Die Twice
The Genius Files: From Texas With Love
The Genius Files: License to Thrill
When I was young, my grandmother would take me on the bus to our local discount department store, Woolco. She'd leave me browsing the toy section as she shopped, and I'd inevitably end up looking at books. When she was ready to go, she’d let me pick a book to take home. Woolco had the BEST collection of Nancy Drew mysteries, and I'd linger over the shelf, running my finger along the row of hardcover yellow spines. So many to read…how could I possibly choose?
Many of my childhood memories are entwined with books. I loved when Scholastic book catalogues were handed out at school, and I wanted all of the books in the flyer. I'd give my teacher an envelope full of exact change with my order form, and the best part was when the books came in. There was so much anticipation in that shiny new book.
I also whiled away many hours in my elementary school library, where I’d borrow copies of E.B. White's Trumpeter of the Swan, Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, Carol Ryrie Brink's Caddie Woodlawn or the Little House on the Prairie series. It was a small library, so I’d end up borrowing my favourite titles all over again.
My best friend—who was my BFF before BFF even became a term—introduced me to Enid Blyton. Catherine's parents had immigrated to Canada from England, and the books they brought with them opened a whole new world. I was enamoured with the adventures of the Famous Five. Why couldn't I spend my time exploring abandoned castles, mysterious moors and lighthouses? Later, copies of Flowers in the Attic, Mommie Dearest and Forever would be exchanged between junior high school friends.
After school, I’d spend time at my parents' Chinese restaurant. If there weren't dishes to dry or soya sauce bottles to fill, I’d sit at a corner table and read books from the city library. My brother would drive me there every couple of weeks, and on a good day, I'd find a stack of a half-dozen or so books to take home. This is where I discovered Agatha Christie, Phyllis Whitney, and many others. In those days, I wanted to be a librarian. Imagine working among books all day!
When my husband and I started our family, we filled our children's lives with books. It's fun for me to dig up titles I think they’ll like. Sometimes they'll abandon a book I was certain they'd love. Other times, if they missed the call for dinner or pleaded to stay up late to “read one more chapter," it meant they were happily absorbed in an author's world.
I'm excited to share our family's favourites in this blog. I hope you find some that become favourites in your home too.
Two kids, two cats, and a house full of books. We share our favourite picks for young readers.