100 Chapter Books Project: Diary of a Wimpy Kid

wimpykid

Every once in a while, I’m reminded that there were kids that submitted votes for the Top 100 Chapter Books list by the presence on the list of a book that seems out of place. Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2007) by Jeff Kinney is a book (series, really) that reluctant young readers love but many parents and educators quickly get tired of.

What it’s about: Told in a combination of words and drawings, this is the story of Greg Heffley, mediocre kid extraordinaire.

Age level: Grades 3-5

Best part: The success of this book allowed chapter books to have pictures in them again. It has definitely been a boon for kids who are overwhelmed by large chunks of text. I also think that the simple drawing style has given many kids the confidence to try making their own comics.

Worst part: Greg is just not a great kid. He’s mean to classmates, his little brother, and even his best friend. He’s selfish and dishonest too. If you could tell he meant well but was just awkward, I think it would be more palatable but I think there is only one time, right at the end of the story, that he does anything kind.

Verdict: Borrow

So no, this isn’t one of my favorite books but, admittedly, it’s also not the worst. Just make sure my your kid doesn’t just bring home one of these books every single week from the school library. There are lots of better stories out there!

Ever since I saw my younger brother lying in his bed, crying, while reading Where the Red Fern Grows in elementary school, I have dreaded having to read this book. I guess it’s finally my time.

*****
Schedule – August through November
August 30 – #34 Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls (1961)
September 15 – #89 The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary (1967)
September 30 – #13 The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (1997)
October 15 – #99 The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warren (1942)
October 31 – #82 The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden (1960)
November 15 – #32 Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor (1976)

100 Chapter Books Project: Okay For Now

okayfornow

The appearance of both The Wednesday Wars (2007, #37) and Okay For Now (2011, #44) by Gary D. Schmidt on the Top 100 Chapter Books list is not surprising considering these are two of the best books I have ever read. Not only are they entertaining but they have substance and heart and amazing characters and history and … well, you get the point.

What it’s about: Doug Swieteck and his poor, white family move to Marysville in upstate New York from Long Island when his dad has to find a new job. His oldest brother is off soldiering in Vietnam, his other older brother is a bully, and his mother is oppressed, just like the entire family is, by his jerk of a father. Doug doesn’t really know how to read but something draws him into the Marysville Public Library where he finds something he never thought he would care about — Audubon’s Birds of America. As different townspeople start believing in Doug and trying to bring out the good they know is in him, he finally starts believing in himself.

Age level: Grades 5-7

Best part: Everything.

Worst part: Nothing.

Verdict: Buy

I cannot sing the praises of this book and its prequel enough. While the first one had a city setting and a “good kid” protagonist who was easy to care about, this one gets you to love a character that you are unsure about. His older brothers are bullies and he definitely has bullying tendencies and certainly a smart mouth. But Schmidt writes his internal dialogue in such a way (the story is told first person) that you always know there is a chance for Doug to be a good, if not great, kid. All of Schmidt’s characters are actually fantastic and, again, he brings the consequences of the Vietnam War to life. While in the first book, he dealt with soldiers who didn’t come home and the way immigrants were treated in the U.S., this time he tells us about the soldiers who did come back. It’s certainly tough to read about because of the physical and mental wounds but he approaches the subject with tact and sensitivity (and, surprisingly, humor). But, in case you are worried that this doesn’t sound like a book for all readers, it also incorporates art and theater and science and baseball and small-town life, and Jane Eyre. And all of it fits together perfectly. I really can’t say enough good things about these books and I hope that teachers are reading them to their fifth and sixth grade classes.

Next up will be a reread of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. If you have a kid (or grandkid or niece or nephew or student or neighbor) of a certain age, you will have read at least one of the books in this series!

*****
Schedule – August through October
August 15 – #76 Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney (2007)
August 30 – #34 Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls (1961)
September 15 – #89 The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary (1967)
September 30 – #13 The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (1997)
October 15 – #99 The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warren (1942)
October 31 – #82 The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden (1960)

100 Chapter Books Project: Ramona and Her Father

RamonaAndHerFather

Ramona and Her Father (1977) by Beverly Cleary is the second Ramona book on the Top 100 Chapter Books list. It’s kind of strange that only the second and fourth books of this series got on the list. Even stranger is how different these two books are from each other.

What it’s about: Ramona is now seven and in the second grade. Things change around her house when her father loses his job and her mother goes to work full time while he looks for a new job. Ramona and her father have to deal with the stresses of spending more time together when he is not in a good mood.

Age level: Grades 2-4

Best part: I really liked the anti-smoking message. Beezus and Ramona both put pressure on their dad to quit smoking and, though it’s not easy for him and he ignores them at first, he eventually tries. This would have been a big deal in 1977.

Worst part: Ramona and her dad are in pretty constant conflict in this book, both from the stress of losing his job and from quitting smoking. And yet, after this original cover, all of them show both of them as super happy. I love that this cover acknowledges the tension and hate that future ones have to pretend everything is just peachy.

Verdict: Borrow

This was so much better than Ramona the Pest, mostly because Ramona was a kid without being a terror. The mistakes she made were honest and not bratty at all. It was also a realistic depiction of the stresses that are put on a household when a breadwinner loses their job. This book would definitely work as a stand-alone read.

Next up is Okay For Now and I’m excited to read another Gary D. Schmidt book after loving The Wednesday Wars. It’s a loose sequel and I expect it to be quite different because of the character that it focuses on but hopefully the storytelling is of the same quality.

*****
Schedule – July through October
July 31 – #44 Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt (2011)
August 15 – #76 Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney (2007)
August 30 – #34 Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls (1961)
September 15 – #89 The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary (1967)
September 30 – #13 The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (1997)
October 15 – #99 The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warren (1942)