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: 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)

100 Chapter Books Project: Little House on the Prairie

littlehouseprairie

I have to admit that there have been a couple of books that I have dreaded having to read on the Top 100 Chapter Books list and one of them was definitely Little House on the Prairie (1935) by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I didn’t want to read this series as a kid, I think because I grew up in Hawaii and Southern California and so the prairie just seemed like an awful, drab place, so far away from anything I had ever known. My ideal survivalist fantasy was the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse (in the Disney film), out on a lovely island with tropical birds and monkeys and a baby elephant that I could befriend. I love the idea of finding your place in an environment rather than forcing it to conform to what you think it should be.

So, I wasn’t very happy when I read Little House in the Big Woods a couple of years ago because of the way that the Ingalls family and others claimed dominion over all the animals (and killed tons of them), the way that they treated their children, and the numerous platitudes about how “good” children should act. Well, I ran into these problems again with this one but, far worse, it added in some horrifying views on the native inhabitants of the prairie. Not only did the family move into Indian Territory without permission, but they actually stated that they were just biding their time until the US Government came and forced the natives out. The mother and the neighbor lady said repellant things about these people that they had never met and the words “the only good Indian is a dead Indian” were used, much to my horror. Once Laura even threw a tantrum because her father wouldn’t take a young native baby from its mother for her to have even though she wanted it. Yes, to her and her family these natives barely even qualified as people sometimes. It was disgusting and a total low point in the history of our country but is totally passed off as normal in this book. I could see having children read it if you were going to specifically have a discussion with them about discrimination and displacement and racism but I can’t see handing it to them as a light, fun read. Honestly, I am having a very hard time knowing that anyone views this as a favorite book. With the rampant racism that is resurfacing both in America and abroad, I would rather find books for my child that celebrate diversity or at least honestly discuss why white settlers and colonists, explorers and pilgrims, were not always on the right side of history.

Anyway, you can probably figure out that I can’t recommend this book except as a guided discussion read. Between Laura being called “greedy” for taking a single lick of her Christmas peppermint stick (which makes NO sense since the author is, essentially, writing about herself!) to the constant refrains of “children should not speak unless spoken to”, etc., I think this book is better left in the past with its outdated views.

Whew! Sorry for skipping my usual format but this book just made me so angry as I was reading it. Hopefully Ramona and Her Father is a pleasant, light read. I honestly don’t remember anything about it though I’m sure I read it as a kid!

*****
Schedule – July through September
July 15 – #94 Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary (1977)
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)