My old friend Mort asked if I could recommend books for his 4 1/2 year-old grandson, and YES, Mort, I can. This one’s for you!
Four is a fun age because kids are just starting to break down language in a way that will soon be actual reading, and they comprehend books at a different level. They start to get the jokes, for instance, when the words tell one story but the pictures tell another, and can sit and listen to longer, more interesting books. This is an easy age to recommend for because there are so many wonderful picture books out there.
Let’s focus on the BOY part for a minute. Currently superheroes are BIG among the preschool set (They are’t the only ones. I just got home from the movie Captain America 2 with my 12-year-old). And while the product placement books published by Marvel and Disney are huge sellers, there are many more creative books out there with a superhero theme.
One of my older favorites is Dex: the Heart of a Hero by Caralyn Beuhner. This is the story of a diminutive dog who, through hard work and determination, becomes the neighborhood hero. It is totally lovable, with comic book flair and a great message.
What makes a kid love a book? We always look for logical reasons that books appeal to certain kids: she loves dogs, he loves swordplay; she might want to read about girls with crushes, he probably doesn’t.
But it is refreshing to be reminded that sometimes love for a book, like love for art, is simply intuitive; no logic required.
There is nothing that made The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata jump out as a book I would connect with. In fact, if I had read the description in the front of the book I might not have picked it up. True confession: I just liked the cheerful yellow cover, and, let’s face it, the National Book Award seal didn’t hurt.
But I LOVE this book in a way I can’t entirely explain.
Doll Bones is the story of three friends, Poppy, Alice, and Zach, who share a long-running game of imaginary play. Yes, they play with dolls, creating a serialized story that the friends have spun over many years. But the three are in middle school now, and the game has wound down and become more secretive. Alice, and especially Zach, start pulling away. A boy playing dolls with two girls is potentially problematic, especially now that Zach is a basketball star, and other girls are beginning to notice him. So when Poppy shows up outside Zach’s window in the middle of the night, claiming an emergency involving the china doll they call the Queen, Zach can’t help wondering if Poppy is for real, or just trying to force the game to outlive its natural lifespan. Poppy is pretty convincing, however, and she persuades Zach and Alice to sneak away to help rescue the Queen.
The remainder of the book is a journey: an actual journey to take the Queen home, and a journey of trust and coming-of-age among three friends, whose childhood relationship is changing despite themselves. You will root for these characters and want them to succeed in both their quests.
There are really two questions that young readers and their parents will be asking about Doll Bones:
1. Is it too scary?