Guys Read: Funny Business by Jon Scieszka
I’m the opposite of who this book was intended for…and I loved it. If fifth-grade boy was the center of the target, Forty-year old mom wasn’t even on the dartboard. But these stories are so funny, so poignant, and so well written, it seems a shame to let eleven year-old boys have all the fun. I found myself laughing out loud in a public coffee shop multiple times.
My daughter’s fifth grade class recently participated in National Novel Writers Month. In celebration of reaching their word-count goals, the class read excerpts of their 3,000 word novels to the parents. With child after child, I was amazed by their creativity and humor. While reading Guys Read: Funny Business, I was struck by the similarities. These stories managed to perfectly capture that same voice of a child, while layering on the exceptional writing and story arc that comes with years of practice and more than a smidge of envy-inducing talent.
There is a line in one of the stories that goes something like this, “If you think you are going to be a writer when you grow up, don’t you think you should take notes?’ The young boy replied, “I have a great memory.” Well, whether these authors have great memories or just made up new ones to help boys enjoy reading, the result is laugh-out-loud good. I highly recommend this book for kids who enjoyed Artemis Fowl, The Great Brain, and I Am A Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President. You can learn more about this book, and find other great recommendations for boys at http://www.guysread.com.
Ball Don’t Lie by Matt de la Peña
A kid sits at a bus stop with his hood pulled up and headphones on. No one is looking at him. This moment inspired de la Peña to write his first book; this moment is the turning point in the highly successful book he wrote. He makes his reader look at this kid for three hundred pages that are more like a series of waves approaching a beach than a linear or even a woven plot. The kid on the bench is about to make a move that will break open his cornered life.
Matt de la Peña writes from what he knows: basketball as a kind of tether leading out of the mean streets. He creates a kid who goes by the name of “Sticky,” a name his mother gave him because of all the past-due-date Hostess Twinkies he ate as a little kid. When his mother overdoses, he spends the rest of his childhood in and out of foster homes. He has nothing, but is very good at basketball. The book is a buidup of all that has gone wrong, of all the miscues he has gotten in his life, of all the treacherous pitfalls looming around him, all rushing toward an opening that may or may not shut before he gets to it–the basketball scholarship and a real life.
When the author first presented this book to agents, they suggested he cut some of the cussing and sex and release it as a young adult novel. This excellent book will appeal to teens, certainly boys and basketball enthusiasts, but the complexity of the plot and the subtlety of the character development will be a challenge to all but experienced readers.