'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Saturday 25 September 2010

KBR Recommends: Great Junior Fiction for Boys

Most boys love to read, but they are also very busy and so partial to many other things like sport and hobbies and electronic brain-sappers.

Our boys are reading more and more sophisticated books at a younger age, yet there are just as many who struggle to read, and suffer enormously from it – not only academically and socially, but also for the fact that they’re missing out on the glory of stories – something so vital to a growing brain.

A KBR reader tweeted me some weeks ago about books she could buy for her 4-year-old son who is reading so well and devouring so many books, she would like to extend him to chapter books. Her only issue was finding suitable books, so she asked my advice on great junior fiction for very young readers.

The following line-up of books has such a variety in tone and reading difficulty, they will suit young kids who read well… and also older kids who don’t read so well. Depending on your child, their interest and their reading capabilities, you’re sure to find a series that will encourage your boy to read.

These books are specifically for kids who are extending themselves beyond picture books to text – aged roughly between 4 and 8, though as ‘old’ as 10. If you have a chapter book series your son or students have enjoyed or that you would like to recommend to other parents and teachers, please do leave a comment below.

Aussie Nibbles

The Aussie Nibbles series (Bites and Chomps are for older readers, respectively) has been a best seller for Penguin for many years now, and is still going strong, with books selling in overseas markets, proving there is a large market for great stories that extend children and draw them into other worlds.

The books are illustrated in black and white and feature no more than around 60 words per page, with around 6 or 7 short chapters. These books would suit kids aged between 5 and 8, and the tone of the stories is younger to mid-range, fun, heroic and imaginative. The books are written and illustrated by a strong variety of well-known talent.

Little Lunch

The Little Lunch series from Black Dog Books is more heavily illustrated (B&W) than the Nibbles and would again suit kids aged 5 to 8. The books aren’t divided into chapters but do have scene-changes and are romping, rollicking stories that will hook boys in.

The tone of these books is a little older (around 7) and the themes are a little more whacky and action-packed. Written by award-winning team Danny Katz and Mitch Vane – the kooky illustrations work perfectly with the text.

Mates – Great Australian Yarns

Published by Scholastic, these fun chapter books have obvious appeal in that they are very Australian and tackle relatable and entertaining topics.

The authors for the series vary from Ian Horrocks to Tom Jellett and Sue Degennaro. The illustrations are a strong point with these books – there are fabulous colour illustrations throughout. The books are beautifully styled and are a relatively light read, suiting kids from 5 through to 8. The tone would suit kids around the age of 6.

Text is broken up with the occasional word in larger or different font face and stories are funny, totally charming, laid back and full of fun lingo. Perfect for very young readers.

Zac Power

Hardie Grant Egmont have had huge success with the Zac Power chapter books because they tackle older kids who struggle to read – and do it with flair. Even for kids who are reading well, they are a quick read with storylines that pack a punch.

Zac is a top secret spy (along with his brother Leon) and these adventures are fast-paced, imaginative and super cool, attracting older readers. With large font and high tech gizmo illustrations, these books would attract 8 to 10 year olds. The storylines may be concise and simply written but they aren’t dumbed down and use all the lingo required to hit the mark.

Battle Boy
Similar to Zac Power but longer and with more text, the Battle Boy: Spying on the Past is a brilliant chapterbook series combining history with high tech action. Published by Pan Macmillan, these books continue to hit the shelves in quick succession – a clear indicator of their need in the market.

Author Carter writes with an obvious passion for things of the past, introducing boys to a series of historical figures from the Aztecs to the Red Baron, in a light but meaty way. The book’s hero – Napolean Augustus Smythe is an 11-year-old spy who travels back in time to meet the great historical battle figures of the past.

High tech language and graphics will entrance older readers and the text type and length hits the mark for 8 year olds, with the tone set for those aged 7 and up.

Boyz Rule!
Another Pan Macmillan series combining established talent, these books are penned by a talented duo – Felice Arena and Phil Kettle, with illustrations by a variety of clever people from Gus Gorden to Susy Boyer and Mitch Vane. With dialogue set playscript style, the stories focus on sports and pastimes boys will love and would suit kids aged 4 to 8.

The books are broken into chapters and include a glossary of terms (‘Lingo’), tips, information and a Think Tank where kids are challenged to pondered the story they’ve just read and answer a quiz. School readers just got really cool.

Perfectly suited to kids who love to absorb information and love outdoor pursuits, boyish antics and sport.

Walker Stories
This beautiful series from Walker Books is written and illustrated by a variety of talent including the illustrious Bob Graham. The series is ideal for younger readers, with family and friendship-oriented themes. Filled with stories that hark back to classic storytelling, the books would suit readers between 6 and 10, and the tone would be towards the younger end of that group.

Broken into three titled ‘scenes’, the books feature wonderful line drawings on every page. Not for kids who want fast-paced, super cool action – these are instead warm, hearty books that younger readers and adults will also love. Perfect for bedtime stories.

Wombat and Fox
For parents wanting to drag their boys away from comics, this series by Terry Denton (published by Allen & Unwin) is a glorious compromise. Full to bursting with glorious illustrations, the considerable text of these books is most happily chopped to pieces by fun visuals, making them somewhat of a relief for boys struggling to read.

The content of the books is fast-paced, kooky and lots of fun, and the tone would suit kids aged 5 through 10. Packed with dialogue and written in a verse-like fashion, these books are easy to read in that they flow beautifully. They are not dumbed down in the least, but the text is clear and concisely written, making them very user-friendly.

The Stanley Series
For readers who love classic storylines, Stanley (Hardie Grant Egmont) is a whimsical series featuring a most lovable character and his adventures. The text is a little heavier in these books and would suit boys aged 7 to 10. The tone would suit younger kids – older boys may lose interest if they’ve not been raised on classic books.

The Stanley books are filled with friends, family and relationships yet also feature adventure and a healthy dose of humour and warm magic. Charming.

Do you have a junior fiction series you would recommend for boys? Leave a comment or email us and we will feature them on Kids Book Review!