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Stack Overflow: Adventures Out Loud

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Many thanks to Timothy Moore, Robin Brooks, and Jim Kelly for keeping Stack Overflow going while I was on vacation this month … but of course that make my stacks any smaller! This week’s focus is on reading out loud.

My wife and I have always loved reading out loud–we read stories to each other before we had kids, and once we had kids we started reading to them regularly, too. Board books, picture books, chapter books … bedtime stories have gotten longer and longer as the kids get older (and more numerous), and it’s been fun to share old favorites and discover new stories together. In my opinion, you’re never too old to have stories read to you.

Since I’ve got a toddler, you can safely assume that any picture book I include in my Stack Overflow columns has been read aloud (probably countless times). My two older daughters still like to listen in when I’m reading those, but for their bedtime stories we read chapter books. (For a while, when they were younger, we were reading separate stories for both of them, but they’re at an age where they can share in the same stories now, which is great.)

Here are several books I’ve read out loud to them–some quite a while ago, and others from this month.

The Chronicles of Egg

The Chronicles of Egg by Geoff Rodkey

Okay, this one is a few years old now, but I read the first two books to my kids and was planning to read the third and we got interrupted … and I realized I never wrote the review. Egg has a rough life: his mom died in childbirth, and his dad never forgave him for that, so he gets the brunt of the work while his older brother and sister get away with abusing him. His tutor is worthless, and his home of Deadweather Island is filled with pirates.

But then, through a strange series of events, he winds up on Sunrise Island, at the home of Roger Pembroke, spending time with Roger’s daughter Millicent. Everything is great–until people start trying to kill him. Turns out Egg is at the center of something big.

The first two books were filled with lots of adventure and pirates and surprises. We really liked the characters and the story, though I would warn that the book is probably PG when it comes to some of the violence and occasional language. These pirates aren’t from Neverland. I haven’t read the third and final book yet, but if you’re looking for a middle-grade series for a kid who loves adventure, this is a good fit.

augie and the green knight

Augie and the Green Knight by Zach Weinersmith, illustrated by Boulet

Last year I heard about Zach Weinersmith’s Kickstarter campaign for his first children’s book. Weinersmith, known for his webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, had a baby girl and wanted a book that featured a girl as the protagonist. And not just any girl: a smart girl who loves science. Well, as a dad with three daughters, I’m a sucker for stories about girls, so I backed the campaign.

Augie and the Green Knight arrived in June this year, and it’s a gorgeous book: a hardcover with a ribbon bookmark, gold edges on the pages, beautiful watercolor illustrations by Boulet. And the story is wonderful, too. It’s laugh-out-loud funny in parts and it’s also very clever, and it’s a funny twist on the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In the original, the Green Knight shows up at King Arthur’s Court at Christmas, and challenges a knight to strike him once with his axe, saying he will return the blow in a year. Gawain chops off his head in one strike–at which point the Green Knight picks up his head, and says he expects to return the strike in one year’s time.

In Weinersmith’s version, Augie is along for the ride, and spends the year trying to convince the Green Knight that chopping off heads isn’t a good idea. Meanwhile, we also get to see Gawain’s mostly useless attempts to prepare for his upcoming appointment with decapitation.

All around, a very fun book to read–I highly recommend it. (Note: it may be hard to find now, but Weinersmith’s site says it should be back in print soon.)

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls by Holly Grant, illustrated by Josie Portillo

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls by Holly Grant, illustrated by Josie Portillo

Anastasia is eleven years old and perfectly ordinary and, truth be told, not particularly bright. Her world is thrown upside-down one day when she is pulled out of school and told that her parents have died in a tragic vacuum cleaner accident. Her two long-lost aunties, Prim and Prude, show up and take her to their authentic Victorian home, which was formerly an insane asylum.

Of course, as you may expect, things are a little off. What’s with her aunties’ teeth? Why are there attack poodles outside the house? Why does the gardener have a birdcage on his head? And why do they lock Anastasia into her room every night–is it really for her own safety?

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls is one of those books that’s scary-not-scary. There are creepy characters and things going on, but they’re often done in a way that makes them seem more ridiculous than frightening. That turned out to be perfect for my daughters, who tend to be a little more easily spooked–the last thing I need is to give them more reasons to get out of bed in the middle of the night! This is the first book in a series–I see that the second book is due to be released in February.

Buckle & Squash: The Perilous Princess Plot by Sarah Courtauld

Buckle & Squash: The Perilous Princess Plot by Sarah Courtauld

Lavender and Eliza are sisters living in the Forgotten Corner of the Kingdom. Lavender believes with all her heart that she will be a fairy-tale princess: she will meet a handsome prince and be swept away to his kingdom. She spends all her time practicing the skills she thinks a princess needs: fainting, singing, twirling, and composing poetry. Eliza, meanwhile, is having none of that. Her future involves battling monsters and solving mysteries, but for now she’s stuck doing the chores because Lavender is too busy reading fairy-tales.

When Lavender runs off to find her prince, she ends up in the clutches of evil Count Mordmont–who’s looking for a princess to hold for ransom. And it’s up to Eliza (and her goat Gertrude) to save the day.

The book is a hilarious mash-up of fairy-tale cliches and unconventional characters, and my kids and I laughed all the way through it, from Lavender’s foolish imagination to Eliza’s foolhardy actions to the snarky footnotes. The illustrations look kind of like pencil doodles by a young child, but they do fit the story.

The Perilous Princess Plot was a fairly quick read. I see that it’s an import from the UK and there was at least one other book in the series, so I hope that one arrives in the US soon, too.

A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic

A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic by Lisa Papademetriou

I just finished reading this one to my girls this weekend. It’s a story about two girls in different parts of the world who are linked by, well, some unusual magic.

Kai is visiting her great aunt Lavinia in Texas, where she meets a moth-obsessed girl named Doodle, along with Doodle’s rival, a smarmy rich kid named Pettyfer. Leila is visiting relatives in Lahore, Pakistan, in an attempt to have her own international adventure (since her little sister is in Kenya on a trip for gifted students). The two of them don’t seem to have much in common other than that they both feel a little bit out of place … and they’ve each discovered a copy of an old book entitled The Exquisite Corpse.

The book looks to be an old, blank journal–but when Kai writes a few words in it, she later finds that her sentence becomes part of a story. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Leila discovers the same thing (and the same story). As our book jumps between Kai and Leila, we also get more and more pieces of the story of Ralph Flabbergast and Edwina Pickle … who have odd connections to Kai and Leila.

We really enjoyed A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic. The parts that take place in Lahore provided a little bit of a cultural education for us–Papademetriou doesn’t always define some of the terms that Leila’s relatives use, so we were looking up things like salwar kameez. Leila, who expected her trip to be like something out of her favorite Dear Sisters novels, has to adjust her expectations a bit. Kai, who has been struggling with her own dreams about being a violin player, gets a new perspective on her music. And the story playing out in The Exquisite Corpse has consequences for both girls that they couldn’t have anticipated.

It’s worth mentioning that the book tends toward the idea of fate–that certain people are meant to be together, that certain things are meant to happen. In a book about magic, that makes sense, but I don’t want my kids to think that the takeaway is that they don’t have any agency in the direction that their lives take. Still, it’s an optimistic view of fate, as long as you’re not the bad guy.

A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic isn’t out until October, but is available for pre-order now.

Disclosure: GeekDad received review copies of all of these except Augie and the Green Knight.


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