All branches will be closed Wednesday, December 24 through Friday, December 26. We wish you a happy & safe holiday!

Real Kids, Real Problems, Real Funny

    Oliver Olson’s problem is over-protective parents.  When his third grade teacher opens a space unit by asking, “How many of you would like to walk on the moon?”, Oliver doesn’t raise his hand.  “Oliver’s parents would never let him walk on the moon.  The moon was too far away.  It was too cold.  It didn’t have enough gravity. The rocket might explode.”  And when his teacher announces that the whole class is invited to a space sleepover at school, he knows he won’t be allowed to go.  Ever since Oliver was a sickly preschooler, his parents have worried about him too much.

    Oliver Olson’s problem is over-protective parents.  When his third grade teacher opens a space unit by asking, “How many of you would like to walk on the moon?”, Oliver doesn’t raise his hand.  “Oliver’s parents would never let him walk on the moon.  The moon was too far away.  It was too cold.  It didn’t have enough gravity. The rocket might explode.”  And when his teacher announces that the whole class is invited to a space sleepover at school, he knows he won’t be allowed to go.  Ever since Oliver was a sickly preschooler, his parents have worried about him too much.


    Claudia Mills’ “How Oliver Olson Changed the World” offers a portrait of overly protective parents that many families will recognize.  Yet since readers see Oliver’s parents through his eyes, we can sympathize with them, too, even when they insist on making his solar system diorama for him.  How Oliver finally strikes out on his own – in a safe way – makes for a satisfying, funny story for readers nine and up.


    Another real kid with real problems is nine-year-old Calvin Coconut, a high-energy kid who finds trouble wherever he goes in his beach-side Hawaiian town.  In the first chapter of Graham Salisbury’s “Calvin Coconut, Trouble Magnet,” Calvin agrees to watch a kitesurfer’s gear for just a few minutes, but he can’t resist strapping it on himself.  Next thing he knows, the wind has picked up and Calvin is being dragged down the beach at a great rate. He ends up covered with sand and scratches, but he’s had a good time.


    Calvin’s mom, his little sister, and the 15-year-old family friend who moves in with them make up a loving if sometimes challenging family.  Humor, action, funny line drawings and short chapters make this book and its companion, “Calvin Coconut, The Zippy Fix,” fun, easy reads for fourth and fifth graders.


    Moxy Maxwell is having a great summer except for one problem:  her fourth grade teacher has assigned the class to read “Stuart Little” by E.B. White over the summer.  Tomorrow is the first day of school, and she still hasn’t read it.  Oh, she’s certainly carried it around with her all summer long, including to the pool, where it accidentally fell in, but read it?  Not so much. 


     In Peggy Gifford’s “Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little,” Moxy and her twin brother Mark document Moxy’s lack of progress through short, funny chapters and Mark’s photos of important events, like the before-and-after pictures of Moxy’s messy room.  Moxy’s story continues in “Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Writing Thank-You Notes.”


      The mother of all these real-life chapter books for elementary school readers is Beverly Cleary.  If your kids have not yet met Ramona, Beezus, Otis Spofford and the unforgettable dog Ribsy, drive immediately to the closest library and check them out.  Whether it’s Ramona imitating the other kids at school by cracking an egg on her head, only to discover it was not hard-boiled as she thought; or Henry Huggins trying to bring a stray dog home on the bus by stuffing him into a cardboard box; or Ellen Tebbits’ struggles with the long winter underwear her mom makes her wear, Cleary’s insights into how kids really feel has kept these books fresh and funny for more than fifty years. 



This column was first published in the Free Lance-Star on November 10, 2009.