Books With an Accent on Adventure

Action books are a favorite with boys. From rescues at sea to cattle roundups, there's plenty to keep kids reading this spring.

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

'Children's books are written and edited largely by women," notes Bruce Coville, author of more than 50 books for kids. "As a result," he explains "most books published don't have a male sensibility, male sense of humor, or male energy."

Perhaps that's why boys seem to read far less than their female counterparts, and more boys than girls take remedial reading classes. In an effort to close the gap, here's a roundup of recently published books geared especially for boys.

Poems

Recommended: Default

AN anthology of sports poems, selected by popular author/editor Lee Bennet Hopkins, will surely catch the interest of young athletes. Opening Days, a collection of 18 short poems about karate, weightlifting, soccer, and skiing, to name a few topics, represents a variety of authors. Such poets as Walt Whitman, Jane Yolen, Gary Soto, and Hopkins himself are featured.

Scott Medlock's magnificent oil paintings give this book almost irresistible appeal for sports lovers. And if your reader is a baseball fan, go into "Extra Innings: Baseball Poems" (published by Harcourt Brace). Hopkins and Medlock collaborated on that 1993 award-winning volume with equally successful results.

Picture Books

Husband-and-wife team Ted and Gloria Rand have created another book in their likable Salty Dog collection. This boy-and-his-dog story, Aloha, Salty!, takes readers on a sailing adventure across the Pacific Ocean to a Hawaiian paradise. Together, Zack and his dog watch dolphins, keep wary eyes on sharks, and weather a terrifying storm - with almost-tragic results. Realistic descriptions of long-distance sailing, correctly used boating terms, and accurately detailed illustrations provide authentic touches to this story.

British author/illustrator Roy Gerrard gives kids an opportunity to blaze a trail through history in Wagons West! Told in bouncy, read-aloud verse, this is the fictional saga of a family that follows an intrepid guide, Buckskin Dan, along the Oregon Trail. On their journey, the pioneers shoot buffalo, ford rivers, find a lost Indian child, fight off bandits, and finally settle in the lovely Willamette Valley. This charming book is Gerrard's 10th and, once again, features the sing-songy rhymes and half-pint character illustrations that make his work distinctive and delightful.

Dav Pilkey is the author and illustrator of many silly and appealing children's books. In The Paperboy, he's lost the silliness and kept the appeal.

Evocative paintings and poetic text capture the mood and magic of a paperboy's early morning routine. An unnamed boy and his Welsh corgi dog wake in the dark, deliver papers on a heavily-laden bike, and return to bed as the rest of the family wakes up. This is a dreamy "every boy" tale.

Paperboy, by Mary Kay Kroeger and Louise Borden, tells how the 1927 Jack Dempsey vs. Gene Tunney boxing championship affects the life of one young boy.

Willie sells newspapers on the street corner to help his family during the Depression. He and his working-class neighbors are Dempsey fans, caught up in the excitement of Dempsey's attempt to win back his heavyweight title.

Understanding the importance of newspapers to relay the news and sure his hero will win, Willie signs up to sell special editions that will describe and analyze the fight. Although Dempsey doesn't win, a disappointed Willie still honors his promise to try to sell the extra papers.

The next day, Willie's boss calls him a "champ of a paperboy" and promotes him to the busy corner of Ninth and Main.

In Ted Lewin's gorgeous watercolors, a subdued pallet of warm browns, shadowy grays, brick reds, and midnight blues depicts details of an epoch and adds a soft beauty to this book.

Novels

Brian Jacques' popular Redwall series ontinues with the Outcast of Redwall. There's plenty of swashbuckling action, clever dialogue, and genuine emotion packed into a cunning world of woodland animals.

In this eighth installment, the plot revolves around the maneuvering and clashing of the good Badger Lord, Sunflash the Mace, and evil ferret Warlord Swartt Sixclaw. The title's outcast is Sixclaw's own son, Veil, abandoned as an infant and raised by the mice and other animals of Redwall Abby. Despite the care and attention Veil receives, he commits an unthinkable crime and is banished from the Abby.

His evil ways seem almost innate. But when his caretaker, a little mousemaid, risks her life to help him, Veil surprises all (perhaps even himself) with a very costly act of valor. Throughout the book, evil and greed are consistently balanced by kindness and sacrifice. Through tender and true friendships - developed and then destroyed - readers are made aware of the high cost of violence and war. Redwall fans eager to read this latest saga won't be disappointed.

One of the most prolific - and well known - authors in the adventure genre is Gary Paulsen. Many boys have read or heard of Paulsen's 1988 Newbury Honor book, "Hatchet." In that survival tale, 13-year-old Brian struggles to stay alive after the crash of a single-engine plane leaves him alone in the Canadian wilderness. Brian is rescued 54 days later, just as summer ends.

Because many readers complained that Brian was rescued before the going got tough - more specifically before winter set in - Paulsen bases this sequel on the assumption Brian is not rescued.

Brian's Winter is a more brutal - and in some ways more gruesome - tale than the original. Because of severe weather, Brian can't live off plants and berries as he did in the earlier book. Instead, he is forced to hunt and kill animals. Although Paulsen handles the death of animals with respect, some images may be disturbing. Nevertheless, this absorbing, fast-paced survival story is one many "Hatchet" fans have long awaited.

Expanding Avi's ever-growing assortment of writing styles, Beyond the Western Sea offers readers a terrific adventure tale, patterned on serialized Victorian novels. Avi creates vivid characters and an engrossing story, full of page-turning action. Young Patrick and his sister Maura are forced to emigrate from rural Ireland because of hardships imposed by the potato famine of the 1850s and the greed of English landlords. They are bound for America, but not before they build friendships and experience trickery in cold, industrial Liverpool.

In a tangled plot that has as many twists and turns as the back alleys of Liverpool, these peasant children happen to team up with 11-year-old Sir Laurence Kirkle. Patrick and Maura don't know Laurence is the privileged son of the same landlord who tumbled their cottage and chased them out of Ireland.

Laurence is hiding his identity from everyone because he has run away from home and headed to America.

Despite the somewhat daunting length of the novel, chapters are short and brisk. This is a good choice for even reluctant readers. While some may be disappointed that the book ends in cliff-hanger fashion, an exhilarating sequel, "Lord Kirkle's Money," is promised in the fall.

Informational Books

Baseball fans will easily recognize a winner of a book in The Kids' World Almanac of Baseball, by Thomas G. Aylesworth. This handy volume provides a history of the game; lots of information about players, managers, and teams; and even some tips on how to play ball.

Real cowboys still do exist, and Cowboys: Roundup on an American Ranch is about two young brothers who work as cowboys on their father's New Mexico ranch. Author Joan Anderson and award-winning photographer George Ancona team up again to create this photo-essay of an actual spring roundup. It's seen through the eyes of 11-year-old Colter and 13-year-old Leedro.

The cowboys rise early, prepare their horses, and ride through dusty canyons and over hills in pursuit of 800 cows. Once rounded up, the cattle are branded and shipped to market. It's hard, dirty work - but immensely satisfying to this family and their ranch hands. Fascinating and revealing photographs may provide startling shots for some readers unfamiliar with the practice of branding or with the realities of ranching.

Iditarod Dream, by Ted Wood, records a dream-come-true for 15-year-old Dusty, who runs the junior version of the famous Iditarod sled-dog race.

Wood's beautiful, full-color photographs help readers race alongside Dusty as he mushes his team over a 158-mile course in the Alaskan wilderness. Text and photos capture the excitement of Dusty and his dogs preparing for, running, and eventually winning this challenging contest.

Readers will appreciate the sacrifices young 18th-century patriots made for their country after viewing the American Revolution from a Connecticut farm boy's perspective. In A Young Patriot, award-winning nonfiction author Jim Murphy has capitalized on one of the most extensive first-person accounts of the war.

This interesting, accurate, and action-packed book chronicles events from the 1760s into the 1780s. The narrative is enlivened with first-hand accounts from Joseph Martin, who enlisted at age 15. He describes appalling living conditions, military defeats and victories, and close-knit friend- ships of those who suffered and sometimes triumphed together.

An index, timeline, and bibliography make this a valuable book for classrooms, as well as individuals.

*Karen Williams regularly reviews children's books for the Monitor.

POEMS

OPENING DAYS: SPORTS POEMS

Selected by

Lee Bennett Hopkins

Illustrated by Scott Medlock

Harcourt Brace & Company,

37 pp., $16

Ages 8-12

PICTURE BOOKS

ALOHA, SALTY!

By Gloria Rand

Illustrated by Ted Rand

Henry Holt, unpaged, $15.95

Ages 4-7

WAGONS WEST!

By Roy Gerrard

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, unpaged, $15

Ages 4-8

THE PAPERBOY

By Dav Pilkey

Orchard Books, unpaged, $14.95

Ages 4-10

PAPERBOY

By Mary Kay Kroeger

and Louise Borden

Illustrated by Ted Lewin

Clarion Books, 32 pp., $16.95

Ages 5-9

NOVELS

OUTCAST OF REDWALL

By Brian Jacques

Illustrated by Allan Curless

Philomel, 360 pp.,$19.95

Ages 8 and up

BEYOND THE WESTERN SEA

BOOK ONE:

THE ESCAPE FROM HOME

By Avi

Orchard Books, 295 pp., $18.95

Ages 11-14

BRIAN'S WINTER

By Gary Paulsen

Delacorte Press, 133 pp., $15.95

Ages 12 and up

INFORMATIONAL

THE KIDS' WORLD ALMANAC

OF BASEBALL

By Thomas G. Aylesworth

(with introduction by

Cal Ripken, Jr.)

World Almanac Books

284 pp., $8.89 paperback, $16.95 hardcover

All ages

COWBOYS: ROUNDUP ON AN AMERICAN RANCH

By Joan Anderson

Photographed by George Ancona

Scholastic, 48 pp., $16.95

Ages 7 and up

IDITAROD DREAM: DUSTY AND HIS SLED DOGS COMPETE IN ALASKA'S JR. IDITAROD

By Ted Wood

Walker, 48 pp., $16.95

Ages 8-12

A YOUNG PATRIOT: THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION AS EXPERIENCED BY ONE BOY

By Jim Murphy

Clarion Books, 101 pp., $15.95

Ages 9 and up

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