Do you find it difficult to find books that engage your son? I mean, books that he can relate to, get lost in, and WANT to read? I often found it difficult in my classroom, and I have to say it is still difficult at home. Even though my oldest is a reader, it’s difficult to find books that challenge him. Not in the sense of being difficult to read, but in the sense of challenging him to think, form an opinion, and to grow. I have loved books my whole life, and I truly believe that the best books are ones that make us think, that make us come away with a different point of view.
With this in mind, I’ve decided to post about some books that I think really do this, with boy readers in mind. This is not to say that finding good books for girls is easy, but, in my experience, it is easier. Since I have two boys, books for boys are always at the forefront of my mind, and the first one I want to tell you about is called The Wringer, by Jerry Spinelli.
The main character in this book is Palmer, a boy who is about to turn 10. Unfortunately, his tenth birthday leads him to a point where he has to make a major decision, to be (or not) a wringer. Palmer’s town has a tradition for 10 year old boys. They all become “wringers” at the annual family fest, an activity that raises money to support the town park. They do this by charging men to take part in a “pigeon shoot”, and the wringers help collect the pigeons and wring the necks of ones that are not shot dead.
Now, the topic of this book is heavy, however it is not graphic in an over-the-top sense. And I should say, I am liberal about books in general, because I love a good story. This book has the potential to allow you to have some very real discussion with your 12-13 year old boy about right vs. wrong, standing up for what you believe in, fitting in vs. being who you are, all topics which will play a major part in their lives. I believe books that encourage discussions like these are very useful. By “living” through the character, a child can project what they might do in a similar situation in their own lives.
Naturally, readers sympathize with Palmer as he fights his desire to be “one of the cool boys” and his absolute disgust with the Family Fest activities. Things don’t get easier for him when he stumbles across a pigeon who becomes his pet, and he enlists the help of his neighbor, Dorothy (a girl!) to protect him. I first used this book as a read-aloud in my sixth grade classroom, and I was surprised at how engaged my students (boys and girls) became. This is a book that many of them remembered two years later as eighth graders! It allowed us to talk about things like: what’s more important, being part of the crowd or going your own way? can one person really make a difference? does the fact that something has “always” been done a certain way mean it always has to be? how do you choose friends? is it acceptable to hurt someone else in order to make yourself more popular? etc. etc.
This book is a beautifully written drama, and is also good for teaching story arc, internal vs. external conflict, and characterization. Through it, Palmer grows from an insecure boy who just wants to fit in, into a more confident young man, who decides standing up for what is right is more important. As my son read this book, he truly felt for Palmer, and his pigeon, Nipper. The book helped to reinforce an important message I always try to teach my children: doing what is right is what matters most. I would definitely recommend this book for boys ages 12 and up. If your child is particularly sensitive in nature (which mine is), know that it has a happy and satisfying ending which will likely resonate with him. As always, I believe parents should pre-read (or at least pre-skim) any book before they give it to their child, but I think, if you do, you will find this story rich with ideas for great discussion with your child.