Keeping the theme of books for boys (if you can call my not posting in the Library Project for quite a while “keeping a theme”), I would love to remind you of Rascal.
Really good children’s books express meaning on different levels, and those are the best kind for read-alouds. The child absorbs the delight of the story (which is North’s “Memoir of a Better Era,” as the subtitle characterizes it) — in this case, the antics of a raccoon befriended by Sterling. The parent has the time, as he reads at a leisurely pace, to ponder the pathos of the larger context — the motherless child, the well meaning but abstracted father, the sweet sister who finally intervenes to provide the necessary reality-check for the father.
Both parent and child(ren) will expand their vicarious experience by reading this book — it’s one that stays with you, because it’s a good story that’s written with great beauty and care. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s about life.
Rascal deals gently with the reality of growing up (in contrast to a really gut-wrenching book like The Yearling, which I read in Junior High, as we called it then, and was too traumatized ever to read again!).
On its own terms, it’s an insightful work that handles the ways family members can fall short with delicacy and magnanimity, which is not something you often find in a memoir.
In keeping with another theme of mine, I think it’s also instructive, from our vantage point in this era of mass hysteria over what constitutes safety for a child, that the book offers a refreshing window on a childhood characterized by freedom. If we don’t read about such childhoods, we will simply not know they are possible.
Sterling survives what, objectively considered, borders on neglect; he survives and thrives, maturing in a satisfactory way, simply because those who are responsible for him really love him, despite their failings and the difficult circumstances that are no one’s fault– circumstances and failings which are by no means confined to the past, although the atmosphere of life described in the book certainly is, unless we who read do something to inject some of its sanity into our present day. It’s worth pondering why it was “a better era” for a child in the straits Sterling finds himself, and ultimately a safer one.
* I am reluctantly bowing to pressure to post ages for the books. I live by Lewis’ maxim, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”