The 5 best books of The Nine-Year-Old’s year (so far)

This weekend, I found The Nine-Year-Old in her reading nook puzzling over a stack of books. Every once in a while she’d put one in her mini steamer trunk. The rest she scattered over the sides of couches, across the floor, and next to her bean bag. In a valiant attempt not to derail whatever magic was going on in her brain with an untimely shriek of “Are you going to pick those up?”, I asked her what she was doing.

“Picking out my five favorite books of the year,” she replied.

Now that was a project I could get behind. So I left.

A while later, I came back, eager to know which books she’d picked. She obligingly spread them on the floor for me.

The current reigning favorites (Photo: Shala Howell)

The current reigning favorites (Photo: Shala Howell)

You will notice there are six books there, not five. I am pointing this out immediately, because given my recent numerical troubles, I wanted you to know that I can still discern the difference between five and six.

That extra book on top isn’t one of her favorites, nor is it her all time favorite. It’s brought her great enjoyment this year (although not the greatest), so she wanted to include it as an honorable mention.

Many of these books have appeared on Caterpickles before, but in the interest of saving you some clicking, here’s a brief summary of the books and what The Nine-Year-Old likes about them.

Is That a Sick Cat in Your Backpack? by Todd Strasser

sickcatWhat the book’s about: The bad news opening the second installment in Todd Strasser’s Tardy Boys series, is that the Tardy Boys parents have been captured by aliens. The good news is the Tardy Boys now have a cat. From The Nine-Year-Old’s description I can’t tell whether the Tardy Boys actually put all that much effort into recovering their parents. They do, however, seem to put an incredible amount of effort into feeding the cat and, as a sideline, saving the world from the despicable Cat Spy Scratchy from the Planet Hiss. Apparently, in the great tradition of felines everywhere, Cat Spy Scratchy has discovered how to use mind control to make people (specifically grown-ups) do whatever he wants. It’s up to Leyton Tardy to save all of mankind using only the toe cheese from Barton Slugg’s gym sock.

Why it made The Nine-Year-Old’s list: “It’s hilarious.”

Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater

popperpenguinsWhat the book’s about: Mr. Popper is a house painter who spends his off-hours reading about (and writing to) explorers in the South Pole. One day, one of those explorers sends Mr. Popper a penguin in the mail. Since it’s winter, and the season for painting houses is over, Mr. Popper becomes very involved in the comfort and care of said penguin (and the eleven other penguins that quickly follow). In the end, he transforms his basement into an ice rink (an idea my daughter wholeheartedly supports), and spends more than his wife ever thought possible on fish and canned shrimp. I won’t tell you how an out-of-work house painter manages to pay for all that (wouldn’t want to spoil the ending), but I will say that the process is highly entertaining for all involved.

Why it made The Nine-Year-Old’s list: “Mr. Popper’s Penguins is just a mix of giggles and happiness and it’s surprising too.”

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny – Detectives Extraordinaire! by Polly Horvath

bunnydetectivesWhat the book’s about: When a pack of foxes kidnap Madeline’s parents, naturally she turns to Mr. and Mrs. Bunny for help. The fledgling rabbit detectives promptly put on their best fedoras to crack the case, mothering Madeline a fair bit along the way. Translated from the original rabbit (and marmot) by Polly Horvath, this book is packed with unforgettable characters with suitably nefarious (and silly) schemes.

Why it made The Nine-Year-Old’s list: “It’s just really funny.” (I’m sensing a theme, here. Are you? This book, by the way, is hands-down the best children’s book I’ve read all year.)

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

secretgardenWhat the book’s about: This one has been on The Nine-Year-Old’s favorites list for a long time. A budding gardener herself with a fondness for mysterious places and exploring hidden nooks, The Nine-Year-Old has been captivated by the story of the orphaned Mary Lennox, the animal-whisperer Dickon, and their attempts to bring a forgotten garden back to life ever since she first read it as a mere Eight-Year-Old.

Why it made The Nine-Year-Old’s list: “It has some magic that touches me. It’s amazing.”

Going Solo by Roald Dahl

goingsoloWhat the book’s about: Action! Adventure! Laughs! This book, according to The Nine-Year-Old, has it all. In Going Solo, Roald Dahl shares funny, weird, exciting, and sometimes unsettling anecdotes about his time working for the Shell Oil company in East Africa, and later, his career as an RAF pilot in WWII.

Why it made The Nine-Year-Old’s list: “I like Going Solo because it’s the story of the WWII exploits of the famous author Roald Dahl. He writes such good books as Charlie and the Glass Elevators. The Witches, though, was creepy. I don’t know what his inspiration was for that.”

The Twelve Million Dollar Note by Robert Kraske (Honorable Mention)

12milnoteWhat the book’s about: Part of the strange but might be true genre of stories that fascinated me as a child, The Twelve Million Dollar Note recounts the odd stories behind messages placed in bottles and sent off to drift across the sea.  Most of the stories are fragments, and I suspect, if I were to read this book as an adult, I might greet them with a more skeptical eye (as Kirkus does), but the imaginative possibilities of finding a bottle on the beach in which there’s a will leaving the finder a 12 million dollar fortune are just marvelous, and certain to appeal to a child with a trip to Florida in her future.

Why it made The Nine-Year-Old’s list: “Mom gave me this book. She read it as a kid, and it’s fairly surprising and rather weird — both stuff I like.”

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About Shala Howell

Writer of things ranging from optical network switching white papers to genetic testing patient education materials to historical fiction set in an 1880s asylum. When I’m not scratching my head over pesky characters who refuse to do things how I want them done or dreaming of my next book (which will of course be much easier to write than the current one), my writerly self can be found blogging about life with a very curious Nine-Year-Old at Caterpickles.com, or musing about books and the writing life at BostonWriters.wordpress.com.
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