Books for Mikey: Go Ahead, Laugh!
He won’t read it. He hates everything. #4
To quote the great Jon Scieszka (which is something I do quite frequently and with stellar results):
“Boys aren’t believing that ‘Reading is wonderful.’ Reading is often difficult and boring for them. Let’s start with “Here is one book . . . you might like”
Not to name names, but a certain boy I know, who needs to clean up his room right now, used to be a bona fide reluctant reader when he was in first grade. These days, I have to order his light off at 10:30 so he can get some sleep, and usually I find him lying in bed reading BEFORE it’s time to get up on Saturdays.
What happened? Like the great Mr. Scieszka said, one book:
What’s so special about Sideways Stories from Wayside School?
Ask any boy who has read it, and he’ll tell you:
- It’s hilarious.
- It has short, easy chapters.
- It’s a lot of fun, and it’s not intimidating.
Ask me, and I’ll tell you those three things, plus one more:
- It’s really sophisticated.
Sure, the scenarios are wacky. As you probably know, Wayside School was supposed to be thirty classrooms wide and one story high, but by mistake got built thirty stories high and one classroom wide. Among its many students are Bebe Gunn, Eric Bacon, Eric Fry, and Eric Ovens. In the first chapter, Mrs. Gorf, a colossally mean teacher, turns all her pupils into apples when they make her mad, until Jenny holds up a mirror in front of Mrs. Gorf and turns her into an apple, whereupon Louis the Yard Teacher eats her.
Louis, by the way, is based on the author himself, who used to be a playground monitor. Louis is nice to all the children and has a multicolored mustache. When Mrs. Drazil makes him shave, he becomes very by-the-book and makes the kids call him Mr. Louis. When the mustache grows back, he reverts to his much cooler self.
There are at least fifty characters in this book, all drawn very clearly in terms young readers can grasp quickly, and Sachar does not dumb down his humor. The intricate web of relationships he creates among characters and the comic conflicts he engineers between them would make Charles Dickens proud.
Sideways Stories from Wayside School proved to be a gateway book for my reluctant reader. He loved the jokes and adored the characters and read it again and again until he started to see far deeper into the complexity of fiction than he’d ever seen—than he’d ever imagined. He inhabited that book, he owned that book, he memorized that book, and it gave him the enthusiasm and confidence to take off on a reading streak that, seven years later, shows no sign of abating.
All the books in the “Wayside Series” by Louis Sachar:
David Teague is the author of Franklin’s Big Dreams (Disney/Hyperion). He’s currently at work on his next picture book, Billy Hightower, forthcoming in 2013, and is collaborating with his wife, the novelist Marisa de los Santos, on a young adult novel, Margaret O’Malley. For more about David and his books, visit http://www.davidteague.net/ or https://www.facebook.com/FranklinDreams.