Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover (duh!)

Kid #1 and I have been reading chapter books together for the last couple years.  For about a year, we vacillated between reading Magic Tree House books interspersed with children’s classics – Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Wind & the Willow, etc.  Thanks to Mary Pope Osborne, I’ve come to expect books with clever titles, intriguing cover art, plus smart and gender-neutral stories. 

Herein lies my problem. My son, an extreme animal lover, now chooses his own books from the school library without any outside influence (namely, mine).  Gone are those days when I made the book choices.  Now, he is consistently selecting books about puppies, kitties and cubs. My husband and I can only take so much of the seemingly warm and fuzzy plot lines. 

It all started a month or so ago when my 8 year old SON brought home Kitten in the Candy Corn with a darling picture of a kitten – clad in a sweet orange bow – on the front of the book.  Kitten in the Candy Corn is part of the Animal Ark series, which I had seen many times before on the Scholastic order form and declined buying.  

The title, cover art – it was all so, well, sweet.  My first impressions…It looks like a “girl book” and it’s probably a fluff story.  Needless to say, I did not want to read this story – let alone, listen with rapt attention.  In that moment, literally and figuratively looking down at the new book, I realized I might be a bit of a book snob and, dare I say it, somewhat of a sexist.  Whew!  I said it.

Boy, do I owe Animal Ark author Ben Baglio an apology.  Kitten in the Candy Corn was a great mystery filled with human drama, interesting animal facts and a thrilling (for a kid) climactic moment.  Since then, Kid #1 has read two more Animal Ark stories – Badger in the Basement and Polars on the Path.  In each story, a 10-year old girl named Mandy Hope (the main character), with a little assistance from her vet parents, endeavors to save an animal and solve a human mystery/problem.  

While the main character is a girl, the stories are what I would consider gender neutral.  In addition, the stories seem to empower the 8-year old crowd.  My son found the story really relatable – casting himself as the hero.  At times, he would cease reading and start chanting “Go Mandy! Go Mandy!”  Or, he would exclaim, “I knew it!”  In the past, the Magic Tree House books would illicit a mellow, “That’s cool.  I didn’t know that.”  I love the new found exclamation!

Here’s what I learned.  Don’t let the cutesy book cover or title fool you (or make a fool out of you!).  The Animal Ark series is well suited for third grade girls AND boys – offering the right amount of suspense, surprise and kid-do solutions.  That said, I draw the line at bunny stories …



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