This week, we take a look at a quartet of old favorites for boys.
Adventure! Whether it’s a slightly befuddled boy with a pet skunk in the midwest, a quick-thinking entrepreneur traveling across the country, a mischievous Vermont farm boy or a gang full of independent thinkers in Massachusetts, the boys in these stories know how to find trouble…and get out of it.
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Homer Price, by Robert McCloskey. 1943
Ah, Homer Price. The boy with the pet skunk and a bunch of crazy neighbors and relatives. Whether Homer is using his wits (and his skunk) to capture robbers, looking after his uncle’s lunch room or helping judge the biggest ball of string in the county, he’s in the middle of everything.
My favorite story to read aloud is in this volume–The Doughnuts. Homer agrees to start a batch of doughnuts in his uncle’s newfangled automatic labor-saving machine. Things don’t go quite as planned though, from the wealthy woman who comes in and makes gallons of batter to the broken switch on the machine, and soon doughnuts are coming out of the machine “just as regular as a clock can tick”. As Homer piles them on tables, on the counter, on stools, and every bit of space available, the wealthy lady returns with the news that a valuable bracelet is missing.
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Soup, by Robert Newton Peck. 1974
Based on the real-life adventures of the author and his best friend growing up in the 20s, Soup was required reading in Vermont when I was young. Soup (only his mother called him Luther Wesley Vinson) and Rob managed to get into more trouble with each other than the rest of the kids in their one-room schoolhouse did together. From flinging apples on a stick at the church bell tower (and hitting a stained-glass window instead) to tying a bully to a tree to barrel races downhill, you can always count on Soup and Rob to make things exciting!
The boys in this book are best friends, with all the ups and downs that go along with it. Most of the time it’s Soup pulling Rob into a situation, and Rob getting caught. I used to ask my father (who also grew up in rural Vermont, only a couple decades later) if he’d done any of the things Soup and Rob did with his friends…and he had. It made me treasure these books even more.
The adventures of Soup and Rob continue through several other books–Soup and Me, Soup for President, Soup on Wheels, Soup Ahoy, and more! If you want to follow a pair of trouble-making boys, these books are the place to go!
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Henry Reed’s Journey, by Keith Robertson. 1963. Illustrated by Robert McCloskey
Henry Reed lives overseas with his parents during the school year, but every summer he’s sent to stay with his aunt and uncle and his beagle, Agony, in New Jersey. A budding entrepreneur, Henry comes up with schemes to make money every summer, from incorporating himself to a baby-sitting business to putting on a show. But in Henry Reed’s Journey, Henry meets his relatives on the west coast, and drives cross-country with them. On the way, he and his friend Midge manage to start a gold-rush, participate in a rodeo, join a Hopi tribe, and cause a panic at the Grand Canyon, all the while pursuing their goal to get some fireworks.
Henry’s journal entries tell the story, and they are very funny…mostly because Henry doesn’t see the chaos he and Midge are causing as they innocently go about their business…most of the time leaving a trail confusion and panic behind them. But according to Henry, he’s just trying to find out what life is like in America.
If you like this story, there are others about Henry and his money-making skills. Henry Reed, Inc. is the first book; Henry Reed’s Baby-Sitting Service and Henry Reed’s Big Show round out his original adventures.
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The Mad Scientists’ Club by Bertrand R. Brinley. 1961. Illustrated by Charles Geer
The Mad Scientists’ Club are seven boys–Dinky Poore, Henry Mulligan, Freddy Muldoon, Jeff Crocker, Homer Snodgrass, Mortimer Dalrymple and Zeke Boniface–who hang out together in their clubhouse and come up with complicated plans to make life more interesting. From creating a sea monster in the lake to hatching dinosaur eggs to firing one of the club members from a civil war cannon…things don’t work out quite as planned, but you have to admit, being around the Mad Scientists is never boring!
Written by a scientist who was responsible for some pretty significant input into today’s technology, this book and the sequels–The New Adventures of the Mad Scientists’ Club and The Big Kerplop! are full of inventive thinkers thinking up inventive ways to get into big trouble.
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And there you have it. Boys in trouble in the past that boys today should still enjoy. Try one today with your son! These books would probably best be enjoyed by boys in fourth and fifth grade, or to read aloud to second or third graders. Definitely try the Doughnut chapter from Homer Price!