Saint John Don Bosco:

"Never read books you aren't sure about . . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?"

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

First Boy by Gary Schimdt

This is a solid-enough book with a layer of mystery, some action, and an admirable boy hero. Cooper just lost his grandparents who raised him on a New Hampshire dairy farm.

He responds by hard work. He has inherited the resilient character of a New Hampshire dairyman, and he pushes on through his grief by caring for the farm and working on his school work even completing his commitment to his track team. All without complaint, finger-pointing, and with help from his solid, loyal neighbors who are also the salt of the earth people.

Enter the men in black. Black sedans. Black suits. They follow him, invade his privacy by setting up cameras in his barn, and scouting him for some unknown reason. Are all these characters on the same side… and what do they want? The senator from his state wants to take him on the campaign trail. Why?

It turns out Cooper is the son of the current president. She and the First Gentleman had Cooper before they were married and gave him up to the grandparents who raised him so she could pursue a political career. The senator uncovers the story and wishes to use Cooper as a pawn to unseat the President and get himself into office.

The action would be more appealing if it were more believable. Cooper is a little too focused on his farm instead of the strange men who have just entered his world.

I’d like to give it a 3 flags for safety, yet...

I’ve been pondering its problem. As my admirable friend, Alison, describes in her homeschooling memoir, Entropy Academy, she schooled her children by exposing them to the good, expecting them to recognize the ugly and bad by consistent exposure to the good, the beautiful, the uplifting.

So… at what age do you want them to be shocked by the scandal of a president deserting her out-of-wedlock child in order to pursue her political career?

The character in the book who wishes to expose the scandal for political gain is a Democrat who speaks of “family values” but really is a villainous creep and clearly a hypocrite. If you agree it’s a scandal, does that link you to his camp? If not, what’s the difference?

The sobering question is: what if your tween reads it and finds this conflict not at all scandalous?

That’s creepier than the senator character.

And it’s all too likely today that such a thing wouldn't shock a young tween. So the question is: do books like this contribute to such a culture or merely reflect it? At what age should this be a plot device?

I don’t think a parent needs to read this book to preview, but I think it worthwhile to ponder that question personally or at least with your tween if they read it.

It was consistent to the end: Cooper is matter-of-fact about his parents' desertion and seems perfectly content to just head back to the farm. I find that rates low on the believability scale as well.

Depth is lacking a bit; you're going for more for entertainment and that will vary widely as to whether it succeeds. I got to the end fairly happily but didn't feel compelled to finish.



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