Sunday, October 30

Dominoes and Books to Excite a 1st Grade Boy

I am a big fan of boredom.  Not my own, but for my boys.  They come to me whining that they are bored, I offer to entertain them with some cleaning projects, and they disappear into their playroom and magically find something to do.

I walked in on them a few days ago and Duke was trying to teach Imp how to play All Fives dominoes. Duke loves math and he loves playing this game.   But
he found it a bit challenging to play with Imp since Imp can't really add that high.  So when it was Imp's turn, Duke would look at the board and say "Do you have a domino with a three or six?".  If Imp had one, Duke would tell him where to place it and then Duke would do the math to calculate his points.

Of course Imp won.  Duke took it pretty well.

I am homeschooling Duke and he loves math.  He is really doing well on his reading, but he doesn't have confidence.  He will read whatever I assign him, but he won't pick up a book and read it for pleasure.  We check out simple books that are his reading level and I assure him he doesn't have to know all of the words, but he balks reading unless it is for school.  This makes me sad, because reading, for me, is a great boredom-buster.

I read several great books about raising kids (Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys and Bringing Up Geeks: How to Protect Your Kid's Childhood in a Grow-Up-Too-Fast World) and in one of them they mention that the reason boys read with less pleasure than girls is because 1) They don't see their fathers read as much, so they think reading is more for girls and 2) Many books out there aren't really fun for boys to read.

Yesterday I picked up The Children's Book of Heroes and decided to read a "scary" story in there for Halloween.  I gathered the boys on the couch and read the story about Theseus and the Minotaur. The pictures and the story are really frightening since it involves this great beast with a human body, head of a bull, and tiger teeth chasing people around in a dark maze trying to eat them.

Scary stuff, and the boys sat there not moving, eyes shining in excitement.  When we finished Imp asked a few of his usual unrelated questions and then the boys begged for more scary stories.  I ran over to the book cases and searched the books and found no scary children books.  Sure, I have tons of books on construction vehicles, most of the children classics like Wizard of Oz and Winnie the Pooh, nature books, etc.; but nothing really scary other than classic fairy tales.  I love reading these to the boys, especially because they aren't the Disney sanitized versions.  But there is no way Duke can read them on his own yet.

When I was growing up I loved mysteries and scary books.  I was and am an avid reader and I grew up reading Stephen King and Dean Koontz and every scary book I could find out there.  One of my favorite children picture books when I was Duke's age involved a brave knight? who was trying to save a princess? whose father was an evil (or picky) King.  I am hazy on the details, but one of the illustrations showed bloody heads stuck on top of spikes around a castle. I think they were from men who tried to win the hand of the evil King's daughter and didn't succeed.

Yes, this sounds really gory for a picture book, but I can't tell you how often I checked it out.  The book was a story about good versus evil, and the good guy won at the end.  And it was an exciting scary read. I wish I could find a copy, but I am sure they have all been burned by the PC book police.  Bloody heads on stakes have been replaced with princesses, let girls be girls and boys be girls, farts and burps, ads for Disney and Pixar, and scary political messages about global warming.

To this day I love a good thriller/mystery/horror book.  So why haven't I stocked the boy's bookshelves with exciting kid books that Duke might actually pick up and read on his own?  Simple, I don't know what to buy.

So I wanted to ask you what kid books have excited a young boy (1st grade) in your life?  I want books that he can read without much effort, but ones that will excite him.  They don't have to be classics, they just have to be enjoyable.  I would love to see him sitting on his couch reading a book just for fun.

If you have a book suggestion, please post it in the comments.  I know there are so many new books out there and I would love some suggestions of your top choices that will make Duke's eyes glow with excitment. I want my boys to feel the same passion for reading that I have.  Bloody heads on stake are not necessary of course, but would be a cool idea for Halloween reading.  ;-)

Want all of my favorite CoffeeShop Actions or Design Elements in one simple download AND help support this blog? Just click here for my action pack or here for a download of some of my most popular design elements, storyboards, and textures.


  1. There is a book series called simply "scary stories" they are scary in that play on phobia sort of way.. spiders, ghosts, etc. My one daughter loves them, I could do without the spider ones though... :)

  2. My kids LOVED Shel Silverstein books. They are actually funny poems, but it was less intimidating to read a couple of poems than to pick up a huge book with lots of words. Of course, a 'couple' of poems turned into hours of enjoyment when they found that they couldn't put it down! After they became more comfortable reading, Roald Dahl books were a big hit!

  3. Scary Stories look great, but they might be a big above his reading level this year. I am going to check them out. Maybe they will encourage him to read more difficult books. Great suggestion!

    And Amy, we have every Shel Silverstein poetry book and I read those poems to my kids almost every day. They are the best and we love them! And I have read Roald Dahl to them, and they will be great for Duke in a year or two. But great suggestions!

  4. I've never read them but I've heard good things about the Magic Tree House series. The reading level is 4-8 years old. My nephew reads them and likes them.

  5. We've gotten a few of the Scholastic and "I Can Read" books about Halloween (by far my 1st grader's favorite holiday!), as well as Star Wars, spiders, and dinosaurs. But other than the "Headless Horseman" we don't have many fun and scary fiction books for him. I would love some suggestions too!

  6. At that son absolutely LOVED reading the Captain Underpants book series by Dav Pilkey....the humor is a little um...gross..but boys love that kind of stuff!
    My son is also mathematically minded so we also love "Math Curse" and "Science Verse" both by Jon Schiezcka and Lane Smith , "The Grapes of Math" "Math Fables" and "Math potatoes" by Greg Tang and "Grandpa Gazillions Number Yard" by Laurie Keller.

  7. Jack stalwart books or max flash......both books about 9 year old secret agents.

  8. The 'Series of Unfortunate Events' books are great.

    And the Percy Jackson books are fabulous (although maybe a bit old for him yet). A friend's 9 year old loves them and reads them all himself.

    Maybe start him on the first couple of Harry Potter?

    Happy reading

  9. When my boys were young they loved anything by Bruce Colville (ghosts and goblins, aliens, and magic). They might be a little advanced for him now but I think they are recommended for 8 years and up so it won't be long. Mary Pope Osborne is another good one, again for 8 and up. Of course, the Chronicles of Narnia series is wonderful.

    My nephews love Percy Jackson books and, of course, Harry Potter.

    When I looked on Amazon (type in scary stories) it comes up with a few that are from the I Can Read series. Those are great for young readers.

  10. My son loved any of the Star Wars series - Jedi Quest and Young Apprentice. He also liked The Series of Unfortunate Events books. One thing that might help him gain confidence in his reading is reading to his dog. Therapy dogs are used for reading in classrooms and it seems to work because the kids don't feel pressure and the dogs are good listeners:)

  11. My kids like to read Goosebumps...not the "greatest" in my eyes, but they seem to enjoy them. Might be closer to a 2nd grade or even 3rd grade level though, I'm not sure. They also both love The Magic Treehouse series and The Boxcar kids (one of my favs as a kid, but again, maybe a year or so older for them...but I bet they would love the adventures with you reading them.) Both my boys love reading and Christmas usually involves gift cards to a book store. This year I'm getting them the new Kindle Touch...since prices have really dropped...with an Amazon gift card for Christmas. I love reading an actual "book" but the way technology is evolving, I think they'll actually read more this way.

    Good luck!


  12. Have you taken a look at the lists of books that have won awards? They are usually above average in content and illustrations and can be found at your local library. I have a book that is an illustrated "chapter book" that I think our class read around the third grade. You may be able to use it as a read aloud to your boys. It's called "The Whipping Boy" by Sid Fleischman & has enough "scary" adventures to please any boy! I also like "Shiloh" by Phyllis R. Naylor, but there are no illustrations & its definitely for older boys. Per my Children's Lit textbook, here's a list of book awards for you:

    Newberry Medal

    Caldecott Medal

    Coretta Scott King Award (writing)

    Coretta Scott King Award (illus.)

    Mildred L. Batchelder Award

    Pura Belpre Award (writ. & illus.)

    Gov. General's Literature for Children Award ( Canadian, one for writing & illustrations)

    Carnegie Medal, Great Britain

    Kate Greenaway Medal, Great Britain

    These awards are genre-specific:

    NCTE Excellence in Poetry for Children Award (every 3 years)

    NCTE Orbis Pictus Award (nonfiction)

    ALA Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award

    Scott O'Dell Award (historical fiction)

    Edgar Allen Poe Award: Juvenille (mystery)

    I hope this helps!

  13. Annnndddd another comment! I'm sorry, I love to read! I looked up Sid Fleischman and found a list of his books. I think there are a few on the list that will appeal to your boys (like the Dream Stealer & The 13th Floor: A Ghost Story). Here's the link!

  14. I've got a first grade boy too. We read chapter books together (right now we're reading "Mr. Popper's Penguins). On his own (and with parents) he likes the "Fly Guy" books. He'll read any easy reader Hot Wheels books on his own as he drives his cars through them. Richard Scarry books are always a favorite of his too and now he likes picking out the words he knows. He likes the Berenstain Bear books and the easy reader ones are great for early readers. The David books by David Shannon are easy and funny for boys to read. Bad Kitty books by Nick Bruel, books by Kate McMullan (I'm Dirty, I stink, and Fluffy are interesting to look at and are good to read with some help). My guy use to just like to look at books, but now I find him actually "reading" to himself when he goes to bed...which I thought he would never do because he use to complain about having to read. We're also doing the read to the dogs program at our library and I think that has helped. It's only in the last 3 weeks that he's actually started picking easy readers to read to the dogs, rather than nonfiction books where he just talks about the pictures.

    He also loves to look at Discovery Channel books, but needs me to read them to him. Of course my boy loves any Star Wars books and nonfiction about cars, trucks, martial arts, sports, and boy stuff. I know someone else mentioned the Magic Treehouse son is having those read to him at school. My little guy also loves getting magazines in the mail and that encourages him to read. (Lego has a great free magazine.) Sometimes it just takes time with the boys and books, I'm sure he'll surprise you one day with taking an interest in reading on his own. It sounds like you're doing an amazing job! Enjoy!

  15. I'm from England, so I am not quite sure how old 1st grade is... but I would like to suggest books by Janet and Allen Ahlberg. Burglar Bill, Funnybones, Cops & Robbers, It was a dark and stormy night. All these have lots of lovely illustrations and would be easy for a young boy to read alone.


  16. Naomi, great suggestions! Two of our favorite books are the RunAway Dinner and The Erasure book, but I never realized they had books for older children. I can't wait to check them out!

  17. Honestly, on a first grade reading level there isn't much. Many of the books mentioned here are good, but are on a 2nd, 3rd, or higher reading level. An easier option to encourage a love of reading is simply to read to him regularly, and wait until reading becomes easy enough for him to be a pleasure and not "work". I didn't start reading for pleasure until I was 12, and my mother-in-law didn't start until she was in her thirties. So you have lots of years to work at it.

    A couple favorite Read Aloud titles you might try are My Father's Dragon, plus its sequels. by Ruth Stiles Gannet (not really scary but adventurous and funny). This was such a huge hit with my first son that it became the first chapter book he ever read himself. Since he already knew the story it wasn't so daunting to attempt such a long (by his 7 year old standards) book.

  18. My kids (boys) started reading on their own about 2nd or 3rd grade, they like Goosebumps (this was the early 90's!) and another series about aliens, I can't remember the name of them, but at the bottom corner was a little flip picture of human to alien sequence. A read-aloud book we all enjoyed was Harris and me, by Gary Paulsen. Its not scary, but it is hilarious, I read it to my husband recently on a short road trip.

  19. Comment #7 mentioned Jack Stalwart books and I concur. Also, first grade was when my son got into reading Dr. Suess on his own. Including the books modeled after the fairly new PBS show. This year in second grade he likes Geronimo Stilton books. Since your kids are homeschooled, your first grader might equal my second grader. He also likes comic books this year but buyer beware- most of them are rated Teen.

  20. my first grader LOVES anything with BUGS in it!! Even non-fiction books with pictures of creepy crawlies!! I am also an avid Stephen King fan as well as Dean Koontz! I also love Tess Gerritsen, and John Saul. I have 3 boys and they love when I read them the Hardy Boys and also anything about Monster trucks! But mostly creep crawlie bugs and slithery slimey snakes and reptiles!!

  21. I also wondered where on earth to find books that would really interest my 6 year old. Then I found thebookpeople dot co dot uk - oh my word, gazillions of titles, and really good prices. For the first time in years (since we recently moved house/countries/continents) I'm building up a really good kids library at home (and adding to our general library too).

  22. My daughter - now 19 - used to read the Magic Treehouse books and loved them!

  23. I know you have gotten lots of replies- but I wanted to mention the Magic Treehouse series again. Gavin is in 1st grade and LOVES them. They are chapter books, so not to read in one day. He has only recently started reading them- because his teacher read them one aloud in class. She gave him one out of her desk to read when hes done with his work, and I just ordered him 2 more from the book order. He BEGGED me to get them for him. They have all different themes- dinosaurs, to space, to halloween. There must be SOMETHING in their series (i think there is 40 something of them all together) that Duke will LOVE!

  24. In about 3 years give him Goosebumps books by R.L. Stein. I could never put those down!!!

    Also the Choose Your Own Adventure books can sometimes be gory, scary and encourage the reader to make their own decisions. Might be more interesting to him than typical books when he's a little older.

  25. Also, check out "In a Dark, Dark Wood: An Old Tale with a New Twist". That is something in his age category.

  26. I'm with all the "magic treehouse" fans. Though it depends on if you like to avoid "magic"... the stories are quite fun and my boy loved them! Also anything with lots of humor. Wracking my brain here, because homeschooling my 6-7 year old boy was 18-19 years ago!! I'll post again if I can remember.

  27. Although you may have to read it to them but "Wind in the Willows" is a great one for boys, with characters named Rat, Toad and Mol. A. A. Milne, who loved it, adapted a part of it for stage as Toad of Toad Hall.

  28. Rita - thank you for this post! Very useful for the mom of a five-year-old boy! This is a completely unrelated question, and I hope you don't mind me asking: What action(s) did you use on the image in this post? I absolutely love the color! Thank you!

  29. Thank you so much everyone!!! Great suggestions.

    And Marya, I used my favorite action, ButterScotch Vintage, on this image.

  30. Commenting late here, but I taught first grade for several years before now starting a family of my own, and all of my boys were huge fans of the Mo Willems "Elephant and Piggie" series. They could be read independently by a first grader on reading level. Really anything by him is pure gold - also you could try Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct and the Knuffle Bunny series, and Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (and the sequels).


Thank you for taking the time to leave a message, I love reading them! All comments are personally moderated by me and I will post and answer them them as soon as possible.