Since I work in early literacy at the public library, it's only natural that I tend to give books for Christmas. Especially since I know my nieces and nephews have too much crap anyway, and their mother doesn't take them to the library. The younger two got zombie picture books, and the older two got chapter books.
My older niece and nephew are complete opposites. My 8-year old niece is a voracious reader and reads above grade level, while her 10-year old brother is an extremely reluctant reader and will only read shorter books at or slightly below grade level, only if they are about one of the very few things that interest him. He tends to be a bit obsessive and hyper-focuses on one or two subjects for long periods of time, which for the last couple of years has been (1) The Civil War, and (2) survival skills and preparedness (brought on by the family's obsession with "The Walking Dead"). So for him, I chose these two books:
Brian's Winter, by Gary Paulsen. March 12, 2012 (Originally published in 1996). Ember (reprint edition). 144 pages. Ages 10 & up.
This is an alternate-ending sequel to Paulsen's classic novel Hatchet, the story of 13-year old Brian's survival in the Canadian wilderness after being the sole survivor of a small plane crash. Hatchet ends with Brian recovering an emergency signaling beacon from the wreckage of the plane submerged in the lake and activating it, which leads to his rescue. Brian's Winter answers the question of what would have happened if Brain had not been rescued so soon and had to figure out how to survive the ensuing harsh, Canadian winter.
I had given my nephew Hatchet last Christmas thinking he would like the survival aspect of the story (the previous year I gave him a non-fiction book about survival), and though he put off reading it for months, when he finally did he admitted he liked it and asked for the sequel. I preferred the idea of Brian's adventure continuing a little longer in a harsher climate, so I chose to go with Brian's Winter, which leaves the other three books in the saga if my nephew wants more: The River, Brian's Return, and Brian's Hunt. I like to find books with sequels for reluctant readers so that if you do manage to find something they like, they will then have a more positive attitude about reading the next book. Sometimes it just takes finding the right series to hook a reluctant reader in and turn them on to reading.
I chose a second Paulsen book for my nephew as well. Paulsen has long been known as a great choice for young reluctant readers (particularly boys) due to the short length, moderate reading level, and high interest of his books. Some are more serious than others, but most are about tween/teen boys having adventures of some kind.
Soldier's Heart is the tale of a teenage boy who lies about his age to enlist in the Union Army because he doesn't want to miss out on what he sees as a great adventure, but turns out to be a nightmare. This was a natural choice for my nephew considering his obsession with the Civil War, and I hoped it would help give him a more realistic view of war rather than his glorified one. [If you'd like to know more, please see my earlier full review of Soldier's Heart.]
In order to avoid an overly long post, I'm going to present the selections I made for my niece, the voracious reader, in a separate post.