Reading with my children is a place I find my church. It’s where my skin becomes soft and my soul is transported. The Island of Yummy became established as an institution when my babies were young. With one in each arm, and a book open between us, I could always find that fountain of Love.
My son and I read Herby’s Secret Formula, by Sue Hughey, when he was 10 years old. There are not many things that will make a 10 year old boy hold still. This book kept him right where I love to have him: snuggled close to me, a book open between us.
My daughter is a natural reader so it’s easy to find books that connect the two of us. My son finds that the tedium of reading gets in the way of riding his bike or throwing rocks across bodies of water. That’s why this book is so brilliant.
Herby’s Secret Formula is Stuart Little meets the modern age. Herby, a boy scientist, shrinks himself and he manages to fall down the bathtub drain. No one in his family can see him as he cries for help. I squirmed and worried as little Herby was trying to get his parent’s attention. I pined for this little boy who couldn’t make his mother hear him, but my son just ate it up.
Boys in those transitional years are yearning for liberation from their parents. They want to become men, and hunger for ways to do that. Adventure is the ticket and a wild ride like Herby’s is all the better.
This little boy travels through all the familiar places in his neighborhood but, because he is now only 6 inches tall, crossing the nearby lake becomes an epic tale. Now, instead of walking side by side with his dog, the canine friend becomes the hero offering a ride to safety.
Boys dream about survival and they love making one thing into another. Sue Hughey takes full advantage of this by making Herby small enough to see the world from a different perspective when trash becomes potential gear as he uses discarded cans to build a life raft. A paper plate becomes a wheel barrow to drag supplies to the water’s edge. The cap to a plastic soda bottle becomes a drinking cup.
While I’ve learned to pop a few wheelies with my boy as he gets older and I follow him down the terrain park at the ski hill, there is no doubt that this mother will not be able to keep up with her son forever. A book like this allows me to share the adventure on equal footing…from the cozy comfort under a quilt.
Though the story is a delight, the illustrations are the best part of this chapter book. Sue Hughey has been an artist all her life. She designed coins for Colorado’s centennial and bicentennial. Her eye for detail designing maps for the Environmental Protection Agency prepared her for the care each drawing received.
Books for boys are certainly a prize. One thing I struggled to find as I searched to connect when my son outgrew the familiar picture books was a book that wasn’t too gory for me but captured and held his interest. This book wins on both counts.
Do you have any boy books that captivate both you and your son? Do you think I’m nuts for making a distinction? (I will say my daughter is equally captivated by these books, but my son wanders off when we read books that lack the adventure allure.)
Watch the YouTube video of Herby’s Secret Formula here.