adventure’s allure: reading to my son

by rebecca on May 7, 2010

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       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.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Yvette Francino May 7, 2010 at 8:15 am

Oh, I know exactly what you mean! Reading with my children was one of my favorite parts of motherhood and there was a definite difference between “girl books” and “boy books” though certain books were popular with both. (“The Giver” was one of my favorites that I read with all the kids.)

With the boys, I discovered Gary Paulsen, first with “The Hatchet.” What a suspenseful story of survival!

My last series of books that I read with Scotty was The Harry Potter series. This may have been popular with my daughter, too, had it been around when she was young. It was nice to be able to share the series with Scotty and then watch the movies together as they came out.

As my kids grew to high school age, I tried to read the same books they were reading in school so we could discuss, but I have to admit, these days reading usually puts me to sleep. I do miss those days of cuddling in bed with the kids and a good book.

BTW, I love the photo you included with this post!


Leslie Nichols May 7, 2010 at 6:52 pm

Your vignette about your boy and reading is powerful and insightful. I find it to be absolutely true! Ralph Fletcher is a guru when it comes to boys and education; namely reading and writing with boys. He has 3 main rules and offers a lot of insight. In addition, this link has provided me a wealth of resources. Let me know what you think. : ) I teach a higher-level reading group in 4th grade and we are really enjoying the book Great Escapes of WWII. I’ll send a copy up to Middle School if you’d like. My boys are very sad when 11:20 hits and it’s time to put books away.

By the way, I personally like Hinton’s work and I’ve listed some coming of age books that intrique boys. I did not list any poetry books, but I know Jack Prelutsky’s work has made miracles happen in my classroom. The boys love his work. Please also check out this site for books that are exceptional reads:

Boys Meets Book at

Here’s another suggested list of good-reads:

Alicea, Gil C. and Carmine De Sena. The Air Down Here: True Tales from a South Bronx Boyhood. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 1995.

Baldwin, James. Go Tell It on the Mountain. New York: Knopf, 1953.

Banks, Russell. Rule of the Bone. New York: HarperCollins, 1995.

Crocker, Carter. The Tale of the Swamp Rat . New York : Philomel Books, 2003.

DeMarinis, Rick. The Mortician’s Apprentice.New York: Norton, 1994.

Doyle, Roddy. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha. New York: Viking, 1993.

Duncan, David James. The Brothers K. New York: Bantam, 1993.

Faust, Minister. The Coyote Kings of the Space-age Bachelor Pad. New York : Del Rey/Ballantine Books, 2004.

Foon, Dennis. The Dirt Eaters. Toronto ; New York : Annick Press ; Buffalo , NY : Distributed in the U.S.A. by Firefly Books (U.S.), 2003.

Forman, James. My Enemy, My Brother. New York: Scholastic Press, 1970.

Gakarza, Ernesto. Barrio Boy.New York: Ballantine, 1972.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. Colored People. New York: Knopf, 1994.

Grimsley, Jim. Dream Boy. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, 1995.

Grossman, David. The Book of Intimate Grammar. Trans. from the Hebrew by Betty Rosenberg. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1994.

Hartinger, Brent. Geography Club. New York : Harper Tempest, 2003.

An Indian Boy’s Story. [Daniel La France]

Joravsky, Ben. Hoop Dreams: A True Story of Hardship and Triumph. New York: HarperCollins, 1995.

Lyon, George Ella. Sonny’s House of Spies. New York : Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2004.

McCourt, Frank. Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir. New York: Scribner, 1996.

Mathabane, Mark. Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apatheid South Africa. New York: Macmillan, 1986.

Mattera, Don. Sophiatown: Coming of Age in South Africa. Boston, MA: Beacon, 1989.

Mehta, Ved. Daddyji. New York: Norton, 1989.

Mosley, Walter. Gone Fishin’: An Easy Rawlins Novel. Baltimore, MD: Black Classics Press, 1997.

Myers, Anna. Tulsa Burning. New York : Walker , 2002.

Ramusi, Molaptene Collins. Soweto, My Love. New York: Holt, 1989.

Read, Kirk. How I Learned to Snap: A Small-Town Coming-Out and Coming-Of-Age Story . New York : Penguin Books; Reissue edition (June 1, 2003)

Rodriguez, Richard. Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez. New York: Bantam, 1983.

Ryan, Michael. Secret Life: An Autobiography. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

Sanchez, Alex. Rainbow Boys. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001.

Santiago, Danny. Famous All Over Town. New York: New American Library, 1984.

Shehadeh, Raja. Strangers in the House: Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine . South Royalton , Vt. : Steerforth Press, 2002.

Shusterman, Neal. Dissidents. Boston, MA: Little Brown, 1989.

Soto, Gary. Living Up the Street: Narrative Reflections. San Francisco, CA: Strawberry Hill Press, 1985.

Standing Bear, Luther. My Indian Boyhood. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1931 [reprinted Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1988].

Unger, Douglas. El Yanqui. New York: Ballantine, 1988.

Wain, John. The Free Zone Starts Here. New York: Delacorte, 1984.

Watkins, Paul. Night Over Day Over Night. New York: Knopf, 1988.

Wilkomirski, Binjamin. Fragments: Memories of a Wartime Childhood. Translated by Carol Brown Janeway. New York: Schocken Books, 1997.

Wolff, Tobias. This Boy’s Life: A Memoir. New York: Harper, 1989.

Wright, Richard. Black Boy: A Record of Childhood and Youth. New York: Harper, 1945.


Sue C. Hughey May 11, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Wow! Thank you for the great review of my book, Rebecca. I told this story to my boys years ago in a shorter form, and was glad to finally get it on paper.

A big reason I wrote the book was to promote the Boy Scouts, because belonging to that great organization did so much for my sons. Many cultures have a right of passage into manhood, and I believe Scouting fulfills this instinctive male need in such a positive way.

I’m so honored to have been a part of your connection with your son. Your insight into what it takes to build a good man is right on, Mom.

(Did you ever notice that, upside down, mom spells wow?)


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