We've had a big reading week here, as it has been so HOT (well, y'all in Texas or somewhere would laugh at what I call hot, but it has been very very hot for here, anyway, so we've cut back on some of our normal outdoor stuff and read more inside):

Pierre Berton, "The Secret World of Og" (1961; repr. 2002 Doubleday Canada, 160 pp., profusely illustrated in a nice childlike fashion by the author's daughter). Silly, but fun, this is a book written for the author's children, using their names and the names of their pets (Yukon King and Earless Osdick, too funny). Four older children follow their cat and baby brother down a trapdoor into a tunnel under their playhouse, and discover a world of little green men, whose only native word is "Og"; some of the creatures have learned English, though, from picking up comic books and so on left on the lawn or in the playhouse, so they have a limited and comic understanding of humanity. Grade 4ish-5ish reading level, I think.

Beverley Nichols, "The Tree that Sat Down" (first of a trilogy that also includes "The Stream that Stood Still" and "The Mountain of Magic," 1945, currently out of print, but lots of paperbacks from the '70s still available out there, I think). Fairy Tale in the classic mode, with the good people very very good, and the bad 'uns extremely wicked. Miss Judy and her Grannie run a lovely little shop and clinic for animals in the wood on Magic Mountain; bad Sam and bad Old Sam start up a rival shop in an old Ford, where they cheat the animals and try to destroy the competition by recruiting an evil witch named Miss Smith and her three poisonous toads. All turns out well in the end (though even when I was a child, I thought the ending was a bit over the top in a hackneyed sort of a way). The well-drawn characters are probably the strongest feature of the book. For an audience of maybe 6 to 9, say?

Allan Ahlberg, "The Boyhood of Burglar Bill," (Puffin 2008, 180 pp.), the second volume of Ahlberg's memoirs. This is a terrific read, very vividly written--the story of one year (1953) in Ahlberg's childhood, and the scratch team he and his classmates got together to enter in the Coronation Cup football tournament. It's wonderfully funny, with also many poignant moments, and such great writing. (There's a sort of afterword "Part Two" in the last twenty pages or so, that I skipped when reading it aloud to them--a rather cruel prank winds up having tragic consequences for one of Ahlberg's friends, and I didn't think my lads were quite up to that yet.)

David Almond, "My Dad's a Birdman," illustrated by Polly Dunbar (Candlewick, 2008, 120 pages, lots and lots of pictures). For younger readers than Almond's other books (the jacket says 4 to 8, but I think you could go either side of that a year or two). A father, grieving the loss of his wife, decides to enter the Great Human Bird Competition (organised by Mr Poop); he collects feathers, sews wings, makes a nest, eats bugs, and practises "flying". His daughter Lizzie tries to snap him out of it, but in the end, decides that entering the competition together would be kindest. Lizzie's Aunt Doreen and her headmaster, Mr Mortimer Mint, are the other characters, who also undergo changes as the story goes along. Like all of Almond's books, this one is about finding joy in darkness, the power of love, and the importance of imagination. Lovely.

And the best for last, David Almond, "Skellig," (Hodder Children's Books, 1998, Delacorte 1999, 182 pp, jacket says ages 8-12). Michael moves into a new house, but his baby sister is very ill, his parents are upset, and he feels powerless to help. He finds someone living in their ramshackle garage; the only person in whom he can confide about the stranger is his neighbour Mina. I don't want to say too much about this one--it is magical, and you should discover it for yourself--but we found this book to be a treasure. Mina shares her love of William Blake with Michael, and the story reminds one of Blake, I must say, with its hovering air of the spiritual and the very great beauty present throughout. Special.