Each night my wife and I read with the kids before bedtime. Over the summer, the kids got this pair of books and we started reading them.
We unintentionally read them out of order, starting with Bullies. It didn't make a huge difference. There were a couple of references to the first book, but they were explained well enough that we didn't miss anything. And when we did go back and read Chickens, we already knew who the bullies were when they showed up at the 4th of July celebration.
The books were written simply enough that young kids could follow along with the story line easily enough. At the same time, there was vocabulary that would make kids stretch and there were some phrases and references that I felt would likely go over the heads of the kids. This isn't necessarily a bad thing as it provides co-reading adults with something more advanced to keep them occupied, but at the same time, these moments didn't seem necessary and felt more like an attempt to be 'literary' than an effort to actually add something to the story.
The characters in the book are enjoyable. We particularly get close to the young narrator and he is the most fleshed out of all the characters. His brothers and parents seemed a little flat at times, but Matthew really felt alive.
Both books were great portrayals of life in a large family, life in a semi-secluded farming community, and life in an LDS household. There were a number of "inside jokes" that will only be picked up by an LDS reader, but overall the books should be accessible to anyone and they certainly don't attempt to preach. They do provide morals at times in subtle ways (some of the lessons in Bullies aren't subtle at all but blatant talking points from a church teacher or parent).
My wife and I were taken a little aback by some of the behaviors and actions presented by the kids and in the family. While not awful and certainly not anything new, the mischievous activities of the kids are not wholly condemned or condoned but the narrative voice of Matthew often leaves things ambiguous on the side of giving permission for mischievous behavior. I think the author picked up on this to a degree as Bullies is a little more forthcoming in looking down on "wrong" behavior instead of saying nothing.
The activities and adventures of the Buckley family were entertaining. There were segments of each book that felt a little dry, like we were just passing time while waiting for the next point of action. These slow points provided background on the Buckley family and gave opportunities for interaction, but didn't do much to progress the story.
Overall, these books were alright and I don't mind that we read them as a family or that we have copies in our home. But they're not necessarily books that I'm going to rush out and recommend to others or try to pass my books around so others can read.
From a storytelling perspective, I enjoyed Chickens better than Bullies. I enjoyed the moral perspective of Bullies more than Chickens but it did feel a little heavy handed (especially the ending).
If you want to check them out, go for it...if not, don't.
Chickens in the Headlights
2.5 stars out of 5
Bullies in the Headlights
2 stars out of 5
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