Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Guardians of Childhood - beautiful, magical picture books by William Joyce (ages 5 - 9)

Children are fascinated by the characters of our modern mythology - Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny. And yet, there is no clear story that we all tell our children about how these characters came to be. William Joyce has created a wonderful series about these characters called The Guardians of Childhood. My students have loved the magical picture books that Joyce uses to launch this series - The Man in the Moon and The Sandman. Theses stories are now continued with the movie, The Rise of the Guardians.
The Man in the Moon
Simon & Schuster / Atheneum, 2011
ages 5 - 9
As a baby, the Man in the Moon (MiM) was watched over by his guardian, the faithful Nightlight. When the evil Pitch, King of the Nightmares, decides to make this innocent baby one of his own, an almighty battle of good versus evil erupts. The valiant Nightlight swears to protect MiM, sacrificing his life in the process. The Man in the Moon does survive, but he is all alone - until he discovers that he can hear the hopes and dreams of the children of Earth.

William Joyce captures young readers' attention with bold, dramatic illustrations, alternating between saturated colors and stark grey tones. But what really struck my students was the message behind the story. There was a sense of awe and quiet as we ended the story with the Man in the Moon vowing to protect the children of Earth. This story resonated with the children on a deeper level - a sense that the moon is always there as their nightlight, reassuring them when nightmares might visit.

The book trailer below does a nice job of introducing the picture book in a dramatic way. I share this story each year with 2nd graders as they study a "good guy vs. bad guy" creative writing unit.

The Guardians of Childhood Book Trailer from Moonbot Studios on Vimeo.

The story of the Man in the Moon is continued with Joyce's newest picture book: The Sandman. This adorable little fellow sends us all to sleep, protecting us from nightmares and fear. Children have responded to his mighty battle with Pitch and to his promise to keep us safe. Again, Joyce's illustrations heighten the dramatic battles and the magical feel to the stories. But it is the heart and message that brings children back to these again and again.
The Sandman:
The Story of Sanderson Mansnoozie
by William Joyce
Simon & Schuster, Atheneum, 2012
ages 5 - 9
Amazon and your local library
My children and I enjoyed the movie The Rise of the Guardians. The animation was wonderful, and the humor invested in each of the characters gave them depth and staying power. But the chase scenes dominated the storytelling, as so often happens in animated movies. I am sure that gives young viewers satisfaction, but it left me wanting a bit more.

I am looking forward to seeing how my students enjoy the novels based on this series. I am fascinated by the way Joyce has created a complete story-world, using picture books, novels and movies to tell different stories within the same series. Early reports indicate that the novels appeal to 4th through 6th graders who love detailed fantasies.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers Simon & Schuster. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, December 17, 2012

Nonfiction Book Apps for a range of readers (ages 3 - 18)

I am fascinated by the way that book apps can engage readers by integrating so many different ways of learning. You can look at vibrant photographs, manipulate charts and diagrams, watch videos, listen to narration and learn so much. I've been particularly happy to read several Nonfiction Book Apps during this Cybils season. Here are a few that really stand out to me:
Rounds: Franklin Frog
by Barry and Emma Tranter
developed by Nosy Crow
preview video
available on iTunes
ages 3 - 6
Young children love learning about the world around them. This app does a beautiful job introducing preschoolers and kindergartners to real facts about frogs, from their habitat to feeding to metamorphosis, through an appealing story about Franklin Frog and his offspring. It draws children into the story, as they guide the frogs with their fingers. Children make the frogs jump, swim, catch flies, avoid predators, find a place to hibernate, croak to attract a mate and more. This app always feels like an exploration of how a frog lives, and never feels like a game. As the Horn Book review says, this app presents the information in "an accessible way that’s respectful of both its subject and its audience."

National Geographic Adventure Presents The Greatest Stories Ever Told
developed by National Geographic Society
preview video
available on iTunes
ages 9 - 14
Every time I read and explore this app, I am utterly amazed at the adventures these stories share. This app features five amazing stories ranging from mountain climbing in Yosemite to crossing the Antarctic by dogsled to climbing down into a volcano. Each story hooks readers with a short video, but then encourages them to read beyond this initial video to learn more. Text is interspersed with high quality photographs and interactive graphics. Readers scroll in different ways, vertically and horizontally - this keeps readers stimulated and engaged. The interactive graphics let you discover more - for example, a timeline with a sliding bar lets readers explore the different types of climbing gear used over the past 100 years. But most of all, I was impressed with the way readers got a sense of the real people involved through quotes, video and audio. It conveys a first-hand point of view in an exciting, engaging format.
Wonders of Geology
by Michael Collier
developed by Mikaya Press/Tasa Graphic Arts
a "Top 10 App" from School Library Journal
available on iTunes
ages 10 - 14
The Wonders of Geology combines stunning photography, clear descriptions, and a combination of text and audio narration to teach tweens and teens about how the Earth's great mountains, valleys and other geological features were formed. Collier's breathtaking photographs draw readers in and convey a sense of awe at the wonders of these spectacular sites. The app switches between concise written paragraphs that introduce a subject and longer narrated segments as viewers look at photographs or diagrams. This helps tweens and teens who are curious about a topic but perhaps not determined enough to read in-depth nonfiction text to learn more about the subject. Collier shares his passion and in-depth knowledge of geology, as well as his stunning photographs. While some students may want more interactive features, I believe that others with an interest in the subject will be fascinated. It would make an excellent complement to a standard textbook for 6th graders studying Earth Science.
Animated diagram from Wonders of Geology
Brian Cox's Wonders of the Universe
by Brian Cox
developed by Harper Collins UK and The Other Media
ages 16 to adult
available on iTunes
Particle physicist Brian Cox brings astrophysics to a general audience with the amazing Wonders of the Universe app, bringing together his books Wonders of the Solar System and Wonders of the Universe with his award-winning TV series produced by the BBC. The app uses all of the features of the iPad, drawing readers in with personable, engaging video, clearly written text and interesting diagrams. The journey up from the smallest particles, past the moons and planets of the Solar System, out to the outer edges of the known universe truly blows my mind. I find myself in utter awe that scientists can understand, test and prove this knowledge. As The Other Media's managing director George Crabb says in a Guardian article, "We threw out conventional thinking on multimedia experiences to instead come up with a revolutionary platform that can take complex narratives but deliver them with an intuitive clarity." This is an app for older high school students and adults who are fascinated by physics and astronomy, and who want to explore how multimedia technology can help us understand these subjects. I must admit that I do not understand all of what I am reading in this app, but I am fascinated nonetheless!

Wonders of the Universe combines text and video
Nonfiction Book Apps show that this media has great potential for drawing readers into interesting topics. I am glad that several were nominated for the Cybils Award this year. Tune in on January 1st to the Cybils website to find out which apps are chosen for this year's shortlist.

The apps reviewed here came from both promotional codes sent by the developers and our school app library. The Berkeley Public Education Fund has graciously supported our school as we explore how apps help children learn and engage with a range of books.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Goblin Secrets, by William Alexander - exciting, imaginative fantasy (ages 9 - 13)

Children's books are full of orphans who set out on a hero's quest - and yet there is something fundamentally appealing about a young child who sets off on his or her own to battle unlikely odds. Rownie, a street urchin in Zombay, must outwit a tyrannical witch, the vigilant mechanical policemen and his own friends as he searches for his lost brother in Goblin Secrets, William Alexander's National Book Award winning fantasy for older middle grade readers.
Goblin Secrets
by William Alexander
Simon & Schuster, 2012
ages 9 - 13
2012 National Book Award Winner
Amazon and your local library
Rownie flees the custody of the tyrannical witch Graba to join a troupe of goblins who perform magical shows with masks, fire and giant puppets. In the fantasy world of Zombay, all performances by humans with masks have been outlawed, and so Rownie's decision carries tremendous risks. But he is determined to follow the footsteps of his older brother Rownan.

William Alexander's fantasy is both compelling, fast-paced and intricately layers. The setting is both unique and full of references to folklore. I loved the character of Graba, a Baba-Yaga inspired witch who is a "grandmother" for many orphans, with gear-work chicken legs. The writing was elegant and vivid - I was completely swept away by the story and the descriptions.

William Alexander narrates the audiobook version of Goblin Secrets, and he imbues the characters with specific, exciting voices. He brings his background as an actor and a folklorist to the writing and the narration of this story. Here is a video of Alexander reading a section from Goblin Secrets:

Goblin Secrets has many layers and themes that kept resonating with me, some successfully and others less so. I was intrigued by the sense that masks allow us to create a new personality but that they can also have power in and of themselves. I think children will really respond to the themes of choice, courage and the need to take action. I found that the end of the story whirled so quickly that I had trouble digesting and understanding all of the threads. This is definitely a book that I will want to come back to.

I look forward to sharing Goblin Secrets with students who like fast-paced but layered fantasies, like Jonathan Auxier's Peter Nimble or Rick Riordan's Heroes of Olympus.

William Alexander was awarded the National Book Award for Young People's Literature for Goblin Secrets - a tremendous honor for his debut novel. Find out more about him at this interview at The Nerdy Book Club blog.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers Simon & Schuster. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, December 10, 2012

Red Knit Cap Girl - a beautiful, quiet picture book (ages 3 - 7)

There are times I just want to run my fingers over a picture book's page, wondering in the beauty of its artwork. Red Knit Cap Girl, by Naoko Stoop, drew me in right from the start, with the beautiful grains of wood surrounding the sweet little girl. My 2nd graders and I read this as part of our Mock Caldecott unit, talking about some of the best new picture books this year.
Red Knit Cap Girl
by Naoko Stoop
Little, Brown, 2012
ages 3 - 7
Amazon and your local library
Red Knit Cap Girl wishes more than anything that she could talk to the moon. She and her animal friends wonder how she can reach all the way to the moon - no matter what they do, it seems so far away. But the wise old owl tells her, “The Moon is too far to reach, but if you want, she will bend down to listen to you … You will find a way.”

My students found Stoop's artwork enchanting in a quiet, soothing sort of way. They noticed the way she uses many different shades and gradations of color. Sometimes the grain of the plywood shows through the soft, transparent paint, and other times the color is rich and vibrant. The story spoke to them, reminding them of other stories they love, like Kitten's First Full Moon, by Kevin Henkes. Young children are enchanted by the moon, the way it changes each night but is always there. The way it seems so close and yet so far away.

I like the way Mrs. Heise notes the way Red Knit Cap Girl's friends all come together as a community to help her. I agree with her that the language is not as fluid as the artwork; the name Red Knit Cap Girl is a bit choppy to keep saying over and over again. Over at the wonderful Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Jules describes Stoop's artwork as "elegant in its simplicity," noting that she uses simple shapes, comforting curves and minimalist facial details to convey a magical, comforting tale.

This year, I am reading four different books to each 2nd grade class. At the end of the four weeks, they will vote on their favorite book. Then we will share our favorites with the other classes. Throughout the process we will talk about what makes wonderful picture books, how we need to think about the story and the illustrations.

In the meantime, our 1st graders are reading a wide range of Caldecott Medal and Honor books (you can see the whole list here). They are sharing with each other, practicing thinking and writing about books. Then our 1st graders will share their favorites with our Skype buddy class in Lynnwood, Washington through the help of Mrs. Valerie Stein. We're very excited to be reading such wonderful books and having an authentic way to practice our public speaking skills!

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers Little, Brown. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Holiday books to share with your children (ages 2 - 8)

Do you have any special holiday books that you read every year? Here are some of my favorites from this year. Some honor the spirit of giving, while others tell traditional religious stories from a child’s perspective. All celebrate the warmth, love and togetherness we feel during this time of year.

Who Built the Stable? A Nativity Poem
by Ashley Bryan
Simon & Schuster / Atheneum, 2012
ages 4 – 8
Amazon or your local library
Award-winning artist Bryan combines colorful, vibrant illustrations in strong, bold strokes with a touching poem about the Nativity story from a child’s point of view. The rhyming text follows a young shepherd who builds a stable for his animals and then invites Mary and Joseph to stay on this fateful night.

Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama
by Selina Alko
Random House / Knopf, 2012
ages 4 - 8
Google preview
Amazon or your local library
Many families will relate to the way Sadie’s family blends different holiday traditions. They scatter Hanukkah gelt underneath the Christmas tree and hang candy canes from the menorah on the mantelpiece, focusing on the joy of spending time together.

The Christmas Quiet Book
by Deborah Underwood
illustrated by Renata Liwska
Houghton Mifflin, 2012
ages 2 - 6
Google preview
Amazon or your local library
San Francisco author Underwood teams again with Liwska to celebrate quiet, small moments, focusing on the many emotions that come with the holidays. “Reading by the fire quiet” and “listening for sleigh bells quiet” will bring readers back to those special moments we remember year-round. Here is a lovely preview of The Christmas Quiet Book from Google Books.

For more holiday books to share, head over to my article in this month's Parents Press. The review copy of Who Built the Stable came from our home library. Random House kindly sent a review copy of Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama. Houghton Mifflin kindly sent a review copy of The Christmas Quiet Book. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Mermaid Tales - a fun friendship story & gift idea

Our 2nd and 3rd graders are loving Debbie Dadey's new series, Mermaid Tales. If you are looking for a friendship story for a girls who's read all the Rainbow Magic books, this might be a nice choice for you.And since this is the holidays, I always try to find gifts that might make a nice pairing with books - here's a fun, sparkling ball to include for your mermaid loving 8 year old.
Mermaid Tales:
1. Trouble at Trident Academy
2. Battle of the Best Friends
3. Whale of a Tale
by Debbie Dadey
Alladin / Simon & Schuster, 2012
ages 6 - 10
Amazon, your library, Google books
Best friends Shelly, Echo and Kiki are all third-graders at Trident Academy. They share fun times and help each other through struggles that many kids will relate to: anticipating the first day of a new school, dealing with a difficult classmate who thinks she's the best at everything, being the only one not invited to a special party. In Battle of the Best Friends, Echo is invited to another girl's birthday party but Shelly isn't. The friends must figure out how to deal with this difficult situation.

These books provide a comfortable, enjoyable reading experience to our kids who are moving into chapter books. It is a bit more difficult than the ever-popular Ivy & Bean, but easier than Clementine. As the Kirkus Review writes, "While Echo and Shelly are not particularly distinctive, and Pearl and the archetypal token boy, Rocky, are cartoony, the characters' interactions are funny and believable." This friendship-driven story will find many fans. Here's a sample to preview from Google Books:

If you're looking to pair this with a fun gift, look for a mermaid themed toy. You might try the Play Visions Mermaid Ball. My kids have loved these types of hi-bouncing balls. With these mermaid decorations inside, it reminds me of a snow-globe, but actually is something kids can play with!

For other holiday gift ideas, check out these ideas for giving books. For some more favorite chapter books, see my recommendations for favorite series for 2nd and 3rd graders.

The review copies came from our home library (tested and loved by our 8 year old). If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Perfect gift for your little daredevil

Do you have a little daredevil at home? My nephew loves everything that goes fast, jumps high and makes loud noises. His dad's favorite hobby? Going to the car races. So we know where this little guy gets his passion!

This holiday I'm going to make him a daredevil cape - bright red and shiny. It's going to be the perfect "go faster" special effect for him. But the book that I'm going to have tucked inside this cape? Kel Gilligan's Daredevil Stunt Show - it's a fun spoof on a little boy's quest to be a daredevil in his own right.

Kel Gilligan's Daredevil Stunt Show
by Michael Buckley
and Dan Santat
Abrams, 2012
ages 5-8
find it: Amazon and your local library
Kel Gilligan is a daredevil - brave enough to attempt awe-inspiring feats like eating broccoli, facing "the Potty of Doom," and taking a bath with only ONE assistant. Santat's illustrations heighten both the drama and the humor in Buckley's story. You can tell just by the cover how much kids are going to love this.

Our kindergartners thought the Potty of Doom was hilarious. They are just the right age to remember those little potties and know just what an achievement it is to master them. As the review in Kirkus says,
"Whether he is in underpants, in his caped stuntman outfit or bare-bottomed, young readers (and their grown-ups) cannot help but laugh out loud at the hilarious details of Kel's silly adventures because they tackle them daily and know them too well."

It's interesting that Kel appeals most to kids ages 5-8 who are able to laugh at Buckley's exaggeration and understand that he's really making fun of these small achievements. They know that Kel talks tough, but is really soft inside - especially when it comes to checking for monsters under his bed.

Take a look at Santat's early sketches for Kel - he had originally imagined him as a preschooler, but through editing changes it was decided that Kel should be older, perhaps around 5. Santat developed the flashback device using the parent's videocam to recall the potty and broccoli scenes from Kel's younger days. My kindergartners were a bit confused at these transitions, but it did not detract from the overall impact of the hilarious scenes.

If I can't get my act together to make a red cape, I think this one will do the trick just perfectly: Creative Edition's Red Adventure Cape. I must say that I have not seen this cape in action, but it's gotten great reviews on Amazon.
The artwork is copyright © Dan Santat, shared by the artist. The review copy of this book came from my local review group, the Association of Children's Librarians of Northern California, and was sent by the publishers Abrams Books for Young Readers. Thank you to ACL and Abrams for sharing this very funny book. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Friday, November 30, 2012

Playing in the rain! Rain Stomper, by Addie Boswell (ages 4-8)

Rain, rain, go away! Come again another day! Did you used to chant that as a kid? But if you want to know the real truth, kids LOVE playing in the rain. Stomping, splashing, jumping in puddles. I adore sharing Rain Stomper, a fun, high-energy picture book, and it would make a great gift along with a new pair of spiffy rain boots.
Rain Stomper
by Addie K. Boswell
illustrated by Eric Velasquez
Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008
ages 4 - 8
available on Amazon and at your local library
Jazmin was so excited - she was all set to twirl her baton in the big neighborhood parade. Everyone would dance and celebrate together. But then, the clouds started rolling in. Would her special day be ruined?

This book combines wonderful poetry and pictures. The text is vibrant, coming alive with images and descriptions - it works wonderfully as a read aloud. And the pictures make you feel Jazmin's full range of emotions. It's fun to read, but it is also rich and full of possibilities for engaging in interesting conversations about what makes it work so well. Take a look at Boswell's descriptive writing:
Jazmin threw open her front door.
Wind whistled through her hair.
Thunder rumbled the ground.
The sun scuttled behind the clouds.
The sky twisted into a thick, black coil.

Clatter, clatter
The rain poured down in buckets.
walla BOOM
Thunder rattled the bricks in the walls.
(c) Addie Kay Boswell
Velasquez's illustrations are dynamic as they show Jazmin's energy and all the kids as they all splashed, banged, bashed, and clattered on the sidewalk. To see more of the pictures, visit Eric Velasquez's website.

I'd pair this book with a bright red pair of rain boots, so kids could stomp and splash in puddles to their hearts delight.

The review copy came from our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Each Kindness, by Jacqueline Woodson (ages 6 - 12)

Be kind. Be present. Act the way you want to be treated.
These are all messages we try to share with our children, our students, ourselves. And yet do the lectures work? How do we help our kids see the impact that their actions have?

Jacqueline Woodson’s picture book Each Kindness struck me the moment I read it, with quiet intensity and searing honesty. Find a quiet moment to read this book and then share it with your class, your children, your friends. This is the book I'll be giving as a holiday gift to every teacher I know.
Each Kindness
by Jacqueline Woodson
illustrated by E.B. Lewis
Nancy Paulsen / Penguin, 2012
ages 6 - 12
available on Amazon and at your local library
Maya is the new girl, arriving in the middle of winter to a new school. The teacher sits her next to Chloe, but Chloe won’t look at Maya or return her smiles. Every time Maya tries to join Chloe and her gang, they reject her. One of Chloe’s friends calls Maya by the harsh nickname “Never New,” because she always buys her clothes at the secondhand store.

Woodson tells this story from Chloe’s point of view, keeping the reader focused on Chloe’s perspective. We can feel the uncertainty that Chloe has, not feeling a connection to this new girl. But we also see the hurt it causes as Chloe walks away from Maya time and time again.

As Tasha Saker writes at Waking Brain Cells in her review of Each Kindness, “Woodson does not pull back on her message here.  She speaks directly to the sort of bullying that groups of girls are best at, ignoring and dismissing.  Readers will immediately feel for Maya, who has done nothing at all to earn the scorn of the girls, except wear the wrong clothes.”

Woodson takes this situation a step farther, not providing the easy resolution of a happy ending, but showing what happens when Chloe realizes the hurt she’s caused and cannot undo it. With a simple, nonjudgemental discussion, the girls’ teacher talks to her class about the way we impact one another.

“The next day, Maya’s seat was empty. In class that morning, we were talking about kindness. Ms. Albert had brought a big bowl into class and filled it with water. We all gathered around her desk and watched her drop a small stone into it. Tiny waves rippled out, away from the stone. ‘This is what kindness does,’ Ms. Albert said.

Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world.’”
Each Kindness is an intensely powerful book, one that will send ripples out to your classroom. Ask your students if it seems real to them, if these types of situations really happen. Ask them what they think about the ending. Do they like the way that Woodson leaves it? Why do they think she chose this ending?

I hope each one of us can think about the small actions we can take and how these ripple out across the world. Share a small smile with a student across the room; give an unexpected compliment; set aside a special book and tell a student you were thinking just of them -- it’s amazing how far each kindness can travel.

Images shared with permission of the publisher, copyright E.B. Lewis. This post was originally shared on NerdyBookClub, a wonderful community of folks committed to celebrating the joy of children's books. The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher, Nancy Paulsen and Penguin Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Holiday gifts: books to share, gifts that last

There's a buzz in the air. Kids are getting excited for winter holidays: Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa. They love the traditions, the family time together, and the gifts. Parents are making lists, thinking about how to make the holiday special for their child. As you think about the perfect gifts for your children, think about sharing books and giving a gift that lasts.

Include books for your children as you think about holiday gifts.
While books might not grab their attention right away, they have lasting power. Take a minute to think about the amount of time and pleasure we get from a book. Combine books with other gifts, to make a package - whether it's a new stuffed animal and a book, or a baseball mitt along with a biography of Jackie Robinson. Throughout December, I'll be sharing ideas for giving books. Check out the tag "give a book" for past suggestions.

Caught Reading
Include books in your gifts to charities.
Our neighborhood does a charity drive every winter for a local women's shelter or the local children's hospital. Gifts of children's books can be especially meaningful for children struggling at this time of year. Books can help pass the time, they can help you escape in your mind, and they can bring laughter at hard times. I pass on books we're no longer using, and include some new popular books that I know kids will love.
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I love sharing books with friends, children and schools. If you've gotten great ideas from my posts, please consider supporting Great Kid Books through your Amazon purchases. First visit Great Kid Books and then click over on a link to AmazonGreat Kid Books gets a small percentage of every sale - money that helps us buy the newest books to review and share with kids and readers. Anything purchased from Amazon counts here - from candles to Kindles, toothbrushes to toys, not just books.
Flickr image shared through Creative Common licensing, thanks to John-Morgan. Thank you for your support, and for helping your children find wonderful things to feed their imagination.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade, by Melissa Sweet (ages 5-9)

Ask a room full of children, "Who's seen a parade?", and you'll see dozens of eyes start to sparkle. A parade?!! What fun!! One of my favorite books to share at this time of year is Melissa Sweet's Balloons Over Broadway. It tells the story of Tony Sarge, the puppeteer who created the original giant balloons for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Whether you have the chance to see this parade in person or watch it on TV, this book will delight families with its story of creativity and invention.
Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade
written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011
winner of the 2012 Sibert Medal
winner of the 2012 NCTE Orbis Pictus Award
ages 5 - 9
available on Amazon or at your local library
Ever since Tony Sarge was a boy, he loved inventing creative solutions to problems. Sweet hooks readers right from the beginning with the snippet of Tony as a child inventing a way to use pulleys to open the chicken coop early each morning while managing to stay in bed. Tony Sarge was truly a creative inventor who looked at new ways to do things his whole life. He brought his puppet making skills first to London, and then to New York. It was in New York that Macy's asked him to put on a parade, which Sarge did with delight.

Children love thinking through Sarge's dilemmas with creating puppets for his parade. How can he make them big enough for everyone to see? How can he carry them down the streets if they are that large? How did he get his ideas? Melissa Sweet shows just the right amount of clues that kids put the pieces together themselves, feeling Sarge's "ah-hah" moment for themselves. Her artwork is full of joy, creativity, and clear history as she leads children through Sarge's life.

I enjoyed reading this interview with Melissa Sweet over at Monica Edinger's column at the Huffington Post. Monica asked Melissa to tell readers a little bit about her process creating the art.
"Melissa Sweet: My studio is full of old toys, fabric and found objects I've collected. I started making quirky toys and paper-mache puppets using the materials I had on hand. People often ask which comes first, words or pictures, and in this case making these objects taught me about Tony's creative process and helped me figure out an angle to tell the story. I knew I wanted a 3-dimensional aspect to the art to give the feel of what Tony's studio might've been like." 
For more resources, be sure to check out the Classroom Bookshelf Blog. Grace Enriquez has assembled everything from suggestions for bringing this into the classroom (as a biography, as a unit on puppets, as a study of community parades, and more) to online resources including Melissa Sweet's activity kit, the official Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade website, and many more.

Also make sure to check out the great collection of primary resources over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast - Melissa Sweet shares original video from the Macy's Parade in the 1930s, photographs of Tony Sarge and his puppets, and some of her early sketches from the book.

If you like sharing nonfiction with your children, be sure to check out the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal. This award is given every year to the author and illustrator of the most distinguished informational book for children. I am always fascinated by the range and depth of information books that this award recognizes.

The review copies came from our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sharing books with little dancers - Bea at Ballet (ages 2-5)

I love seeing how happy and free little kids are when they’re dancing to music. Dance speaks to young children in so many ways. Share these favorite books with your little dancers and enjoy the celebrations they inspire.
Bea at Ballet
by Rachel Isadora
Nancy Paulsen / Penguin, 2012
ages 2–5
available on Amazon and at your local library
Preschoolers enchanted with ballet will love this simple introduction to ballet. Young Bea goes to dance class with six other preschoolers, four girls and two boys. After getting dressed in her leotard and ballet slippers, Bea peeks into the studio, excited and a little nervous, too. The class starts by sitting in a circle, clapping to the music — something preschoolers do all the time.

Different elements of ballet, from the five basic positions to the equipment, are introduced clearly and simply. Isadora’s simple, understated illustration style keeps the focus on the children.

Rachel Isadora began dancing at the age of eight. She trained at George Balanchine's School of American Ballet and has danced professionally in New York City, Boston and London. Ms. Isadora also lived in Africa for 10 years, and many of her other books reflect her love for this continent. You can see her portfolio of oil paintings on her website. Isadora's love for ballet shines through at each step.

I especially love 5 year old Sophie's review on the Kids Online Book Club:
"I liked Bea the most because she was wearing pink and I loved pink too. The pictures were very special and lovely."
For more books to share with little dancers, see this month's Bookshelf article in Parents Press. The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Nancy Paulsen and Penguin Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, November 12, 2012

Remembering our veterans - sharing Heart of a Shepherd and Dear Blue Sky (ages 9-12)

I've been thinking about Veteran's Day this weekend, thinking about all the sacrifices and contributions made by men and women who have served our country. As I think about these brave veterans, my mind always turns to their families. What would it be like to have your mom or dad sent away to war? What would it be like living with the uncertainty of when or how they would return?

Naturally, my mind turns to powerful stories I've read that let me feel what it might be like to live through these difficult times. Two books come to mind: Heart of a Shepherd and Dear Blue Sky. Share these books with children who want a story that touches their heart.
Heart of a Shepherd
by Rosanne Parry
Random House, 2009
ages 9-12
available on Amazon and at your local library
Twelve-year old "Brother" is the youngest of 5 boys growing up on a ranch in Eastern Oregon. His older brothers gone away to school or the army, and now Brother is alone helping his dad and grandparents manage their cattle ranch. When Brother's dad is called up to fight with his reserve unit in Iraq, everything falls on his shoulders to help keep the ranch running smoothly. His dad believes in him, and Brother has to keep faith that his father will return safely. Here is one of my favorite quotes from his dad:
“You don’t have to be brave,” he says, real quiet. “Neither of us does. A man’s life is not so much about courage. You just have to keep going. You have to do what you’ve promised, brave or not.” (page 24)
Heart of a Shepherd has stayed with me, finding a special place inside. It's a powerful story of loss, faith and coming of age. I originally read and reviewed this in 2009 (see original post here), and it has stayed with me.

Dear Blue Sky is another heartfelt story that revolves around the pain and loss caused by the Iraqi War.
Dear Blue Sky
by Mary Sullivan
Penguin, 2012
ages 9-12
available on Amazon and at your local library
I shared about this book just a few months ago, so I won't go into as many details (see original post here). But it would be interesting to read these two books together and see how the characters deal with the situation caused by their loved ones being sent away to war.

As I wrote a few months ago, "I was particularly impressed with how Sullivan raises these complex issues in a way that tweens will understand - personalizing the impact of the suffering caused by the Iraq War, focusing in on family and friendship dynamics, looking closely at the impact of assumptions and isolation."

The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Random House and Penguin. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Stand tall - voting with kids and celebrating our country

I'm still feeling the buzz from this week's election.

I ran a mock election for all our 3rd, 4th and 5th graders where they were able to vote using an electronic ballot (set up with this Google Form). They loved, loved the feeling that they were able to cast their own votes. We were able to talk about the responsibility every citizen has to vote. We also talked about the right to make a free choice and the right to privacy - that you shouldn't ask friends at the lunch table, "So who did YOU vote for???"

Students have told me that they loved being able to vote like their parents. They sensed the importance of this moment, and how everyone's voice counts. It also gave a sense of a community - that voting is something we all do together.

Yesterday, the fantastic Lara Starr passed on this drawing from the wonderful, creative Tom Lichtenheld:

In his words, “Despite the storm, despite the money, despite the mud-slinging...this thing basically worked. So let's put the elephants and donkeys out to pasture and come up with a new mascot.” – Tom Lichtenheld

Or as Lara said to her colleagues, “Today, there are no Elephants. There are no Donkeys. We are all Giraffes!”

©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, November 5, 2012

Celebrating picture books with Rosemary Wells (ages 3 - 7)

We have been celebrating Rosemary Wells' picture books with our kindergartners all fall. Two new books I've enjoyed sharing are Yoko’s Show and Tell and Hands Off, Harry! Here in Berkeley, we're thrilled that Rosemary Wells will be at our local independent bookstore, Mrs. Dalloway's THIS SATURDAY (November 10th) at 3:00 pm.
Yoko’s Show and Tell
by Rosemary Wells
Disney Hyperion, 2012
ages 3–6
available on Amazon and at your local library
When Yoko receives a special doll from her grandparents in Japan, she is so excited that she can’t wait to show her friends. She knows that Miki, the special doll that once belonged to her Mama long ago, would be perfect for show-and-tell at school. But Mama says, “Miki is too delicate to take to school.”

Young children will relate to Yoko’s feelings, as she finds the idea of sharing this special doll too hard to resist. They will share in Yoko’s horror as Miki is tossed about the school bus, and they will want to re-create Dr. Kiroshura’s doll hospital for themselves. The Yoko books are some of our absolute favorites.

Parents and teachers might be interested to know that Rosemary Wells has developed a "Kind and Gentle Week" guide that is available on her website.
Hands Off, Harry!
Kindergators Series
by Rosemary Wells
HarperCollins/Katherine Tegan Books, 2012
ages 3–6
available on Amazon and your local library
New kindergartners will be familiar with this story: a classmate is having trouble keeping his hands to himself. Harry just wants to have fun and be silly, but his classmates are bothered by the way he pokes, startles and tackles them.

Harry’s teacher, Miss Harmony, calls class meetings so that his classmates can express their frustrations, and Harry must sit in time-out to think about his actions. But nothing sinks in, and Harry continues being the joker and bothering people. Nothing seems to work until a classmate comes up with a new way to teach Harry about his personal space.

Kids will enjoy the balance of humor and compassion, relating both to Harry’s antics and his classmates’ frustrations. Best of all, children will like the sense of community and problem-solving in Miss Harmony’s kindergarten classroom. Kids, parents and teachers will appreciate Wells' new series that focuses on issues that new kindergartners and preschools have adjusting to school. Have fun watching this video to get a sense of this new series:

Meet the Kindergators! from Rosemary Wells on Vimeo.

As Rosemary Wells says, "Read to your bunny every day." We can't wait to see her newest book, Max and Ruby's Treasure Hunt. It's received a starred review from Booklist: "Packed with interactive fun, Wells’ latest story about the rabbit Max and his older sister, Ruby, is an exciting picture book with lift-the-flap clues that blend Mother Goose rhymes with playful suspense at home." Hope to see you Saturday to hear more about this much loved picture book author.

Have fun celebrating Picture Book Month with your children. Stop by the wonderful Picture Book Month blog each day for a new essay on why picture books are so important.

The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Disney/Hyperion Books and Harper Collins. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Picture books are for everyone - sharing and celebrating with all readers

Picture books have a wonderful way of drawing children into their stories. Children of all ages love listening to stories read aloud, looking at pictures, reading picture books themselves or with their parents. Some parents might think that kids grow out of picture books, but I really see 13 and 14 year olds loving picture books as much as 6 and 7 year olds.

“Picture books are the connective tissue between a parent and a child. …you stop everything, snuggle up on the couch or the floor and share a story.” – John Rocco, 2012 Caldecott Honor Winner, from his Picture Book Month essay

This month marks the 2nd annual Picture Book Month. Cosponsored by many national literacy organizations, this celebration has caught the imagination of schools, libraries, booksellers, and book lovers across the globe as they come together to celebrate the print picture book. Read more about how librarians across the country are celebrating in this School Library Journal article.

At our school, we are taking time to focus on reading picture books with our older readers in 3rd, 4th and 5th grade. So often by the time kids become proficient readers around 3rd grade, they feel that they've moved beyond picture books. But there are powerful, moving picture books just right for these older students.

We are reading the California Young Reader Medal nominees for picture books for older readers with our 3rd graders They are having fun participating in an election where their vote counts. So far, they have loved reading Marissa Moss's Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, a Civil War Hero and Brian Dennis's Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle. We're talking about what makes a good picture book for older readers - not just illustrations, but how the illustrations and book design add to the story, creating movement, emotion and interest. We've talked about character development and story tension - all elements they're looking for in good stories, no matter the length.

We are focusing on Jacqueline Woodson's amazing picture books with our 4th and 5th graders. My students are completely drawn into her stories, appreciating the language, character development and emotions. I'm also really appreciating how many elements of the Common Core State Standards can be incorporated into these discussions.

For example, when we read Visiting Day, students were able to practice referring to specific details in the text and illustrations as they inferred that Maya's father was in prison (a fact the text does not explicitly state). Because of their spare language, picture books often require readers to infer meaning. We practice these skills with a meaningful picture book as a group, and then we can talk about them in reading workshop conferences one on one with students as they apply these skills to longer books they're reading.

What picture books do you like to read with your children? Do you find that your older children still enjoy reading picture books? How has their taste changed as they have gotten older?

I'm looking forward to visiting the Picture Book Month website throughout the month of November. Each day will feature a new essay by a range of amazing authors, illustrators and librarians. As founder Dianne de Las Casas said, “Not only are picture books alive and well, they are thriving. Picture books are not just an early childhood step to literacy, they are little pieces of emotion and childhood wrapped in a beautiful, page-turning package. November is Picture Book Month. Read * Share * Celebrate!”

The books shared here are from our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, October 29, 2012

Scary books for struggling readers (ages 9 - 12)

Do you know a kid who bounces from book to book, never really settling into a story? Several of my students struggle with picking books. They can't find ones that interest them that are at their reading level. One of my 5th graders, Carl, has tried out a new series and loves it: Return to the Library of Doom. He's sharing it with his friends, and it's spreading through his class.

Return to the Library of Doom, by Michael Dahl, is a series designed for older students who still struggle with reading. The sentences are short, direct and clear. The action moves at a fast pace, with little distracting descriptions. There is plenty of spacing between lines, so kids can track the words easily. Best of all, from their point of view, the stories are creepy and exciting, filled with bold illustrations that remind them of the comic books they love.
Killer App
Return to the Library of Doom
by Michael Dahl
illustrated by Bradford Kendall
Capstone / Stone Arch, 2012
ages 9 - 12
available on Amazon and your local library
Google Book preview
My favorite in the series is Killer App. When Carl first read this, he said to his teacher that it's the best book he's ever read. That's saying a whole lot from Carl, a whole lot.
Four teens are driving along a desert highway when one shows his girlfriend an app that sends him "really FREAKY horror stories." When they start to download one, they notice a black cloud of ravens headed toward them.
"The dark cloud grows larger and larger. Savage screams pierce the air."
This type of direct writing pulls in students who want a suspenseful story, but who cannot wade through long descriptions. The design of the book also draws in my 5th graders. They love the illustrations, the drawings on the words, the whole look and feel of the books is "cool." And that coolness factor counts a lot, especially for kids who don't think reading is very cool. Take a look at one of the pages from the Google Preview:

In the next chapter, a group of motorcyclists find the phone next to the abandoned car covered with scratches. The mystery builds as these kids try to escape the ravens and hide in an deserted gas station. I enjoyed its inventive twist of modern technology, the frightening gore of attacking birds, and the references to classic movies and books. I laughed when the Librarian saved the day, saying, "Only horror can defeat horror."

This series will hook readers, it will keep them glued to the pages. Dahl's writing does not provide much character development, but his stories can provide the structure for students to practice active reading skills. Watching my 5th graders pass them from friend to friend makes this Librarian smile.

Carl and I nominated Killer App for the Cybils Early Chapter Book Award. The Lexile level of this book is 380, and the Guided Reading Level is an L. While the reading level is appropriate for students reading at a 2nd grade level, it is designed for 4th through 8th graders.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Capstone / Stone Arch Books. We so appreciate their supporting our readers as they seek out new, exciting series to share with their friends. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books