Thursday, April 27, 2017

Growing little gardeners: picture books to encourage young children in the garden (ages 3-8)

The sun shone brilliantly on today, making me wish I were out in the garden. My children loved digging in the dirt when they were young. Is that something you enjoy doing with your kids?

Check out these favorite picture books to share about gardening, and share your excitement with your children. All feature a diverse range of kids. Several are new in paperback this spring.
In Anywhere Farm, Phyllis Root uses upbeat rhyming text showing all the places we can grow our vegetable garden: “Plant a farm in a crate! / Plant a farm in a cup! / In a box on a balcony / ten stories up! / Plant a farm in a truck! / In a box on a bike! / Plant an anywhere farm / anywhere that you like.” Illustrations by G. Brian Karas emphasize how children in an urban community comes together to help create a neighborhood garden. "Anybody can do it. / You've showed it's not hard." (Candlewick, 2017)

It's Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden (by George Ancona) chronicles a year in the life of a school garden, from spring planting all the way through preparing for winter. Color photographs show students composting soil, watering plants, and sampling the edible delights. The garden at Acequia Madre Elementary School will inspire you to make the garden an outdoor classroom for your children. (Candlewick, 2013)

In Lola Plants a Garden (also in Spanish), Lola wants a garden just like in her favorite nursery rhyme "Mary, Mary, quite contrary." Anna McQuinn's simple text and Rosalind Beardshaw's joyful illustrations make this a great choice to read aloud to preschoolers, or for first graders to read independently: "Lola and Mommy make the garden. The seed packets mark where the flowers are planted." (Charlesbridge, 2014)

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt (by Kate Messner and Christopher Neal) explores a garden above ground and below, as it transforms from early spring through late autumn. A child and her grandmother garden for long hours above ground, while below ground animals of all shapes and sizes forage for food and maintain the soil in their own parallel efforts. "Up in the garden, we pick cukes and zucchini, harvesting into the dark...Down in the dirt, skunks work the night shift. They snuffle and dig, and gobble cutworms while I sleep." (Chronicle Books, 2015)

The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Candlewick, Charlesbridge and Chronicle. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Stephen Curry & #NBAPlayoffs2017: biographies for young readers (ages 6-10)

With NBA basketball playoffs in full swing, you may want to build on young fans' excitement with these biographies of our local favorite star Steph Curry.

When my students choose sports books for themselves, I really encourage them to look inside and see if the text seems right for them. Here are three books that work well for developing readers--shared from easier to more difficult.
Stephen Curry (Pebble Plus Famous Athletes), by Mari Schuh, is a great choice for beginning readers, with simple text and just three or four short sentences per page. Our first graders can read many (but not all) of this, and our second graders are finding it perfect for this time of year. The font is large and the background is plain, helping young readers focus on each word. The information is limited, so readers may leave this wanting to read more. See preview at Google Books.
"Basketball star Stephen Curry was born March 14, 1988. He grew up watching and playing basketball. His dad played in the NBA. Stephen watched his dad's games."
Amazing Athletes is a very popular series with our 2nd & 3rd graders, and they love this Stephen Curry book by Jon Fishman. As you can see in the sample below, this is written with fuller paragraphs. The layout and design make this easy for readers who are developing confidence to tackle. Full color photographs and captions complement the exciting text. This biography focuses more on his early years & college playing than Curry's difficult beginning of his pro career.
"Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors were losing to the Dallas Mavericks on February 4, 2015. Dallas had been hot since the opening tip-off... Golden State coach Steve Kerr didn't panic. He knew that with Stephen on the team, the Warriors would never be too far behind to catch up."
For readers ready to learn more about Curry's career and training style, search out Stephen Curry (Sports All-Stars), by Eric Braun. With more complex sentences and longer paragraphs, this biography works best with confident readers in 3rd or 4th grade. Just look at its opening. The writing is engaging, but definitely more complicated than the other two books.
from Stephen Curry
(Sports All-Stars)
"Maybe when the 2015 National Basketball Association (NBA) playoffs began, there were still doubters. Stephen Curry was too small. He wasn't athletic enough. He would never be one of the greats. Curry had heard those doubts all his life."
I especially found it interesting to read about Curry's practice techniques. When he was recovering from multiple injuries, Curry started trying unusual training methods to help him improve his ball handling and focus.
"Many fans have seen Curry dribble two basketballs at once before games. The ritual is about more than improving his skills or giving fans a good show... This kind of practice mimics what a point guard has to do during a game--dribble, watch the defenders, set up a play, and more--all at the same time."
Supporting readers along their road to reading is especially important. This post has been inspired by my friends Alyson Beecher and Michele Knott, whose weekly series #Road2Reading celebrates books for early readers.
The review copies for Sports All-Stars were kindly sent by the publisher, Lerner Books. The review copies of the Pebble Plus and the Amazing Athletes books 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. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Are You An Echo? Discovering the beauty of Japanese poet Misuzu Kaneko (ages 7-12)

Empathy -- it's a vital quality to develop for all of us. How do we reach outside of ourselves to imagine being in someone else's shoes? How do we take someone else's perspective? Misuzu Kaneko's beautiful poetry is a shining example of how poetry can help us stop for a moment and think about the world from a different point of view.
Are You an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko
Poetry by Misuzu Kaneko
Narrative by David Jacobson
Translation and editorial contributions by Sally Ito and Michiko Tsuboi
Illustrations by Toshikado Hajiri
Chin Music Press, 2016
Amazon / Your local library
ages 7-12
This striking collaboration shares the story of how Misuzu Kaneko's poetry came to be discovered long after her death; moreover, it brings her poems to an English-speaking audience for the first time. In 1966, a young Japanese poet discovered a poem that struck him with its empathy and simplicity, yet he could find no other poems by this author -- who was she? Did she write other poems?
 -- by Misuzu Kaneko

At sunrise, glorious sunrise
it’s a big catch!
A big catch of sardines!

On the beach, it’s like a festival
but in the sea, they will hold funerals
for the tens of thousands dead.
Linger for a moment on this poem, and ask young readers to think about this poet's message. Why would the fish hold funerals? How does this shift readers' thinking?

Although Setsuo Yazaki began searching in 1966, it wasn't until 1982 that the curious poet uncovered more of Misuzu's poetry. Her brother still had her diaries, which contained the only copies of her poems that still remained. Finally, Setsuo began to discover more about Misuzu's life.

Born in 1903, Misuzu lived in a small fishing village in western Japan where her mother managed a bookstore. "To Misuzu, everything was alive, and had its own feelings." Her wonder and curiosity encourages young readers to think about the natural world with fresh perspective. By interspersing Misuzu's poems with the story of her life, the authors help young readers focus on the poet's work as well as her life.
"Snow on top
must feel chilly,
the cold moonlight piercing it."
After a short, unhappy marriage, Misuzu took her own life at age 26 in 1930. Jacobson conveys her suicide sensitively and straightforwardly. I especially appreciate how this lets young readers feel empathy for Misuzu without sensationalizing her tragedy.

The second half of this picture book shares fifteen more of Misuzu's poems translated into English, along with their original Japanese versions. Children will enjoy lingering over poems; teachers will want to use them as mentor texts for children as they explore writing their own poetry.

My own grandmother used to encourage me to think about different subjects in school as "mental gymnastics," helping me stretch and work my mind in new ways. I wonder if Misuzu's poetry might help us be more limber, more nimble in our emotional interactions with the world. Isn't that what empathy is at its root?

Many thanks to Betsy Bird for first bringing this unique picture book to my attention. Illustrations © Toshikado Hajiri, narrative © David Jacobson, and translations © Sally Ito & Michiko Tsuboi, shared with permission from the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Chin Music Press. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Friday, April 21, 2017

Celebrating Arab American Heritage: three favorite bilingual picture books (ages 5-9)

"Ms. Scheuer, do you have a book written in Arabic?" -- Ghalla, 4th grade
In our school district, Arabic is the third most common language spoken at home. I strive to share books with students that reflect their culture and heritage. April is National Arab American Heritage Month and we celebrate this in our library by sharing books that reflect many experiences from the Arab world. These three bilingual picture books are especially beautiful and moving.

In Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad, by James Rumford, Ali lives in modern Baghdad, loves playing soccer and dancing to loud music. Most of all, he loves the way it feels to practice calligraphy: "writing the letters of my language ... gliding and sweeping, leaping, dancing to the silent music in my head." This moving story tells of how Ali is inspired by the master calligrapher Yakut, who found solace practicing his art during times of war.

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family's Journey, by Margriet Ruurs and Nizar Ali Badr, will amaze young readers with its artwork, constructed entirely by arranging stones but its story is what will stay in their hearts. Ruurs and Badr work seamlessly together to tell the story of a young girl whose family must flee Syria. When the bombs started falling too close to her home, Rama and her family join "the river of strangers in search of a place,/ to be free, to live and laugh, to love again." As the Kirkus Review says,
"Each illustration is masterful, with Badr's placement of stones as careful as brush strokes, creating figures positioned to tell the whole story without the benefit of facial expressions: dancing, cradling, working; burdened, in danger, at peace."
Time to Pray, by Maha Addasi, captures the experience of a young girl traveling from her suburban American home to visit her grandmother. On her first night, Yasmin is awakened by the muezzin at the nearby mosque calling the faithful to prayer. She is too tired to get up, but she watcher her grandmother prepare for prayer. This gentle story shows the bond that grows between Yasmin and her grandmother, and the special place that prayer and rituals have bringing them together.

All review copies came from our school library collection. I want to send special thanks to our PTA and my colleague Zoe Williams for help selecting and developing our collection of books that honor the experience of Arab Americans. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Funny & easy: two beginning reader series (ages 4-6)

Beginning to read is a daunting task -- kids and parents feel the pressure. Please know that sharing books together is the most important thing. Model reading, talk about books, invite your children to try with you. Above all, try to make it fun. That's why I love these two series of books for beginning readers--they're silly, they have good stories, and they use just a few words on each page.
The Adventures of Otto:
Go, Otto, Go! // Swing, Otto, Swing! // See Pip Point
by David Milgrim
preview on Overdrive (with read-along narration)
Simon Spotlight, 2016
Amazon / Your local library
ages 4-6
Otto is a lovable robot, trying to figure out how to get along here on Earth. He tries to build a robot to fly home: "Work, Otto, work." Milgrim does a terrific job using only two or three words on a page to convey what's happening, with repetition that flows naturally. 
"Work, Otto, work"
Otto always ends up getting in trouble, bringing lots of giggles to young readers. In Swing, Otto, Swing, he tries to fly from tree to tree like his monkey friends. Somehow, it's much harder than it looks.

If you like the goofy adventures of Otto, you might also like Big Dog and Little Dog beginning readers by Dav Pilkey. These two goofy friends get into all sorts of mischief.
Big Dog and Little Dog // Getting in Trouble // Making a Mistake
by Dav Pilkey
Green Light Readers / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1997
Amazon / Your local library
ages 4-6
Big Dog and Little Dog want to play, like any two friends. "But there is nothing to play with. What will they play with?" They start playing with the couch, but that soon turns into a game of tug-of-war. Uh, oh. They keep just getting into trouble! Pilkey uses simple sentences and bold drawings that move the action along.

If you have a dog that's ever met a skunk, you'll laugh as these friends find out just how awful a skunk can smell. "Big Dog thinks it is a kitty. Sssssss. But it does not smell like a kitty." These relatable situations are perfect for young readers.

I'm happy to join friends at Kid Lit Frenzy and Mrs. Knott's Bookshelf in celebrating the #Road2Reading. As they write, "All journeys have a starting place. This is a weekly place to find books and tools that you may use with readers at the start of their reading journey."

The review copies for The Adventures of Otto were kindly sent by the publisher, Simon & Schuster. The review copies of Big Dog and Little Dog came from my home library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley, Marjory Wentworth, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (ages 8-13)

"A poem is a s small but powerful thing. It has the power to reach inside of you, to ignite something in you, and to change you in ways you never imagined." -- Kwame Alexander
As Kwame Alexander writes in his preface, poetry can pack a powerful punch, touching our deepest feelings, helping us notice everyday details in new ways. In this dynamic collection, Alexander and fellow poets Colderley and Wentworth honor 20 of their favorite poets. Their original poems dance and spin with the poets they admire, inviting readers join the celebration.
Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets
by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley, and Marjory Wentworth
illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Candlewick, 2017
Amazon / Your local library
ages 8-13
*best new book*
Every page radiates with life, love and joy, as Alexander, Colderley and Wentworth pay tribute to their favorite poets, ranging from Rumi to Emily Dickinson to Maya Angelou. By selecting such a wide range of poets, they provide many ways in for young readers. There is no one right way to write or read a poem, and this collection lets us find different entry points, "stepping-stones" to wonder, to read, to write.

Alexander begins with "How to Write a Poem," celebrating Naomi Shihab Nye, asking readers to "let loose your heart -- raise your voice." He introduces the metaphor of dance, suggesting that a poet's many voices dance together to find their inner truth.
"How to Write a Poem"
Some young readers may want to emulate poems that notice the details in everyday life. Wentworth spins memories of early morning routines in her poem celebrating Billy Collins: "When you first wake up, notice / how your mother's voice, calling / you to breakfast, sounds like a fire alarm." Colderley celebrates Basho with "Contemporary Haiku:"
"Desks in tidy rows
Notebooks and texts neatly stacked
New year begins soon."
I love this idea that our voices dance together in poetry--with give and take, rhythm and movement. The poet's voice responds to an idea that inspires him; the illustrator adds her own rhythm; the reader jumps in, creating her own spin on the initial idea. One of my favorite poems is "Hue and Cry," celebrating Gwendolyn Brooks:
"Bronzeville lady
Way past cool
Voice like butter
Melting blues"
"Hue and Cry"
Ekua Holmes' mixed-media illustrations bring each poem to a new level, adding her own deep, resonate colors and images, inviting readers to pause and wonder and stay awhile on each page.

Enjoy listening to this radio interview with Kwame Alexander on NPR. As he says, "I think poetry is a way of helping us at least begin to understand ourselves better and eventually each other."

Alexander is definitely a "hopeful romantic," spreading his joy and love of life with readers everywhere. For that, I am truly grateful.

Illustrations © Ekua Holmes 2017, poetry © Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth 2017, shared with permission from the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Candlewick Press. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems, by Bob Raczka -- delightfully fun wordplay (ages 8-12)

I love sharing the way poets play with words to make us laugh, think and look at things in a new way. My students especially respond to concrete poetry, where the words are arranged to create images. Wet Cement is an outstanding, fresh collection of concrete poems, definitely worth seeking out.
Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems
by Bob Raczka
Roaring Brook / Macmillan, 2016
Amazon / Your local library
ages 8-12
Bob Raczka writes that poems are like "word paintings," using words to create pictures in our minds. Concrete poems takes this a step further, creating a visual art form with words.
"In concrete poems, or shape poems...the poet arranges words in the shape of the thing the poem is about or in a way that emphasizes the poem's meaning."
This outstanding collection of concrete poems makes me laugh and smile at Raczka's inventive use of words and letters. He not only creates the poem in new shapes, each title is its own shape poem, with a clever arrangement of the letters. I love the way he uses the "L" to create the hands of a clock in this poem:
"The clock on the wall says it's five 'til three but
the kids in my class say it's five 'til free."

Raczka's wordplay is accessible and inventive, inviting readers to think of words, letters and shapes in a fresh new way. As students what they thing the "t" in "takeoff" is doing all by itself on the page--what does it make them think about? And why did Raczka choose the phrase "Wright on course"?
"Wright on course, headed for heaven. One two three four five..."
These poems give us a moment to play with text, to think about how words create visual art and to laugh at the inventive ways we can arrange words and letters on a page. I love the idea of turning this over to kids, asking them to see how they might play with letters and words to create different shapes. After all, as Raczka shows us, the word "try" is certainly embedded in the word "poetry."

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Roaring Brook / Macmillan. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, April 10, 2017

A Boy Called Bat, by Elana Arnold -- friendship & bonding with a pet (ages 6-10)

Our students have been eagerly reading A Boy Called Bat, drawn in by the adorable cover. Many students relate to the bond that Bat feels for the baby skunk, but it is about much more.

I love how this quiet book shows how a pet can help children form relationships, take responsibility and feel a sense of empathy. Even more so, I love how it shares the story of an autistic boy whose neurodiversity is just part of who he is.
A Boy Called Bat
by Elana K. Arnold
illustrated by Charles Santoso
Walden Pond Press, 2017
preview book through Overdrive
Educator's guide
Amazon / Your local library
ages 6-10
*best new book*
Third-grader Bat got his nickname because it's his initials; his full name is Bixby Alexander Tam. Like his namesake, Bat has super-sensitive hearing. Also, he sometimes flaps his hands when he's nervous or excited. Adult readers may recognize that Bat is on the autism spectrum, but this is not labeled--rather, just part of his character.

Bat knows more than anyone in his class about animals. He loves reading his animal encyclopedia and wants to be a veterinarian when he grows up, just like his mom. He is observant and notices a lot of details. He is great at a lot of things, but Bat is not great at making friends.

When his mom brings home a newborn skunk, Bat immediately connects to the kit and eagerly takes care of it. Soon, he's determined to prove that he's responsible enough to keep it as a pet.
"A nose peeked out--a tiny pink nose--and then two slanted-closed eyes, a forehead covered in downy fuzz, little ears still curled tight against its head.... 'It's a kit,' Bat said, enchanted by the tiny creature, wanting so badly to hold it. 'A baby skunk.'"
Bat struggles at home, especially with his parents divorce. The disruption in his routine when he has to spend the weekend at his dad's is very hard for Bat, especially being away from his new pet. And he struggles making friends at school. Elana Arnold develops his character in a sensitive, thoughtful way--helping readers see the nuances without labels or stereotypes.

A Boy Called Bat would make a terrific read-aloud at home or school. It would lead to some heart-felt conversations about how people react to things differently. An excellent educator's guide is available to download for free. Elizabeth Bartmess, a writer and autistic advocate, reviewed this guide. I especially like the way it helps readers think about Bat's character.
from the educator's guide for A Boy Called Bat
I have already purchased several copies as gifts for friends. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Walden Pond Press / HarperCollins. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, April 3, 2017

Dad and the Dinosaur, by Gennifer Choldenko -- finding courage together (ages 4-8)

I've been thinking about courage lately, what it takes to face our fears and how we can help children when they feel overwhelmed. I've certainly felt completely afraid of both real and imagined things--sometimes so that I could hardly move. I love how Gennifer Choldenko's newest picture book, Dad and the Dinosaur, normalizes this fear, and lets us know that we can move forward.
Dad and the Dinosaur
by Gennifer Choldenko
illustrated by Dan Santat
G.P. Putnam / Penguin, 2017
Amazon / Your local library
ages 4-8
Nicholas is afraid of so many things, but his dad isn't afraid of anything. "Nicholas tried to be brave like his dad, but he needed help ... big help. He needed a dinosaur." This small toy dinosaur travels everywhere with Nicholas, in his pocket, tied to his swimsuit, tucked inside his soccer socks.

Gennifer Choldenko and Dan Santat are a terrific team here, showing Nicholas's courage as the dinosaur helps make him strong. Just look at how the dinosaur helps him score the winning soccer goal when he played against the goalie they called Gorilla:
"But no worries. Nicholas had his dinosaur and his dinosaur was fearless. He kicked the ball so hard it shot past Gorilla's oven-mitt-size hands straight into the net."
Part of me expected the story to take the "tough love" approach when Nicholas loses his dinosaur. As an adult, I know that he really has the courage inside him to survive without his toy. And yet, Choldenko takes a different route--showing how accepting and supportive his dad is.
"'Where are you two going at this hour?'
'It's guy stuff,' his father answered as they walked out the door."
By taking his son to go find his dinosaur, Nicholas's dad sends the message that he believes in him. This acknowledges the child's reality and lets him overcome his fear in his own way. Best of all, it creates a bond between father and son, a trust that will help Nicholas keep finding courage in his own way.

Santat's illustrations seamlessly move between the real and the imaginary, showing the dinosaur as part of both in a very real way. Young readers will love the way the dinosaur looms larger than life, boosting Nicholas's courage. It will be fascinating having kids compare this new book to Santat's Caldecott winning The Adventures of Beekle.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Penguin Random House. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Friday, March 31, 2017

Being Your Best at Soccer & Basketball -- two great nonfiction sports books (ages 8-10)

It's no secret that I don't follow many sports. My favorite outdoor activity is going for long walks--not exactly a team sport! But I do know that many kids love sports and seek out sports books in our libraries, and so I make a special effort to seek these out.

A new series presents the rules & techniques of favorite sports, along with an overview of legendary teams and players. I particularly like the way these books show girls and boys, men and women playing these sports--with a notably diverse range of players.

Being Your Best at Soccer
Being Your Best at Basketball
from the series: True Book Sports
by Nel Yomtov
Children's Press / Scholastic Library, 2017
Amazon / Your local library
ages 8-10
Every day if you look out at our school's playground, you'll see kids playing soccer and basketball. They learn the basics from an early age. Many kids will come to reading this book with a solid background knowledge of the terms, content and structure. This means that tricky vocabulary words are easier to tackle because they know the context.

These books use clear language to explain the basics of soccer and basketball, often illustrating concepts with labeled photos or diagrams. Kids probably know what gear they wear for soccer; reading it helps them become familiar with how nonfiction concepts are developed in writing.
"A player can make a chest pass standing still or moving.
Grip the ball with both hands, elbows tucked, at chest level."
Teachers can use this to model how writers expand upon an idea. This can be very difficult for kids to get used to in their own writing. They can also show how the author organizes ideas into different sections. But really, kids will just enjoy reading these high-interest books.

Look for these books in both paperback and hardcover. They'd be a great addition to home, classroom or school libraries. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Scholastic Library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Martina & Chrissie: The Greatest Rivalry in the History of Sports, by Phil Bildner (ages 6-10)

Do rivals need to be enemies, or can friends compete and support each other? As our political leaders in Washington struggle with their dysfunctional rivalries, I think we must strive to look for other role models of constructive competition.

I love the new informational picture book Martina & Chrissie for its vibrant, exciting look at two sports rivals who pushed each other and were also very good friends.
Martina & Chrissie: The Greatest Rival in the History of Sports
by Phil Bildner
illustrated by Brett Helquist
Candlewick, 2017
Amazon / Your local library
ages 6-10
*best new book*
In one way, you can read this picture book as a typical sports biography that traces Martina & Chrissie's childhoods and rise to fame. On the other hand, you can read it as a persuasive story--where Bildner is challenging you to think about what makes a great (as in best) rivalry, and why these two women deserve top billing.

Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert rocked the tennis world from the mid-1970’s till 1990. Evert was a focused tennis champ who achieved fame as a teenager. On the court, she was determined and fierce. Martina Navratilova grew up in Czechoslovakia and was also a teenage national champion; however, her style of play was very different. Where Chrissie was calm, Martina was super-charged with emotion. While Chrissie won many of their early matches, Martina improved her play and began beating Chrissie.

Bildner creates excitement throughout the story, building tension the way a sports commentator does.
"Martina had this lefty serve that was wicked, wicked. And she loved to rush the net: serve and volley, seve and volley, serve and volley.
Guys, Martina OWNED the net."
Combine this with Helquist's up-close illustrations, and readers are drawn right into the play-by-play excitement of a tennis match.

This book rises above many picture book biographies because the author's message is so clear and persuasive. Martina & Chrissie "weren't the type of women who did what they were supposed to do." They were good friends who practiced together, but they were also intense rivals. By supporting and challenging each other, they made each other better players.

To learn more, check out these reviews and resources:
The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Candlewick. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas -- Powerful reading, important & poignant (ages 13 and up)

Many of the teens I talk with are much more politically aware than I was at their age. They are committed to addressing issues about racial and gender inequalities, about police brutality and racial profiling.

Teens are seeking out novels that grapple with these issues--and we adults need to read and share these novels, engaging with kids on their terms. The Hate U Give, by debut author Angie Thomas, has skyrocketed to the NYTimes bestseller list--and I hope it stays there all year, reaching as many readers as it can. This is a powerful, important book--one that needs to be in every middle and high school library.
The Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas
Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins, 2017
read an excerpt
Amazon / Your local library
ages 13 and up
*best new book*
Sixteen-year-old Starr navigates through two very different worlds: her home in a poor black urban neighborhood, and the suburban, privileged private school she attends. Her life changes dramatically when she witnesses the unprovoked police shooting of her best friend Khalil.

In the midst of coping with her intense personal grief, Starr must also figure out how to react when Khalil's death becomes national news. As violence erupts, Starr and her family are caught in the middle. Throughout this powerful novel, Thomas shows how the personal is political, especially for teenagers becoming explicitly aware of social issues around them.

Thomas writes explicitly about issues of race and class, creating both an authentic teen voice in Starr and exposing the systemic racism that impacts all of us. The police interview Starr, but will her courage and honesty coming forward make a difference? How will she react to the racism of her white friend Hailey, who writes Khalil off as a drug dealer? And yet, Thomas shows throughout that teens can be resilient and support each other.

Like her heroine Starr, Thomas draws inspiration from music and personal experience. Tupac's music and activism resonates throughout, even giving the title from his saying "Thug Life". I love this interview, especially how Thomas wants to show that her characters are like roses that grow in the concrete--how they might grow up in bad situations, but they're still shining.

While some reviews suggest this is for older teens, I firmly believe that The Hate U Give will resonate with many 7th and 8th graders. Kids read the news, they actively participate in social media. They see police killings in the news, whether it's on BuzzFeed or Twitter or the New York Times.
As one young teen told me,
"We are aware of the news. We have a right to know what's happening and shouldn't have these issues sugar-coated." 
Young teens need to have space to process these events, to think about the impact on different communities, to feel their voices heard. Fiction can create this space.

Teens are going to pass this book from kid to kid. But it is also an important book for all adults to read--precisely because it can help us see the world through a teen's eyes. Starr's narration is immediate and intense, dramatic and passionate. Seek this out and then pass it on.

I purchased the review copy for my home library, and will purchase several more copies to give to teens and teachers I know. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Friday, March 24, 2017

MyaGrace Wants to Get Ready, by Jo Meserve Match -- promoting inclusion (ages 4-8)

Berkeley schools educate all students and promote a "full-inclusion" model. Students with all types of abilities are all integrated into our classrooms, and I believe this benefits all of us -- students and teachers. But seeking out picture books that represent the experiences of different students is not easy. We must make special effort to be inclusive in our books as we are with our schools.

I am happy to share a new picture book that shows a slice of life of MyaGrace, a teen with special needs who wants to be included in activities with her friends and classmates. This story exudes joy and will make a terrific addition to home and school libraries.
MyaGrace Wants to Get Ready
A True Story Promoting Inclusion and Self-Determination

by Jo Meserve Match and Vera Lynne Stroup-Rentier
illustrated by Mary Birdsell
Finding My Way Books, 2016
Amazon / Your local library
ages 4-8
MyaGrace is excited to go to her school's big dance with her friend, Emily. She needs to choose a special dress and get ready. The introduction explains that MyaGrace has special needs and abilities, but the text just shows this event from her perspective.

MayGrace tries on different dresses, she practices dancing with her brother, and she gets her nails painted at a nail salon. Right away, young readers will relate to the excitement that MyaGrace feels for this special event.
"I pick out what else I want to wear. This will help me get ready."
MyaGrace has cerebral palsy, autism and intellectual disabilities. As her family writes in the introduction, they help support her in the activities she chooses.
"We chose to write this story because it demonstrates how teenage girls with disabilities want to be included in activities with their friends and classmates, just like every teenager out there. With support that is encouraging and respectful, MyaGrace shows us how she is learning skills needed for her self-determination. She fully participates in plans and goals that she needs to complete in order to be ready for her dance."
I especially like how the story is written from MyaGrace's point of view. The photographs capture her joy and excitement, bringing readers right into her life.

MyaGrace Wants to Get Ready is published by a small, independent press Finding My Way Books which focuses on sharing stories that honor children with special needs. The review copy was borrowed from my local public library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Rock Maiden: A Chinese tale of love and loyalty, by Natasha Yim (ages 4-8)

As a child, I loved imagining that images in clouds, rocks and mountains were connected to the folktales I loved to read. Natasha Yim brings this wonder to her tale, The Rock Maiden, which updates the traditional Chinese legend of Amah Rock in Hong Kong.
The Rock Maiden: A Chinese Tale of Love and Loyalty
by Natasha Yim
illustrated by Pirkko Vainio
Wisdom Tales, 2017
Amazon / Your local library
ages 4-8
When Ling Yee's husband is lost at sea during a terrible storm, she is distraught--yet she cannot let herself believe that he has died. "Maybe he found somewhere to wait out the storm," she thinks to herself as she keeps watch for him. Every morning, she returns to the same spot, with her baby strapped to her back, to look for him.
"Ling Yee asked each exhausted fisherman, 'Have you seen Ching Yin?' But each shook his head."
Legend holds that Tin Hua, the goddess of fishermen, took pity on Ling Yee's sorrow. She turned Ling Yee and her baby into stone, perhaps to reunite with her husband in the afterlife. Amah Rock stands in Hong Kong, high on a mountain overlooking the island and the sea. It looks uncannily like a woman holding a child.
Amah Rock in Hong Kong
In retelling this legend, Natasha Yim creates a happy ending for young readers -- bringing Ching Yin back to his village after surviving the storm. Tin Hua, the goddess, takes pity once again and returns Ling Yee to life. Natasha Yim writes in her author's note,
"As a teenager growing up (in Hong Kong), I was captivated by this story. There is a hotel in Sha Tin with a large outdoor patio and a gorgeous view of the hills, valley below, and the Amah Rock. My family would go there on weekends for lunch or afternoon tea and I'd spend the time watching the Amah Rock and willing her to come back to life. She never did, of course, but her story has always stuck with me."
This story exudes warmth and love, as Ling Yee waits for her husband and then is finally reunited with him. It would be interesting to ask children if they like this new ending, or if they prefer the traditional tale's ending.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Wisdom Tales. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Friday, March 17, 2017

Snow or sunshine in March? A poetic salute to spring, with two picture books (ages 3-8)

As much of the US digs out from powerful snowstorms this week, we've been basking in glorious sunshine in California. March brings both snow and sunshine--hopefully spring will start to emerge across the country. Two picture books perfectly capture this contrast, both with beautiful photography and simple, poetic text.
Best in Snow
by April Pulley Sayre
Beach Lane / Simon & Schuster, 2016
Amazon / Your local library
ages 3-8
While the striking photographs will draw young readers into this book, the poetic language is what really stands out to me. With just a few words on each page, April Pulley Sayre conveys the magic and wonder of a snowy day. Here, each line is on a separate page:
"Snowflakes land on a squirrel's nose.
Snow sails. It settles,
shows shapes, dusts wings." 
This simple, concise language encourages readers to linger, look at the illustrations, and think about the word choice. Just look at the verbs she's choosing: sails, settles, dusts. Here's another sample, with the illustrations:
"Snowfall quickens and thickens. Snow clumps and clings. But then..."
But perhaps you're tired of snow, and really want to see the promise of springtime. Or maybe you're here in California, with our sunshine and flowers. Pair Best in Snow with Shelley Rotner's Hello Spring! to see how both authors use poetic language to capture a moment.
Hello Spring!
by Shelley Rotner
Holiday House, 2017
Amazon / Your local library
ages 3-8
*best new book*
Rotner also pairs photographs with strong poetic descriptions, here showing children and animals outdoors as winter turns to spring. I love the diverse range of kids she includes. She really helps kids see themselves in all of these scenes. This is a great book to read aloud with preschoolers and kindergarteners as you're talking about the transition from winter to spring.
"Snowdrops peek out
from under melting snow.
The sun shines stronger.
The lays get longer.
The earth warms.
Frozen streams thaw.
Tree sap flows.
A chorus of tree frogs sings wake up, wake up!"
The flow of the language makes this a joy to read aloud. Look at all of the science concepts she's conveying. The excellent layout and design focuses emerging reader's attention on key descriptive words. The clean font choice makes this well suited for new readers.

Both of these would make excellent books to share with 2nd-4th graders, especially as a model of strong, descriptive writing. Challenge them to writing with this simple noun-verb pattern, perhaps with just one adjective. See how powerful they can make their writing while keeping it simple.

I want to end with a slice of my life, and share California poppies from my walk today. The sunshine was truly glorious, and the poppies nearly glowed in the late afternoon sun.
California poppies from my walk today
The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Beach Lane / Simon & Schuster and Holiday House. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Sonia Sotomayor: Biographies for young readers on the #Road2Reading (ages 8-10)

Our students like learning about important people in the world, and yet biographies can be challenging for developing readers. I'd like to share three biographies about Sonia Sotomayor that are written for developing readers--especially those in 2nd, 3rd and 4th grades. It is important to encourage our young students to practice reading biographies, understanding the whole story of someone's life.

This post is part of the #Road2Reading Challenge, sponsored by Alyson Beecher (KidLitFrenzy) and Michele Knot (Mrs. Knott's Book Nook). Every Tuesday, these two fabulous educators focus on books for developing readers.
Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows Up in the Bronx
by Jonah Winter
illustrated by Edel Rodriguez
Atheneum / Simon & Schuster, 2009
Amazon / Your local library
ages 6-9
I especially like reading aloud a picture book biography with students, using it to build background knowledge for students, helping them create a sense of the person before they begin reading a longer biography. Winter provides a vibrant, upbeat portrait of Sotomayor in this picture book biography of Sonia Sotomayor.
"Sonia's blossoming began with her mother's love and hard work."
 Edel Rodriguez' warm illustrations draw students in, helping them connect with Sonia as a real person. Winter's energetic writing helps convey Sotomayor's perseverance and hard work.
"By the time she graduated high school, she had won an award for being the very best student in her whole school. What an honor! You can't imagine how proud her mother was. This was her daughter, her Sonia!"
Winter helps readers get a sense of Sotomayor's strength of character, but he does not provide many details about her work as a judge. For a fuller understanding, I would encourage students to read a longer biography.
Who Is Sonia Sotomayor
by Megan Stine
Who Was series
illustrated by Dede Putra and Nancy Harrison
Grosset & Dunlap / Penguin, 2017
Amazon / Your local library
ages 8-10
The "Who Was" series is very popular with my 3rd grade students because they combine clear writing with a longer chapter-book format. I especially like the way Who Is Sonia Sotomayor draws readers in right away with a pivotal moment in her life:
"Sonia Sotomayor was in her office, sitting beside her phone. She was waiting for the most important call of her life. A call from the White House! She would learn whether President Barack Obama wanted her to be a judge on the Supreme Court."
Short sentences make this easy for developing readers to understand. After setting the stage for why Sonia Sotomayor is important, the next three chapters cover Sonia's childhood and education, how she struggled with her family's grief after the death of her father, how books like Nancy Drew inspired her to become a detective. Further chapters look at Sonia's early cases, becoming a US district court judge, and finally becoming a Supreme Court justice.

This series works best for readers who have the stamina to read a chapter book with ten chapters. Even though 2nd graders may be able read each word, they typically don't find these interesting enough to sustain their interest. For younger readers, I'd recommend the National Geographic readers series.
Sonia Sotomayor
National Geographic Reader, Level 3
by Barbara Kramer
National Geographic, 2106
Amazon / Your local library
ages 7-9
This National Geographic reader works well for 2nd and 3rd graders who are ready to absorb a lot of information, but want a shorter book they can read in two or three sittings. Bright color photographs, captions and boxes add to the high interest. Here is the first page:
"In August 2009, Sonia Sotomayor became a Supreme Court justice. It is a special job."
This National Geographic Reader presents the information in a clear manner, using shorter sentences and defining terms for young readers. In describing Sotomayor's first job as a lawyer, Kramer writes:
"Sotomayor's first job as a lawyer was in New York City. She worked in the office of the district attorney (uh-TURN-ee). Police arrest people whom they believe have committed crimes. It was Sotomayor's job to prove in a court of law that those people were guilty."
This National Geographic Reader is 48 pages long, about half of the length of the Who Is book. Every page has a photograph, and several pages also have "Words to Know" boxes or diagrams. I especially like this biography of Sonia Sotomayor.

What are some of your favorite biographies for developing readers? I'd love to hear about them in the comments. Please also check out other posts in the Road2Reading Challenge: KidLitFrenzy and Mrs. Knott's Book Nook.

The review copies came from our school library and the public library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, March 13, 2017

Celebrating Latina Activists during Women's History Month: Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes by Juan Felipe Herrera (ages 8-12)

All month, we are honoring women's achievements in political, scientific and artistic arenas. I am particularly interested in sharing lesser-known stories, helping my students connect to a wide range of role models -- particularly women of color.

Juan Felipe Herrera's Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes introduces young readers to the achievement of 20 inspiring Latinos (men and women), and is a perfect celebration of women who were pioneers in politics, business and the arts. While many of the women are well-known, Herrera includes others whose achievements are less celebrated and yet just as inspiring.
Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes
by Juan Felipe Herrera
illustrated by Raúl Colón
Dial / Penguin, 2014
Amazon / Your local library
preview on Google Books
ages 8-12
"A 'hero,' un héroe, was rarely in my vocabulary growing up as an only child of two tireless and kind California farmworkers," Herrera begins in his introduction. “In a land of immigrants, it is an irony that Latino lives have been largely ignored.”

This collection of twenty short, engaging biographies focuses on the achievements of twenty men and women from a wide range of fields: politics, science, the arts. Above all, readers will be struck by how these individuals persevered, committed to their fields and their success. Here are three women I found particularly inspiring:
Adelina Otero-Warren was a woman's suffragist, educator, and politician--"the first Hispana to run for Congress from New Mexico." She focused her public service on education of children in rural areas, especially bilingual schools.

Helen Rodríguez Trías was a pediatrician, educator and women rights activist. She was the first Latina president of the American Public Health Association, who fought for a more equitable health care system and a more equitable society.

Rita Moreno is a Puerto Rican-American actress, dancer and singer who struggled to find non-stereotypical movie roles, even after winning the Oscar for her portrayal of Maria in West Side Story. Instead of taking stereotypical Latina roles, she chose to focus on stage plays and television--especially children's television.
Juan Felipe Herrera is a poet, performer and activist who is the United States Poet Laureate. Herrera writes for both adults and children, infusing his poetry with his experiences growing up as the son of migrant farmworkers. He brings his immense poetic talents to this biography, yet keeps his focus clear and streamlined.

This collection is perfect for reading aloud at home or in the classroom. The short entries let readers choose the stories that interest them. The audiobook, narrated by Luis Moreno, was also engaging and compelling.

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. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

STEM Trailblazer Bios & International Women's Day: Computer Engineer Ruchi Sanghvi (ages 8-11)

This week across Berkeley, we're celebrating both International Women's Day and College & Career Awareness Week. I'm excited to share the STEM Trailblazer Bios series, an excellent collection of biographies featuring accomplished, young figures in a wide variety of science careers. My students were fascinated today as they listened to the biography of Ruchi Sanghvi, the first female engineer at Facebook.
Computer Engineer: Ruchi Sanghvi
STEM Trailblazer Bios series
by Laura Hamilton Waxman
Lerner, 2015
preview on Google Books
Amazon / Your local library
ages 8-11
Ruchi Sanghvi is an accomplished computer engineer who was one of the early engineers at Facebook, joining it when it was still a small Silicon Valley startup company. This engaging, short biography describes how she decided to move from India to the United States to study computer engineering, taking risks and never letting fear stop her.

We began by watching this short video, giving students a sense of how young and relatable Ruchi is. I especially like how she talks about moving from India to the United States to pursue her education and career.

My students talked about all that Ruchi accomplished: going to college, getting a job at Facebook, and then designing features that helped Facebook reach so many people. They also talked about how brave and determined she must be. In college, she was one of only five women in the engineering department. She left home and traveled far away. She took risks, leaving a steady job to join a start-up company.

This short biography was clearly written for 3rd through 5th graders. Chapter and section headings help young readers keep focused on the main ideas, while a variety of pictures keep their attention and interest. I especially liked the many quotes from Ruchi that help us hear her own thinking and perspective.

Check out these other STEM Trailblazer books, available in both paperback and hardcover:
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. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, March 6, 2017

Little Fox in the Forest, by Stephanie Graegin -- a charming story celebrating a child's imagination (ages 3-8)

Children love playing with stuffed animals -- mine would play "stuffie school" for hours and hours. I adore the new wordless picture book Little Fox in the Forest for the way it honors a child's love for her stuffed animal, bringing magical life to her imaginative world.
Little Fox in the Forest
by Stephanie Graegin
Schwartz & Wade / Random House, 2017
preview on Google Books
Amazon / your local library
ages 3-8
A young girl is drawn into a magical world of animals when she chases the fox that steals her stuffed animal. When a little girl stops to play at a park and leaves her stuffed animal in her backpack, a real fox snatches it away! She chases after the fox, running into the forest with her friend. Artist Stephanie Graegin tells this story in wordless panels, much like a graphic novel.
This story works well with a range of ages precisely because it is wordless; children can tell the story with as much detail as they want. Graegin controls the pacing of the story by varying the size of the panels, using larger panes to let readers soak in details and multiple smaller panes to move the action along briskly. Muted colors in the beginning help the reader seek out the fox hiding in the bushes.
When the fox darts through a doorway in the forest, readers glimpse the brightly colored world on the other side. The two young children follow, entering a magical land of animals. Graegin's animals are adorable, reminding me of the Calico Critter toys my children loved.
This whimsical story will appeal to children steeped in their own imaginative worlds. They will be drawn into the detailed scenes, especially in the enchanted village. The resolution, where the young girl and the fox exchange favorite stuffed animals, brings its own sweet charm to the story.

If you want a little extra fun for your day, I especially enjoyed reading the interview "Little Fox Speaks Out" over at The Children's Book Review. Here's a snippet to tempt you:
The Children’s Book Review: What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Little Fox: Exploring the forest, you never know what you will find!

The Children’s Book Review: I see you have a bag with you. Will you tell us what you keep inside of it?
Little Fox: Crayons, a sketchbook, and my pumpkin seed snacks. Everything I need to go on my journeys.
For those of you with a more serious side, definitely read the in-depth interview Stephanie Graegin had in 2014 with Jules over at Seven Impossible Things.  You'll read all about Stephanie's journey through art school and her path to publication.

Illustration © Stephanie Graegin, shared with permission from the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Schwartz & Wade / Random House. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Nikki Grimes' poetry resonates with Berkeley students (ages 13-18)

Nikki Grimes visited three schools in Berkeley last week, sharing her powerful poetry and celebrating the poets of the Harlem Renaissance. She read from One Last Word, her newest book which combines poems from the Harlem Renaissance with her own original poems.

Her voice was rich and resonate, passionate and purposeful as she spoke with students at Willard Middle School, Longfellow Middle School and Maybeck High School. Nikki connected with them right away, talking about the importance of honoring women's achievements. Just as the movie Hidden Figures shows, historians and the press have often downplayed the significant accomplishments of women.
Students in Berkeley care deeply about social justice issues, and Nikki's poems resonated with them. Grimes tackles difficult issues head-on. She read her poem "Crucible of Champions," in which her character Jamal speaks directly about the violence and brutality that has led to the "Black Lives Matter" campaign:
"The evening news never spares us. Tune in and we
hear: if you're a boy and you're black, you live
with a target on your back. We each take it in and
shiver, one sharp-bladed question hanging overhead: how
long do I get to walk on this earth? The smell of death is too intense,
And so we bury the thought, because the future is
ours, right? We get to choose? Well, we choose life."
Bill Webb, director of the Maybeck High School, remarked how impressed he was by Nikki's "frank, wise bearing." She didn't give easy answers as she responded to students' questions. When aspiring poets asked about how she found inspiration, she told students not to wait for inspiration to strike, but rather to read as much as they could. Look at how other people write, she suggested, and try writing poems in response. As she told students,
"The power you seek is in sight."
It was truly an honor to spend the day with Ms. Grimes. We appreciate the wisdom, the kindness and the time she took to share with us. Thanks also to Bloomsbury Publishing for sponsoring this visit, and to Mrs. Dalloway's Books for arranging it.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books