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A site to help parents learn about great books for their kids ages 4 - 14. I'm the Friday Librarian at Redwood Day School, an independent K-8 school in Oakland, CA.
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1. Creepy short stories: mysteries & thrillers for ages 10-13

I have never liked horror movies. Never. Ever. But I know that scary, frightening stories have a real appeal for many people. So how do I recommend them for my students? It's a challenge -- especially gauging that right balance between spine-tingling-fright and oh-no-way-too-frightening-for-10-year-olds.

Here are four short-story collections I am recommending to students. Please be warned: if they are too scary, stop reading. That's what I've done in many cases.

Cabinet of Curiosities
36 Tales Brief and Sinister
by Stefan Bachmann, Claire Legrand, Katherine Catmull and Emma Trevayne
HarperCollins, 2014
Podcast + Website
Your local library
Amazon
ages 10-13
Four "curators"--Bachmann, Legrand, Catmull and Trevayne--have gathered together ominous tales, organizing them into different themes ranging from tricks to cake, luck to travel. There are ghost stories, monster stories and bizarre stories. Some have direct villains, while others set a creepy tone without letting you exactly see what's menacing the main character.

The curators have a terrific website Enter the Cabinet with many tales, both ones from the cabinet and others freshly added. My current favorite is The Door Downstairs, with a courageous heroine, eerie setting, and psychological themes. For extra creepy fun, check out the podcasts the curators recorded. Katherine Catmull's recording of "Dark Valentine" is enough to haunt my dreams tonight.

Here are some other favorite collections of frightening stories:
Guys Read: Thriller
edited by Jon Scieszka
Walden Pond / Harper Collins, 2011
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
Jon Scieszka's collection has great kid appeal, with contributions from 10 different superb authors. I loved Matt de la Peña's story "Believing in Brooklyn" about a wish-making-machine, with its creepy coincidences and touching ending. What would you wish for if you could have anything you wanted? If you like this, check out all the Guys Reads collections.
On the Day I Died
Stories from the grave
by Candace Fleming
Schwartz & Wade Books, 2012
Your local library
Amazon
ages 11-14
Fleming begins this collection with a version of "The Vanishing Hitchhiker." In her version, the young teen who picks up the hitchhiker is told to take her shoes to the graveyard where she's buried--and he discovers a crowd of ghosts, all wanting to tell him how they died. Fleming sets her story in White Cemetery, an actual graveyard outside Chicago, and each story takes place during a different time period. She deftly weaves in many pieces of historical details, but these never overwhelm the stories.

I found these stories more frightening--certainly too frightening for 4th graders, and probably more suitable for 6th graders. All of the stories center on how a teenager died, and that aspect really got to me. I haven't shared this collection with students yet, so I can't gauge kids' reactions.
Haunted Houses:
Are You Scared Yet?
by Robert San Souci
Henry Holt, 2010
Your local library
Amazon
ages 10-13
The spider story in this collection, "Webs," scared me so much that I couldn't finish reading this collection. As soon as I say that, kids start clamoring for this collection. Here's what I wrote when I originally read this collection:
In one story, a boy’s family is vacationing in a house that is taken over by spiders. Now, these aren’t your typical garden spiders. They are spiders who want revenge for the damages done to their forest and homes. Danny starts to get worried when he finds the rabbit cage filled with spider webs, and then realizes that the bundles in the corner are the dead rabbits encased in spider webs. The story proceeds to even creepier, as Danny discovers more ways the spiders have wrecked damage on previous owners of the house. Needless to say, every time I walk into a spider’s web now, I jump even higher.
The stories in these collections are NOT for everyone, but I know that many of my students clamor for frightening stories. Do you have any favorite short story collections that you hand your 4th, 5th and 6th graders? How do you judge what's too scary?

The review copy of The Cabinet of Curiosities was kindly sent by the publishers, Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins. The review copy of the other collections 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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2. Counting the days 'till Halloween: two books to share (ages 3-8)

Young kids love Halloween, but some find scary costumes and stories too frightening. So I'm always on the lookout for books that are a little bit creepy, but are still playful and fun. Two new favorites have lots of kid appeal and throw in practice with counting that's just right for preschoolers and kindergartners.

Ten Orange Pumpkins
A Counting Book
by Stephen Savage
Dial / Penguin, 2013
Your local library
Amazon
ages 3-6
Ten pumpkins start the night neatly stacked outside a farmer's house, but they disappear one by one as they night progresses. Savage combines bold illustrations with rhythmic rhyming text, giving young readers just enough clues so they can figure out what happens to each pumpkin. I especially love his striking use of silhouettes--they are creepy and dramatic, yet also simple and straightforward.

Look how effectively Savage uses the page turn to hook young readers (see the first two pages below). Children will love counting the pumpkins and figuring out where the missing one went. Here's a great example of a book that has so many details in the illustrations that kids can add many layers to the story beyond the text--use this to talk with kids as you read, with prompts like "So what do you notice?" and "Oh, so what happened here?"
"Ten orange pumpkins,
fresh off the vine.
Tonight will be a spooky night."
"Yikes! There are 9."
from Ten Orange Pumpkins, by Stephen Savage
Another new favorite with our kindergarten teachers is Not Very Scary. They love this cumulative story not only for its counting practice, but also for its message. While we all might get a little bit scared at Halloween, it's really just all our friends having fun.
Not Very Scary
by Carol Brendler
illustrated by Greg Pizzoli
Farrar Straus Giroux / Macmillan, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
Melly, a cute litte monster, is excited to walk over to her cousin Malberta's house for a Halloween party. Sure it's a gloomy night, but Melly isn't scared--even when she sees "a coal-black cat with an itchy-twitchy tail." She tells herself how brave she is, but readers can tell that she's actually getting scared. Turn the page, and Melly sees "two skittish skeletons" dancing along after the cat.
from Not Very Scary, by Carol Brendler & Greg Pizzoli
Young children know just how Melly feels, getting more and more frightened as each ghoulish creature turns up. This makes the final resolution all the more enjoyable, as Melly realizes that they are all just Malberta's friends coming along to the Halloween party.

Brendler uses wonderfully descriptive language, full of alliteration (grimy goblins, spindly spiders) that makes reading it aloud a joy. Pizzoli's illustrations strike just the right balance, emphasizing the silly fun each creature brings, but never making them too scary. I had a great time reading about his illustration process on his blog and over at his interview at Seven Impossible Things.

The review copy of Not Very Scary was kindly sent by the publishers, Macmillan Books. The review copy of Ten Orange Pumpkins 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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3. Scary stories for beginning readers (ages 5-8)

Kids get so excited about Halloween -- and I love tapping into that excitement in the library, especially if I can hook more kids into reading. Writing for beginning readers must be one of the most difficult tasks. Here are two books that are goofy-scary, funny but with enough creepiness to keep young kids reading.

illustrated by Michael Emberly
Little, Brown, 2007
ages 5-8
These stories, part of a favorite series with 1st and 2nd graders, are ideal for reading aloud. Each poem is meant to be read by two voices, alternating back and forth. Hoberman uses the spooky settings creating delightful fun and celebrating joy in reading.

Here's the beginning of "The Mummy" as two kids go exploring and discover a mummy. "Let's explore inside this tomb, / I'm afraid we'll meet our doom." I love the rhythm and rhyme of Hoberman's text, and Emberly's pictures reach just the right balance between goofy and creepy.
sample from Mary Ann Hoberman's website
Hoberman's poems focus on thirteen different Halloween mainstays, ranging from "The Skeleton" to "The Witch and the Broomstick." Seek out all the titles in this terrific series.
Monster School
The Spooky Sleepover
I Can Read! #2
by Dave Keane
Harper Collins, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-8
Norm is a nervous about his first sleepover--it's going to be at school, and it's his first time sleeping away from home. "I miss my bed already," worried Norm. Kids will relate to Norm's worries, but they'll laugh at all the word play in this story.

Norm's friends at school are all monsters, from Gary the ghost to Harry the werewolf who turns hairy. Keane does a great job creating funny interplay between the words and pictures. Below, you can see that Isaac, the purple monster in the blue PJs, is literally crying his eyes out -- and they're bouncing all around him. 2nd graders love this play on words, plus the silly gross-out factor.
sample from iTunes preview
Keane's Monster School series works well for kids who can read longer sentences on their own, but still want short, high-interest stories to keep them engaged.

Are there other monster or ghost stories that work well for your developing readers? Our superhero beginning readers are also in high demand right now, especially with kindergartners and first graders.

The review copy of Monster School was kindly sent by the publishers, HarperCollins Publishers. The review copy of You Read to Me, I'll Read to You 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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4. #WeNeedDiverseBooks -- recommending books from a wide range of perspectives (ages 4-14)

#WeNeedDiverseBooksEarlier this year, several authors banded together to put out the cry: #WeNeedDiverseBooks. What started as a call for action quickly turned viral, drawing the support of librarians, teachers, booksellers and authors nationwide. This past weekend's KidLitCon, with its focus on diversity and speaking out, prompted me to share this presentation below.

Our community in Berkeley is incredibly diverse, and I constantly try to seek out books that represent a wide range of perspectives. I want my students to be able to see themselves in books, and I want them to be able to see into others' worlds.

Although the vast majority of children's books still represent the dominant white perspective, there are many books that share diverse points of view. Our responsibility, as parents and librarians, is to seek out and celebrate books that represent a wide range of perspectives. Below is my start at that -- a celebration of diverse books for children ages 4-14. Most are new, but some are also favorites that librarians in my district have recommended.


Please let me know if there are other new diverse titles we should recommend to kids, and I will update this presentation in a few weeks. I have read many, but not all of the books in this presentation. All come with a recommendation from a fellow book-lover that I respect.

Here are a few more titles that folks have already suggested that I include:



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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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5. Storyline Online: a great resource spreading the joy of reading (ages 3-8)

I love reading stories aloud to children, but as a busy mom I know there are times my kids want to listen to a story when I just have too many other things to do. This even happens in the library! At Emerson, we have loved showing kids how they can listen to stories on the computer through Storyline Online. While this doesn't replace reading stories with our kids, it's a wonderful resource to know about.
Storyline Online
http://www.storylineonline.net/
free website & videos
produced by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation
ages 3-8
Storyline Online is easy for young kids to use -- just click on a book cover, and then click the play button. Our students are really enjoying listening to these stories, and we've been really pleased with the quality. What we love about it:
  • terrific actors that bring warmth, joy and feeling to these stories
  • fantastic selection of stories, both old and new
  • nice balance between the actor reading aloud and views of the picture book illustrations
  • easy to use site -- kids can navigate it by themselves
  • engages children in a rich story experience, but satisfies their yearning for screen time
Here's one of our favorite stories: The Library Lion, by Michelle Knudson, read aloud by Mindy Sterling.

Come check out our redesigned Berkeley Public School Libraries websites. Anyone can access them, making resources easily available from home or school. Storyline Online is just one of the many resources available through our websites. Here's what Emerson Library's website looks like:
Emerson Library website
Let us know what you think of these resources. We'd love to know resources your kids enjoy using at home. I want to say special thanks to colleagues at BUSD DigiTech's team, especially Becca Todd District Library Coordinator, for helping marshal such a terrific collection of digital resources for elementary children.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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6. Mending our hearts: how do we teach kids to be kind to one another, guest post by Julie Sternberg

My heart is feeling very full right now, and I hope you'll join me reading this special guest post. Julie Sternberg recently asked me to help celebrate her new book, Friendship Over: The Top-Secret Diary of Celie Valentine. I said yes right away, since my students love love love Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie. But I decided on a spin -- I wanted to hear a little more from Julie about her thoughts on friendship and how we can help kids be good friends.
Friendship Over
The Top-Secret Diary of Celie Valentine
by Julie Sternberg
illustrated by Johanna Wright
Boyds Mills, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-11
Berkeley elementary schools have just adopted the Toolbox Project social-emotional learning curriculum. As our districts' announcement stated, Toolbox "teaches critical social competencies necessary for academic and life success such as: resiliency, self-management, and responsible decision-making skills." But really, it teaches us how to be good friends, how to create a community together.

I shared the Toolbox Project with Julie and asked her which tools helped her character, Celie. You see, Celie has trouble with her friends -- troubles that I just know my students will relate to. I was very touched by Julie's reply:
Mending our hearts, by Julie Sternberg

I wish I could go back in time and give this toolbox to my fourth-grade teacher to use with our class. She struggled and struggled to help us resolve conflicts and manage our emotions. She didn’t have difficulty because she was inexperienced or untalented—far from it. Our class just somehow tended to bring out the worst in each other.

Our teacher led several discussions on kindness and respect, but they made little difference. Then a boy grabbed a girl in an extremely sensitive, private area. We all found it horrifying. After that, our teacher took an unusual step. She cut the biggest heart I’ve ever seen out of butcher paper. Then she split that heart into two jagged pieces. She taped one on the far left side of one of our classroom walls, and the other on the far right. When she’d finished taping, she told us that the heart of our class had been broken. Only by being very kind to each other could we mend it.

From that time on, at the end of every school day, she’d give an official assessment of our behavior. If we’d been kind to each other, she’d move the pieces of broken heart closer together. If not, she’d inch them farther apart. When the heart was finally whole again, we had a party with lots of candy.
Julie Sternberg
Part of me loves this broken-heart strategy. When my daughters have long and needless fights, I consider cutting an enormous heart in two and taping the pieces far from each other in our apartment. But I know the strategy is flawed. Because I don’t remember how my classmates and I managed to be kind enough to each other to mend our collective heart. I just remember succeeding, and getting candy.

Instead I now see that I should tape up in my apartment the Twelve Tools for Learning, so we can all practice the skills that would help us manage our emotions and prevent conflicts from escalating. I particularly love the “Quiet/Safe Place” tool. I love the idea of saying, in the heat of a senseless battle, “Let’s all three go find a ‘place of rest and peace where we can gather ourselves.’” It seems so much nicer than shouting, “BOTH OF YOU GO TO YOUR ROOMS! NOW!” Which I might have done once or twice, or a hundred times, in the past.
Celie Valentine

It would have been interesting to use the Twelve Tools before I wrote FRIENDSHIP OVER, the first book in the series THE TOP-SECRET DIARY OF CELIE VALENTINE. Celie has all kinds of difficulty managing her emotions, and I would love to have her try the tools. The “Garbage Can Tool” might be my favorite for her: “I let the little things go—Put it in the garbage can and walk on by.” This would NOT be easy for Celie (though it would certainly be helpful). And it would be so much fun to write the scenes in which she tries, and fails at first, and ultimately succeeds.

It’s something I’ll keep pondering. Because there are Celie sequels to come!
I know my students are really going to enjoy reading Celie. She struggles with how to be a friend, how to be true to her own feelings but respectful of others. I wonder if Celie uses drawing and writing in her diary as a way to find a "quiet/safe place" -- somewhere she can go in her mind to sort through her feelings, calm down, and remove herself from conflict.

Please enjoy sharing Friendship Over: The Top-Secret Diary of Celie Valentine with kids who like realistic fiction. As the starred review from Kirkus says, "This satisfying slice-of-life story about the permutations of friendship and family resonates."

About the author:
Julie Sternberg is the author of the best-selling Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie and its sequels, Like Bug Juice on a Burger and Like Carrot Juice on a Cupcake. Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie is a Gryphon Award winner and a Texas Bluebonnet Award finalist; Like Bug Juice on a Burger is a Gryphon Honor Book, a Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Awards Nominee, and an Illinois Monarch Award Finalist. Formerly a public interest lawyer, Julie is a graduate of the New School's MFA program in Creative Writing, with a concentration in writing for children. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York. For more information about her life and work and to download free activity materials based on her books, visit her website: juliesternberg.com.

Check out the other stops on Julie’s blog tour!
Mon, Sept 29: Mother Daughter Book Club
Tues, Sept 30: 5 Minutes for Mom
Wed, Oct 1: Sharpread
Thurs, Oct 2: KidLit Frenzy
Fri, Oct 3: The Hiding Spot
Sat, Oct 4: Booking Mama
Mon, Oct 6: Ms. Yingling Reads
Tues, Oct 7: GreenBeanTeenQueen
Wed, Oct 8: Great Kid Books
Thurs, Oct 9: Teach Mentor Texts
Fri, Oct 10: Unleashing Readers
Sat, Oct 11: Bermuda Onion
Illustrations copyright © 2014 b Johanna Wright, used with permission of the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Boyds Mills Books. 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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7. Ghosts and libraries -- a perfect mix! Interview with Dori Hillestad Butler

Today, I have the great pleasure of chatting with Dori Hillestad Butler, author of the new series The Haunted Library. Read on below, but also check out this great video on Open Road Media. It will give you a sense of the joy that Dori brings to writing for kids.

Kids new to chapter books will have fun with The Haunted Library, with its blend of mystery, humor and kid-powered detective work.

MAS: How did you come up with the idea of a haunted library?

DHB: I just combined two of my favorite things...ghosts and libraries! The idea for the series came while I was writing book 6 in my Buddy Files series. My husband thought I was putting too much emphasis on the ghost in that story and not enough emphasis on the dog. He said, "If you want to write a ghost series, write a ghost series. This one is your dog series. It needs to be more about the dog." He was right. So I streamlined that story a little more and then started on the Haunted Library.

The "Wohleter Mansion" is the house I see in my head when I picture the Haunted Library. This was also a house in my hometown. I LOVED that house as a kid. Not that I was ever inside it. But I used to ride my bike past it all the time just because I liked to look at it. Now it's probably good that I was never inside because I can imagine the inside however I want. I imagine the "library" on the entire first floor. Claire and her family live on the second floor. And the third floor is storage.
The Wohleter Mansion
MAS: That's such a great image -- no wonder it inspired you to write a terrific story! My student Maddy wants to know: “Have you ever been in a haunted library?”

DHB: Not that I know of. But I'd sure like to visit one! Assuming the ghosts are friendly, that is.

MAS: I really enjoy the way you make ghosts friendly. Our teachers want to know: Do you keep a writer's notebook? What do you put in it? They ask their 2nd graders to keep writer's notebooks.
Dori Butler's writer's notebooks

DHB: I do! Several of them, actually. One is really just a journal where I make to-do lists and keep track of progress made on various projects. I also record writing related events/phone calls as they happen. The others are notebooks for each of my projects. I brainstorm ideas in those notebooks.

MAS: Are there any other images that inspired you as you wrote the series?

DHB: Definitely! The "Fairmont School" is the school I saw in my head when I wrote about the "old schoolhouse" where Kaz lived with his ghost family. Except I remember the school looking a lot more rundown! That was the first elementary school in the town I grew up in. But it's clearly been restored, which I think is really cool!
Fairmont School
This is library in my hometown. I worked there all through high school. I loved that job! I loved it so much that I didn't want to go home after the library closed. I used to stay in the library after closing, by myself, and write stories. Until I got caught! You can read more about that here on my agent's blog: http://acrowesnest.blogspot.com/2014/09/why-haunted-library.html (MAS: It's a wonderful post!)
Dori's hometown library -- her refuge as a young writer
I've always loved libraries. And I've always loved writing in libraries. Much of the first three Haunted Library books were written in the Coralville Public Library (see the CPL picture) in Coralville, Iowa. I don't live in Iowa anymore...now I live in the Seattle area. But I went back to Coralville to launch this series...at the library! It was the best place to launch this particular series!

MAS: What are some other mysteries you like to recommend for 2nd and 3rd graders?

DHB: Well...my Buddy Files series is also aimed at 2nd and 3rd graders. It's about a school therapy dog who solves mysteries and the books are told from the dog's point of view. There's also David Adler's Cam Jansen series...Encyclopedia Brown...and the Boxcar Children.

MAS: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat, Dori. It really means a lot to my students to think of real authors work hard at writing stories, just like they do.

DHB: Thank you, Mary Ann! One of the most important things to me is inspiring kids to read.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Penguin Books for Young Readers. 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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8. The Haunted Library, by Dori Hillestad Butler -- new series for beginning readers (ages 6-9)

New readers love finding series that make them laugh and bring them back for more adventures. These chapter books fill an important step in children's reading development. I was excited to hear that author of one of my favorite series, The Buddy Files, has just written a new series: The Haunted Library. I think our 1st and 2nd graders are going love this silly mix of humor, ghosts and mystery.
The Haunted Library
by Dori Hillestad Butler
illustrated by Aurore Damant
Grosset & Dunlap/ Penguin, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 6-9
When the Outside wind blows Kaz away from his home and separates him from his ghost family, it's a scary thing. Kaz finds a new home and discovers a human girl who can see him. It's unsettling at first, but Claire is friendly and reassures Kaz that she can see lots of ghosts. In fact, she has a ghost notebook where she keeps track of all her ghostly sightings!

Kids will have fun learning the ins and outs of Butler's ghost world, but they definitely won't be scared. Damant's cartoonish illustrations emphasize the humor involved, and the friendliness of each character.
Kaz and Claire, from The Haunted Library
Kaz and Claire set out to solve the mystery of the library ghost -- trying to figure out who's turning off the lights and scaring the library patrons. Kaz wonders if it's his lost brother, and Claire wonders if her grandmother knows more than she's letting on.

I especially love the interplay between the simple sentences and the illustrations in this chapter book. As you can see below when Kaz and Claire are chasing another ghost through the library, the illustrations show the action to guide readers in a crucial moment. The words add enough description for readers to add more to their "mental movies", especially helping them understand the characters' emotions.
Enjoy sharing this new series, either as a read aloud with 1st graders who are eager to read more chapter books with you, or with 2nd graders ready to try chapter books on their own.

For more fun, check out the rest of The Haunted Library Blog Tour. Tomorrow, I'll be interviewing Dori Hillestad Butler with some questions my students wanted to know. Come back to see her notebooks, her own haunts and more pictures!

If you're looking for other series I love sharing with 2nd graders, check out these other suggestions:
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Grosset & Dunlap, an imprint of Penguin Books for Young Readers. 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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9. Spark, by Kallie George: bringing smiles & patience to beginning readers (ages 5-8)

Our second graders loved today's read-aloud: Spark, by Kallie George. And I adored their comments, connections and questions. If you're looking for a book to bring smiles and patience to a young reader, definitely look for this charming story.
Spark
by Kallie George
illustrated by Geneviève Côté
Simply Read Books, 2013
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-8
Spark wants to be able to breath fire like a big dragon, but he can't control his flame. His mama asks him to practice roasting marshmallows and he's just sure he can do it. Just look how cute he is:
"I can do it!" said Spark.
But every time he tries, "WHOOOOSH" out comes a huge flame.  He can’t control his fiery breath. Even practicing doesn’t help. I just love how his parents kept their cool (get it?!) and told him that he was still young. When he was older, he'd be able to control his flame.
"Whoosh! Out came a big flame."
We connected this to our reading. Sometimes I tell kids they aren't ready for a book yet. Maybe when they're in fourth grade, it will be just right for them. They know how hard it is to wait. And they knew how much it meant to Spark that he was patient and tried again.
Spark's birthday party
The culminating moment several months later, after Spark, when Spark lights his birthday candles is so full of joy that it brings a smile to everyone's face.  Here are some of our students' comments:
  • “It’s a really good book because it’s funny. I like the way Spark blows FIRE.”
  • “At the last part, how is he going to blow out the candle?”
  • “I like the way the ending lets us imagine what’s going to happen next.”
  • “I like how Spark kept trying. He was patient, and was able to blow them out in the end.”
We are excited to Skype with Kallie George soon. Our students want to know how she gets inspired, whether she keeps a writer's notebook, how she deals with getting frustrated when she's writing.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Candlewick Books, but I've already purchased three more copies to share with teachers and families. 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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10. Leroy Ninker Saddles Up, by Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen (ages 5-9)

Our first and second graders are crazy about Mercy Watson, the adorable, butter-loving pig from Kate DiCamillo's series of early chapter books. And they're going to love, love, love Leroy Ninker Saddles Up, the first in DiCamillo's companion series Tales from Deckawoo Drive. Sequels and spinoffs are no sure thing; but DiCamillo had me smiling and laughing all the way through this new adventure.
Leroy Ninker Saddles Up
by Kate DiCamillo
illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
Candlewick, 2014
Google Books preview
Your local library
Amazonages 5-9
*best new book*
Leroy may be a small man, but he has big dreams of being a cowboy--a real cowboy like he sees in the movies. But--as his coworker at the drive-in movie theater tells him--every cowboy needs a horse. He's got to "take fate in (his) hands and wrestle it to the ground." And with this inspiration, Leroy sets out to find himself a horse and a loyal friend.
When Leroy finds Maybelline, we wonder if she's the right horse for him. We can certainly see in Van Dusen's drawings that she doesn't look like an ideal horse. And yet, Leroy understands exactly what she wants: plenty of compliments, lots of food and loyal companionship. That isn't too much for anyone to ask, is it?

Leroy and Maybelline's mishaps, from a tiny apartment balcony to a rain-sodden chase scene, will bring lots of laughter from listeners and readers alike. But it's Leroy's devotion and Maybelline's happiness that will stick with readers. Just look at him bounding over this fence as he races to find her:
Leroy Ninker Saddles Up is a longer chapter book than the Mercy Watson series. It will make a great read-aloud to first graders who are reading Mercy Watson on their own. Second and third graders who loved Mercy last year will get a hoot reading Leroy Ninker now. There's definitely more text, fewer illustrations and more challenging words.

If you want to explore, read some of Leroy Ninker Saddles Up in the Google Books preview:


The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Candlewick Books, but I've already purchased three more copies to share with teachers and families. 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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11. Celebrating the wonderful RAIN in California: Rain, by Linda Ashman & Christian Robinson (ages 4-8)

I woke up to the sound of soft rain this morning and savored the small moment. It made me think of a lovely book that all our Berkeley school libraries have: Rain, by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Christian Robinson. I absolutely adore this book, especially for the way both author and illustrator notice small moments.
Rain
by Linda Ashman
illustrated by Christian Robinson
Houghton Mifflin, 2013
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
Rain tells the story of two very different people’s reaction to a rainy day. The illustrations are full of details that kids notice and can talk about. A happy little boy and a grumpy old man wake up to a rainy morning, and each immediately react to the prospect of putting on their rain gear. The old man says, “Nasty galoshes. Blasted overcoat.” The little guy, on the other hand, tells his mom, “It’s raining frogs and pollywogs!”
interior from Rain, by Linda Ashman & Christian Robinson
They each go their own way until they meet in a cafe. Kids will love noticing what happens when the little boy offers his cookie to the old man. Will the grumpy old man refuse, or will the young boy’s enthusiasm win the day?

I loved talking with students about how the author noticed small moment details in the dialog and how the artist noticed small moment details in his illustrations. Students are talking about "small moments" as they craft their own stories, as a way to flesh out details in creative writing. Our 2nd graders noticed so many details, from the emotions of other customers in the cafe, to the interactions between the boy and the shop keeper.
Christian Robinson at Emerson, May 2014
The illustrator Christian Robinson visited all Berkeley elementary schools last year, thanks to a grant from the Berkeley Public Schools Fund, and so many students will be able to remember the story and meeting the artist. He is absolutely delightful.

For a bit of fun, check out his website: theartoffun.com and notice how small moments can be captured in words as well as pictures. This image (from Robinson’s Fall 2014 Publisher’s Weekly cover) is not from the book, but it is a small moment that has me smiling this morning.

Christian Robinson at Emerson School, May 2014
The review copy comes 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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12. Libraries champion our freedom! Helping our students understand their freedom to read (ages 8-12)

Freedom is an essential element of democracy, and the freedom to read is a cornerstone of American democracy. And yet how do we help our children understand the importance of this fundamental right? Abstract declarations are pretty hard for kids to grasp, but they will get immediately involved if they start considering a concrete example that relates to them.

When I explained today that many schools ban Captain Underpants because it uses offensive language, our 5th graders were outraged! They told me that was just awful, and that kids should definitely be able to read Captain Underpants. They were incredulous that Harry Potter had been banned in schools and libraries. Pretty quickly, they could see why it is so important to stand up for our freedom to read what we want.

Libraries across the US champion our freedom each and every day. This week, we band together to defend that freedom and celebrate Banned Books Week. If you want more information, I'd highly recommend looking at these resources:
Our overall right is important to me, but I care most about how books impact individual kids. We need a wide range of books in our libraries because we need to connect so many different kids with books that make a difference to each and every one of them.

Tim Federle talks about how librarians are fierce champions of the First Amendment. Better Nate than Ever, one of my favorite novels of the last few years, tells the story of a kid who loves, loves, loves Broadway shows and takes a daring overnight trip to New York to audition for a Broadway musical. Tim won both a Stonewall Honor Award (portraying GLBT experience) and the Odyssey Honor Award (audiobook) for Nate. Tonight, Tim posted on Twitter this letter he's received from a fan:
Here's a section from the letter:
"It was so amazing to read books where the main character was like me when I was that age. His borderline-obsession with musical theater and his difficulty accepting his feelings was so relatable and to see such a character be front and center in a book easily available to kids is something I'm just so grateful for. It was the first time I'd ever seen myself in book pages, and I just wanted to say thank you very much."
As we celebrate Banned Books Week, I just want to pause for a moment to think about what this young man said. Not only was he able to relate to this story, but it was readily available for kids. That's the thing -- we need to provide these opportunities for our students to discover themselves in our shelves, with books that are available and easy to find.

Take a moment to share with your kids why this is important to you. Make the idea of our freedom to read palpable and concrete for your kids. And next time you see your librarian, tell them that she or he is your favorite superhero: CHAMPION OF FREEDOM.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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13. Tech access in our libraries: making an impact on a limited budget -- #ALSC14

As a school librarian, I love helping kids and teachers discover the opportunities that technology offers for learning, creating and engaging with the world. Whether it's through the power of creating a multimedia presentation about a book they've loved, or the fun of competing with friends while kids play math games online, technology offers our children opportunities to learn in new ways.

Many schools are offering "one-to-one" programs where each child has their own personal computing device, whether it's a laptop, iPad or Chromebook. But in California, we operate on a very limited budget. So my question has been: how can I make an impact as a school librarian by looking for smaller funding opportunities? How can I increase access to technology in smaller, incremental ways?
With this in mind, I am presenting at this year's ALSC Institute a session called "Tech Access on a Budget". This conference is for children's librarians across the United States, through a division of the American Library Association called ALSC: Association for Library Services to Children. I wanted to share our presentation here.

I am presenting with three other dynamic, smart, passionate women and have learned so much creating this presentation. Talk about the power of technology -- we had never met in person before we showed up 30 minutes before our presentation! All of our connections had been through email, Google video chats and conference calls.
Cen Campbell is the founder of LittleeLit.com, "a crowd-sourced, grass-roots professional learning network that works to develop promising practices for the incorporation of new media into library collections, services and programs for families with young children." This is a terrific resource for librarians. I first reached out to Cen because of her work with young children in a public library setting, and I wanted to combine our school and public library perspectives. Cen was a member of ALSC's Children and Technology Committee and I'm a member of AASL's Best Apps Committee.

Suzanne Flint is a child development expert who works for the California State Library, helping administer the federal grants provided by the Library Services and Technology Act. She has provided an invaluable perspective both as a funder and as a child development expert. Suzanne and Cen have worked together developing the initiative: Early Learning with Families 2.0.

Claudia Haines is a children's librarian at Homer Public Library in Homer, Alaska, in rural south-central Alaska. Integrating interactive digital media into offerings like storytime is part of Claudia’s efforts to inspire kids to use a variety of tools to create and explore at the library. Definitely check out Claudia's blog, Never Shushed.
We had our first presentation yesterday and are presenting again today. We know that many librarians cannot travel to the ALSC Institute -- please share this with librarians you think would be interested. And I know we would all be happy to answer any questions you have about our experiences increasing children's access to technology in developmentally appropriate ways.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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14. Andrea Davis Pinkney to visit Berkeley students: Friday, September 19th

One of my great joys is connecting students with authors who inspire them. The moment I first read Andrea Davis Pinkney's Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America, her voice filled me with hope and song. I knew I wanted to share that same voice with students in Berkeley. And so I'm thrilled that she will be visiting this week, speaking at an elementary school, a middle school, and with families at a fireside chat.

A lot of work goes into arranging an author visit like this, but most important is getting the students excited about meeting her. I want to give students a sense of the author's work and what she's like as a person before they meet her. We're sharing this presentation throughout Berkeley schools:


I especially like sharing resources from TeachingBooks.net with my students -- listening to how authors pronounce their name, hearing their voice, and watching videos. My students really liked the variety of images I was able to share -- from pictures of Andrea with her family to illustrations from her books.

It's a busy week here in Berkeley, as we get ready to host several author visits -- Andrea Davis Pinkney, Rita Williams Garcia and Jacqueline Briggs Martin. They're all in town for the ALSC Institute. We feel incredibly lucky to be able to connect these inspiring authors with our students.

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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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15. In the Rainforest, by Kate Duke (Let's Read and Find Out Science, stage 2) (ages 5-9)

Many kids love learning about different regions of the world. In fact, one of the real highlights of the perennially popular Magic Treehouse series is that Jack and Annie can visit so many places just by wishing. So I'm thrilled that there's a new volume in the terrific series Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science.

In the Rainforest
Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science, stage 2
by Kate Duke
HarperCollins, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-9
Have you ever wanted to visit the tropical rainforest? Well, be sure to bring along your bug repellent, waterproof backpack and notebook. Duke draws kids right into her informative book by having a two kids join a guide as they explore a tropical rainforest. Speech bubbles keep the tone fun and casual, while the main text is more traditional informative nonfiction.
"Ready for a tour of a tropical rainforest? Come on--the trip starts here."
Readers learn about what a tropical rainforest is like, both in terms of its ecology as well as the animals and plants that live there. Throughout, Duke helps readers compare tropical rainforests to forests in temperate climates. For example, as you can see in the spread above, she illustrates that a tropical rainforest will typically get ten times as much rainfall as a temperate climate.

This book works well both as a read-aloud and as a book for young students to browse through themselves. The pictures, captions and dialog boxes are all very informative and easier to read because of their conversational tone. For example, in the picture below the young girl says, "Hey, my sneakers are still dry. I thought a rainforest would be like a swamp."
"The thick layer of leaves up above keeps a lot of the rain from getting down here, except during the rainiest months."
I wholeheartedly agree with the Kirkus review of In the Rainforest:
"Duke’s friendly cartoons effectively communicate the immense variety of plant and animal life found in rain forests and feature cutaway views and close-ups in several spreads."
My first and second graders at Emerson are going to love this book. Last year, we had a group of 2nd graders who formed a book club to learn all about rainforests together. They loved reading Afternoon on the Amazon (Magic Treehouse book #6) so much that they wanted to learn more about the Amazon rain forest. The teacher encouraged nonfiction book clubs so students could build their knowledge of different topics in a small group. It was a great success.

If you like this, I'd highly recommend another favorite nonfiction picture book: No Monkeys, No Chocolate, by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young. This book also uses colorful artwork with a cartoonish feel and a blend of conversational dialog and informational text. The authors take readers on a journey from cocoa pod, following the life cycle of the tree back to stems, roots and beans. Throughout, they weave in the concept of the interdependence of plants and animals.
The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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16. 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne's Book of Precepts, by R.J. Palacio (ages 8-13)

"Maybe it was exactly what I needed to hear at that particular moment in my life..."
-- Mr. Browne, in 365 Days of Wonder
Last week was exhausting, both at home and at school. So I welcomed a quiet, quiet weekend to recharge. I found myself paging through a book I bought for a teacher friend of mine, R.J. Palacio's new book 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne's Book of Precepts. It was indeed, just what I needed at that moment. I could turn the pages, finding nuggets that stayed with me, settled in my heart and sent ripples out into my tired soul. I know my students and my teachers will love turning to this again and again.
365 Days of Wonder:
Mr. Browne's Book of Precepts
by R.J. Palacio
Knopf / Random House, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
preview on Google Books
ages 8-13
Wonder is a book that swept through my school, passed from child to child, in 2012. Palacio tells the story of a young boy starting middle school, after being homeschooled for six years. Auggie has severe facial deformities, and we read about his journey from several points of view -- connecting not only with his character, but thinking about how we would act if we were sitting next to him in class.
"This is a book that is truly reaching kids, speaking to them, making them think - think about friendship, about bullies and about what it means to be kind." (read full review here)
In this new book, we hear directly from Auggie's teacher, Mr. Browne. Throughout Wonder, Mr. Browne shared precepts, or "words to live by," as he explains to his students. At the beginning of each month, he would share a new precept and students would write a reflection about the precept at the end of the month.
precept from 365 Days of Wonder
In this collection, Mr. Browne shares 365 precepts -- gatherings of quotes by philosophers, song writers, politicians, fictional characters, and students across the nation.
precept from 365 Days of Wonder
contributed by Cole, from Regina, Sask. Candada
Ms. Palacio has heard from hundreds of students about #thewonderofwonder and the impact her novel has had on them. In a wonderful move, she asked her fans to send her their own precepts, written in their own handwriting. And so intermingling quotes from Aristotle and Goethe are sayings and drawings submitted by real kids.
precepts from 365 Days of Wonder
contributed by John, from West Windsor, NY
And so I want to begin the week carrying this special book in my heart. I want to remember the power of a smile to connect me to other people. I want to choose kindness, even in the smallest moments. And I want to see my students each as individuals with a host of stories inside each one of them. But I also want to talk about these ideas with my students -- to be explicit.
e-card from choosekind.tumblr.com
This book was just what I needed to recharge. Thank you, Ms. Palacio, for keeping Mr. Browne's ideas alive in your heart and sharing them with the world.

I purchased the review copy at my local, wonderful bookstore: Mrs. Dalloway's. 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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17. You Are (Not) Small, by Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant (ages 4-8)

"Who's grown over the summer?" I asked my 2nd grade class today -- and 20 hands shot high into the air. They ARE bigger, and yet... they're still little kids, right? So are they big, or are they little? And what's that all really mean, anyway? Anna Kang's new picture book, You Are (Not) Small, helped us talk about this -- and then extrapolate to what it meant about other things in our lives.

You Are (Not) Small
by Anna Kang
illustrated by Christopher Weyant
Two Lions, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
A small purple creature walks up to a larger orange fuzzy one and the orange creature promptly declares, "You are small." Well, I wonder how that makes the little guy feel? He turns around and says, "I am not small. You are big."

It's not me -- it's you who's different. They each bring out a host of friends to show how they're like everyone else -- and it's the other guy who's different.
My students could easily relate to the argument that quickly escalated into a shouting match. When a giant stomped into the middle of the scene, forcing everyone to reevaluate who exactly was big and small, I could just see my students' perspective shifting.

I loved talking with 2nd graders about how they could relate to being big AND small at the same time. As 2nd graders, they are now the big kids out at recess with the kindergartners and 1st graders. They know how everything at school works. But if they walk upstairs, right away they feel small again peeking into the 5th graders' classroom.

Even better was the way I could encourage them to apply this to other areas, seeing how they might feel good about themselves doing one thing, but not so good doing something else. Duncan said he felt "big" when he played baseball, but not so big when he had to be catcher. We even applied that to ourselves as readers, and what it meant to choose a book that was "just right" for ourselves -- not worrying about other kids in the class.

Tonight, I shared with the teachers this excerpt from an interview with the author, Anna Kang:
Where do your ideas come from?

My childhood, observing my daughters and what they experience, characters I want to see come to life, a particular feeling or problem.
Christoper Weyant and Anna Kang
Where specifically did “You Are (Not) Small” come from?

I’ve been playing a version of the dialogue in the book in my head since I was a child. I’m considered “small” or “petite” here in the U.S. (I’m Korean American), and among other things, it’s extremely challenging to find clothes that fit. When I was nine years old, I spent the summer in Korea, and I remember shopping with my Aunt and discovering racks and racks of clothes that were exactly my size in every store we entered, as if the clothes were custom-made specifically for me. The clothes weren’t in a special “petite” section or in a younger, more “junior” section. They were just clothes. Regular, everyday clothes for a nine-year old girl. For the first time in my life, my size—in addition to my skin color, hair and eye color—was “normal” and unremarkable. I suddenly looked like everyone else in the world, including the people on TV, in movies, advertisements, and in books. As a child, this was an overwhelming experience. It made me feel incredibly safe and empowered, and it boosted my confidence and grounded me when I returned home at the end of the summer. I was not “other” or “different.” I was just “me.”

I eventually learned that how you saw yourself and others depended on your personal experience and your community, that perspective is subjective and not necessarily the entire truth.

So, years later, when I sat down to write a story for a children’s book, this idea naturally popped out.

source: Cracking the Cover
I look forward to talking with kids specifically about Anna's experience -- I think many will relate.

What a terrific way to begin the year -- recognizing that we all have strengths and weaknesses, that we are all growing and have changed over the summer, but we're all growing at our own pace.

Many thanks to friend Alyson Beecher for recommending this at her site Kid Lit Frenzy -- check out her interview with Anna and Christopher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Two Lions. 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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18. Percy Jackson's Greek Gods, by Rick Riordan -- pure read-aloud fun (ages 9-14)

This week we began reading aloud Percy Jackson's Greek Gods with our 10-year-old. It is so much fun, I just have to share it -- even though we're barely a fraction into it. While I usually only share here books I've read in their entirety, I wanted to capture some of the laugh-out-loud moments we've been having. I also want to encourage you to keep reading aloud with your kids, even when they're reading proficiently on their own. That time together is pure gold -- treasure it and store up as much as you can.

Percy Jackson's Greek Gods
by Rick Riordan
illustrated by John Rocco
Disney Hyperion, 2014
Google Books preview
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9 - 14
Right from the introduction, it's clear that this is no ordinary retelling of the classic Greek myths. Percy is on top form, combining good natured humor and sarcastic wit:
"I hope I'm getting extra credit for this," Percy Jackson starts. "A publisher in New York asked me to write down what I know about the Greek gods, and I was like, 'Can we do this anonymously? Because I don't need the Olympians mad at me again.'"
While we haven't read the rest of the Percy Jackson novels together, my daughter knows plenty about them from her friends. She's curious about the Greek gods, but it's really Percy's voice that captured her attention.

Percy starts from the very beginning of time, with Chaos ("a gloomy, soupy mist with all the matter in the cosmos just drifting around"), Gaea the Earth Mother, and Ouranos the sky. Riordan packs a huge amount of detail into his tales, and we are finding it hard to keep track of all the names. So far, we've watched Kronos overthrow his father Ouranos, with the help of his four brothers Koios, Iapetus, Krios and Hyperion. And now Kronos is terrified that his father's curse will come true, and he will be destroyed by his own children. But the main characters are familiar to me, so I can help keep us on track.
"Without a word, (Ouranos) wrapped them in chains and tossed them into Tartarus like bags of recycling."

Want to have a taste of Percy's irreverent tone? Just read this chapter that begins the section on the Olympians and you'll see why this book has my 10 year old giggling each night:
"Why is Zeus always first?
Seriously, every book about the Greek gods has to start with this guy. Are we doing reverse alphabetical order? I know he's the king of Olympus and all--but trust me, this dude's ego does not need to get any bigger.
You know what? Forget him.
We're going to talk about the gods in the order they were born, women first. Take a backseat Zeus. We're starting with Hestia."
I just love the way Riordan infuses his retellings with plenty of modern attitudes. "Maybe you'll feel better about your own relatives, knowing that the first family in creation was also the first dysfunctional family." But he also doesn't skimp on the details, foreign names and intricate family trees. That's why this is working so terrifically as a read-aloud.

John Rocco's illustrations are magnificent. As Kirkus Reviews states, they "smoke and writhe on the page as if hit by lightning." Head over to John's blog to read more about his artwork and see sketches of some of the interior art as he is developing it.

An index, list of illustrations and suggestions for further reading are included in the back matter. My one complaint at this point is I wish there was a family tree and/or list of all the characters with a pronunciation guide. In the meantime, I think I will print out either this basic family tree from Encyclopedia Mythica.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Disney Hyperion Books. 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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19. The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia, by Candace Fleming (ages 12+)

Like many of my students, I love getting lost in a story--so absorbed that I am transported to that time and place, that I live with the characters in my mind. I just finished reading to a new biography of the Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and his family, the last of the mighty Romanov monarchy, and I couldn't put it down. I highly recommend the audiobook and think many teens and their families will find it fascinating.

The Family Romanov:
Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia
by Candace Fleming
narrated by Kimberly Farr, et al.
Penguin Random House, 2014
Listening Library, 2014
Preview on Google Books
Your local library
Amazon / Audible
ages 12 and up
* best new book *
Candace Fleming pulls the reader into the story of the fall of Imperial Russia by providing both an intimate look at the royal family and a careful understanding of the political and social context of their time. It's interesting to read a story when you know the ending, but I found myself on the edge of my seat at several points, wondering just how it would turn out.

Tsar Nicholas II ruled over the immense Russian Empire, which stretched from the edge of Germany and the Baltic Sea all of the way across Europe and northern Asia to the Sea of Japan. He wed his beloved Princess Alix of Hesse in 1894, just weeks after he ascended to the throne.

But the world around them began crumbling under the weight of tremendous social inequalities and poverty, exacerbated by Nicholas's own ineffective political leadership. Fleming helps readers understand this context by using a myriad of primary sources: diaries, letters, first-hand accounts of life in Russia at the turn of the century. Fleming decided, according to an interview in Kirkus Reviews, to keep “any context as close to the story as possible.” These contemporary accounts help readers understand both the day to day lives of the Romanov family and also the discontent and anger that ran through Russia at the time.

Kimberly Farr imbues the audiobook with heart and soul, helping listeners connect with the family members and envision their world. She subtly changes her voice so listeners know when she's reading an actual letter or diary, bringing the myriad characters to life. I also really liked the way the producers used different narrators, often with Russian accents, to read diary excerpts from other individuals. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award for July 2014.

Show teens this video from History.com to get them interested in the mystery surrounding the Romanov's deaths. It's likely they know Anastasia from the animated film, but I'm guessing they don't realize its historical basis.

You might also have interested kids listen to Fleming talk on TeachingBooks.net about her inspiration for writing the book, which stems back to when she was a young teen and discovered a book on her mother's bookshelf. She then reads aloud a chapter from the book, to give readers a sense of her voice.

Other reviews:
The review copy comes from our home library, purchased from the terrific Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena. 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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20. Emily's Blue Period, by Cathleen Daly (ages 4-9)

Are there ever times that you feel the world around you is getting just too mixed up? Whether it's countries at war or friends not speaking with one another, there are times that the world seems turned upside down. Emily's Blue Period, a favorite new picture book, captures one child's reaction to such a moment and how art helped her find her way through.

Emily's Blue Period
by Cathleen Daly
illustrations by Lisa Brown
Roaring Brook / Macmillan, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-9
*best new book*
Emily loves art and particularly the artwork of Pablo Picasso. She's fascinated by the way he used shapes to compose his paintings in unusual ways: "He liked to mix things up." Emily wants to create art using all sorts of things as well, but lately she's been feeling as if her life is just too jumbled.
Emily's Blue Period, Cathleen Daly & Lisa Brown, 2014
Emily's parents have recently separated and her "dad is no longer where he belongs. Suddenly, he lives in his own little cube." Emily uses her art to express her feelings, connecting to Picasso and his blue period.
Emily's Blue Period, Cathleen Daly & Lisa Brown, 2014
I love the way Emily wrestles with her emotions, recognizing she is sad and frustrated. When her teacher asks her to make a collage of her her home, she is flummoxed--she has two homes now. Which should she show? Cathleen Daly reveals Emily's journey, letting us quietly watch her rather than telling us everything she's thinking. Lisa Brown's soothing illustrations help readers connect to Emily and visualize a sense of Picasso's blue period. Brown uses grey-blues throughout, creating a subdued tone that is never dark.

I won't give away the ending, but Daly's conclusion and Brown's final illustration are sure to bring smiles. I feel like I've found a kindred spirit in Daly. Here are just a few of the things she wrote on a recent Nerdy Book Club post:
  • As a child, "I enjoyed the company of a book as much as the company of most people, and reading as much as I did I developed a rich inner world that allowed me to be, for the most part, with or without a book, happy in my own company. This active, dense inner world also fueled a font creative endeavors."
  • "I read somewhere that Ray Bradbury said that writers should read, read, read as much as possible – this feeds the imagination to the point of bursting, that it’s likely to come spilling out on the page this way. This was certainly was true for me a child. I spent hours hanging out in the local library reading and writing."
  • "My main hope for the book is that it give solace and inspiration to young readers who may or may not be going through difficulties of their own."
Yep, a kindred spirit indeed. Share this book with children you know who are contemplative, or who are wrestling with their own blue period.

By the way, San Francisco Bay Area teachers and librarians -- both Daly and Brown live in our area. I especially love some of the material Brown shared in a recent interview over at Seven Impossible Things about her school visits. Definitely check it out!

Images used by permission of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group. The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Macmillan Books. 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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21. Back to School Fun: Silly and Sweet (ages 3-6)

Summer is ending and soon kids will head back to school. Some are excited for new adventures, but many will be sad to see summer over. Help your kids talk about the changes that are coming with two new books that take a silly and sweet look at the new school year. These are both perfect for little kids starting preschool or kindergarten.

Greenwillow / HarperCollins, 2014
ages 4-6
Lola is one cute little kitty, ready to pounce, play and explore. When she finds pink glasses, a stylish outfit and a backpack, she decides to join the rest of the kids on the school bus. "Hooray! Lola is going to school!" Lola has fun doing all sorts of activities at school -- writing, reading, painting, singing, and more. "Lola loved it all!" The story might be slight (dare I say fluffy like a kitty?), but it will help bring smiles to any little kid who's anxious about what happens at school. Lola's positive attitude is sure to rub off on them.
Monsters Love School
by Mike Austin
HarperCollins, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 3-6
Mike Austin's monsters bring even more silliness to the scene, while still helping kids who are feeling nervous about starting a new school year. Summer fun is ending and all the little monster head to school. Most are excited to see their friends-- “Oh Yeah! Monster School!!” But one little blue monster is worried: “School?! Gulp.”
Blue is sure that he already knows his “ABGs and 413s and XYDs,” so why does he need to go to school? Sure enough, once Blue gets to school he starts having fun. Just look at how great art class can be:
Austin’s playful monsters are sure to bring laughs, with their bright colors and googly eyes. Check out what Kirkus Reviews had to say about Monsters Love School:
"Austin has masterfully folded some valuable information about the first day of school into his funny tale, but the monsters are the big draw. Not the least bit scary, their simple shapes and accessories and scrawled style will likely have kids reaching for their own 'monster pencils, monster crayons, monster ink and brushes.'"
Looking for more Back to School book ideas? Check out this article in School Library Journal: Backpacks, Lunch Boxes, and Giggles Galore: Back-to-School Adventures, by Joy Fleishhacker.

The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher, 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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22. Back to school: easing your kindergarten worries (ages 4-7)

Are you getting nervous about the beginning of the school year? Will your child be able to make the transition to a new school, new teacher, new friends? There's nothing like the nervous excitement of the first day of school. Some kids are raring to go, while others are tentatively clinging to their parents. Whatever the case, try out these two new favorites to add some humor as you read about the first day of school.

Planet Kindergarten
by Sue Ganz-Schmitt
illustrated by Shane Prigmore
Chronicle, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-7
“The countdown started. Dad and I checked the plans for my next big mission… I am ready to explore: Planet Kindergarten!”
Planet Kindergarten, click to enlarge
Starting school is certainly exciting, but it can also be nerve-wracking. One imaginative little kid knows it might be just like blasting off into outer space. There are strange routines, new crewmembers, and you might even get a bit homesick.

Bold colors and a retro-style amp up the humor in this fun twist on getting used to a new school. You can definitely tell that Shane Prigmore has an animator's background -- check out his blog to see some of the fun inspiration he used in developing the artwork for this.
Planet Kindergarten, click to enlarge
I just love the way Ganz-Schmitt captures the joyful chaos of kindergarten. Share this with any kindergarten teacher, and she/he will love the line, "Gravity works differently here. We have to try hard to stay in our seats. And our hands go up a lot."
Mom, It's My First Day of Kindergarten!
by Hyewon Yum
Farrar Straus Giroux / Macmillan, 2012
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-7
In a delightful turning of the tables, a five-year old boy can’t wait to start kindergarten and his mom is anxious about his going to a new school.
“Will you be okay in the big kids’ school? You’re still so little,” she frets.
“Mom, don’t worry. I’ll be fine, I am already five!” he declares as he dashes off to school. 
The boy is full of confidence -- I just love the way that Hyewon Yum shows this visually, with the kindergartner big and bold, and his mom small and blue. Until he peeks inside the classroom door ... and the roles reverse again.

Enjoy this video to get a sense of this delightful story and artwork:


I hope your little ones come home declaring, "Kindergarten is awesome!!!" The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher, Chronicle Books and 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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23. A Place Where Sunflowers Grow, by Amy Lee-Tai and Felicia Hoshino (ages 5-10)

It is crucial we find age-appropriate ways to share about the terrible persecution of Japanese Americans during World War II in the United States. And yet, how do you introduce this topic to children, especially kids in elementary school? A Place Where Sunflowers Grow is a wonderful picture book by Amy Lee Tai, whose grandmother was sent to the Topaz internment camp during the war.


A Place Where Sunflowers Grow
by Amy Lee-Tai
illustrated by Felicia Hoshino
Japanese translation by Marc Akio Lee
Children’s Book Press, 2006
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-10
Drawing upon her grandmother's story of internment at Topaz during World War II, Amy Lei-Tai finds a small piece of sunshine in young Mari’s story. Like thousands of other innocent American citizens, Mari and her family have been forced to leave their home simply because of their Japanese heritage. Mari loves art, but it's so difficult to find anything to draw in a place so hot and desolate.

“Flowers don’t grow easily in the desert,” laments young Mari during her first week at Topaz.
“It will take time, patience, and care,” her mother replies.
Eventually, with the encouragement of her family and her teacher Mrs. Hanamoto, Mari finds comfort in her weekly art class as she paints pictures that remind her of home.

I was really struck by how Lee-Tai’s delicate story brings this difficult time to a young audience. The story is written in both English and Japanese, and the lovely audiobook is also produced with both languages narrated a page at a time.

Pair this picture book with novels for middle grade students, giving them a way into the story. Picture books can introduce the setting and historical time, providing a visual grounding for students. Here are a few other books on the experiences of Japanese Americans during World War II that I recommend for elementary students:
The review came from our 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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24. Online Resources: exploring Japanese Americans' experiences during World War II (ages 8 and up)

As a school librarian, I want to find many ways to engage young children in exploring the world around them. Sometimes that comes from sharing a picture book or novel, and other times it might be helping them explore online resources. Recently I have been very moved by historical fiction about the experience of Japanese Americans during World War II, as they were forced from their homes following Executive Order 9066. Today I would like to share some online resources to help children learn more about these experiences.


The Remembrance Project is an initiative developed by the Japanese American National Museum which I highly recommend. As its website states, the Remembrance Project is
"a pioneering effort to build a permanent “living museum” online featuring the stories of those whose lives were forever changed by the signing of Executive Order 9066 by President Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, which instigated indignities and injustices for over 285,000 people of Japanese ancestry residing in the U.S. and abroad."
This introductory video featuring George Takei sets the stage for learning about the way Japanese Americans were treated here in America during World War II and the mission of the Remembrance Project. A short video like this helps children start building visual images to use in their understanding of historical events.


The Remembrance Project starts with a short introduction to Executive Order 9066, but students will be most interested in exploring pictures, memories and descriptions of the prison camps and people who lived through this ordeal. For example, I really wanted to learn about Minidoka Camp in Idaho, because Kirby Larson set part of her novel Dash in that camp. Tomorrow I will share more about this moving novel, but I want to start off by sharing these resources.
Students preparing to plant rye between classroom barrack buildings. Minidoka, ID. National Archives and Records Administration via the Remembrance Project
I especially like how easy it is to browse through the Remembrance Project, discovering information, photographs and primary source materials. This site will bring home for children how this is living history for many families, whether grandparents or great-grandparents had to go through this terrible experience.

For even more resource, check out the National Park Service website about the Japanese American Experience. This includes links to three National Park Service website as well as six other sites that children and families will find interesting.


I am very excited to share Dash by Kirby Larson with my students next week. I can't wait until Tuesday, August 26th, when it is released! Come back to my site on Tuesday for a full review (and giveaways!). In the meantime, here is the publisher's summary:
Although Mitsi Kashino and her family are swept up in the wave of anti-Japanese sentiment following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Mitsi never expects to lose her home--or her beloved dog, Dash. But, as World War II rages and people of Japanese descent are forced into incarceration camps, Mitsi is separated from Dash, her classmates, and life as she knows it. The camp is a crowded and unfamiliar place, whose dusty floors, seemingly endless lines, and barbed wire fences begin to unravel the strong Kashino family ties. With the help of a friendly neighbor back home, Mitsi remains connected to Dash in spite of the hard times, holding on to the hope that the war will end soon and life will return to normal. Though they've lost their home, will the Kashino family also lose their sense of family? And will Mitsi and Dash ever be reunited?
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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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25. Dash, by Kirby Larson -- heartfelt story about World War II from a kid's point of view (ages 9-12)

Even as a child, I loved the way historical fiction whisked me away to live in another time and place. These novels helped me understand what it might have been like to live through difficult times in history. But they also gave me strength and courage to face my own difficulties. In Dash, by Kirby Larson, Mitsi Kashino and her family are forced to leave their home during World War II simply because they are Japanese American.

Dash
by Kirby Larson
Scholastic, 2014
Google Books preview
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
*best new book*
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor has meant that everything has changed for Mitsi. Her best friends are avoiding her, she's getting mean notes in her desk at school, and everyone is looking at her strangely. At least she has her sweet dog Dash to keep her company. When Mitsi's best friends don't even send her Valentine's Day cards,
"Loneliness wrapped around her like a snake. She never, ever dreamed that her friends would desert her like this. How was she going to make it through the rest of the year? The rest of her life?"
Young readers will be able to empathize with Mitsi, especially with the way she finds comfort in art and in her dog. When her family receives the order to move to Camp Harmony and leave Dash behind, Mitsi is devastated. Larson builds the story carefully, first helping readers connect to Mitsi and then showing them how she felt torn from everything she knew. The story is infused with heart and feeling, but it never gets bogged down. I loved the period details, from the game "Hinky Pinky" or the slang Mitsi and her friends use ("I'm busted flat. Can't help.").

Through all of the loneliness and hardship, Mitsi holds onto her dream of being reunited with Dash. She receives letters from Dash, who is staying with a kind friend Mrs. Bowker, and finds solace in being able to write him back. As the Kirkus starred review states,
"Larson makes this terrible event in American history personal with the story of one girl and her beloved pet...This emotionally satisfying and thought-provoking book will have readers pulling for Mitsi and Dash."
For an in-depth review, head over to Librarian's Quest and her post: "Not Ever Again". I so agree with Margie when she writes, "Our hearts are bound to Mitsi as she struggles to understand, as she develops skills to adjust and survive and writes letters to Dash (Mrs. Bowker) and receives messages in return."  I'm certainly looking forward to sharing this with students and seeing how they relate to Mitsi. If you liked this, you'll also certainly like Duke, also by Kirby Larson. Check out what our students had to say about Duke in last year's Mock Newbery discussions.

The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher, Scholastic Books. 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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