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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. Owl Diaries by Rebecca Elliott: short chapter book with big appeal (ages 6-8)

Young children who are just ready to move beyond "beginning readers" need short chapter books with big appeal. These readers, often in 2nd grade, are still developing their reading stamina. Our students are loving Owl Diaries, a new series with big kid appeal.

Eva's Treetop Festival
Eva Sees a Ghost
Owl Diaries series
by Rebecca Elliott
Scholastic, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
read an excerpt
ages 6-8
When Eva gets a diary, she is sooo excited. She is so happy to tell all about her life at school, her best friend Lucy. Eva is a cheerful little owl, who acts and talks just like a bubbly little 7 year old girl. Eva begins by introducing herself, and this helps young readers build a sense of her world. Every page has drawings and only one or two short paragraphs.
"Hello Diary, My name is Eva Wingdale."
Eva is always full of ideas and enthusiastically pursues them. In the first book, she decides that her school should have a spring festival and undertakes planning it all by herself. In the second story, she's sure that she sees a ghost but is frustrated when no one will believe her. In both stories, Eva works to build her friendships and figure things out in a satisfying way.
"My very BEST friend in the whole owliverse is Lucy Beakman."
Rebecca Elliot's charming artwork is definitely the highlight. Eva and her friends have big, expressive eyes. The colors remind me of just the sorts of clothes that so many kids pick on their own. The text is simple to read, a bit on the overly cute side, but appropriate for the audience. 

The perfect audience for this short chapter book are kids who have moved beyond Henry and Mudge, but are not quite ready for the Magic Treehouse or the Rainbow Fairy books.

Illustrations ©2015 Rebecca Elliott. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Scholastic. 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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2. Leo: A Ghost Story, by Mac Barnett & Christian Robinson -- a story of friendship and acceptance (ages 3-7)

Even though children are surrounded by other kids at school, they often don't feel seen or acknowledged. Mac Barnett and Christian Robinson tap into this feeling in their delightful story about Leo, a little ghost who makes a friend.

Leo: A Ghost Story
by Mac Barnett
illustrated by Christian Robinson
Chronicle, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 3-7
*best new book*
Leo has a hard time making friends because he’s a ghost. No one can see him. But we can. He’s pretty satisfied spending time by himself, but he is happy when a family moves into his house. It's good to have company. But the family doesn't see things the same way.

Kids will know just what it's like not to be wanted, and they will empathize with Leo as he leaves home. The cool blues of Robinson's illustrations match the soft, subdued mood. One afternoon, "Leo found himself roaming along a sidewalk covered in drawings." Jane looked right up at Leo and asked if he'd like to play. At first, Leo is stunned that she's talking right to him.
"Leo, do you want to play Knights of the Round Table?"
Leo is delighted by her imaginary play as she knights him in their game, but he's nervous that she will be scared when she finds out he’s a ghost. I love how accepting Jane is, how open she is not only to Leo but also to her own imagination. Jane is kind, direct and self-assured--definitely one of my favorite characters this year.

I won't give away the ending, but be rest assured that it will bring a smile to your face and let kids know that they can find a friend who likes them just the way they are.

Enjoy this book trailer. Just like the book, the kids' voices shine through.

Check out these other reviews & interviews:


Illustrations ©2015 Christian Robinson. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Chronicle 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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3. ABC School's For Me!, by Susan B. Katz: delightful celebration of school (ages 3-6)

As your little ones come home from their first few days of school, do they talk much about it? Or do you have to poke and prod to find out about their school day? In either case, Susan Katz's newest picture book is a delightful way to celebrate and talk about the school day for preschoolers and kindergartners.

ABC School's For Me!by Susan B. Katzillustrated by Lynn Munsinger
Scholastic, 2015
Your local libraryAmazonages 3-6
With delightful rhyming couplets, Katz celebrates playful school activities from a typical preschool or kindergarten day. She uses the alphabet to guide the story, starting each line with a different letter which is highlighted in bold block print. But the real delight comes from the adorable bears parading through their day.
"Books that are just right for me.
Crayons for coloring, in my hand,
Dump trucks, playing in the sand.”
Children will love looking at the pictures, noticing the details in each scene. Munsinger not only captures the bears' expressions but also their busy activity throughout the day. Katz moves easily from dump trucks to jumping rope, building letter block towers, playing with paper puppets and waiting in line. Her rhymes have grace and rhythm that are lovely to read aloud and never overwhelm the pictures. The best description of this book came from my 11 year old:
"It's a first-day-of-school stress reliever."
I couldn't have said it better myself. Enjoy and delight in seeing what your little one talks about or notices. Want more back-to-school books? This week I've reviewed these new favorites:

Illustrations ©2015 Lynn Munsinger; used with permission from the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Scholastic. 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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4. Daddy's Back-to-School Shopping Adventure, by Alan Lawrence Sitomer (ages 4-7)

I have to be honest: I feel torn about back-to-school shopping. I love getting my kids organized, but I hate the pleading for useless knick-knacks or trendy decorations. But one thing's for sure: it's all part of getting ready for school. Alan Lawrence Sitomer, California's Teacher of the Year in 2007, celebrates this tradition with a silly, heart-warming story: Daddy's Back-to-School Shopping Adventure.

Daddy's Back-to-School Shopping Adventure
by Alan Lawrence Sitomer
illustrated by Abby Carter
Disney Hyperion, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-7
It's time for back-to-school shopping, and siblings Jenny and Jake know that the number-one rule is "We only buy what's on the list." But that doesn't mean shopping can't be a little fun. This family knows how to be goofy. The illustrations are giggle-inducing, full of exaggerated movement and lots of details for kids to enjoy.
"Look at us," Jenny called out.
When Daddy finds a lunchbox that's just like the one he had when he was a boy, he just has to have it. In a humorous role reversal, now it's the kids' turn to say, "Uh daddy... Is it on the list?" I loved how the dad then turned to a softie, trying to negotiate and wheedle his way to get his coveted lunchbox. Sitomer balances the humor with a heartwarming ending.

Want more back-to-school books? This week I'm reviewing these new favorites:
Illustrations ©2015 Abby Carter; used with permission from the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Disney Hyperion. 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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5. Maple & Willow Apart, by Lori Nichols -- back-to-school transitions for two sisters (ages 2-6)

Back-to-school stories usually focus on what it's like to start school, but what happens to sibling's relationships when kids head off to the classroom? Lori Nichols' newest book provides a tender and charming look at how two sisters cope with the transitions when one of them heads off to school.

Maple & Willow Apart
by Lori Nichols
Nancy Paulsen Books / Penguin, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 2-6
*best new book*
Maple and Willow have loved playing together all summer, but when it's time for big sister Maple to start school the transition is especially hard for Willow. "Home wasn't the same without Maple." And when she came home, Maple couldn't stop talking about her new friends. I adore how Nichols shows Willow's perspective, how she tells about her new friend Pip -- an acorn-topped sprite she finds under a tree -- how she explores and finds things to do when Maple is away.
"I had fun too," said Willow. "I played with Pip."
I especially love how Nichols uses her delightful illustrations to develop the story, keeping the language spare. Each picture focuses on the children and their world, but there's enough space to let the reader imagine themselves as being there too.
"And we have loud horns!"
Nichols develops the relationship between Maple and Willow in perfect balance, moving back and forth from each sister's perspective, helping children empathize with both sister. You can see just how excited Maple is to start school, but also how much she misses her sister. And the ending still has me smiling, as the sisters come up with just the right solution.
The next morning, Willow had a surprise for Maple.
"Maple, Pip wants to go to school with you today."
Want more back-to-school books? This week I'm reviewing these new favorites:
Illustrations ©2015 Lori Nichols; used with permission from the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Nancy Paulsen Books / Penguin. 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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6. The First Day of School: a beginning reader in the Robin Hill School series (ages 4-7)

Transitions are not easy, especially going back to school. This beginning reader captures these transitions in a very relatable way. I was especially looking for a book with a character of color, and love how Gordon creates this diverse classroom.

The First Day of School
Robin Hill School early readers series
by Margaret McNamara
illustrated by Mike Gordon
Aladdin / Simon & Schuster, 2005
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-7
Michael is excited for the first day of first grade. But what's he going to do when he realizes that his puppy Cookie can't join him? He's spent all summer playing with Cookie -- they're best friends. When his teacher says that she'd love for Cookie to come, but that she would belong to everyone in the class. Michael realizes that if Cookie stays at home, he'll be there waiting just for him when he gets home.As the Booklist review states,
"Kids starting school will recognize the truth about how big the change will be--how hard it is to let go of old routines as well as the joy of returning home to a loving welcome."
This beginning reader works well, both as a read aloud for kids entering kindergarten and as a level 1 beginning reader for children who can read simple sentences with short words. I was especially looking for a back-to-school book featuring a character of color, and the illustrations are perfect--both funny and full of feeling.

Want more back-to-school books? This week I'm reviewing these new favorites:
The review copy came from our 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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7. Monkey Not Ready for Kindergarten: easing transitions (ages 3-6)

Are you getting nervous about the beginning of the school year? Who gets more nervous, kids or parents?? 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.

This week, I'll share five of my favorite back-to-school picture books, starting with Monkey Not Ready for Kindergarten by Marc Brown, creator of the Arthur books and TV show.
Monkey Not Ready for Kindergarten
by Marc Brown
Alfred A. Knopf / Random House, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 3-6
As the start of kindergarten gets closer and closer, Monkey's worries grow. "What if his teacher doesn't like him? What if he gets on the wrong bus?...What if he doesn't make new friends?" His parents try to help ease his worry, and kids will relate to the back-to-school rituals: getting a lunchbox, playing school at home, having a playdate to meet new friends.
"It's almost time for kindergarten!"
"What if his teacher doesn't like him?
What if he gets on the wrong bus?"
Marc Brown's illustrations are both funny and reassuring. The handwritten text adds a colorful, child-friendly feel to the story. This is a lovely story to read to ease back-to-school worries. My favorite page? The night before kindergarten, when Monkey helps get everything ready: making his lunch, putting his favorite book all about bugs inside his backpack so he has "something to remind him of home."

Enjoy this book either before the first day, or a few weeks into school, and talk about how your own family is coping with the transition of going back to school. And hope that Monkey comes back for more!

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Alfred A. Knopf/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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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8. Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories, by R.J. Palacio: creating conversations about empathy, kindness & trust (ages 9-13)

What do other kids think of me?
Am I the only one going through this?
I'm sure that no one can understand how I'm feeling.
While any of us might have these thoughts once in a while, they are particularly intense for tweens -- kids ages 9 to 13 who are no longer little kids, but not quite teenagers. I've noticed that kids this age often turn to realistic fiction, perhaps reading to see how others cope with all the changing friendship dynamics that are happening around them.

Fans of Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, are often touched precisely because they can see inside these social dynamics and get to know a kid who must struggle with these questions. I was eager to read Palacio's companion novel, Auggie and Me, knowing how well she had helped us see inside different characters before. I'm definitely looking forward to sharing these stories with students--they will lead to some thoughtful conversations about empathy, kindness and understanding one another.
Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories
by R.J. Palacio
Knopf / Random House, 2015
audiobook by Brilliance Audio, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-13
In Auggie & Me, Palacio delves into three secondary characters from Wonder: Julian, Christopher and Charlotte. This is definitely NOT a sequel--the action takes place before and during the same time as Wonder. It does not tell the story of what happens to Auggie after Wonder finishes. But it is a companion novel (or rather three short books) best read after Wonder, "an expansion of Auggie's world," as Palacio writes in her introduction.

The three characters at the center of these short books were all impacted by Auggie, but these are their stories. We get to understand Julian, how his nightmares affected the way he reacted to Auggie, how his mother kept making excuses for him as opposed to helping him take responsibility for his actions. Palacio doesn't justify or defend Julian's actions, but she helps readers see inside him. And she lets Julian, who was so awful to Auggie in Wonder, go through his own transformation.

Charlotte's story, in Shingaling, shone the most brightly for me, perhaps because her insecurities resonated with me, or perhaps because her friendship struggles were separate from Auggie's and so more fully developed as a standalone story. But most likely, it's because of the way that Charlotte learns to overcome her worries, her social anxieties and her own inner-judgments to become friends with two girls she didn't know at all before 5th grade started.

Families and teachers will enjoy reading Auggie and Me aloud precisely for the way it leads to conversations, just like Wonder did. There are times that reading Julian's voice may be difficult, with his casual cruelty and naive declaration that he didn't mean to hurt anyone. And Charlotte sounds a lot like an insecure kid at times. But these voice rang true to me, and they let readers see inside other kids.

In the end, Auggie and Me helps create empathy, leads to conversations about kindness and trust, makes way for small steps toward accepting others for who they are.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Alfred A. Knopf/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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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9. Choosing a great chapter book to read aloud (ages 8-12)

As we start looking forward to the beginning of a new school year, I am craving routine in our lives. I love settling down with a read-aloud, either as a teacher or a family. It brings a sense of calm, but sharing a story together also creates a wonderful moment in itself. School Library Journal recently asked a group of librarians what they look for in choosing a read-aloud. I wanted to share my answer and some terrific ideas from friends:

"During this time, I pay special attention to stories that cultivate kindness and community, as well as courage and tenacity. These are qualities and topics that we’ll be talking about throughout the year.

This fall, I’m excited to recommend three new favorites: Katherine Applegate’s Crenshaw; Gennifer Choldenko’s Chasing Secrets; and Rita Williams-Garcia’s Gone Crazy in Alabama. Conversations about these novels will center on friendship, family, and community." -- Mary Ann Scheuer
Read-aloud favorites for Fall 2015 
What do you look for in read-aloud favorites? Here are some recommendations from other friends:

"Mitali Perkins’s Tiger Boy is an engrossing tale about a young Bengali boy who undertakes incredible risks to save a tiger cub... Vivid action and suspense, conveyed in simple, clear language, make this a captivating choice." I love this choice from Lalitha Nataraj, at the Escondido Public Library, CA. Tiger Boy makes a great read-aloud (see my full review), and if you have the opportunity -- definitely invite Mitali Perkins to come speak with your students. She's wonderful!

"I look for stories with descriptive language, suspense, and a conflict that will make listeners think when selecting chapter book read alouds. Chris Grabenstein’s Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library makes an excellent choice, offering a perfect blend of mystery, adventure, puzzles, and literary references." My students have loved Grabenstein's mysteries, and I definitely agree with this recommendation from Cathy Potter, the librarian at Falmouth Elementary School, ME.

Daryl Grabarek, editor of SLJ's Curriculum Connections newsletter, suggests one of my favorite chapter books, Toys Go Out, by Emily Jenkins and Paul O. Zelinsky: "Jenkins imbues her characters (stuffed animals and a ball) with enormous personality, and their trials and triumphs ring true to this audience, who are thrilled to hear more of their adventures in Toy Dance Party. And now there’s newly released picture book Toys Meet Snow." Families at our school have loved reading this series aloud at home, and it works particularly well for a kids across a range of ages.

Finally, friend Allison Tran of the Mission Viejo Library, recommends A Whole New Ballgame, by Phil Bildner, "a feel-good story about friendship, basketball, and the surprising things that happen when an inventive teacher shakes up the fifth-grade curriculum. Readers will instantly warm to the likable and refreshingly diverse cast of characters. The realistic dialog makes this a pleasure to read aloud." I haven't had a chance to read this yet, but I am definitely looking forward to trying it soon. I love how Allison described the book’s message of teamwork.

Definitely check out the whole article in School Library Journal. Thanks again to Daryl Grabareck for a great column in SLJ. 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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10. Chasing Secrets, by Gennifer Choldenko (ages 9-12): exciting historical fiction that explores many current issues

News broke last week that a California child was infected by the plague after visiting Yosemite National Park.  Naturally, this caused alarms among families visiting the mountains--what causes this? how common is it? will my family be infected? Today we know that this serious illness is transmitted by rodents (see this info sheet)--but what about 100 years ago?

Gennifer Choldenko's newest historical fiction, an exciting story set in San Francisco during 1900, explores many important issues we are still debating today: the spread of infectious diseases, opportunities that women have to pursue careers in sciences, and discrimination against California's Asian American community. On one hand, Chasing Secrets reads like exciting historical fiction, but on the other hand it provides an opportunity to talk about issues our society is still wrestling with today.
Chasing Secrets
by Gennifer Choldenko
Wendy Lamb / Random House, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
*best new book*
Turn-of-the-century San Francisco comes to life for young readers as 13-year-old Lizzie Kennedy accompanies her father on medical house calls and wrestles with the realization that a strange new diseases is affecting many people, yet the authorities are reluctant to acknowledge its presence. Lizzie is a terrific character--thoughtful but headstrong, eager to explore but a bit naive, and determined to do the right thing.

Lizzie forms a friendship with Noah, the son of Jing, her family’s beloved cook, who is hiding in Jing's room in Lizzie's house. As she gets to know Noah, she grapples with the injustices that exist with gender, class and race. Young readers today will not only find Lizzie a compelling character, they too will reflect on these issues that affected San Francisco at the turn-of-the-century and impact us still today.

I particularly like the way my friend and excellent reviewer Brenda Kahn sums up her thoughts on Chasing Secrets:
"The San Francisco setting is particularly vivid, especially the juxtaposition of high society life and the poverty of Chinatown. Characters are well-drawn as well, with Lizzie being particularly appealing. There's humor, heightening suspense, and tragedy. While this is a work of historical fiction, thoughtful readers will make modern day connections to persistent problems of race, class, sexism and access to health care."
Bay Area author Gennifer Choldenko, who won the Newbery Honor for Al Capone Does My Shirts, creates a tender and gripping story of friendship, mystery and persistence.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Wendy Lamb/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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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11. The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain, by Peter Sís -- setting personal stories in the context of history (ages 9-16)

How do you help children understand family stories in the context of history? Our lives are impacted by the social and political climates in which we live--and these impact the stories we tell our children about our own family's lives. Peter Sís wrestles with these questions in his memoir The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain, telling the story of growing up in Communist Czechoslovakia during the Cold War.

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain
by Peter Sís
Frances Foster/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007
Sibert Award for Nonfiction, 2008
Caldecott Honor, 2008
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-16
Sís begins with a short introduction, giving context to the historical events. And then he starts his memoir by saying how he loved to draw for as long as he can remember. Throughout, he tells parallel stories of childhood and the political circumstances in Czechoslovakia. At home, he was able to draw whatever he wanted, but as soon as he started school, he was influenced by the state controlled propaganda.
"The Communists take control of the school. Russian-language classes--COMPULSORY.
Joining the Young Pioneers, the Communist youth movement--COMPULSORY."
"After drawing whatever he wanted to at home, he drew what he was told to at school."
Sís conveys the historical context while giving his personal experience at the same time. The short chunks of text with small panel illustrations helps make the information more accessible and immediate. I find that kids like reading this more than one time, as they notice different details each time.

After the liberation of Prague Spring in 1968, the Soviets imposed strict controls once again. But Czechs found ways to push back and share ideas.
"Phones are bugged again, mail opened, people watched... Banned books are secretly translated, copied, and circulated as samizdat."
Sís struggled to keep his artistic identity and independence. He describes both in his journal entries how he was pressured to join the party. And yet, as he wrote, "he had to draw. Sharing the dreams gave him hope." The journal entries (a sample is below) help give even more immediacy and details to how the political climate impacted his life.
"To get a permit to have a studio in my own house, I have to prove that I am an artist in good 'social standing,' that is, a member of the Community Party."
My family and I recently visited the Czech Republic, meeting with several members of the university who have developed a program to honor my great-uncle, George Placzek (a long article about his scientific legacy is in the Cern Courier, the International Journal of High Energy Physics). I was fascinated to hear about how the Communist era impacted their lives, much as it had for Peter Sís. They faced limitations on their professional careers, and even brought a samizdat to show me.

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain provides a fascinating way to combine visual storytelling, memoir and political history. I am grateful to Peter Sís, not only for persevering to follow his art, but also for telling this story. I know, from my own family history, the pressure to move forward and put difficult times behind you--and the Czech Republic is blossoming once again. But this history, both personal and political, is important to share with our children. Kirkus Review sums it up:
"A masterpiece for readers young and old."
Illustrations ©2007 Peter Sís; used with permission from the publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux / Macmillan. The review copy comes from our personal 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books


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12. The Journey that Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey, by Louise Borden (ages 9-14)

I have often wondered how to share the enormity of World War II with my children and students -- how to help them start to understand the enormity of the war, its complexities, and also its impact on individual people. My own family fled from German occupation of Czechoslovakia and Austria, and many who didn't leave were caught and killed.

I feel strongly that children should learn about the upheaval that World War II caused, but how do we do this in a way that they can absorb? As parents and teachers we need to consider children's developmental stages as we introduce the terrifying and tragic aspects of war.

In The Journey that Saved Curious George, Louise Borden shares the true story of how Margret and H.A. Rey escaped Paris two days before the Nazis invaded. It is one of the best introductions I have ever read with children to this tumultuous time period in European history.

The Journey that Saved Curious George
The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey
by Louise Borden
illustrated by Allan Drummond
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005
Google Books preview
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-14
Borden writes in her introduction that she had heard for many years about Margret and H.A. Rey's escape from Paris on bicycles in June 1940, just as the Germans were occupying France, but that no one could share many details.
"The story felt incomplete. I wanted to know more. I wanted real images. I was curious, just like the Reys' famous little monkey, George." 
And so Borden embarked on her own journey, a journey of research reading the Reys' papers, notebooks and diaries, speaking to the Reys' friends and colleagues, and traveling to many of the places where the Reys lived between 1936 and 1940.
map showing the Reys' journey in 1940, escaping Paris by bicycle and train
Margret and H.A. Rey were both born in Hamburg, Germany in 1906 and 1898, respectively, to middle class Jewish families. Borden helps young readers understand the context of their lives, by combining clear text, photographs and illustrations. Readers immediately get a sense of Margret and Hans as young people, but also the times and places they lived.

The Reys returned to Europe for their honeymoon in 1936 and ended up living in Paris for four years. During this time, they began writing and publishing children's picture books. As the Nazis began invading European countries, the Reys became concerned. When the Germans invaded Holland, Belgium and then northern France, it became clear that the Reys needed to make plans to flee--and quickly.


I especially love how Borden shows actual visas, passports and pages from Hans' diary to help readers see how she found the information to piece together for their story. This helps create a palpable sense of being there alongside the Reys, especially as they frantically tried to prepare for their departure.

Alan Drummond's illustrations also convey the chaos, but the line drawings give more life and energy and the soft colors keep the mood from becoming too somber. The illustration below show how Margret and Hans eventually were able to flee Paris on bicycles--two days before Paris fell to the German invasion.
Through this story, children are able to get an appreciation for both the chaos that war brought to ordinary people throughout Europe, as well as the frightening experience of one couple. As Louise Borden writes,
"Everywhere there was confusion and noise: grinding gears of overheated cars and the frightening drone of German scout planes. Constant and relentless were the honking to speed up the crawling procession of the largest motorized evacuation in history.

More than five million people were on the roads of France that day. Among this sea of humanity were two small figures: Margret and H.A. Rey."
This is an excellent nonfiction for elementary students--especially those who profess disdain for nonfiction. The text is broken up into short lines, creating plenty of white space for the illustrations to tell their part of the story. The descriptions bring you right into the action, and the pacing keeps readers moving until the dramatic climax of the Reys' escape.

For more interesting information, definitely check out this Q&A with Louise Borden, from the publishers Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

I purchased these review copies for my personal 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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13. The Answer is Yes -- reflections on the power of literature, of stories, of community

My friends, we live in a time when the world is being thrown about by so many forces. There are times when I feel swept under by the prejudice and hate that still engulfs our world. But then I look at the way we are able to create good in small measures--especially through sharing stories and songs and community--and I know that we can recreate our worlds step by step.

celebrating the Coretta Scott King Awards with Emerson students and staff

Christian Robinson
& Patricia Hruby Powell
I was thrilled and honored to share the Coretta Scott King Awards celebration with two students and two staff members from my school community. The awardees' speeches are still reverberating within me. Christian Robinson spoke about how Josephine Baker had always inspired him with her courage and determination, and then he and Patricia Hruby Powell danced with delight.

Kwame Alexander, accepting the CSK honor award for The Crossover, read a poem he had written just a few nights before, filled with hope, pain, and the determination to change the world for our children.

Christopher Myers, in his acceptance speech, talked about giving up on the world:
"I can barely hear, over the silence of all those children, those lives that we have cut out of our literature. I am frightened by the possibilities that all of their voices, so long censored, can only now be heard on news broadcasts in burning cities, on endless loops of helicopter film footage."
The pain he talked about reverberates through me--as an educator, I am so disheartened by the persistent racial achievement gap in my community. And yet, Chris also talked about the power of stories to change our world, to create new worlds for our children.
"I’d just about given up on the world.

Then I remembered that I am a storyteller, and in the hands of a storyteller, we can make new worlds. Our narratives can carry the full weight of the past and build infinite futures. With pens and word processors, with paint and ink and collage, we can, like Misty, like my father, create possibilities where there weren’t any before. Rewrite reality. And there will be days I want to give up on the world as it is, but I will never give up on the worlds that I have yet to make, the worlds that my friends are making, the worlds that all of us here share and do so much to bring into reality."
Jacqueline Woodson began her speech by talking about the power of community, the power of gathering together in a room to celebrate and to share. In this age of online communication, it is so important to carve out time to be together in person.

But then she went on to talk about the strength of our broader community, both in the ancestors that walk with us every day and the people who hold us up here and now.
"We are here because of our ancestors and elders and the people who hold us up every day — thanks for helping all of us never forget them or the way each of us finds a way to make a way out of no way — every single day. Thank you so much, all of you who believe in Diverse Books, who believe in keeping young brown children — and all children — dreaming."
This community of authors, illustrators, and librarians comes together to keep our children dreaming in the possible, in making new realities. It is hard work, advocating and supporting and promoting good literature that speaks to children. But together we can.

I love how good teaching passes from one person to another, creating a life of its own. Nikki Giovanni wrote in her profile of Newbery-winning author Kwame Alexander,
"Kwame learned maybe only one thing…from me…The
Answer Is Yes…
Yes to small cities and Book Festivals around the country who needed
a writing friend…Yes to starting his own Book Festival…
His own publishing company…His own line of greeting
cards and posters…Yes to his own idea of empowering
young writers by helping them publish a Book-in-a-
Day…Yes to the excitement of life…to writing on the
road…to growing taller and stronger while trusting that
vision and strength…and every time he said Yes we all
said Yes to him…"
The Answer is Yes. That's it. I want to share that buoyancy, that power to keep afloat, with my students. And I am sure, as sure as I can be, that our stories help us not only see ourselves but also see what our world can be. The Answer is Yes.

Please take the time to read the Coretta Scott King Award acceptance speeches, published in The Horn Book and available online.

Thank you to Andrea Davis Pinkney who helped me bring my students to the CSK breakfast. Thank you to all the honored authors and artists for inspiring us to keep sharing stories with students and with each other. Thank you to my family for supporting me and helping me celebrate with the world beyond our immediate community.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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14. #FamiliesRead: Encouraging the Love of Reading

Parents and children know that it’s important for children to develop strong reading skills--the question I hear so many parents asking is, “How can I get my child to enjoy reading more?” They’re absolutely right. Enjoying reading is key.

We do what we enjoy doing--that’s basic human nature, isn’t it? Reading develops only with practice -- the more you read, the better you get; the better you get, the more you read. So how do we help children enjoy reading and choose to read more often? I love the National PTA's Family Reading Challenge -- check out the resources & ideas at ptareadingchallenge.org.

I love this video with Kwame Alexander and his family talking about about what they love about reading together as a family. Fills me with smiles hearing how much love and happiness reading together brings.


Across all age groups, children agree that their favorite books are the ones they pick for themselves. Not only that, they are also much more likely to finish books that they choose themselves.

from Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report 2015
Encourage a love of reading by taking your kids to the library or bookstore and telling them: “Read whatever you want to! As long as you choose it, that’s what is important to me.” Kids love being in control.

Kids want books that make them laugh when they’re choosing books--and this is the dominant factor for kids in elementary and middle school. Kids also report that they look for books that let them use their imagination, inspire them or teach them something new.

Parents sometimes wonder: should I encourage my child to read on his or her own, instead of reading aloud? Shouldn’t they practice themselves? Reading practice matters, but kids have to practice all day long in school. Reading together builds bonds and helps children remember the pleasure that books can bring.

Children enjoy listening to more complex, interesting stories than they can read independently. Typically, it isn’t until eighth grade that reading comprehension catches up to listening comprehension. Nearly half of kids said they liked listening to their parents read aloud because they could listen to books that might have been too hard to read on their own.

Reading aloud at home is like an advertisement for the pleasures of reading. Why take away these advertisements just because kids can read on their own? Shared reading time provides special time for families, especially as the chaos of life multiplies as kids juggle activities and homework. It can lead to fun family jokes that stem from funny moments in a story, and it can provide safe opportunities kids bring up difficult, confusing big issues they’re thinking about.

I hope you can carve out time to read together this summer. It will make a difference in your children's lives.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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15. Summer reading 2015: 4th & 5th graders -- #FamiliesRead

Summer is definitely in full swing for us, with plenty of time to play with friends, hang out with siblings and explore new places. I keep encouraging my kids to find a little quiet time to get lost in a book. Whether it's escaping into your imagination or just having time away from the frenzy, it's important to keep reading in the summer.

Here are some of my favorite books to recommend for kids who have just finished 4th and 5th grade. Please note: Our schools use the Fountas & Pinnell reading levels to help indicate "just right books" for students. I like to band these levels together, to look at a group of similar books.

Having Fun with Chapter Books (level O-P-Q)
Adventure & Historical Fiction (level Q-R-S-T)
  • Al Capone Does My Shirts, by Gennifer Choldenko (library - Amazon)
  • The Shark Attacks of 1916 (I Survived series), by Lauren Tarshis (library - Amazon)
Exciting Fantasy (level Q-R-S)
Funny Stories (level R-S-T)
Stories that Touch Your Heart (level R-S-T-U)
Exciting Adventure and Fantasy (level T-U-V)
Do you like these? Print out the whole list to take to the library or bookstore! Share it with friends!

PDFs for easy printing: 4th & 5th grade

View full lists here via SlideShare:




Check out all of the 2015 summer reading lists I developed for grades K through 5 on this page.

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.

Check out all of the 2015 summer reading lists I developed for grades K through 5 on this page.

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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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16. Summer reading 2015: 2nd & 3rd graders -- #FamiliesRead

School is out and kids love the vacation time. But it's more important than ever for families to encourage kids to read. They need to keep reading in order to maintain all the skills they developed during the year. It's the perfect opportunity to talk with your kids about what types of books they like to read when they can choose their books.

Here are some of my favorite books to recommend for kids who have just finished 2nd and 3rd grade. Please note: Our schools use the Fountas & Pinnell reading levels to help indicate "just right books" for students. I like to band these levels together, to look at a group of similar books.

Beginning with Chapter Books (level K-L-M)
Graphic Novels We Love
Having Fun with Chapter Books (level N-O-P)
Funny Stories (level Q-R-S)
Stories that Touch Your Heart (level Q-R-S)
Exciting Adventure and Fantasy (level Q-R-S)
Fascinating Nonfiction
  • Baby Elephant in the Wild, by Caitlin O'Connell (library--Amazon)
  • Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, by Katheryn Russell-Brown (library--Amazon)
Do you like these? Print out the whole list to take to the library or bookstore! Share it with friends!

PDF for easy printing: 2nd & 3rd grade

View full lists here via SlideShare:




Check out all of the 2015 summer reading lists I developed for grades K through 5 on this page.

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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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17. Summer reading 2015: Kindergarten & 1st graders -- #FamiliesRead

Summer is here. Kids are excited to have free time, but with that can come the eventual moans of: "I'm bored!" Head to the library and stock up on a pile of books. Here are some of my favorite books to recommend for kids just finishing kindergarten and 1st grade.

Each day this week, I'll be sharing a post to help families read over the summer. To begin with, I'll share my favorite recommendations. Later in the week, I'll share thoughts on creative ways to carve time for reading and make it a family affair.

Note: Our schools use the Fountas & Pinnell reading levels to help indicate "just right books" for students. I like to band these levels together, to look at a group of similar books.

Beginning to Read (level C-E-F)
When Tiny Was Tiny, by Cari Meister (library--Amazon)
You Are (Not) Small, by Anna Kang (library--Amazon)

Folktales and Trickster Tales
Can't Scare Me, by Ashley Bryan (library--Amazon)
Little Roja Riding Hood, by Susan Middleton Elya (library--Amazon)

Beginning to Read More (level F-G-H-I)
A Big Guy Took My Ball (Elephant & Piggie), by Mo Willems (library--Amazon)
The Watermelon Seed, by Greg Pizzolli (library--Amazon)

Developing Readers (level J-K)
Mercy Watson to the Rescue, by Kate DiCamillo (library - Amazon)
Princess in Black, by Shannon Hale (library - Amazon)

Beginning with Chapter Books (level L-M)
Boris for the Win, by Andrew Joyner (library - Amazon)
Ivy & Bean, by Annie Barrows (library - Amazon)

Exploring Animals All Around
Fly Guy Presents: Sharks, by Tedd Arnold (library--Amazon)
Puppies and Kittens (Scholastic Discover More), by Penelope Arlon (library--Amazon)

New Picture Books We're Loving
The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, by Dan Santat (library--Amazon)
Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Peña (library--Amazon

Do you like these? Print out the whole list to take to the library or bookstore! Share it with friends!

PDF for easy printing: Kindergarten & 1st grade

View full lists here via SlideShare:




Check out all of the 2015 summer reading lists I developed for grades K through 5 on this page.

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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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18. Profiling women soccer players: inspiring biographies (ages 8-12)

I want to model all sorts of options for girls in my classes--showing them women who have excelled as athletes, scientists, politicians and activists. Kids love playing soccer and many recognize pro players. It's important to share biographies of women soccer players, along with men. Unfortunately, few are published, especially for readers in 3rd through 5th grade. Here are my thoughts on two biographies and one website.

Abby Wambach
by Jon M. Fishman
Amazing Athletes series
Lerner, 2014
preview in Google Books
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-10
Abby Wambach is one of the current stars of the US women's national team. She scored the winning goal in this week's game against Nigeria, helping her team win their group and advance into the elimination rounds of the World Cup. This biography is clear and straightforward. It starts with an exciting scene from 2012 Olympics to help readers understand Abby's strengths and key role as a player.

Chapters then follow Abby's life in chronological order, looking at the way she played sports as a child, in high school and college, and then finally joining a pro soccer team. Students in 3rd and 4th grade will like the combination of high interest photos, all marked with captions, and widely spaced texts. Take a look at the sample in Google Books to see the print inside the book. We have many books from Lerner's terrific Amazing Athletes series, and many feature women athletes. Unfortunately, this is the only one about a soccer player.
Alex Morgan
by Illugi Jökulsson
Abbeville Kids, 2015
Your local library
Amazonages 9-12
Alex Morgan is very well known, and I was excited to order this biography. Unfortunately, it exhibits the worst types of sports writing about women. While the first chapter starts with her role in the US women's national team, the next chapter focuses on her astrological birth sign. Really?!! The chapter on her childhood talks about other famous celebrities who came from the same town.

Not only does this book send harmful messages, its structure is confusing. Readers expect biographies to proceed in sequential order, starting with a figure's childhood. But this biography jumps from Alex's childhood to the early beginnings of soccer in the 1800s to the first Women's World Cup.  This book will draw students in with high quality photographs and bold chapter headings, but it is poorly organized.
US Women's National Team
One Nation. One Team. 23 Storiesussoccer.com/womens-national-team
Kids will love exploring the US women's national team website. Each player has recorded short heartfelt videos that connect their childhood experiences to their current role as a player on the national team. Short paragraphs model excellent sports writing. But it's the videos that will stick with kids because they'll hear these inspiring stories in the players own voices.

I purchased these review copies came for my personal 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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19. Emerson Book Club Recommendations: Great summer reading plans! (ages 9-12)

Emerson's fantastic book club met today for our Summer Reading Celebration and 45 kids came to the library to have lunch together, swap book recommendations and share their love for reading. We had such a fun time!


Our book club welcomes all 4th and 5th graders. All spring, we've been talking about books we've been reading and encouraging friends to read the books we've liked. We will hold our Mock Newbery Club again next fall, so we've been paying special attention to the books published in 2015. Here are the titles our students have recommended so far for consideration:
All the Answers, by Kate Messner
Blackbird Fly, by Erin Entrada Kelly
Blue Birds, by Caroline Starr Rose
The Detective's Assistant, by Katherine Hannigan
Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Fish in a Tree, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Gone Crazy in Alabama, by Rita Williams-Garcia
Honey, by Sarah Weeks
Listen, Slowly, by Thanhha Lai
My Secret Guide to Paris, by Lisa Schroeder
Neon Aliens Ate My Homework, by Nick Cannon
Nightbird, by Alice Hoffman
The Penderwicks in Spring, by Jeanne Birdsall
Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Animals, by Maggie Stiefvater and Jackson Pearce
Tiger Boy, by Mitali Perkins
The War that Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Wish Girl, by Nikki Loftin
It was so much fun hearing kids share about why they'd recommend a book to friends. The books that are getting the most love right now are definitely The Detective's Assistant, Echo, Fish in a Tree, and Gone Crazy in Alabama.

After sharing book recommendations, we took some time to write our own "to be read" lists. These lists help us look forward to the next book we want to read. It's a habit I want to instill in all my students. And so it was great to take a minute to write down our ideas and ask friends for recommendations.
We finished our celebration by taking "shelfies" -- pictures with our favorite books and with the books we want to read. It was a terrific celebration of our love of reading. Many thanks to Melissa Guerrette for her inspiring article on the Nerdy Book Club blog all about shelfies. I'm sure our sheflie celebration with get many many of our students talking about books they want to read.

Many thanks to all of the publishers who support our book club by sending us advanced copies. 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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20. Fish in a Tree, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt: a powerful favorite of 2015 (ages 9-12)

Many of my students turn to books to sink into someone's world, to understand someone else's struggles and gain perspectives on their own lives. Fish in a Tree has been a favorite at Emerson all spring precisely because of this. Lynda Mullaly Hunt draws readers into Ally's world and helps them understand how hard school is for her. My students keep recommending this to one another, especially to friends who like stories that really reach your heart.
Fish in a Tree
by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Nancy Paulsen / Penguin, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
*best new book*
Ally Nickerson knows how to survive a day at school, but each day is an ordeal. In 6th grade and at her seventh school, Ally does everything she can to cover up the fact that reading and writing are nearly impossible for her. "I wonder what it would be like to be able to relax at school and not have to worry every second of every minute." Her teachers and her principal say that it's up to her, but Ally knows that it isn't. She just feels broken -- except when she's drawing in her Sketchbook of Impossible Things.

When Ally's teacher goes out on maternity leave, a new young teacher takes her place. For the first time, a teacher really sees Ally for who she is, for what her real strengths are as well as her profound struggles. He helps diagnose her dyslexia and starts giving her extra reading support after school. At the same time, Ally starts developing friendships with two other kids who also don't fit the typical mold. These friendships and her new reading skills help Ally believe in herself and her own gifts.

My students would absolutely agree with this starred review from Booklist:
"Filled with a delightful range of quirky characters and told with tons of heart, the story also explores themes of family, friendship, and courage in its many forms. And while a girl with dyslexia may be the center of the book, it has something to offer for a wide-ranging audience, making this an excellent class read-aloud. A hopeful and meaningful choice for those who struggle academically, this is as unique as its heroine."
Share this book trailer with kids to give them a feel for the story, and then head over to the Mr. Schu's blog Watch.Connect.Read for Lynda's wonderful essay about how she approaches her writing, starting with character and what she sees in her head.

When the literacy coaches at Berkeley Unified School District asked me to recommend a book that lends itself to talking about multiple perspectives, I recommended Fish in a Tree. They loved how you could pause to think about the story from the principal's point of view, Ally's mother's, or her brother Travis's perspective. Teachers will want to check out this educator's guide for more ideas.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Nancy Paulsen/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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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21. A Piece of Cake, by LeUyen Pham -- Birthday fun with friends (ages 3-8)

Hooray! Today is my birthday, and I want to share a slice of cake with every one of my friends. This cake below, from 1976, should be large enough for everyone to have a slice!

4th of July 1976 stars & stripes cake
A trip down memory lane! I can still remember the feeling of growing tall enough to look at the oven knobs straight on, instead of having to stand on tip toe.
For a birthday treat, I'd like to share a favorite book: A Piece of Cake, by LeUyen Pham. It will bring lots of smiles, as kids laugh at the unexpected twists at each page turn.
A Piece of Cake
by LeUyen Pham
Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 3-8
Kind little Mouse has made a birthday cake for his friend Little Bird. He sets off to deliver the cake, but meets other friends who ask for a piece. Pham sets up readers to expect that Mouse will gather the expected ingredients along the way: eggs, milk, honey. But with each page turn, Mouse's friends offer something completely unexpected in return.

A Piece of Cake was honored as a finalist in the Northern California Book Awards this year. I was honored to be part of the children's award committee. Here is part of their description of this delightful story:
Piece by piece, Mouse trades away the cake until he has none left, arriving at Little Bird’s house only with an odd assortment of things... As they walk back to Mouse’s house to make another cake, they find each friend surrounded by trouble. Once again, Pham expertly manages page turns to surprise readers with the solutions that Little Bird cleverly suggests. 
I adore the retro feel of Pham's artwork and the story is so much fun to read aloud. Little kids will love the patterned surprises, and older kids will have fun with the clever twists and enjoy the message about teamwork and creative thinking. I hope this web sampler from HarperCollins lets you glimpse part of this story--make sure to turn the pages to see how the story starts off:

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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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22. Bay Area Book Festival with over 300 authors: June 6th & 7th

Local book festivals are such a treat--especially when they feature plenty of children's authors! The inaugural Bay Area Book Festival kicks off this weekend, bringing more than 300 authors and storytellers, along with a host of fun activities and exhibits.

There is an outdoor Children’s Stage and a Teen Stage featuring bestselling authors. It's an absolutely terrific line-up and is expected to draw a huge crowd. Just take a look at some of these highlights on the Children's Stage:
Don't forget to check out the schedule for the main indoor stage, which also features lots of family events.
  • Saturday, 10:00 am: Making Marvelous Middle-Grade Fiction
  • Saturday, 4:00 pm: East Bay Young Writers Competition Winners
  • Sunday, 2:00 pm: Raising a Reader Presents Family Strategies
The festival is collaborating with the East Bay Children's Book Project, an organization which helps promote literacy by putting books in the hands of children with little or no access to them. They are generously providing a free book for every child at the festival, making plans for giving away at least 14,000 books. Wow.
Lacuna, Bay Area Book Festival
I can't wait to see Lacuna, the public art installation that's going up for the festival. The project is an interactive installation made entirely of books. Over 50,000 books have been donated by the Internet Archive. Lacuna is a library whose very walls are made of books that people can peruse and take. As people explore it, moving, removing and adding books, its very shape will change.

Please tell Bay Area families and friends about this amazing festival.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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23. Same Sun Here, by Silas House and Neela Vaswani -- terrific audiobook for summer (ages 9-13)

Pen-pals River and Meena reveal their "own true selves" to each other through the letters they write, and in the process they share their distinct voices and feelings with us. This is a truly wonderful story to listen to, either as an audiobook or read-aloud.

Same Sun Here
by Silas House and Neela Vaswani
narrated by Silas House and Neela Vaswani
Candlewick, 2012 and Brilliance Audio, 2013
*winner of 2013 Audie Awards*
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-13
At the outset, Meena and River seem as different as can be. Meena has just moved to New York City from India, while River has lived all his life in a small coal-mining town in Kentucky. Meena begins writing River as part of a summer school pen-pal project, but their friendship slowly develops as they share their hopes and frustrations, discovering how much they are alike despite their differences. They both have been raised by their grandmothers for much of their lives, and they both love the mountains-- River loves the Appalachian Mountains, and Meena misses the mountains in Mussoorie, India.

Their honesty and sincerity especially comes through in the audiobook, as you can hear River and Meena's emotions and accents. Silas House and Neela Vaswani actually became pen-pals as they wrote this book, writing letters and mailing them back and forth to each other. Although River and Meena are fictional characters, they are closely tied to the authors. The fact that the authors narrate the audiobook makes it even more powerful.

I know that my students will be able to connect with Meena and River as well. Whether they know first-hand how hard it is to have your father gone for much of the time because of work, or whether they can understand how River and Meena feel because of they way they describe themselves, this is a story that will help kids feel more at home with themselves and understand the world around them. I especially want to share a story with a character who's recently moved from India, since there are not many books in my library with East Asian characters.

Same Sun Here has been recognized especially as an audiobook (winning the 2013 Audie Award and read aloud (a finalist for the E.B. White Read-Aloud Award). If you want to see how to extend this in the classroom, head over to The Classroom Bookshelf to see a terrific collection of ideas.

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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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24. Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley -- filled with magic, adventure & friendship (ages 9-12)

Right away, I can sense a book is special by noticing my students' reactions. Whenever I've asked my 5th graders who've read Circus Mirandus how they like it, they start smiling and there's a twinkle in their eyes. OK, it sounds corny when I write it down, but you can feel the magic, the friendship, the hope they find in this book.
Circus Mirandus
by Cassie Beasley
Dial / Penguin Random House, 2015
Preview at Google Books
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
Ever since he was a little boy, Micah has heard stories from his grandfather about the magical Circus Mirandus and the Lightbender who promised him a miracle. Now that Grandfather Ephraim is ill, Micah knows that he must do everything he can to find the Lightbender. But how can he find the circus, especially with his strict aunt keeping her eye on him?

"Circus Mirandus is not a story just about adventure," Corina wanted me to know, "it's about a friendship. You see, they're very unlikely friends at first but they become so loyal to each other." When Jenny Mendoza first hears about this quest, she is skeptical -- after all, Jenny is a logical, careful thinker. But Micah and Jenny do find the circus, the Lightbender and all the magic they were looking for.
"Reading this book inspired me because the ultimate goal is not what you think it is -- it isn't just to keep his grandfather alive. There are layers, ways that Micah learns he can make a difference, how magic makes a difference." -- Corina, 5th grade
Corina sparkled as she talked about how much she enjoyed Circus Mirandus. I can imagine her being transported to the circus in her imagination, soaring with Micah over the fence, holding onto the giant gorilla balloon (yes, you'll really have to read it to understand that).

I also like how Tasha Sackler, at Waking Brain Cells, describes the friendship at the heart of this story:
"It feels very organic and the two of them are not natural friends who see the world the same way. Instead it is much more like making a real friend where it is the willingness to be friends that makes a huge difference and a decision to stop arguing when you don’t agree. It is these parts of the book that are so realistic, where the relationships shine, that make the book as strong as it is."
Get a feel for the magic in Circus Mirandus by reading chapter four in the preview below:


For more, check out these very interesting interviews with Cassie Beasley:
The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Dial / Penguin. 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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25. Soccer books for kids: high interest nonfiction (ages 7-12)

As the Women's World Cup gets underway in Canada, I want to share three soccer books that can hook young readers. Soccer continues to be a hugely popular sport among kids around the world. These three books can capitalize on young reader's interest, and provide them with a chance to read nonfiction about the sport they love. I'll share them in order of complexity, starting with the easiest reading level.

Play Soccer Like a Pro
by Christopher Forest
Sports Illustrated for Kids / Capstone, 2010
preview through Google Books
Your local library
Amazon
ages 7-10
With chapters such as "How to Dribble" and "How to Beat a Defender", this book will appeal to kids with a keen interest in playing the game. Clear headings and subheadings make it easy to read, with vibrant photographs illustrating the point.
"Stay in contact with the ball. As long as you have the ball, make sure you control it between your feet at all times. Defenders will have a hard time stealing the ball if you keep it under control."
While this may not be new advice for young players, this book can be an excellent model for students in their own writing. Unfortunately, all of the photographs just feature professional male players. It is disappointing that professional women were not included as well.
Everything Soccer
by Blake Hoena with Omar Gonzalez
National Geographic Kids, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
High-impact photos will draw kids immediately to this book, and they will like reading the plentiful short facts on topics ranging from stats and championships, to diagrams of a soccer pitch and basic formations. The writing is clear and the use of headings and subheadings is excellent. However, the text is better for older readers, with more complex vocabulary and smaller font size. This text is an excellent example of elaborating to fully describe the role of a defender.
"Defenders (also called fullbacks) are the basis for any winning team. They are the muscle that helps protect the goalie... Defenders also need to excel at tackling, or intercepting the ball. Sometimes, a defender called a sweeper stays by the goal to provide an extra line of defense."
Best of all, Everything Soccer uses examples from women's and men's professional teams from around the world -- as well as kids in action. In the spread below, the referee is a woman holding up a red card, the professionals are from Brazil and North Korea. My only complaint is that there are no captions identifying players or teams.
(click to enlarge)
This will be a book that kids will enjoy reading, returning to it again and again. The short chunks makes it easy to dip into. My only concern is that kids will spend more time looking at the pictures than reading the paragraphs.
U.S. Women's Team: Soccer Champions!
by Illugi Jökulsson
Abbeville Kids, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
I am stunned how few books there are about women's soccer, especially considering how well the United States national team has played in the Olympics. The US women's national soccer team has won the Olympics in 2004, 2008 and 2012--garnering lots of press in the process. This book, originally published in Iceland, is a good choice for kids interested in reading more in-depth about the American team.

Written with a classic sports journalism style, this follows the ups and downs of the US women's national team from 1991 to the present. It follows a clear sequence, noting the difference between World Cup games and the Olympics. The writing is more complex, but clear structure and text features help readers.
"Vast tensions surrounded the 1999 World Cup final between the United States and China. Both teams played cautiously and failed to create proper opportunities for scoring. After 90 minutes, the game went into extra time, and fans of the U.S. team were justifiably anxious."
The games' final scores and opponents are clearly shown on each page, and captions identify each player and their stats. I love how this takes in-depth sports writing and focuses on women who excel in the world arena. This would be a great read-aloud for kids in 3rd and 4th grade, or perfect for 5th and 6th graders.

The review copy of Everything Soccer was kindly sent by the publisher, National Geographic Kids. The other 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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