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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. 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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2. 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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3. 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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4. I Don't Want to Be a Frog, by Dev Petty & Mike Boldt (ages 3-8)

There are times my kids seem dissatisfied with everything, but I'm also sure that there are times when all I say is NO. This hilarious book takes that situation and produces laughs in all the right places--the perfect medicine for crabby kids and peevish parents.
I Don't Want to Be a Frog
by Dev Petty
illustrated by Mike Boldt
Doubleday / Random House, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 3-8
*best new book*
Little frog is sure he doesn't want to be a frog. As he sits reading a book about cats, he decides that would be the perfect animal to be. "I want to be a cat," he declares to his father. Nope, his father says, you're a frog. Back and forth the dialog goes, in easy to read expressive short sentences--perfect for reading aloud together.
"I want to be a cat."
"You can't be a cat."
"Why not?"
"Because you're a frog."
"I don't like being a frog. It's too wet."
"Well, you can't be a cat."
Hey--little frog can hop! He should be a rabbit, he tells his father. "You can't be a rabbit," his father calmly replies. No long ears, right? "I don't like being a Frog. It's too slimy," little frog whines. Little frog isn't easily persuaded. And his father's wise words don't sink in at all.

Kids are loving Mike Boldt's illustrations, especially how expressive little frog is. They love knowing that the dad is right, but I think they're rooting for little frog too. And the conclusion leads to giggles from everyone who's read it in our library.

Along comes a hungry wolf who tells how much he likes to eat all those animals. But does he like to eat frogs? No, not one bit. They're much too wet, too slimy, too full of bugs. Ahh, little frog finally realizes that--you know what, being who you are can be a pretty good thing after all.

For more of a taste, check out this adorable trailer:

Illustrations ©2015 by Mike Boldt; used with permission from the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, 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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5. Tiger Boy, by Mitali Perkins -- a fantastic read-aloud (ages 8-11)

As parents, we want our children to enjoy reading, so that they want to read more. The single most important thing you can do to help ensure this? Read aloud. Find stories that you can share together. Find books that linger with you, that make you both wonder about the world.


Tiger Boy, by Mitali Perkins, is perfect for a family read-aloud--the 4th graders at Malcolm X School in Berkeley are giving it huge thumbs up and I heartily agree. If you have an animal-lover, or you're looking for a book set in India or Bangladesh, or you're looking for a book with a courageous kid who stands up for what's right -- definitely seek out Tiger Boy.
Tiger Boy
by Mitali Perkins
Charlesbridge, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-11
When a tiger cub escapes from a reserve in the Sundarbans, a delta region straddling the India-Bengladesh border, many of the residents on a nearby island try to find it. Some are worried that its mother will set out looking for it, possibly hurting or killing people in the process. Others have been hired by a wealthy man to capture it for trade on the black market.

Neel is determined to help with the search--protecting the tiger cub is as important to him and he isn't afraid to stand up to greedy Gupta or his hired men. Neel's parents want him to focus on his studies and prepare for his exams. While Neel loves learning and languages, he finds math frustrating and confusing. And how can he concentrate knowing that the tiger cub needs his help?
Mitali Perkins draws in readers, as they feel how much Neel wants to use his special knowledge of his island to help find the tiger. As the CCBC review so clearly puts it,
"The sense of urgency that propels Neel and Rupa’s hunt for the cub creates the perfect amount of tension in an engaging story wonderfully grounded in Neel’s point of view and his experiences in his family and community. Their effort to save the cub helps Neel understand how furthering his education is one means of helping protect the place he lives."
I especially love how Perkins balances the relationship between Neel and his sister Rupta. Perkins both respects the traditional role that women have in this Bengali village, but she also shows Rupta playing an active role.
I have found that my students are not picking this up on their own, even when I recommend it. That's why I think it would make a terrific read-aloud. Parents (or teachers) can encourage kids to give something a try that might be different from the usual books they read. It would make a great book to read this summer or in the fall--see if it leads kids to wanting to learn more about protecting the tigers in the Sunderbans.

Illustrations ©2015 by Jamie Hogan; used with permission from the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Charlesbridge. 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. Courage to Be Yourself: 3 new favorite picture books (ages 3-9)

As kids enter school, their peer groups start having a strong influence over them--with that comes pressure to fit in. So that's why I love books that give the message that we want lots of different types of friends, that we all need the courage to be ourselves. Here are three new favorite picture books that sing that song.

Wild About Us
by Karen Beaumont
illustrated by Janet Stevens
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 3-7
Warty Warthog has warts, Rhino has wrinkly skin, and Crocodile sports a toothy grin--but they all love who they are. With snappy rhythm and rhymes that are a joy to read aloud, Beaumont celebrates what makes each animal unique.
"Elephant is confident that nothing is wrong.
He knows that his nose is supposed to be long."
Janet Stevens is one of my favorite illustrators of animals--I adore her Help Me, Mr. Mutt! Here, her animals are full of personality and pizzazz. Kids will love the cartoony appeal, but also connect to how each proudly declares how they love themselves just the way they are.
Tommy Can't Stop
by Tim Federle
illustrated by Mark Fearing
Disney Hyperion, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
Young Tommy is in perpetual motion, bouncing like a pogo-stick, hollering while he hurdles and clomping like an elephant. He's driving his family crazy ("'He's an animal,' his sister pouts to their parents.") but you can tell from the illustrations that this is a little guy who's just got to move. When his mom drags him to tap class, he's really not sure it's for him. But when the teacher begins bouncing, he's hooked!
"The tap teacher begins bouncing. (Wait! She twirls like... Tommy!)
'You're a ... pogo stick!' he whispers as he watches.
'I call this a hop'"
I love the way this book shows Tommy discovering a joyful, positive way to channel his energy. When the tap teacher kicks, he's amazed that she kicks like a bulldozer -- but she says, "I call this a brush! (Everyone brushes, but Tommy brushes boldest.)" Kids--quiet ones and rambunctious ones--will feel this joy coming through both the illustrations and the words, as Tommy discovers how being true to himself helps him be a star.
Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music
by Margarita Engle
illustrated by Rafael López
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 6-9
*best new book*
Cuba is an island full of wonderful music, but this beautiful picture book shows how hard one girl had to work to be true to her musical self. Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, who was of Chinese, African, and Cuban descent, dreamed of "pounding tall conga drums / tapping small bongó drums, and boom boom booming / with long loud sticks." But in 1930s Cuba, drumming was taboo for girls.
“But everyone / on the island of music / in the city of drumbeats /
believed that only boys / should play drums …”
Millo was not deterred, playing her drums every chance she can, even if it was in her own head. Finally, her father softened and brought a teacher to listen to Millo's drumming--a teacher who was so impressed that he allowed her father to have courage to break the social taboo. I just love how Millo's joy comes through in the illustrations. López captures a visual rhythm, the way that Engle does in her poetic text.
“When she walked under / wind-wavy palm trees / in a flower-bright park / she heard the whir of parrot wings ...
the dancing tap / of her own footsteps / and the comforting pat / of her own heartbeat.”
This beautiful, poetic picture book will inspire children today to follow their own dreams, even if society around them scorns them. To see more of these wonderful illustrations, head over to Seven Impossible Things; to learn more about Engle and Lopez's creative process, definitely read Julie Danielson's article in Kirkus: Beating the Drum for Women's Rights.

I hope you enjoy these new picture books. Whether it's humorous animals, bouncing little boys or girls who feel music thrumming in their souls, these stories can speak to kids, helping them have the courage to be themselves.

Illustrations ©2015 by Janet Stevens, Mark Fearing and Rafael López; used with permission from the publishers. The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and 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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7. Celebrating all types of families: 3 new picture books (ages 3-9)

Three new picture books celebrate all types of families with joy and love. Share these with preschoolers or kindergartners, especially as Mother's Day approaches--helping kids recognize that families take many shapes and forms.

Families, Families, Families
by Suzanne Lang
illustrated by Max Lang
Random House, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 3-6
This book is sure to bring giggles as you read it with young children. Lang shares a medley of silly cartoon animal families showing all kinds of nontraditional families.  Each cartoon portrait is framed, hanging on a wall -- the realistic elements adding to the humor.
"Some children have lots of siblings"
"Some children have none."
Gently rhyming lines accompany the family portraits: "Some children live with their grandparents/ and some live with an aunt./ Some children have many pets/ and some just have a plant." As the SLJ review clearly states, "The loud-and-clear message is that 'if you love each other, then you are a family.' And imagine the many children who will be reassured because they have found a portrait of a family they will recognize as their own." A delightful celebration of diversity, treated with loving humor.
My Family Tree and Me
by Dušan Petričić
Kids Can Press, 2015
Book trailer
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-9
Beginning with his great-great-grandparents on his father’s side, a young boy introduces his family, leading to a current family portrait at the book's center. This provides a wonderful way to help children really understand and visualize what a family tree means. The second-half traces his mother’s family, back to his great-great-grandparents on her side. A delightful celebration of multicultural, multigenerational family.
The back cover of My Family Tree and Me
I especially love how easily Petričić integrates diversity into this picture book. The young boy's family is biracial, and each side of his family tree celebrates different heritage. Careful readers will notice how family traits carry on from one generation to the next. Best of all, I think this will help children start wondering about their own extended families.
Stella Brings the Family
by Miriam B. Schiffer
illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown
Chronicle, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
When Stella’s teacher announces their class is going to have a celebration for Mother’s day, everyone is excited, everyone except for Stella. What should she do? She has two dads and no mom.
"We're going to have a celebration for Mother's Day"
"Stella would be the only one without a mother at the Mother's Day party."
Schiffer tells the story through Stella’s eyes, perfectly capturing a child’s perspective -- sharing her worries, her classmates’ questions and the solution that Stella and her family come up with. This helps kids connect to Stella, empathizing with how she feels. When the big day arrives, Stella brings her whole extended family and feels surrounded by love and happiness.

I hope you enjoy seeking out these books as you celebrate all kinds of families with children. Picture books are both mirrors of our own worlds, helping us see ourselves a little more clearly, and windows into other people's worlds.

Illustrations ©2015 by Max Lang and Holly Clifton-Brown; used with permission from the publishers. The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Random House, Kids Can Press and 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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8. Neon Aliens Ate My Homework and Other Poems, by Nick Cannon (ages 6-9)

What makes a great book for kids? I'd say it's a book that makes them want to read more, a book that makes them smile or wonder, a book that makes them think about it after they close the page. It's a book that inspires kids to create their own stories and feel the power of their own words. Neon Aliens Ate My Homework is a collection of poems from comedian, musician and actor Nick Cannon that did just that.
Neon Aliens Ate My Homework and Other Poems
by Nick Cannon
illustrated by Nick Cannon, Art Mobb, and more
Scholastic, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 6-9
*best new book*
Cannon shares a collection of poems that range from giggle-inducing to gross, thought-provoking to full of bravado, and this variety was very appealing to my students. They loved how one minute they were laughing about neon aliens eating up Nick's backpack to the next minute thinking about how they can believe in themselves and stand up to bullies who spread hatred. 

Throughout, Cannon shows kids the power of words -- the words they read, and the words they write or say themselves. He starts by honoring Shel Silverstein, still a favorite among my students. This lets us talk about the power of books, both their staying power (their kids might read these same books!) but also the escape that they can provide during difficult times.
"He changed my life with just his words.
The utmost respect is what he deserves.
He made me smile in my tough times,
He encouraged me to live life through my rhymes."
We were able to dig into some of his imagery and characterization, whether Cannon used it to inspire us ("SuperMom" below) or entertain us ("Pink Lunch Lady"). His poems resonated with my students. They understand how a mom can be "soft yet tough" and could see how his examples helped show this.
"She can multitask with lightning-fast hands,
And the brightest of lights shines wherever she stands.
She goes to work in the morning, conquers school at night.
She can read minds and knows how to break up a fight."
Today, my students especially responded to the poem "Haters." We talked about Cannon's message and the power of his words. We talked about what the imagery meant, how hate can melt away. These are all skills that the Common Core is asking students to do -- but here, we are taking a modern poem that speaks to their experience to show how meaningful it can be.
'Haters like to bully, but I will not waver.
Haters think they're tough, but I'm the one who's braver.
Haters are doubters, and I'm a believer.
Haters are cowards, and I'm an achiever.
One day when I'm older, living my dream,
I'll let that hate melt away, just like ice cream."
Seek out this book and the audio recording. You can hear Nick Cannon reading his poems, which conveys how heartfelt so many of these poems are. My experience is that 2nd and 3rd graders respond best to this collection, hitting the same sweet spot as Shel Silverstein.

Illustrations ©2015 by Nick Cannon, Art Mobb, and Morf; used with permission from Scholastic. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Scholastic. The audiobook review copy was borrowed from our local library as a downloadable audio through Hoopla. 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. For the birds: Poetry that celebrates our fine feather friends (ages 4-9)

Every spring, I love hearing birds chirping outside as we wake in the morning--a sure sign that daylight is coming earlier each day. As we enjoy our last week of National Poetry Month, I would like to share two new books that celebrate the beauty of birds in nature, prompting us to marvel at birds in nature.

Sweep Up the Sun
by Helen Frost
illustrated by Rick Lieder
Candlewick, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-9
Poet Helen Frost reunites with photographer Rick Lieder to explore the wonders of the natural world. I adored their previous collaboration, Step Gently Out, and this new book is equally as delightful. Frost's poem encourages young readers to watch birds in flight playing in the sky, learning to fly and trusting the sky to hold them aloft. But she also encourages children to do the same: 
"Spread your feathers,
sweep up the sun,
ride the wind and explore."
We can read this as a direct encouragement for children to take off and soar on their own. Lieder's amazing photography captures birds in mid-flight, freezing a moment in time. The final two pages provide brief information about each of the species photographed, ranging from house sparrows to Northern Cardinals.
The Sky Painter:
Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist
by Margarita Engle
illustrated by Aliona Bereghici
Two Lions, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 6-9
Margarita Engle captivated me with her biography of Louis Fuertes, the artist who is known as the "father of modern bird art" because of the way he painted birds in flight in their natural environments. Fuertes loved watching birds as a young boy. As he began his career, he realized that revered artists such as James Audubon painted birds they had shot and killed, so that they could study their anatomy in detail.Fuertes decided that he wanted to let birds live, so he developed the skills to paint them, quickly capturing their flight and grace:
"painting quickly, while wings
swoop
and race
across
wild
blue
sky,
so swift,
and so alive!"
Pair these two books together and talk with children about the power of art and the call of nature. Why did these artists decide to focus on birds? What drew them to capture their flight? What do they want their audiences to think about? How do the poets words capture the birds' flight in a different way?

The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Candlewick Press and 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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10. The Soda Bottle School: Creative problem solving led by kids & teachers (ages 7-10)

Our 3rd grade teachers are also focusing on persuasive writing this month, and they are asking kids to identify problems and suggest solutions. The challenge for kids is to explain how their solutions will work and persuade others that it's a good idea. We read The Soda Bottle School as an example of how kids and teachers in one community identified an important problem and led the way with a creative solution -- and the kids loved it.
The Soda Bottle School
by Seño Laura Kutner and Suzanne Slade
illustrated by Aileen Darragh
Tillbury House, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 7-10
The town of Granados has a problem: they don't have enough room in their school to teach all the kids. But they have another problem, too, that kids can relate to: there is too much trash all around their community. One day, teacher Seño Laura notices that a soda bottle is the same width as the beam of an unfinished school building. She has a crazy idea: what if they used empty soda bottles to create walls for a school? It could take care of two problems at once!

The whole community pulled together to support the teachers and children, gathering thousands of empty plastic bottles and stuffing them with trash to create “eco-ladrillos” (bricks). These bricks were stacked between the framing for the building, held in place by chicken wire fencing. A thin layer of concrete was slapped on top as a final layer.

Slade and Kutner draw young readers right into the story, helping them relate to the protagonist, young Fernando. My students especially liked the photographs and authors note included at the end of the story. I just found this news clip that would be another great way to share this story.

My students were interested and inspired to think of problems they would want to solve around our school. I especially liked this example because Kutner and Slade emphasize the importance of teamwork and thinking outside the box.

The review copy came from our school library collection. 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. Common Core IRL: Looking at Persuasive Writing & Mentor Texts (ages 9-12)

Students and teachers around the US are writing persuasive essays with renewed interest, as the Common Core explicitly calls on students to write opinion pieces that support a point of view with reasons and information. See, for example, the ELA Writing Standard 5.1.

At the Emerson Library, we have been reading Can We Save the Tiger?, by Martin Jenkins, to see how he develops his argument and supports it with reasons and information. Read my full review of this terrific nonfiction picture book. Today, I want to take you into our concluding library lesson, where we examined Jenkins' text to see how we could learn from his writing.

We read the concluding two pages, projected on the screen. For each page, I asked students what key phrases they noticed that were particularly powerful. You'll see their responses in green below.


Students noticed that Jenkins began his conclusion with, "So you see, trying to save just one endangered species..." Their teacher drew this back to a phrase they had used in class: "As you can see..." Other students noticed the way he wrapped up his conclusion (see below) with a question to pull readers in: "And I think that would be a shame, don't you?"


We wanted a little more specifics about helping tigers, so we turned to online research. The World Wildlife Fund has several very helpful pages about problems tigers are facing and action we need to take. This makes terrific model writing. Here's just one of the sections we looked at and the students' responses.

This paragraph is written in the same form that students are using in their writing. The claim or argument is "One of the biggest threats to tigers in poaching." WWF supports this with evidence and then elaborates their reasons. Students noticed the way facts were included within this paragraph, as well as explanations. They drew attention to the following phrases:
  • "One of the biggest threats..."
  • "Poaching has reached critical levels..."
  • "Governments around the world must combat poaching..."
  • "Nepal has already proved..."
We talked about how they can use similar language in their own writing, regardless of the topic.

School librarians play an essential role in helping students develop their persuasive writing skills. We help identify mentor texts, for students to read on high-interest topics. Much of my work in this area has been influenced by Melissa Stewart's writing on mentor texts. I definitely recommend reading her wealth of posts about this topic.

School librarians also help students dig deeper into topics they care about, guiding them on authentic research. So much information is available on the Internet, but it is critical that we help students effectively find information they can read and understand. I used our library catalog's Destiny Web Path Express to target the WWF article.
This post is part of my larger body of work: Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries. My thinking and work in this area is greatly helped by conversations with fellow bloggers and friends, Alyson Beecher, Cathy Potter and Louise Capizzo. See our full presentation from last summer here.
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. Novels in Verse: my top ten + two more to read (ages 9-12)

Novels in verse have particular power speaking to kids. Some really like the way that there are fewer words on the page. It can make reading them feel less overwhelming. Others like how much they can "read between the lines", letting their imaginations fill in the gaps. Others love the way these poets play with language.

Today, I'd like to share my personal top ten favorites (in alphabetical order). I adore sharing these with students. But know that there are many others that my kids love. At the end, I'll share two books on my "to be read" (TBR) pile.

Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson
I have loved talking with my students about this book, how they can relate to Jackie's experiences, how they can see themselves in the book, how they can feel some of her own journey even if their experiences are different. Winner of the 2015 Coretta Scott King Award, the 2014 National Book Award, and the 2015 Newbery Honor.
The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander
You can read this incredible novel as a basketball story, as a family drama, or as a novel written with a modern ear using rhythms and rhymes infused with music and motion. It speaks to kids in all sorts of different ways. Winner of the 2015 Newbery Award, and the 2015 Coretta Scott King Honor.
Heartbeat, by Sharon Creech
In flowing free verse, Annie describes her love of running, the changes in her best friend Max, the birth of her baby brother and her grandfather's growing confusion and dementia. Annie's world feels as if it's unraveling with all this change. As she runs for the pure pleasure of running, thoughts and questions race through her mind.
Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech
Oh, how I love this book. We start with Jack, who's dreading writing his own poems, forced to keep a poetry journal for his teacher. But as we get to know Jack and as he gets to know different poems, we start to see a fuller picture of a boy, his dog and his feelings. Check out this terrific reader's theater through TeachingBooks, starring Sharon Creech, Walter Dead Myers, Avi and Sarah Weeks.
The Red Pencil, by Andrea Davis Pinkney
I was fascinated when I asked Andrea Davis Pinkney about why she chose to write this story in verse. She explained how she wanted to tell a story for elementary students about the Sudanese conflict, and she felt that a novel in verse would allow them more space. She was able to keep some of the more difficult scenes quite spare, so that students could infer the tragedies rather than be faced with the brutalities that her character experienced. My students continue recommending this to each other, talking about what a powerful story it is.
Rhyme Schemer, by K.A. Holt
Kids are attracted to Kevin's attitude and sass, but it's his journey that stays with them. Kevin is bullied by his older brother at home, but he then turns to bullying classmates at school. By taking pages torn from library books, he makes funny but oh-so-cruel found poems and tapes them up at school. When another student discovers Kevin's journal, he turns the tables and Kevin must find a way to make peace with his victim-turned-aggressor. This is a great choice for 5th and 6th graders who might have liked Love That Dog when they were younger.
Serafina's Promise, by Ann E. Burg
Our students were immediately drawn to Serafina and could connect with her situation, even though it was so different from their own. Serafina dreams of becoming a doctor, but she knows that she must go to school to reach her dream. This is no easy feat in modern rural Haiti. How can she do this when her mother needs her help at home, especially with a new baby on the way? Ann E. Burg writes in free verse poetry, conveying Serafina's struggles in sparse, effective language.
The Way a Door Closes, by Hope Anita Smith
This slim book reads almost like a short play in three acts. In the first 12 poems, CJ describes how he feels warm and content as part of his close-knit family. But then, everything changes as his father loses his job and then abruptly leaves home. In the 13th poem, when his dad leaves, CJ describes how it felt: "The door closed with a / click. / I felt all the air leave the room / and we were vacuum-sealed inside. / - I can tell a lot by / the way a door closes." This is a powerful book that takes readers on CJ's roller-coaster emotional journey.
Words With Wings, by Nikki Grimes
As a friend of mine wrote, this is a "peek into the mind of a daydreamer" and a wonderful teacher who encourages her in just the right way. Her teacher recognizes that Gabby is coping with her parents separation, and that daydreams are a way she escapes. He helps channel her imagination, encouraging her to let her daydreams come to life in her writing. This is a wonderful, uplifting story of a young girl finding her own voice, staying true to herself.
Zorgamazoo, by Robert Paul Weston
I loved the inventive poetry, the rhythm and rhyme, the creative fantasy. Best way to it: Dr. Seuss meets Lemony Snicket, with a healthy dose of Roald Dahl throughout. The story is fantasy, macabre, silly, and truly great fun to read aloud. The illustrations and book design add a tremendous amount to the story. Absolutely terrific wordplay, combined with a plot that keeps kids racing along with it.

My own "to be read" pile: 2 new novels in verse:

Blue Birds, by Caroline Starr Rose
Historical fiction, showing the friendship between a Native American girl and an English girl who's traveled with her parents in 1587 to Virginia. From the publisher's description: "Amid the strife, Alis meets and befriends Kimi, a Roanoke girl about her age. Though the two don’t even speak the same language, these girls form a special bond as close as sisters, willing to risk everything for the other. Finally, Alis must make an impossible choice when her family resolves to leave the island and bloodshed behind."
Red Butterfly, by A.L. Sonnichsen
Friends are including this in their favorites of 2015: a beautiful story, beautifully told. From the publisher description: "Kara never met her birth mother. Abandoned as an infant, she was taken in by an elderly American woman living in China. Now eleven, Kara spends most of her time in their apartment, wondering why she and Mama cannot leave the city of Tianjin and go live with Daddy in Montana. Mama tells Kara to be content with what she has … but what if Kara secretly wants more?"

I just love it when a character's thoughts and moods meld with mine in my mind, growing and becoming part of me. Novels in verse - usually written in free form poetry - have a particular way of doing this, where the narrator's voice almost flows into me.

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. A Poem in Your Pocket, by Margaret McNamara & G. Brian Karas (ages 4-10) -- delightful encouragement for all writers

Poetry encourages us to see the world through a different lens, slowing down to notice small details. But how do you encourage a child who's feeling absolutely stuck, unable to let go enough to trust their own "poet's eye"? This delightful new picture book offers a gentle lesson on how a special teacher and a visiting poet did just that.
A Poem in Your Pocket
by Margaret McNamara
illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Schwartz & Wade / Random House, 2015
Random House teaching guide
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-10
*best new book*
Everyone in Mr. Tiffin's class is excited when he announces that poet Emmy Crane will be visiting in April to celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day with them. All through April, Elinor and her class start reading poetry, learning about different types of figurative language and forms of poetry, and writing their own poems.
"Mr. Tiffin taught them about similes, and they tried them out.
'Robert is as tall as that really high building in the middle of town!' said Robert.
'Math is like a knot,' said Tara.
'One that we can untangle together,' said Mr. Tiffin."
When Elinor has trouble writing her own poems, Mr. Tiffin encourages her to keep trying. "Remember, poetry is a messy business," he tells her. But the more she works, the more frustrated she gets.

Many children will relate to Elinor's frustration--staring at an empty page can be overwhelming for any of us. Margaret McNamara develops this story in such a gentle way that she encourages all readers to try using their own "poet's eye."

When Elinor finally meets Emmy Crane, young Elinor is nearly frozen with fear. But the kind, gentle writer tells her "no poem is perfect... tell me what you were thinking about."

I adore this story, for its message that poetry begins in the heart, and for the way it shows how we all need to be kind and not judge our own attempts too harshly. Brian Karas's illustrations add gentle warmth throughout. I especially love the way he shows poet Emmy Crane as an African American woman, incorporating subtle affirmation of the diversity of our classrooms, students and authors.

Our school collaborates with local bookstore, Mrs. Dalloway's, to celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day. Our 4th graders are so excited that their original poems go out to the whole world, carried in people's pockets. Learn more from the Academy of American Poets:
"Every April, on Poem in Your Pocket Day, people throughout the United States celebrate by selecting a poem, carrying it with them, and sharing it with others throughout the day as schools, bookstores, libraries, parks, workplaces, and other venues ring loud with open readings of poems from pockets."
Read the starred review at Kirkus; and a terrific review at the blog Randomly Reading. Teachers, definitely check out this teaching guide. Illustrations ©2015 by G. Brian Karas; used with permission from Random House. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, 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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14. Poetry in motion: Celebrating moving, grooving and jumping outside (ages 3-11)

I love sharing poems with kids that create a sense of motion and play through the way they twist words, create movement and bounce to their own rhythm. Newbery winning author Kwame Alexander called basketball "poetry in motion", and today I'd like to flip that metaphor around to celebrate two collections that celebrate sports with poetry in motion.

Good Sports
by Jack Prelutsky
illustrated by Chris Raschka
Knopf / Random House, 2007
Your local library
Amazon
Google Preview
ages 6-11
Prelutsky celebrates sports from baseball to soccer to gymnastics, gleefully swinging and catapulting through motion and emotions that will resonate with kids. They'll love his playful rhymes, and they will connect with the way these short untitled poems can get to the heart of how they feel.
"I'm at the foul line, and I bet
The ball will go right through the net.
I'm certain I will sink this shot,
For I've been practicing a lot.

I concentrate, then let it go...
I know it's good--I know, I know.
It makes an arc, I make a wish,
Then hear the soft, sweet sound of SWISH!"
Share these short poems with kids and ask what they notice -- do they like the rhythm and rhyming of the first two lines, or maybe the use of the "s" sounds (alliteration) in the last line, emphasizing the sound of SWISH of the basketball. Rashka's illustrations are loose and impressionistic, especially appealing to 3rd through 5th graders because they don't feel too young. I love how he incorporates diverse kids throughout--the player making the shot above has long wavy red hair, maybe a girl or maybe a boy.

For poems that celebrate all sorts of outdoor playing, definitely look for A Stick Is an Excellent Thing, with Marilyn Singer's playful poetry and LeUyen Pham's joyful illustrations.
A Stick is an Excellent Thing
Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play
by Marilyn Singer
illustrations by LeUyen Pham
Clarion / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012
Your local library
Amazon
ages 3-8
Kids will love the way these short poems celebrate all types of playing outside, whether it's balancing on the curb, running through a sprinkler, making stone soup with friends. Use these poems to make kids smile and also use them to show how poetry can create a freeze frame, its own small moment. Here's one that my students will definitely relate to:
Edges

I like to walk the edges--
   the curbs, the rims, the little ledges.
I am careful not to tilt,
  to stumble, lump or wilt.

I pay attention to my feet
  so that every step is neat.
I am dancing in the air
  but I never leave the street.
Pham's illustrations are full of bouncing, running, smiling kids, in both city and suburban scenes. Kids are playing in large and small groups--I love how she shows how much kids like to play together. Her kids are modern and multicultural, and full of smiles on every page. My older students will relate to Singer's poems, but the illustrations make this collection best suited for younger kids.

Both review copies were borrowed as ebooks from the San Francisco Public Library while I was on vacation. Hooray! I especially appreciate the way SFPL has ebook tutorials for first time users. 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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15. Hypnotize a Tiger, by Calef Brown (ages 5-12)

I love sharing poetry that makes kids laugh, especially with puns and twists of phrases that make kids giggle. Even better, in my view, is poetry that makes kids think and laugh and then make their own puns. Calef Brown's new collection is full of delightful surprises, perfect for the punster in your life.
Hypnotize a Tiger
Poems About Just About Everything
by Calef Brown
Henry Holt / Macmillan, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-12
*best new book*
Calef Brown’s witty verse and illustrations leap and frolic from one topic to the next, full of wordplay, humor and rhymes. Whether he's riffing off of his "peeps" like Lazyhead "eating frozen raisin bread" while staring at the TV, or sharing "poems of a particular vehicular nature", Brown is at his best when he combines short witty verse with pen and ink drawings.

Rhyming word play is delightful and footnotes add to the humor, encouraging careful reading. Here's one of my favorites:
Lou Gnome

Look who came back home
to Hoboken--
it's Lou Gnome!
Like the G in his name,
Lou is silent.
Completely nonviolent.
He doesn't speak,
even when spoken to.
None of the Gnomes in Hoboken do.

footnote:
Those that are gnome-schooled
are required to recite the Pledge of the Wee-Gents,
sometimes at huge events.
Irreverent? Certainly! But for kids who think that using a G in the word gnome is completely nuts, this poems makes absolute sense. I also love all the ways that Brown plays with language, not only using obvious end-rhymes like home and gnome, but also substituting beginning sounds to imply rhymes in your head (don't you love gnome-schooled?!).

My students and I keep finding treasures to make us laugh. In "Roman Pets", Brown declares that "They even found a dog brush/ in a catacomb." Get it? Cat-a-comb? Dog-brush?!! The footnote reads: "A puppy at play/ on the Appian Way/ was happy to say/ he was not in Pompeii."

Many reviewers have called Brown's poems "nonsense verse", but I have to declare that they make the upmost sense! Just take a look at how he combines pigeons and frogs into "Pigeon Frogs":
"Pigeon Frogs!
Pigeon Frogs! ...
All day long
they hop and flutter.
Snatching crumbs
and catching flies
with bobbing heads
and bulging eyes."
If you were to combine the qualities of a pigeon and a frog, wouldn't you say you'd find "bobbing heads and bulging eyes"?!! I can't wait to use this poem with our 3rd graders and ask them to work together to make their own creative animals.

Illustrations ©2015 by Calef Brown; used with permission from Macmillan. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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16. Popcorn Astronauts and Other Biteable Rhymes, by Deborah Ruddell (ages 4-10)

It's fitting that National Poetry Month kicks off each year on April Fool's Day. Modern children's poetry has a strong tradition of delightful mischief and playful humor -- whether it's Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein or Jack Prelutsky. Share poetry for the sheer pleasure, but also share it because of its rich language, as it layers so many ideas in short spaces.
The Popcorn Astronauts and Other Biteable Rhymesby Deborah Ruddell
illustrated by Joan Rankin
Margaret K. McElderry Books / Simon & Schuster, 2015
Your local libraryAmazonages 4-10
My students (and teachers!) are going to love this assortment of delicious, mischievous, amusing poems all about food. The topic is immediately appealing and approachable, making it easy to hook kids. Some evoke delicious food or happy memories, like "The Cocoa Cabana" serving hot chocolate at the edge of a skating pond. Others spice it up with humor, like the smoothie surprise with "a whisper of pickle" and "the slime from a snail."

Ruddell mixes it up with different poetic forms, and every poem is rich with imagery that will help young students explore the power of similes and metaphors. Because the topics are so fun, these comparisons will get kids actively involved in creating their own figures of speech. Just thinking about guacamole as porridge for a troll makes me smile!
"Even though it's lumpy and it's avocado green,
like the porridge for an ogre or a troll,
nothing on the table makes my eyes light up
like a little guacamole in a bowl!"
The illustrations are equally delightful, helping young readers visualize the poetic imagery and adding their own humor in the process. In "Welcome to Watermelon Lake", Ruddell playfully imagines that a slice of watermelon is a giant lake to some little critters. Young children will love Rankin's illustrations that show just how silly this might be.
"It's icy cold, so our advice
is take a breath and don't think twice.
Just jump right in--you'll never sink--
and did we mention that it's PINK?"
My all-time favorite poem is "How a Poet Orders a Shake" -- both for the imagery and for the way students could come up with their own "how to" poems.
How a Poet Orders a Shake

"A frosty cup of moonlight, please,"
the poet murmurs, low.
"As mush as a mittenful
of slightly melted snow...

And softer than a summer cloud
and paler than a swan
and pearlier than polar bears,"
the poet rambles on...

"And let it be at least as sweet
as icing on a cake.
In other words,
my usual:
a small vanilla shake."

-- by Deborah Ruddell
Do you have a favorite line in this poem? An image that really sticks with you? If you imagine a vanilla shake, what does comparing it to a "frosty cup of moonlight" make you feel like?

I'm looking forward to sharing more favorite poetry books for children all month long as we celebrate National Poetry Month.
Illustrations ©2015 by Joan Rankin; used with permission from Simon & Schuster. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Simon & Schuster. 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. Public School Superhero: James Patterson Reads Prize Pack Giveaway (ages 9-12)

James Patterson's middle school novels are a huge hit at Emerson--kids find them funny, relatable, and engaging. Patterson has long been committed to inspiring kids to read -- I'm a big fan of his Read, Kiddo, Read website and the way he uses his notoriety and success to champion all sorts of reading for kids.
"Here's a simple but powerful truth that many parents and schools don't act on: the more kids read, the better readers they become. The best way to get kids reading more is to give them books they'll gobble up... Freedom of choice is a key to getting them motivated and excited."

We Can Get Our Kids Reading
by James Patterson
Patterson has just announced a tremendous opportunity he's offering to schools across the US: he's pledged $1.5 million to give to school libraries through a partnership with Scholastic. Please share this news with your school librarians, principals and teachers!

Today I'd like to celebrate his newest book: Public School Superhero. I'm excited about this because so many of my 4th and 5th graders ask for funny books and adventure books. They will love the comics that are sprinkled throughout this. And I'm so happy to see the main character is an African American boy.
Public School Superhero
by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts
illustrations by Cory Thomas
Little, Brown, 2015
read chapters 1-5 online
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
Publisher summary: Kenny Wright is a kid with a secret identity. In his mind, he's Stainlezz Steel, super-powered defender of the weak. In reality, he's a chess club devotee known as a "Grandma's Boy," a label that makes him an easy target for bullies. Kenny wants to bring a little more Steel to the real world, but the question is: can he recognize his own true strength before peer pressure forces him to make the worst choice of his life?

Kirkus review: Kenny's dreams of superpowered heroics provide a respite from his tough school. Kenny Wright loves his grandma, chess and superheroes. Less loved is his school, an overcrowded, underfunded cinderblock straight out of the fourth season of The Wire. A string of peculiar circumstances puts Kenny in the position of teaching his enemy, Ray-Ray, how to play chess, but this crummy state of affairs may be just what Kenny needs right now. ... A smart and kind story topped with just the right amount of social justice. (see full review)

James Patterson Reads Prize Pack Giveaway

Make it through middle school with James Patterson! Enter for a chance to win copies of:
  • Public School Superhero
  • I Funny
  • Treasure Hunters
  • House of Robots
Fill out the Rafflecopter below. Giveaway ends
a Rafflecopter giveaway

This book giveaway is open to participants in the US only. Prizing & samples courtesy of Little, Brown and Company. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, First Second. 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. Last of the Sandwalkers blog tour with special appearance from Professor Bombardier & author/artist/scientist Jay Hosler (ages 10-14)

Jay Hosler's new graphic novel The Last of the Sandwalkers is not going to grab everyone, but for the right audience it is absolutely terrific. You're going to love it if you like comics, science, adventure and humor.
The Last of the Sandwalkers
by Jay Hosler
First Second Books, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 10-14
*best new book*
Hosler drops readers into the middle of the age of New Coleopolis, the world of beetles where nothing exists beyond their protected oasis. You see, Old Coleopolis was destroyed over 1,000 years ago when the god Scarabus obliterated it with a barrage of coconuts. And yet Lucy, an intrepid young researcher (the sandwalker beetle from the title), is sure that life exists beyond the oasis.

Lucy sets out on an epic quest to prove that life exists in the great world beyond. She is accompanied by Raef, a pun-loving firefly, Professor Bombardier, the wise level-headed elder of the group, and Mossy, a giant Hercules beetle. One disaster strikes after another, as Lucy and her friends confirm their hypothesis and then try to make their way home.
Ajani, an Emerson 5th grader who's avidly read science nonfiction as well as all types of comic books for years, started off our conversation about this saying, "I wish they'd make another one." Ajani's favorite character is the firefly Raef. 
"Half the reason is he's a frickin' robot, shooting laser beams at 'Dyna-soars.'" -- 5th grader Ajani describing why he loves Raef
Hosler's humor is sophisticated, layered and yet totally accessible. Ajani loved that the Dyna-soars were birds (they'd look like giants if you were a beetle!), and he definitely got the reference to birds being descendants of dinosaurs. But he also picked up on Raef's character traits, protecting himself and his friends out of steadfast loyalty.
Lucy & friends try to escape from the "Dyna-soars"
Hosler, a biology professor at Juniata College, weaves scientific information throughout the story, but this just adds to the wonder and fun of the adventure. As he states on his website, his goal "is to use the compelling visual power of comics to illustrate the alien worlds that often go unnoticed and unappreciated."  My favorite character is Professor Bombardier, so I was thrilled to have Hosler visit for this blog tour and tell us a little more about the Bombardier beetle.
Character Name: Professor Bombardier
Species: Pheropsophus verticalis
Length: 10-13 mm
Color: Mostly dark brown elytra with orange/broan markings.
Habitat: woodlands or grasslands
Superpower: Flaming-hot chemical spray
Professor Bombardier
Many beetles are capable of storing nasty chemicals in their body and secreting them as a means of deterring the unwelcome attention of predators. The pioneering chemical ecologist Thomas Eisner talks about many of them in his book Secret Weapons. The bombardier beetle, however, is probably the most impressive. It has two reservoirs in its abdomen that contain reactive chemicals. When it is disturbed, it releases the chemicals into another chamber that is lined with enzymes. These enzymes initiate a series of chemical reactions. The result is the build up of a blazing hot, extremely irritating concoction that the bombardier beetle can spray at any nuisance that gets on its nerves.
Bombardier beetle (courtesy of ABC News)
Whipping up such a nasty elixir qualifies the bombardier beetle as a world-class beetle chemist, but it’s also quite a marksman. There is a tiny turret at the tip of a bombardier beetle’s abdomen that it can aim in 360 degrees. When sufficiently annoyed, these beetles will spray their calamitous cocktail in a series of short pulses. A steady stream of chemicals could be hazardous to the beetle’s health. The turret actually cools slightly between pulses and this prevents the beetles from cooking their own abdomen. Sounds far-fetched, I know, but don’t take my word for it. Sir David Attenborough will show you the whole amazing display in this video.

The bombardier beetle has also rubbed elbows with some of the great scientists of our time. Charles Darwin even mentions one in his autobiography. Apparently, he was out collecting beetles when he came across a particularly fascinating specimen. Unfortunately, he already had a beetle in each hand. Undaunted, he popped one of those beetles in his mouth for safe keeping so that he could pick up this third specimen. Much to his dismay, he quickly learned that the beetle in his mouth was a bombardier and the repellent experience distracted him so much that he lost all three beetles.

Professor Bombardier
In Last of the Sandwalkers, Professor Bombardier plays an important role as the guiding hand of our team of intrepid explorers. But don’t be fooled by her patient, genteel demeanor. Threaten her friends and you just might be on the receiving end of a scalding chemical scolding.

Find out more information about the Bombardier beetle here:
Many thanks to Jay Hosler for sharing such a terrific story and great background information. I know this is a graphic novel that my science-loving, comics-fans will read again and again and again.

Make sure to stop by each of the post for The Last of the Sandwalkers blog tour. Hosler will share information about different characters at each. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, First Second. 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. Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson (ages 4-8)

Spending time together. A grandmother and her grandson. That love and friendship is what life's all about.


I love how picture books can capture a small moment--and help us hold onto the small moments in our own lives. Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson's wonderful picture book Last Stop on Market Street makes me smile every single time I read it--it's so filled with love, friendship and an appreciation for life, in such a real way.
Last Stop on Market Street
by Matt de la Peña
illustrated by Christian Robinson
G.P.Putnam's Sons / Penguin, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
*best new book*
When CJ and his grandmother finish church, they head to the bus stop together. CJ doesn't want to wait for the bus, stand in the rain, or go places after church. "Nana, how come we don't got a car?" Nana gently chides him, really just planting seeds for how she sees the world. "Boy, what do we need a car for? We got a bus that breathes fire and old Mr. Dennis, who always has a trick for you."
"Boy, what do we need a car for? We got a bus that breathes fire and old Mr. Dennis, who always has a trick for you."
You see, it's really how you look at the world, the magic you can see there, and the people you meet along the way. When CJ asks why a man on the bus can't see, Nana tells him, "Boy, what do you know about seeing? Some people watch the world with their ears."
"Some people watch the world with their ears."
CJ's grandmother helps him see beauty in his surroundings, whether it's the bus or the soup kitchen they head to every Sunday afternoon. As Nana said,
"Sometimes when you're surrounded by dirt, C.J., you're a better witness for what's beautiful."
Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson celebrate the relationship between CJ and his grandmother, and they help all of us see beauty in the small moments, where we never even thought to look. This is a book I look forward to sharing with a wide range of children. Young ones will feel the love between grandmother and grandson; older ones will see the messages that the authors are sharing.

I know my students will especially love the illustrations, with such a wonderful range of people that look so much like the people we see every day walking in our city. The rich, full colors infuse the landscape and city scenes with warmth, community and happiness.

Want to learn more? Check out:
I'm so happy to hear that this special book is now on the New York Times Bestseller list. Hooray! I've already purchased five copies to share with friends. Illustrations from LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET written by Matt de la Peña. Illustrations © 2015 by Christian Robinson. Used with permission from G.P. Putnam's Sons / Penguin. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher. 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. My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay -- by Cari Best and Vanessa Brantley-Newton (ages 5-9)

With our 3rd graders, we're spending a lot of time looking at how we understand characters' feelings through what authors write and illustrators draw. This helps students understand the layers of a story and connect to characters, but it also helps them develop empathy. Our kids loved reading a new book, My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay, and really connected to the story. It's truly a special book about perseverance, friendship and blindness.
My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay
by Cari Best
illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-9
Adults might first notice the cane that Zulay is holding, but kids first noticed the braille alphabet on the back of the book. After they all felt the back cover, we talked about why Zulay might need to use this alphabet, so everyone started with a little background knowledge. Zulay has a huge smile on her face as she comes to school, arm in arm with her three best friends.
"We link our arms and skip our legs and sing like the stereo till Ms. Perkins, the hall lady, tells us to stop. 'You have a new perfume!' I say, and she says back, 'Zulay doesn't miss a thing.'"
Zulay loves her teacher, writing on her Brailler and helping her friend figure out a math problem. But when Ms. Turner, an aide, comes to help her practice using her "fold-ing hold-ing cold-ing" white cane, Zulay is reluctant. She doesn't want to be left behind or different from everyone else.

We talked about what it means, not wanting to "stick out", and why she might feel like this. I shared how hard it was for me to have to get extra help with my multiplication facts in 3rd grade. Kids talked about the illustration below, and how Zulay was feeling as she struggled learning to use her cane outside. We looked at Zulay's expression and thought about how it would feel.
"Then we practice together in the big outside with no walls or desks or friends." 
Zulay's spirit shines as she decides that she wants to run in the Field Day race around the track. She practices and works hard, and--just like Zulay's friends--my students cheered when she ran the final race.
"'Run, Zulay, run!' my friends all shout, like I shouted for them."
My students could definitely relate to how hard Zulay worked, how worried and uncertain she felt when things were difficult, and how excited she was at the end. The only detail they were a little unclear about is whether Zulay ran with Ms. Turner, as you see above, or by herself as it shows her when she crosses the finish line.

There are very few picture books about showing contemporary kids who are blind, so it is especially refreshing to see one with such a positive character and inclusive message.

This week, kids will look at a big array of picture books finding examples of characters' expressions. We are excited to have a visit by Lisa Brown, picture book illustrator and author, who will talk with 3rd and 4th graders about the Art of the Picture Book. Lisa's characters are full of a wide range of expressions -- just take a look at her Tumblr, where she posts daily sketches.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Macmillan, and we have already purchased an additional copy for our school. 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. Juna's Jar, by Jane Bahk and Felicia Hoshino (ages 4-7) -- imagination and friendship soar

I adore picture books for the way they let us escape into our imagination, but they can also help us recognize our resilience (and our children's) as we face disappointment. Share Juna's Jar, a lovely new picture book by debut San Francisco author Jane Bahk, and talk with your children about how Juna's imagination helps her when she misses her friend Hector.
Juna's Jar
by Jane Bahk
illustrated by Felicia Hoshino
Lee & Low, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-7
Juna and Hector always loved collecting things together and putting them in Juna's kimchi jar, but Juna is at a loss when Hector moves away. It's especially sad that she hasn't had a chance to say goodbye.
"Juna loved to take the jar and go on adventures with her best friend, Hector."
Her big brother, Minho, helps cheer her up, getting her a fish. That night, Juna dreams of diving into the ocean, swimming with her new fish and looking for Hector. The next night, after her brother gives her a bean plan to fill the jar, she journeys into the rain forest. On the third night, Juna rides a cricket in her dreams, traveling far outside the city to Hector's new home. As she sees him sleeping, Juna is able to whisper goodbye.

Felicia Hoshino's gentle watercolor illustrations capture Juna's wistful emotions, full of longing but also the final promise of new friendship.

I love how friend Margie Myers-Culver sums it up in her review at Librarian's Quest:
Juna's Jar "asks readers to think about friendship, family and the potential of imagination. It's not about looking at life as a glass half full or not but what can happen when we fill the glass."
Jane Bahk won the 2010 Lee & Low New Voices Award for an unpublished author of color, with the manuscript for Juna's Jar. I look forward to more stories from her! I also want to honor and thank Lee & Low for this important award.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Lee & Low. 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. Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees, by Franck Prévot (ages 7-12)

Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work helping women throughout Africa planting trees to improve the environment and their quality of life. As we celebrate Women's History Month, I am excited to share this new picture book about her struggles and accomplishments with my students.
Wangari Maathai
The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees
by Franck Prévot
illustrated by Aurélia Fronty
Charlesbridge, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 7-12
*best new book*
Maathai's political activism shines through in this biography, in her determination to reverse environmental damage caused by large, colonial plantations and empower local villagers--especially women--to improve their local conditions. Prévot begins by introducing young readers to Maathai's legacy:
"It's almost as if Wangari Maathai is still alive, since the trees she planted still grow. Those who care about the earth as Wangari did can almost hear her speaking... Wangari encouraged many village women. She dug holes with them in the red soil--holes in which to plant hope for today and forests for tomorrow."
As Prévot tells Maathai's story, he emphasizes how her childhood and her education shaped Wangari, especially, in a time when very few African women went to school or learned to read.
"When Wangari planted a large-leafed ebony tree or an African tulip tree, she was reminded of her own roots."
This biography allows students to develop a deeper understanding of the political, economic and social structures Maathai stood up against. I love being able to share with students the value of reading more than one book on a subject, seeing how different authors draw out different details. I would start by reading Seeds of Change, by Jen Cullerton Johnson, and watching a short video. If you build background knowledge, students can then dig into statements such as this:
"The government officials who built their fortunes by razing forests try to stop Wangari. Who is this woman who confronts them with a confident voice in a country where women are supposed to listen and lower their eyes in men's presence?"
The illustrations are striking and stylized, lush and vibrant. I especially noticed how Fronty varies the rich, saturated background colors on each spread, adding to the emotions. Just look how bold and strong the red is below--and notice how it contrasts to the cool greens and blues above:
"Wangari believes confident women have an important role to play in their families, their villages, and on the entire African continent."
This is truly an outstanding picture book biography. Prévot finishes with a detailed timeline of Maathai's life, illustrated with several photographs. This background material is both easy to access, written in short chunks, but also detailed to give a rich picture of her struggles and achievements.
From the backmatter -- timeline, informaiton about Kenya today, the damage caused by deforestation
Illustrations ©2011 by Aurelia Fronty; originally published in France. Used with permission from Charlesbridge. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher. 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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23. The Art of Picture Books: Terrific visit with Lisa Brown (ages 7-10)

Did you know picture books are not just for little kids? Do you love picture books with all your heart? My students and I do--they make us smile, they make us want to share books with friends, and they draw us into reading them again and again.


Last week we had a terrific visit with artist & author Lisa Brown. Our kids were fascinated with the books she shared--hers and many other favorites--and had so many questions for her. If you have the opportunity for an author visit, I highly recommend bringing Lisa to your school.
Lisa Brown at Emerson
All month, we've been talking about noticing details in picture books, especially around characters. Our 3rd and 4th graders have been identifying how characters feel, and then explaining the details that they notice to support their ideas. In art class our students have been drawing cartoon figures with different expressions, putting into action what they've been noticing in their reading.

Just look at this detail from Molly Bang's When Sophie Gets Angry: Really, Really Angry. A 3rd grader wrote: Sophie is "angry and jealous"-- look at "her hair is up, eyebrows down sloping, shouting." 
Supporting their opinions with this type of clear details is just the sort of practice that they need when they start writing literary essays. But even more importantly, in my opinion, it helps them read carefully and empathize with characters.

Another pair of 3rd graders loved sharing A Ball for Daisy, by Chris Raschka. Our students worked on developing descriptive words for character's emotions -- not just saying that Daisy was sad, but that she was "depressed, melancholy, unhappy." 
detail from A Ball for Daisy, by Chris Raschka
I just love this example from Mo Willem's Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, where students described the mother dinosaur as "sneaky, tricky and mysterious."
detail from Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, by Mo Willems
Lisa started off her presentation by sharing picture books that make us feel like we're going on a treasure hunt. Kids know Where's Waldo, but books like Benjamin Chaud's wonderful The Bear's Song incorporate this treasure hunt into the essential plot of the story. 

We had great fun looking at Lisa's recent books Vampire Boy's Good Night and Emily's Blue Period, noticing the details she used to add depth and meaning to the story. We had already read these stories before her visit, so students loved showing her the details they had already noticed (the butler has a bandaid on his neck!) and hearing about others that helped us see more into the story.
Lisa Brown shows her sketchbook to students
Finally, Lisa shared her sketchbook--explaining how she draws every day. And she celebrated drawings our students had done, sketching all sorts of emotions and expressions.

Sending out huge thanks to Lisa Brown for taking the time to visit, and to the Berkeley Public School Fund and the Emerson PTA for sponsoring this author visit.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. Celebrating Women's History Month with Leontyne Price & Mahalia Jackson (ages 5-9)

We celebrate Women's History Month each year, reading picture book biographies, investigating women through online sources and talking about women in our community. I'm happy to share today two new picture book biographies of inspiring African American singers, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson and opera singer Leontyne Price.
Mahalia Jackson
Walking with Kings and Queens
by Nina Nolan
illustrated by John Holyfield
Amistad / HarperCollins, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-9
Nolan introduces young readers to Mahalia Jackson, putting her life, passion and achievements in context. Right from the beginning, readers understand that music meant everything to Mahalia. I just love this opening spread:
"People might say little Mahalia Jackson was born with nothing, but she had something all right. A voice that was bigger than she was."
Although she was surrounded by all types of music in New Orleans and Chicago, Mahalia found comfort singing in church--especially given the hard times she experienced as a child. Nolan especially emphasizes Jackson's determination to pursue her singing and stay true to herself and her passion for gospel.
"Mahalia sang for as many people as she could. She knew gospel lifted people up. And when you know something like that, you've got to tell it to the world."
This is an important addition to our collection of picture book biographies. Pair this with Andrea Davis Pinkney's Martin and Mahalia: His Words, Her Song.
Leontyne Price:
Voice of a Century
by Carole Boston Weatherford
illustrated by Raul Colón
Knopf / Random House, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-9
I adore the beauty and strength in this new biography of opera singer Leontyne Price. Weatherford clearly introduces Price's life, showing how difficult it was for her to pursue singing as a career. Leontyne's family supported her passion for music: "Their song of encouragement rose above the color line." But it was Marian Anderson, the African American opera singer who gave a famous performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939, who truly inspired Price.
"Singing along to her daddy James's records and listening to the Metropolitan Opera's Saturday-afternoon radio broadcasts...
Art songs and arias, shaping a brown girl's dreams."
Weatherford's language is poetic and beautiful, yet always simple enough for young students to understand.
"Leontyne was never more majestic than as Aida, playing the part she was born to sing... Standing on Marian's shoulders, Leontyne gave the crowd goose bumps. The song of her soul soared on the breath of her ancestors."
Raul Colón's soft watercolor illustrations capture Price's grace and grandeur, while still feeling personal. An inspiring combination of text and artwork that draws children to it right away.

Mahalia Jackson illustrations ©2015 by John Holyfield; used with permission from HarperCollins. Leontyne Price illustrations ©2015 by Raul Colón; used with permission from Random House. The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers. 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. Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan -- multilayered, heartfelt historical fiction (ages 10-14)

Pam Muñoz Ryan captivates readers with this multilayered story set around the tumult of World War II. Themes of hope, resilience and inspiration echo (yes, pun intended) throughout three different characters' separate stories, set in Germany, Pennsylvania and California in the 1930s and 1940s. Already, my students are raving about this, telling each other that it's one of the best books of the year.
Echo
by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Scholastic, 2015
Google Books preview
Your local library
Amazon
ages 10-14
*best new book*
Ryan's story is framed by a short fairy tale that introduces themes carried through the whole book. In this tale, young Otto started to read a magical story that suddenly comes to life -- in which the spirits of three cursed princesses are carried in a mystical harmonica. They will only be free if the harmonica can save someone on the brink of death.

The story then shifts to 1933 in Germany, where young Friedrich struggles to survive in Nazi Germany, dealing both with a birthmark on his face and an intense love of music, especially the harmonica. Ryan not only shows the conformity insisted upon by the Nazis, but also the risks people took to stay true to their ideas and passions. Through Friedrich, readers really feel the power of music to inspire and fill a person's soul. Friedrich works in a harmonica factory with his father and discovers the magical harmonica that Otto leaves behind. The chapter ends on a cliff-hanger as Friedrich tries to rescue his father from a Nazi prison camp.

I wondered if young readers would like the way Ryan shifts each section of the story to another location, following the harmonica as it travels from Europe to America in the 1930s and 1940s. Our 4th and 5th grade students who are ready to tackle a long novel are really enjoying it. Norah said,
"I liked how the author changed stories right as you were about to get bored with one story--I really liked how it was a total fairy tale in the beginning, and then suddenly changed to the beginning of WW2. I like how one object connects all the stories -- the harmonica."
Next, the harmonica travels to Depression-era Pennsylvania, where it is given to two brothers, Mike and Frankie Finnegan, in an orphanage. Once again, music plays an important role in their lives--both as a connection to their mother who taught piano lessons and to a wealthy woman who adopts them but doesn't seem to want them.

The final chapter is set in Southern California, where Ivy Lopez learns to play the harmonica and discovers she has exceptional musical ability. Ivy, the daughter of Mexican-American migrant workers, must confront segregation and discrimination.

In each case, characters find inner strength from their love of music and inspiration it provides. This comes across particularly well, as readers get the sense that each character's dreams are captured within the harmonica and passed to the next player. As Lora Shinn writes in Kirkus with her interview of Ryan:
"Echo contains lyrical, emotional descriptions of melodic pieces—often from the musician’s point of view—with such realism that it’s somewhat surprising that Ryan isn’t a working musician...
“That's the wonderful thing about music and so many of the arts,” Ryan says. “You don't have to be the one who makes the art to love and appreciate it or even to become an expert on it. Someone has to be the audience. Music is a universal language understood by both the person speaking—the musician—as well as person spoken to, the listener,” she says.”
The final chapter ties all of the stories together, as the characters meet in New York City in 1951 at a grand performance in Carnegie Hall. Several students commented that this chapter was confusing in the way Ryan jumped back and forth in time as she wrapped up each story. Even so, this is a story that they are recommending to one another with great enthusiasm.

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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