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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. 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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2. 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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3. #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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4. 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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5. 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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6. 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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7. 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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8. 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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9. 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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10. 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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11. 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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12. 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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13. 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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14. 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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15. 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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16. 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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17. 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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18. 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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19. 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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20. 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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21. 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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22. 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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23. 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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24. 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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25. 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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