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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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26. The Madman of Piney Woods, by Christopher Paul Curtis -- poignant historical fiction (ages 10-13)

With so many tragedies in the news lately, I've been wondering what causes some people to react to life's hardships with hatred and bitterness when others react with empathy and understanding. As I finished reading Christopher Paul Curtis's moving novel The Madman of Piney Woods, the characters gave me strength to face life's hardships and reflect on what's important. This is a companion novel to his Newbery Honor book Elijah of Buxton, but it easily stands alone.
The Madman of Piney Woods
by Christopher Paul Curtis
Scholastic, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 10-13
*best new book*
Thirteen year old Benji Alston lives in Buxton, Ontario and dreams of becoming a newspaper journalist. The Civil War happened long ago, but its impact still resonates in Buxton, a Canadian town settled by abolitionists and runaway slaves. African-Canadian Benji is excited to start an internship at a local newspaper in nearby Chatham, where he meets Alvin "Red" Stockard, son of an Irish immigrant and a local judge.

Curtis slowly builds this story, immersing readers in each boy's separate life--showing their interactions with friends and family. African-Canandian Benji is most at home in the woods, but he is not a perfect character. He's exceedingly jealous of his younger brother and sister, teasing and tormenting them. Red is the sort of person who watches a situation closely, noticing how people act and interact. It's no surprise when we find out that he dreams of becoming a scientist.

Both boys come across a man--perhaps real, perhaps mythical--living in the woods whom local children fear. Through Benji, readers comes to know The Madman of Piney Woods and learn about the horrors of the Civil War that made him retreat from society. But readers also come to know Red's Irish grandmother and the "coffin ships" that carried her to Canada--and how those experiences led her enduring bitterness.

I know this will be a hard book to summarize for students. It's the sort of book you have to find your way through, trusting friends' recommendations and the author. But it has lasting power, both in its overall themes and in specific passages. On his deathbed, the "Madman" Mr. Bixby gives this final advice to Benji:
“You gotta be careful, boy. Life ain’t fair; it ain’t got no conscience ’bout letting one bad choice you make as a child be the thing what colour every waking minute you has thereafter. You gotta remember to treat each moment and each person as precious, treat ’em all with the same respect I seent you treating them woods.”
Benji has the last word with his first published article, a eulogy for Mr. Bixby which captures the lasting message I take away from this book.
"He is a hero because, in spite of all the horrors he’d witnessed, he never allowed anger nor vengeance to poison his spirit. he is a hero because though surrounded by the ignorance of his fellow man, he never became bitter."
I finished this book feeling like I was a better person for having read it. It reaffirmed my resolutions to keep connected to friends and family, to appreciate life's small moments and special people.

My students love Christopher Paul Curtis's novels Bud, Not Buddy and The Watsons Go to Birmingham. It's interesting that few read Elijah of Buxton. I look forward to encouraging more to trust a favorite author and read this. It will be a perfect fit for students who seek poignant stories, appreciate masterful writing and enjoy becoming immersed in characters' lives.

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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27. Celebrating the new year with books for new readers (ages 4-8)

I love the excitement in the air with little kids going back to school. I am looking forward to celebrating by sharing three new favorite books for beginning readers. These all incorporate humor with simple words that children just learning to read can decode. I'm going to keep the descriptions short so you can see a nice variety of books.

Steve & Wessley inThe Ice Cream Shop
by Jennifer E. Morris
Scholastic Level 1
Scholastic, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
When Steve passes an ice cream shop, he knows he can't walk another step without going inside. But push as he might, he just can't get the door open. Nothing happens until his best friend Wessley comes by and helps Steve read the sign: PULL. Kids will love the cartoon style, with exaggerated expressions and simple dialog. Also see Steve & Wessley in The Sea Monster for more of the same fun.

I Said, "Bed!"
An I Like to Read book, level D
by Bruce Degen
Holiday House, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-7
A rambunctious boy does NOT want to go to bed. "Bedtime is boring," he tells his mom. But when his bed turns into a motocross bike, the little boy is all ready for an adventure. I love the way Degen combines spirited illustrations with very simple text. Lots of room for imagination, but simple words for beginning readers.

This hardback book is a large picture-book size (8"x10"). In our library, that means it will get lost among all of our other picture books. I wonder if parents like this large format size. In the library, I tend to prefer these very beginning readers to keep to the traditional beginning reader trim size (5"x8").
Clara and Clem in Outer Space
Penguin Young Readers, Level 1
by Ethan Long
Penguin, 2014
Google Books preview
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-7
Clara and Clem head to outer space on a rocket they build together. They zoom past stars and dodge hungry aliens. Very beginning readers will enjoy the simple rhyming words and colorful cartoon illustrations. Each page has only one or two words in large dialog cartoon bubbles. Take a look at the Google Preview to get a sense of the pacing. Ethan Long is a master combining simple dialog with lively illustrations, winning the Geisel Award last year for Up, Tall and High. I'm so happy to have discovered a new series of his!

I am excited to explore the newly announced Cybils Award shortlist for Early Readers, which is what directed me to several of these titles. The review copies came from 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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28. Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson -- savoring memory, family and dreams (ages 9-14)

I am filled with love and hope as we step foot into the new year. I spent the day going on a beautiful walk in the crisp sunshine and then rereading my favorite book of the past year: Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson.

If you have a thoughtful, contemplative child in your life, seek out this book. If you want savor the richness of memory, family and dreams, seek out this book. If you want to revel in the beauty of language, by all means seek out this book.
Brown Girl Dreaming
by Jacqueline Woodson
Nancy Paulsen / Penguin, 2014
winner of 2014 National Book Award for Young People
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-14
*best new book*
Woodson has long been one of my favorite writers, drawing readers into emotionally powerful stories. Here she digs deep into her own childhood, writing in free verse to capture the images and feelings that come with those memories. Her language is rich in metaphor and imagery, exploring the way memories stay with us.
"My grandmother tells us all this
as we sit at her feet, each story like a photograph
we can look right into." 
As I read Woodson's memoir, I'm filled with the love for my own grandfather. Even though he was so very different than Woodson's grandfather, the strength of her memories evoke my own remembrances. I feel "the weight of our grandparents' love like a blanket with us beneath it, safe and warm."

But most of all, I love reading how Woodson talks about her dream of becoming a writer, her realization that words and stories are her special gift: "songs and stories and whole new worlds tucking themselves into my memory." Woodson excels at conveying her particular memories, but also connecting her life to a universal experience.
"How can I explain to anyone that stories
are like air to me,
I breathe them in and let them out
over and over again."
When I first read Brown Girl Dreaming last spring, I wondered how children would respond to it: Was this more of a book that adults would appreciate? Will children relate to her journey? Throughout the fall, I've watched it light a spark in students. It isn't the book for every child, but it is a truly special book for those it reaches. I just wish you could have seen two fourth graders who read it together and gushed how they see themselves in Woodson's words.

I am excited that my students have nominated Brown Girl Dreaming for our Emerson 2015 Mock Newbery. It will be fascinating to hear our passionate readers talk about what this book meant to them, whether they see Woodson's writing as distinguished and how it compares to other books they've read this year.

Teachers will also love using excerpts to inspire their students' own writing. Here are two of my favorite images:
"The empty swing set reminds us of this--
that what is bad won't be bad forever,
and what is good can sometimes last
a long, long time.

Even Coraandhersisters can only bother us
for a little while before they get called home
to supper."
---------------------
"When I read, the words twist
twirl across the page.
When they settle, it is too late.
The class has already moved on.

I want to catch words one day. I want to hold them
then blow gently,
watch them float
right out of my hands."
Please share this exceptional book with children who want to savor language, revel in memories and dream of being a writer.

Here are some interviews with Jacqueline Woodson I have especially loved reading, watching and listening to:
The review copy came from my personal library. I have already purchased several copies, although the first review copy was kindly sent by the publisher Nancy Paulsen and Penguin Books for Young Readers. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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29. Celebrating Christmas: three favorite new books (ages 3-10)

We are heading off to celebrate Christmas. Our packages our wrapped, suitcases are next. Before I leave, I'd like to share three favorite new Christmas books my students and I have loved this holiday season. I will be taking a break from my blog 'till New Years, celebrating with my family and finding plenty of time to read. Until 2015, enjoy these new holiday favorites!
12 Days of Christmas
by LeUyen Pham
Doubleday / Random House, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 3-8
Bay Area children’s illustrator LeUyen Pham (pronounced “Le Win”) infuses this classic Christmas carol with a delightful international flavor. A young boy and girl dressed in old-fashioned European costumes discover each of the traditional items, from a partridge in a pear tree to ten lords a-leaping.
"my true love gave to me/ 8 maids a-milking"
My students especially loved examining maids, dancers, lords and drummers in traditional dress from all regions of the world. Just look at these delightful interior spreads that Uyen shared with me.
"my true love gave to me/ 11 pipers piping"
These illustrations remind me of a special holiday tradition my mother passed on to me, displaying dolls in traditional dresses all around our Christmas tree. Pham's new illustrations for the classic song are a splendid treat.

'Twas Nochebuena
A Christmas Story in English and Spanish
by Roseanne Greenfield Thong
illustrated by Sara Palacios
Viking / Penguin, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
Using the familiar rhythm of “The Night Before Christmas,” this little girl describes her special family traditions--from hanging decorations to breaking a piñata. The rhythm and rhyming makes this great fun to read, especially with so many Spanish words woven in throughout. The meanings are clear from the context and illustrations, but there's also a glossary at the end.
"'Twas Nochebuena and all through our casa
every creature was kneading tamale masa."
I love the warm, joyful illustrations that celebrate family, friendship and traditions. My students loved recognizing some familiar traditions, but also learning about some new ones such as Las Posadas, where neighbors and families parade from house to house, and reenacting Joseph and Mary's journey on Christmas Eve.
Manger
Poems selected by Lee Bennet Hopkins
Illustrations by Helen Cann
Eerdmans, 2014
Google Books preview
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-10
As legend has it, all creatures are granted the power of speech for one hour at midnight on Christmas Eve. What might they say? How would they react to the story of Jesus's birth?

This beautiful book gathers together 15 poems reflecting the animals that might have been present at the birth of Jesus. These masterful poets convey a sense of wonder, awe, and humility that is echoed in Cann’s rich illustrations.

Learn more about Manger and Lee Bennett Hopkin's poetry at Sylvia Vardell's blog Poetry for Children.

The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers: Random House, Penguin and Eerdman's. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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30. Little kids take on the world: Nino Wrestles the World & Lucha Libre toys (ages 4-8)

The little kids I know have BIG imaginations. Playing with action figures and dolls is still one of kids' favorite activities. One of my favorite books from last year taps into this imagination perfectly: Niño Wrestles the World. Pair this with a set of Lucha Libre wrestling figures, and you'll create lots of playtime fun.
Dressed up in his lucha libre mask, little Niño uses his active imagination to battle some mighty foes. Whether he’s defeating the Guanajuato mummy or exploding the giant Olmec Head, this is one confident little kid.

Lucha libre, the popular masked Mexican wrestling sport, will appeal to kids familiar with it or just learning about it for the first time. Morales brings humor, dynamic energy and vivid artwork to this terrific picture book. She mixes in Spanish words seamlessly, providing great access for Spanish speaking families. But all of my students have loved this.

I love this video with Morales reading the story with flair. It gives you a great sense of how fun and dramatic it is.

Pair this with a set of plush lucha libre action figures and I can see little kids having a great time channeling their dreams of world-domination. To be honest, I have not ordered these but they look like so much fun. Let me know what you think!
CMLL Lucha Libre Plush Doll 7 inches
Yuyi Morales has put together a great Pinterest page for Niño Wrestles the World, full of other fun things to share. Over at her site, Morales has printable coloring sheets for kids to make their own luchador mask.

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

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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31. Fit for a wanna-be king: Stratford Zoo Midnight Review Presents Macbeth (ages 8-12)

Do your kids love graphic novels? Do you know any kid who loves the spotlight or has fun when their friends grab center stage? The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review is a new series of graphic novels that my students are giving a round of applause for the way it combines humor, theatrics, tragedy and puns. It would make a great gift either for comic-book fans or theater fans.
The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review Presents: Macbeth
by Ian Lendler
illustrated by Zack Giallongo
First Second, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-12
"Macbeth, the hero of our story, the greatest warrior in the land."
When the zoo shuts for the night, the animals gather together and put on a show. The lion makes a natural mighty Macbeth, full of swagger and a taste for power. My students were easily able to imagine why such a beast would want to be king--and Lender's version shares this classic play in a form that is very kid-friendly. Here's how he adapts the witches' famous song which charms Macbeth, setting the plot in motion:
"Double, double,
toil and trouble,
fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Eat the king,
the plot will thicken,
go on Macbeth,
he tastes like chicken."
Lendler mixes humor and puns throughout Shakespeare's bloody tragedy, giving young readers a real sense of the classic play but making it very age-appropriate. Giallongo's illustrations capture Macbeth's slide into gluttony perfectly, make light of the witches and add plenty of ketchup to keep the tragedy at bay. My students definitely give this version of Shakespeare a hearty round of applause.

We were lucky enough to have Ian Lendler visit Emerson last week to share his book with our 4th and 5th graders. He starts out his presentation with a loud bugle calling everyone's attention (see below), just as the young boys did during Shakespeare's time. He shares an overview of the story with students, emphasizing some of the lessons of the story. Our kids highly recommend his visit to other schools, especially for kids who like funny comic books and putting on their own plays.
Ian Lendler at Emerson
Are you looking for a holiday gift to add to the fun? I know my students would love their own stadium horn to call everyone to their performances. They also might want a mighty robe, fit for a king. Check these ideas out:
The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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32. Sharks ahoy: fun with sharks for 1st & 2nd graders -- giving books & toys for lasting fun (ages 5-8)

There's no doubt about it: sharks are cool--especially great white sharks. They're fast, they're strong and they're big. Here are three books that spark a little kid's imagination and weave in fascinating facts. Combine them with a toy shark, and you're all set to go.

Fly Guy Presents: Sharks
by Tedd Arnold
Scholastic, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-8
Buzz and Fly Guy are two hugely popular characters with our beginning readers--so I was very excited to see this new blend of nonfiction and cartoons. In this book, Buzz visits his local aquarium and his best friend Fly Guy comes along.
"A shark uses its sharp teeth to rip prey. Then the shark swallows the meat whole--without even chewing." -- already an Emerson favorite!
My students love the combination of cartoon characters and dialog with clear nonfiction facts and color photographs. When the text explains that sharks don’t have any bones, and their cartilage helps them turn quickly, Fly Guy wonders, “NO BONEZ?”--adding just the right humor for young kids. Throughout, the sentences are short and clear, just right to read with kindergarteners or for 2nd graders to read by themselves.

Stink and the Shark Sleepover
by Megan McDonald
illustrated by Peter Reynolds
Candlewick, 2014
Google books preview
Your local library
Amazon
ages 6-9
Stink and the Shark Sleepover also combines humor and facts, but this time with a longer chapter book that's great to read aloud with young kids. Our students love the whole Stink series--Judy Moody's little brother who has his own series. You really don't need to read the series in order, especially if you're reading it aloud together.

Stink’s parents win tickets for a family sleep over at the local aquarium, and Stink is thrilled! Right away, he runs up to get all his things to bring.
"What's all this junk?" Judy asked.
"It's for the sleepover. There's my shark sleeping bag and Leroy my stuffed tiger shark that I use for a pillow sometimes and my Big Mouth Book of Sharks."
"Is that all?" Judy teased.
"Oh. Yeah. I can't forget to wear my shark-tooth necklace... Check it out. Shark slippers."
"Check it out. Shark slippers."
Stink loves the sea-creature scavenger hunt, the jellyfish light show, and the sharks with their razor-sharp teeth. But will he and his friends really be able to fall asleep after hearing creepy stories?

McDonald clearly loves the science aspect and intersperses this fun story with high-interest facts. Reynold's illustrations help kids create those "movies in our minds" that help all readers--especially ones new to chapter books--build a sense of the story.
Safari Ltd. plastic shark
Melissa and Doug plush shark

Combine either of these with a toy shark, and you'll create hours of fun. I think 1st and 2nd graders would like either a realistic plastic shark or a soft stuffed animal shark. Check these out:

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

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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33. The Hula-Hoopin' Queen: terrific picture book + gift idea (ages 5-10)

Each holiday I love pairing books with toys that kids will enjoy. Kids love toys (duh!) and these pairings extend the experience of both book and toy by capturing their imagination. This week, I'll share posts each day with fun ideas.

The Hula-Hoopin' Queen would be a perfect grandma gift for a young reader -- especially from a grandma that's still young at heart. Pair it with a sparkly hula hoop and you're all set!
The Hula-Hoopin' Queen
by Thelma Lynne Godin
illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Lee & Low
, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-10
Kameeka loves hula hooping and is sure she can become the Hula-Hoopin’ Queen of 139th Street--but Mama reminds her that she has to help get ready for Miz Adeline’s birthday. After all, Miz Adeline took care of Mama and Kameeka when they each were babies. How will Kameeka ever get all these things done and get outside to beat her rival Jamara?
"Girl, don't you even think about it. You know today is Miz Adeline's birthday."
When Kameeka heads out to run an errand, she sees Jamara and just can't avoid stepping up to save her reputation. By the time she gets home, it's too late to make the birthday cake! I especially love the ending, as Miz Adeline lets Kameeka see how much she loved hula hooping when she was a kid.
"Neighborhood kids crowd around as Jamara and I hoop."
Godin's text has snap and is great fun to read aloud. Brantley-Newton's illustrations really appeal to my students, capturing the feel of our multicultural urban community.

Pair this fun book with a hula hoop set and maybe you'll inspire some intergenerational or neighborly contests of your own.

Illustrations copyright ©Vanessa Brantley-Newton, 2014, shared via Lee and Low site and Thelma Lynne Godin's site. The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher, Lee and Low Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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34. Catch That Cookie! by Hallie Durand and David Small -- a fun twist on a classic tale (ages 4-8)

Every year, our kindergarten classes read different variations of the Gingerbread Man folktale. This year, we're adding in a new twist to our collection: Catch That Cookie! by Hallie Durand and David Small. Our students loved the humor, twists and turns of this take on one of their favorite stories.
Catch That Cookie!
by Hallie Durand
illustrations by David Small
Dial Books / Penguin, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
Marshall's class has been reading Gingerbread Man stories all week, and he's sure these stories are just made up. Those gingerbread men can't run away--they're just cookies, after all. But when his class opens the oven to take out their gingerbread men, they've disappeared!
"But when they looked in the oven... there was nothing inside!"
The gingerbread men leave behind clues for the students to follow, and my students loved the suspense that these twists added to the story. Each clue is crafted with a rhyme, so that kids can take part in figuring out where the gingerbread men have gone.
"Too bad you didn't catch us,
'Cause we taste like candy.
Now we're on vacation
On a beach that's _________."
"Sandy!" my students shouted. While the rest of his class runs off to follow the clues, Marshall notices small details that his classmates don't see. He spots a raisin that might be from his gingerbread man's eye, and later notices a silver ball that was from the gingerbread man's belt.

"He turned the pot over and ... felt something soft and small. A raisin!"
My students definitely liked the way this story was more of a mystery than the traditional gingerbread man story -- they talked about how the original story is more a fun chase story, and here Marshall has to figure out what's happening. They also loved the ending, as Marshall discovers where the cookies are hiding.

This story will work best if kids know the gingerbread man story. I started by looking at Eric Kimmel's The Gingerbread Man, and asking students to retell the story just from the pictures. For more versions, check out the Padlet that terrific librarian Margie Culver put together.

Add some extra fun with your own gingerbread party or scavenger hunt! I'll be giving a bundle of gingerbread man stories to my nephews, along with some cookie cutters of their own.

The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher, Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Group. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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35. Emerson's 2015 Mock Newbery Nominations (ages 9-14)

Kids love talking about books, especially when you ask them their opinion about books they love. At Emerson, our lunchtime book club is in the midst of reading for our Mock Newbery discussions -- a chance for our 4th and 5th graders to talk about the best books of the year.


We started off in September by talking about the Newbery Award, what it is and how we look at books. Each year, librarians gather to discuss all of the books published for children in America that year and select the most distinguished. It isn't a popularity contest, but rather a chance to see which author creates distinctive characters, an engaging story, nuanced themes, a memorable setting. We talk about how they must look only at the words -- and so this means many of the graphic novels my students love won't be particularly eligible.

After reading throughout the fall, our students started nominating the eligible books they felt were most distinguished. It is creating terrific buzz around many amazing books. I just love the way kids are championing some books, convincing friends that they just have to read them.  Below is our list of nominated books and a slideshow I share with all our classes.

Wow! Our students have nominated seventeen terrific titles. I particularly like how diverse this range of titles is--covering a wide range of writing styles, genres, and characters. We will work hard to compare books as different as The Crossover with Life of Zarf! But throughout our discussion, we will keep bringing it back to the qualities of good literature: characters, plot, setting, dialog, themes and language.

In early January, we will help them narrow this down to the books with the most readers -- so we can have an in-depth discussion comparing different books.

I hope you enjoy trying out some of these titles. They are books that speak to readers and create conversation. I couldn't ask for anything more.

A wide range of publishers have been very supportive sending us books for review, and we have purchased more copies of each book. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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36. Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Tale, by Eric Kimmel (ages 5-9) -- a wonderful new holiday story

My students and I love sharing our favorite holiday stories, and this week we read a new Hanukkah story that's sure to become a favorite. I especially enjoyed our discussion afterward -- this story is rich with feeling and meaning, perfect for reading together.
Simon and the Bear
A Hanukkah Tale
by Eric Kimmel
illustrated by Matthew Trueman
Disney-Hyperion, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-9
Young Simon is bound for America, with just his rucksack, a bit of food his mother packed, and a lot of determination--like many who have left their homes in search of work and opportunity. He's lucky, getting the last ticket on a ship leaving for America.
Simon "managed to get the very last ticket for a ship bound for America."
But Simon's luck ends quickly when his ship strikes an iceberg--ooh, just like the Titanic, many of my students said. After generously giving up his place in a lifeboat, Simon leaps onto the iceberg. When a giant polar bear approaches, Simon shares his food and makes a new friend. Is it a Hanukkah miracle that brings a friendly polar bear to Simon, or is it his caring, generous nature?
"He crept over to the bear and snuggled against her fur."
My students loved the way Eric Kimmel crafts this story. They shared many ideas about how Simon found the strength to endure this hardship. All of them noticed his courage, but they also noticed Simon's empathy, thinking about the man to whom he gave his place on the lifeboat. We talked about how Simon thought about what the polar bear might want, sharing his food with the bear--at school, we talk about this as listening with our ears, eyes and heart.

Eric Kimmel is one of my favorite authors--it would be fascinating to compare Simon to Hershel from Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, a classic holiday story I love to read with students. Is Hershel brave and compassionate in the same way as Simon? If you like peering into how authors come up with their stories, check out Eric Kimmel's blog post he wrote just as he submitted Simon and the Bear to his editor.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Disney-Hyperion. All illustrations are copyright ©Matthew Trueman, 2014, and shared with permission of 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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37. Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California's Farallon Islands, by Katherine Roy (ages 7-11) -- absolutely terrific, gripping nonfiction!!

Did you know the world’s largest wild population of great white sharks lives just 30 miles from San Francisco? How about that white sharks are the world's largest predatory fish, growing up to 21 feet long? Sharks **fascinate** my students and Neighborhood Sharks, by Katherine Roy, is absolutely terrific. They can't get enough of this new book!
Neighborhood Sharks
Hunting the Great Whites of California's Farallon Islands
by Katherine Roy
David Macaulay Studio / Macmillan, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 7-11
*best new book*
Katherine Roy, as both illustrator and author, combines compelling paintings with informative text to explain how these predators are able to hunt down their perfect prey so effectively. She focuses on the shark’s streamlined body, warmed blood, excellent vision, endless teeth and projectile jaws--providing clear scientific information while hooking readers with dramatic, vibrant paintings.

What I loved best reading this with both 2nd graders and 5th graders is how different students can access the wide range of information she provides.  Younger students listened to some of the text, but really examined the illustrations and thought about them. They loved this drawing comparing the shark's body to an airplane (see below) -- and together we talked about different things that help sharks swim so quickly.
from Neighborhood Sharks, by Katherine Roy
As teachers, we call this visual literacy--helping students understand diagrams, gaining information from illustrations--an essential skill, especially for nonfiction. Illustrators talk about how they're layering the information, both in the visuals and the text. But really, the kids are just soaking up knowledge, fascinated by how sharks hunt, eat and grow.

In Neighborhood Sharks, Roy not only shares information about sharks, but she also helps kids think about the scientists who study the sharks. She spent four days at sea with them, observing them, learning about their work studying these powerful animals, making sure that all her facts were correct -- so she could really give readers the feeling that you are there swimming with the sharks.
Katherine Roy, out on the water with the Farallon shark team
Are you as fascinated by this as my students and I are? Check out Katherine Roy's blog -- I especially loved reading about her inspiration for adventure and seeing some of the drawings progress. I will be interviewing Katherine for Parents Press in January and can't wait to share more of our conversation. Until then, go find a copy of this book!

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

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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38. The Fourteenth Goldfish, by Jennifer L. Holm: curiosity & discovery, believing in the possible (ages 8-12)

Kids and teachers are loving a new book, The Fourteenth Goldfish, and it makes me so happy to hear them raving about it. I had a chance this weekend to sit down with Milana, a ten year old I lent my copy to, and we really had fun talking about this book. Talking about books together really helps us deepen our appreciation, deepen our thinking about the layers in a story.
The Fourteenth Goldfish
by Jennifer L. Holm
Random House, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-12
*best new book*
Sixth grade is tricky for Ellie, but the day her mom brings home a new kid turns everything upside down. At first, he seems like a typical surly teenager, but something "tickles at (her) memory." Ellie is shocked when she realizes this is her grandfather Melvin, somehow turned into a thirteen year old boy. "I discovered a cure for aging... the fountain of youth!" he shouts. But he's stuck in this new body and can't get into his lab to recover the T. melvinus specimen, the species of jellyfish that helped him change back into a teen.

My young friend, Milana, loved reading this so much that she bought one of her good friends a copy. "I got it for my friend because she's really into science and she really likes sea life. Now she's started it and won't stop reading it."

Holm seamlessly weaves into the story a love of science and Milana picked up on this. Right away, she talked about wanting to learn more about Salk's discovery of the cure for polio and Oppenheimer's race to build the atomic bomb. As I've been rereading this, I love how much science Holm incorporates, especially as Ellie gets to know her grandfather.
Melvin tells Ellie, "Scientists fail again and again and again. Sometimes for our whole lives. But we don’t give up, because we want to solve the puzzle... Scientists never give up. They keep trying because they believe in the possible."
The relationship between Ellie and her grandfather is what makes this book special for me. Holms creates believable, nuanced characters and I think that's one reason so many readers are responding to this story.
When Melvin, Ellie's grandfather, tells her mother, "'Your daughter’s interested in science. She shows great aptitude. You should encourage her.' I feel a flush of pride. Maybe this part of me—the science part—was there all along, like the seeds of an apple. I just needed someone to water it, help it grow. Someone like my grandfather."
As Milana and I were talking more about the characters, I asked her if Melvin reminded her of any of her grandparents. I wish Jenni Holm could hear this young girl talking about her grandfather, a doctor who's always busy thinking and talking on the phone -- and how this story helps her see a different side of him. Milana told me, "It makes me wonder what my grandfather looked like, how he acted and what he was interested in when he was my age."

The Fourteenth Goldfish left me thinking most about the themes essential to science: curiosity, discovery, possibility. A recent TED Radio Hour explores these same things, albeit more for adults. It starts with James Cameron talking about his childhood, when he loved collecting and studying all sorts of things, curious about everything. "It's almost like the more we know about the world, the limits of what's possible start to crowd in on us." But this curiosity stayed with him--and imbues both his movies and his love of oceanography.

The real power of The Fourteenth Goldfish? It's like so many well-crafted stories: creating conversation, creating a moment to think a little more deeply about those around us, creating an ah-ha moment that curiosity and a passion for discovery lay at the heart of science--believing in the possible.

More reviews:
The review copy came from my home collection and our library collection and Milana's collection (I've already purchased many many 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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39. Visiting grandparents: three picture books to share (ages 3-8)

As the holidays approach, many children are excited about visiting grandparents. I wanted to share three different picture books that show different small moments as children spend time with their grandparents.

Hot Hot Roti for Dada-Ji
by F. Zia
illustrated by Ken Min
Lee and Low, 2011
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-8
Young Aneel’s grandfather Dada-ji has great fun telling how he got “the power of a tiger” when he was a boy by eating the best roti in town. Aneel is so excited that he races to the kitchen to make this Indian flatbread.

Kids love the way that Dad-ji exaggerates the story from his childhood. Zia's writes with verve and gusto. She is "a writer and an elementary school teacher who grew up in Hyderabad, India." As Aneel starts gathering ingredients to make his roti, the fun really begins. Kids can relate to how food brings people together and will love the way Aneel takes charge.
Max and the Tag-Along Moon
by Floyd Cooper
Philomel / Penguin, 2013
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-7
Saying goodbye can be particularly hard for young kids. When young Max must say goodbye to his grandpa, the young boy points to the full moon shining above. Grandpa promises him that “that ol’ moon will always shine for you...on and on!”

As Max drives home, he keeps watch of that same moon and is reassured by its presence. This quiet warm book glows softly with the love between African American grandfather and grandson. It's a wonderful read-aloud that helps talk about how the people we love stay with us in our hearts long after we have to say goodbye.
Nana in the City
by Lauren Castillo
Clarion / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 3-6
What do we do when our children are afraid? You'd never know it by looking at the cover, but this young boy is scared by all the noises and commotion in the bustling city. He's excited to see his Nana and her new apartment, but oh how the city noises are just too much.

I love how this wonderful Nana listens, understands and helps the young boy overcome his fears. She never dismisses his fears, but she shows him how he can be brave and she'll be right there with him. I also love how Castillo shows a grandmother who lives in the city and loves exploring. Below you can see how the little boy slowly changes his mind, with his Nana right by his side:
"But Nana was right. The city was not filled with scary things..."
Do you have a favorite book that reminds your children of times they spend with their grandparents? Or maybe after the holidays, you and your child could write a story together about a day they spent with their grandparents.

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

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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40. I'll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson (ages 14 and up) -- oh wow...

Oh my… I just finished reading Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun, an incredible new YA novel, and I just have to talk with someone about it. I’m sitting on an airplane, all by myself, and my mind, my heart is bursting. This post is NOT what I normally write here, but life must be about taking chances. That I know.
I’ll Give You the Sun
by Jandy Nelson
Dial / Penguin, 2014
your local library
Amazon
Google Books preview
ages 14 and up
*best new book*
My family and friends know that I come alive when I can talk about books with friends who live and breathe stories the same way as I do—I sparkle in a way that I rarely do in my real world. I’m heading home from a terrific book conference (YALSA’s YA Lit Symposium) where I spent time with a new friend, Rob Bittner.

As soon as I mentioned I’ll Give You the Sun, he lit up with joy (honestly, it was a little more like a yelp and jump of excitement that someone is reading a book you love). So today I just need to write Rob about all the thoughts swimming around inside of me. [Sprinkled throughout are quotes from the book. Because, you know, I’m that sort of ex-English teacher nerd.]
“Because who knows? Who knows anything? Who knows who’s pulling the strings? Or what it is? Or how? Who knows if destiny is just how you tell yourself the story of your life?”—Jude, age 16 (chapter 8)
Nelson tells the story of Noah-and-Jude, twins who are incredibly close yet pull apart—each hiding, wrapped in their own secrets that they’re sure no one will understand. Brother and sister, Noah and Jude grapple with their relationships with their mother and father as well as with each other—so there are many times I reflected on how each responded as a boy and as a girl. And yet both are fully nuanced characters, never reduced to gendered reactions.

Chapters alternate from each twin’s perspective, and Nelson carefully draws the reader inside each person. Both teens are artists, and it was fascinating hearing, feeling, seeing, thinking the world through their eyes.

Nelson not only crafts the story from two points of view, she tells it from two points in time. Noah’s chapters take place when the twins are thirteen and fourteen. Jude, his twin sister, is an integral part of his story, but it is all from Noah’s perspective. Jude’s chapters take place when they are sixteen, by which point the twins have become completely estranged, an invisible wall dividing them. But they have started building the wall long before.
“She’s trying to get in my mind, so I close the shutters… This secret is like having hot burning coals under my bare feet all the time. I rise up from the couch to get away from any potential telepathy—when the yelling reaches us.”—Noah, ages 13 (chapter 1)
As a teen, I totally understood that idea of building walls, of closing the shutters so that my family stayed out of my thoughts. Yep, my mom may read this (Hi, Mom!), and I’m guessing she remembers oh too well how there were about two years where we basically didn’t talk. I’m guessing that as a teen, there were times when I just had to pull inside myself to try to figure things out, to feel the intense feelings, to wrestle with my own uncertainties. I was stunned by the way Nelson made me think about this.

But then—oh wow, how Nelson brings so much more into this story. I did not grapple with physical feelings as a teen the way that Noah does—I just wasn’t as aware of them, and couldn’t process them until I was much older. But I could relate to his confusion, his passion, his intensity. But then, perhaps it’s that I don’t hold onto those physical memories the same way…

Jandy Nelson writes about both Noah and Jude’s physical, sexual feelings with incredible sensitivity, passion and honesty. I raved to Rob how much I loved the way she described Brian through Noah’s eyes—both how Brian looked, but also how it made Noah feel.
“Our eyes lock and electricity rides up my spine.”—Noah, age 13 ½ (chapter 3)
But I’m fascinated, now that I’m rereading it (plane ride, remember?), how slowly their connection developed. I mean, right from the beginning Noah had this electric reaction, but as I reread it, I see that they’re just stumbling through those early conversations as their friendship develops. It isn’t until Noah sees two guys passionately kissing at a party that everything started clicking in place for me as a reader.

Jude’s struggles especially resonated with me. She meets a guy (English, yep) who makes her feel, intensely feel—even though she’s doing everything she can to close herself down from her feelings.
“This guy makes me feel like I’m actually here, unhidden, seen. And this is not just because of his camera. I do not know what this is because of.”—Jude, age 16 (chapter 4)
And I think that’s an essential part of what I remember about intense friendships from my teen years and from falling in love. That sense that someone sees you for you, someone gets you. But I also had such a visceral reaction to Jude’s description of Oscar.
“There’s something in his (Oscar’s) voice, in his gaze, in his whole being, something hungry and insistent and it’s untethering me.”—Jude, age 16 (chapter 2)
Okay, Rob, so full confession time here. I’ve just spent the last hour (plane ride, right?) rereading Jude’s chapter when she starts working in Guillermo’s studio and falling head over heals for Oscar. Highlighting every description of Oscar. In pink. And I’m pretty sure that I’ve been transported back to my 20 year old self when I first met Ed. English? Check. Banter? Check. Tall, muscular? Check. Irresistable? Check. So I can’t include all the parts that I’ve highlighted (definitely TMI), but I can tell you that Jandy Nelson captured Oscar exactly right.

And then the ending… which I won’t say too much about. Except that it’s filled with hope and family and so many layered ideas that I’ll be thinking about it for weeks to come. I’ll be thinking about how people I love still live inside of me, even though they have passed away (Molly, Nana, GrandTom). And how important it is to take a chance.

So I’ll quickly put on my librarian shoes to say hand this book to a teen who loves realistic fiction, likes complicated stories because life is complicated. And when I say teen, I really mean teen – I would not put this in an 8th grader’s classroom. Some 8th graders might connect, but most will get much more out of it in a few years.

Are you looking for more professional, library-type reviews? Check out these:


I know this post has gone on forever. But maybe, kind readers, your interest has been piqued. So here's a preview of I'll Give You the Sun from Google Books.

I purchased the review copy through iBooks (plane ride, remember?). I can assure you that I'll be purchasing several more copies to give to friends. If you're dying for a copy, leave a comment. Persuade me, and I might just purchase an extra one for you. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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41. Honoring Our Veterans: Tuesday Tucks Me In, by Luis Carlos Montalván (ages 5-10)

As students and families celebrate Veterans Day, I always think about how to honor our veterans in a way that young students today can understand. My older students love reading historical fiction, but what about younger students? This week I am sharing a new book that introduces young students to the difficulties soldiers can face returning from war, and the loving help that service dogs can provide.
Tuesday Tucks Me In
The Loyal Bond between a Soldier and his Service Dog

by Luis Carlos Montalván
Roaring Brook Press / Macmillan, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-10
Former Army Captain Luis Carlos Montalván was wounded during his two tours in Iraq. Montalván suffered from a traumatic brain injury and also post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Recovery was difficult when he returned home, and he ended up withdrawing from friends and family.

In this picture book, golden retriever service dog Tuesday shows readers what his life is like helping Montalván through daily life. He provides companionship and encouragement. Tuesday can even sense when Montalván is about to have a panic attack and can help him get through it. "Every morning my friend Louis wakes up to this... "
"Rise and shine," I tell him with a lick. "The sun is up."
Children will really like the full color photographs that help them get a sense of Tuesday's life as he navigates the subway, sidewalks and life in the city. The narrative helps readers understand the support Tuesday provides and, even more importantly, helps them empathize with Luis.
"Luis has trouble with balance, and he used to struggle on the stairs. But now he grabs my handle and knows that I am there."
I especially liked the author's note at the end, where Montalván explains service dogs to young readers. "Tuesday is a service dog. Service dogs are trained to help people with disabilities live more independent and happy lives."

I absolutely agree with the Horn Book's assessment:
"Children, even if initially just drawn in by the adorable dog pictures, will come away with a much greater understanding of the lives of both a returning vet and a service dog.”
If students found this interesting and wanted to learn more, I would direct them to these books:
Helping Dogs
by Mary Ann Hoffman

Dogs On Duty: Soldiers' Best Friends on the Battlefield and Beyond

by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent

Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle
by Brian Dennis, Kirby Larson, Mary Nethery
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Macmillan Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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42. Reading Levels: Using them to help kids get hooked on reading

Our Berkeley Unified teachers have just completed five days of conferences with parents, and I wanted to follow up with a librarian's perspective on recommending books for kids. Our teachers do a remarkable job individually assessing students' reading levels to gauge their progress, development and challenges. At each conference, they let parents know how their children are developing and what level they have reached. But what do parents do with this level?

Reading to stuffies happens every day in our library
Reading levels are only useful if they can help guide children toward books that are enjoyable, interesting and appropriate for a child at that point in their reading life. I do not label my books with reading levels, and I have compared different systems enough to know that they conflict much of the time. And yet, published reading levels are helpful as a starting place if you don't know a book.

Our teachers use Fountas & Pinnell levels, which take into account a book's vocabulary, sentence length and text structure. While classrooms have leveled libraries, how do parents help direct kids at home, the library or the bookstore? My best advice is to figure out what has worked well for your child, both in terms of interest and complexity, and build on that.

Ultimately, we need to ask our children to take charge in figuring out if a book is working for them. I always ask kids to open a book, read a little and see how it feels. But I know that kids need a starting place, a way to narrow the field so they can choose from a set of books that might work. That's where reading levels and recommended lists can help.

At this year's conferences, we shared recommended reading lists which used reading levels to help direct kids and parents. Feel free to download these or share them with teachers and families in your schools.
  • Kindergarten (very beginning to read, levels C-E)
  • 1st grade (beginning to read & early chapter books, levels D-M)
  • 2nd grade (early readers & chapter books, levels H-P)
  • 3rd grade (short chapter books & novels, easy nonfiction, levels K-P)
  • 4th grade (novels & high interest nonfiction, levels O-T)
  • 5th grade (longer novels & nonfiction, levels S-W)
You'll notice that the grade levels are not included on the reading lists. Many teachers wanted to be able to use these for kids based on their reading levels, not based on the student's grade.

Finally, we shared several brochures from the wonderful Jim Trelease. My favorite is Ten Facts Parents Should Know About Reading. As he writes,
"We humans are pleasure-seekers, doing things over and over if we like it. We go to favorite restaurants and order the food and beverages we like, not the stuff we hate. So if you want to ensure children visit "reading" more often, make sure they like it more than they hate it. How do we get them to like it that much? Read on."
Friends have fun reading together!
Many thanks go to all the students at Emerson for helping me test out so many books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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43. Investigating about explorers: a range of resources (ages 8-12)

Do you have fond memories of reading your history textbooks? Probably not. So how can we make history more interesting for our children?

We want our children to envision what it would have been like to live long ago, to make the messy decisions that people had to make, to struggle and wrestle with life, warts and all. And yet we also need to convey basic information about historical periods and figures. How do we balance the facts with the engaging material?

As a case in point, I've been helping 5th grade students gather information about famous explorers from different eras. They're investigating Marco Polo, James Cook, Hernando Cortes, Amelia Earhart, Sally Ride and many others. Their teachers want them to practice note-taking skills. What resources will help them the most?

World Book Encyclopedia: building background knowledge
"How are we supposed to choose which explorer to do our report on if we don't know anything about them?"
Students need to begin their research process by learning some basic facts about their subject. This should be pretty easy for the children to read, since they need to focus on building a clear framework in their minds. I would suggest just reading at this point, not taking notes. We start with World Book Kids, the junior version of the World Book Encyclopedia.

Web Path Express: guided Internet research
"I call this Google for 5th graders."
We have recently added WebPath Express to our Follett Destiny library catalog. This service guides students in their Internet searches, helping them go directly to accurate, age-appropriate sites. Students are able to find reliable resources quickly, without having to filter out commercial or college-level sites.
Explorers
by Chris Oxlade
Kingfisher Readers, level 5
Kingfisher, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-10
Students will like the clear sentences and frequent illustrations in this brief introduction to nearly twenty explorers from ancient to modern times. Each explorer's major achievements and struggles are covered in a two-page spread, so the pace moves quickly. Sentences are relatively short, and drawings keep interest high.
"Marco Polo was born in Venice, in Italy. In 1271, when he was just 17 years old, he set off for China with his father and his uncle. They took gifts for Kublai Khan, the powerful ruler of China in the 1200s CE."
This type of book will help students develop a "research report" tone to their own writing. It is factual and straight forward. But it does not have much depth, it does not really prompt students to connect to what they're reading or to ask questions.
Lives of the Explorers:
Discoveries, Disasters (and What the Neighbors Thought)
by Kathleen Krull and Kathryn Hewitt
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014
Google Books preview
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-12
Krull engages readers with dynamic writing, as she introduces them to the lives of twenty ancient and modern explorers. While this is more difficult to read, it is also much more interesting. She begins the chapter on Mathew Henson, African American explorer of the North Pole in the early 1900s, this way:
"Matthew Henson and Robert Peary shared many an unappetizing meal in the frozen land around the North Pole. But in the United States they wouldn't have even been allowed to eat together, as restaurants were segregated into 'black' and 'white' sections."
In just three pages, Krull helps readers get a sense of the challenges Henson faced and his remarkable achievements. She incorporates quotes from Henson to give a sense of his perspective. Teachers and librarians should note, however, that she does not indicate the sources for her material, but just provides sources for further reading.
Into the Unknown
How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea and Air
by Stewart Ross
illustrated by Stephen Biesty
Candlewick, 2011
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-14
*my full review here*
Stewart Ross and Stephen Biesty absolutely captivate me each time I read a section of Into the Unknown. Biesty's intricate illustrations draw me right into each scene, helping me imagine what it would be like to be part of an expedition. Students love the fold-out illustrations and the cut-aways that show you the inside of ships. Ross's descriptions include enough detail to engross me without overwhelming me. They have a strong narrative flow, conveying the dramatic pull of these stories but also helping young readers start forming their own questions and conclusions.

The review copy of Explorers came from our public library. The review copy of Lives of the Explorers was kindly sent by the publishers, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The review copy of Into the Unknown was kindly sent by the publishers, 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

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


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

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



If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

The review copy of Monster School was kindly sent by the publishers, HarperCollins Publishers. The review copy of You Read to Me, I'll Read to You came from our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

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

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

The review copy of Not Very Scary was kindly sent by the publishers, Macmillan Books. The review copy of Ten Orange Pumpkins came from our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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47. Creepy short stories: mysteries & thrillers for ages 10-13

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

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

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

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

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

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

The review copy of The Cabinet of Curiosities was kindly sent by the publishers, Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins. The review copy of the other collections came from our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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48. The Monsterator, by Keith Graves -- and other fiendish delights (ages 5-9)

Do your children want to be something goulishly great on Halloween? Do monsters delight them? There's no doubt that The Monsterator, with its bold promise of 625 monsters inside, will captivate many young readers who dream of something "screamingly scary."
The Monsteratorby Keith GravesRoaring Brook, 2014
Your local libraryAmazonages 5-9
*best new book*
Young Master Edgar Dreadbury finds your standard Halloween costumes a terrible bore. "I wish I could be something screamingly scary. / Something fanged and foul and horribly hairy!" Graves draws readers in with rhyming text that is a delight to read aloud, but he really grabs readers when Edgar steps into The Monsterator. All of a sudden, Edgar is completely transformed "from his teeth to his toes."
The Monsterator, by Keith Graves
"When the machine finally quit,
Edgar crashed through the door.
He banged on his chests with his fists
and roared."
The Monsterator, by Keith Graves
I love how Graves strikes just the right balance between frightening and fun for first and second graders. But what they will love most of all is the surprise at the end, when they can "monsterate" young Edgar, by turning a series of flaps to create hundreds of different creatures.

If you like this, you might like some of these other monsterish favorite picture books:
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Macmillan Books. Illustrations of The Monsterator are copyright ©2014 Keith Graves, used with permission of 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

0 Comments on The Monsterator, by Keith Graves -- and other fiendish delights (ages 5-9) as of 10/27/2014 3:15:00 AM
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49. Firebird, by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers -- follow your dreams and soar (ages 6-10)

We want to teach our children to follow their dreams, to reach for the stars -- but we also want them to realize that it takes hard work, practice and perseverance to get there. Firebird is a beautiful, stirring new picture book by ballerina Misty Copeland that shares both of these messages, and more.
Firebird
Ballerina Misty Copeland Shows a Young Girl How to Dance Like the Firebird
by Misty Copeland
illustrated by Christopher Myers
G.P. Putnam's / Penguin, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 6-10
*best new book*
As you begin reading this picture book with children, you'll need to take on two voices, for Copeland creates a conversation between a young girl who dreams of dancing and herself as a professional ballerina. The girl looks up to Copeland, saying, "the space between you and me is longer than forever" -- how could I ever become as beautiful and graceful as you?
"you are the sky and clouds and air"
Firebird, by Misty Copeland & Christopher Myers
The real magic begins when Copeland turns to the young girl, reassuring her that she was once just as small, just as shy, that "you're just where I started." Through this poetic conversation, Copeland conveys that this young girl can become a professional dancer if she puts in the hours of work, sweat and practice.
"I was a dancer just like you
a dreaming shooting star of a girl
with work and worlds ahead"
Share this picture book with older students, perhaps 3rd and 4th graders, who can understand Copeland's poetic language and the interplay between the two characters. Encourage them to read this story more than once--it is one that really grew in my heart each time I read it.

Deepen their appreciation for Copeland's message by encouraging them to learn more about her as a professional dancer. Read her afterword, a note to the reader about why she wanted to write this story.
"My hopes are that people will feel empowered to be whatever they want to be... No matter what that dream is, you have the power to make it come true with hard work and dedication, despite what you look like or struggle with."
Students would find this ABC News interview very interesting:


Christopher Myers' artwork brings strength and grace to this story with dramatic lines and colors. The idea for this book was actually Chris's, as Misty told Jules Danielson in a recent Kirkus article. His mixed media collages contrast the bold colors of ballet with the young girl's grey concrete world, but they also juxtapose angular lines with the dancers' dynamic graceful movement.

I can't wait to hear what my students say about this. I think this is a book that they, too, will return to time and time again. The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Penguin Random House. Illustrations are copyright ©2014 Christopher Myers. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

0 Comments on Firebird, by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers -- follow your dreams and soar (ages 6-10) as of 10/30/2014 1:55:00 AM
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50. The Farmer and the Clown, by Marla Frazee -- listening with our eyes, ears and heart (ages 3-8)

Our world often seems filled with a cacophony of chatter and bickering -- whether it's on the playground or at home. And so I relish the moment when I can slow down to savor a quiet moment with my students. Marla Frazee's newest picture book, The Farmer and the Clown, creates that quiet moment and helps us see the power of friendship.
The Farmer and the Clown
by Marla Frazee
Beach Lane / Simon & Schuster, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 3-8
*best new book*
The book opens as a farmer angrily toils away in solitude. All of a sudden, he's startled as a young clown bounces off a passing circus train. As the farmer brings the little clown home, he looks burdened, exhausted. Just look at the farmer's body language:
from The Farmer and the Clown, by Marla Frazee
As the farmer and clown share time together, you can see the farmer's whole disposition change. I love talking with children about what they notice in picture books. With a wordless book like this, we need to listen with our eyes and our heart--just the way the farmer starts listening to the small child.

Read this book with a child and watch how still they get, how their eyes light up -- especially at the page below when the clown washes off his makeup. And then at the end, the questions I always ask children are:
  • What moment does the farmer start to change? 
  • How can they tell? 
  • What do they notice?

from The Farmer and the Clown, by Marla Frazee
At school, we talk explicitly about how important it is to listen with our whole bodies to someone -- to read their body language as well as to listen to their words. The Toolbox Project describes this as the Listening Tool:
"I listen with my ears, eyes and heart — When I listen as well as hear, I can really understand. When we listen with our ears, our eyes, and our hearts, we become deep listeners who can “hear between the lines.” Our ears bring us the words and intonation; our eyes bring us body language, gestures, and facial expressions; and our hearts bring us empathy—allowing us to walk in someone else’s shoes."
I think this perfectly describes how we can understand the farmer--and why this book engages readers so emotionally--without any words at all. By listening closely, we develop empathy for another person.

Read more about the process Marla Frazee used in creating this beautiful book, one of my favorites of the year, at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast -- I loved all the work in progress she shows. I also love the conversation Marla has with Roger Sutton at this Horn Book interview.

Read The Farmer and the Clown with a little person in your life, and enjoy the warmth of the friendship. Read it with an older child and relish the conversation it can start. Or just find a peaceful moment for yourself and savor the beauty of listening with our eyes, ears and heart.

The review copy was purchased for our school library. Illustrations are copyright ©2014 Marla Frazee, used with permission from 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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