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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. Caretakers of our readers: Reflections on Rita Williams-Garcia’s talk at the #AASL15 Author Banquet

Day in and day out, school librarians help children find books that speak to them. We help our students grow as young readers, but even more than that we create memories each and every day. In doing this, we have a responsibility as caretaker of our children, finding and promoting books that speak to all of our students—not just the majority of our students.

This weekend, I had the honor and responsibility of organizing the author events at the American Association of School Librarians National Conference (#aasl15). Matt de la Peña, Rita Williams-Garcia and Sonia Manzano spoke to a full banquet of librarians about their experiences growing up as young readers, and the impact they seek to make through their writing.

Matt de la Peña, Rita Williams-Garcia & Sonia Manzano at AASL banquet 

Rita Williams-Garcia sparkles with energy, laughter and heart every time I meet her or read her stories. Rita received the Newbery Honor and the Coretta Scott King Award for the outstanding novel One Crazy Summer, and was a National Book Award finalist. Delphine, Vonetta and Fern’s story continues in P.S. Be Eleven, and now their story comes to a close with this year’s Gone Crazy in Alabama.

Rita began by sharing her early memories, growing up in the cocoon of her family’s love. At the age of 2, her family moved from New York to Arizona, traveling that long way by car. Rita described traveling through the South as the first time she saw her mother frightened: crying and fearful when the police stopped them. They didn’t stay in hotels, but were welcomed into other black families’ homes along the way—something that Rita didn’t think about at the time. As she said, when you are a child, your eyes are open and your memories stay with you.

As young children, we only know our direct experiences. Our children notice race, but might not know how to process their thoughts. In first grade, Rita’s teacher read wonderful stories—but when she read the stories of Little Black Sambo, Rita clearly remembers feeling that her classmates were laughing at Little Black Sambo, feeling different from her classmates because she was one of the only black children in her class.

When we share stories with our students, we must think about the memories we are creating. How are we validating their experiences? How are we inviting them into the conversation of stories?

Librarians and teachers are the caretakers of our children’s reading lives, as teacher and friend Donalyn Miller so wonderfully said on the NerdyBookClub. Every time we recommend books to children, we are inviting them to see themselves in stories. The stories we buy and collect must have many entry points, must have many different types of characters, must reflect the diversity of broader world around us.

We do this, as Rita reminded us, by being honest with our young people about the world around us, being authentic, and engaging in the hard conversations of our times. I love this tweet from Rita. These are turbulent times, full of strong emotions. When we have honest, caring discussions together, we can all move forward.
All week I am sharing about the amazing impact that Matt de la Peña, Rita Williams-Garcia and Sonia Manzano had on our audience at #AASL15. Thank you so much to HarperCollins for sponsoring Rita Williams-Garcia this weekend. It was a truly pleasure having her as our guest.
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. Inviting all our readers into stories: Reflections on Matt de la Peña’s talk at the #AASL15 Author Banquet

As school librarians, we have the honor and responsibility of knowing all of the students in our school. We watch them grow as young readers, we share their excitement finding books that speak to them and light a spark in their eyes. But we also have a responsibility of finding and promoting books that speak to all of our students—not just the majority of our students.

This weekend, I had the honor and responsibility of organizing the author events at the American Association of School Librarians National Conference (#aasl15). Matt de la Peña, Rita Williams-Garcia and Sonia Manzano spoke to a full banquet of librarians about their experiences growing up as young readers, and the impact they seek to make through their writing.

Matt de la Peña has received much praise and recognition for his realistic fiction for young adults, including his standout Mexican WhiteBoy. I have been thrilled that he has begun writing more for younger children, and have absolutely loved this year’s stellar picture book Last Stop on Market Street.

When Matt was growing up, he didn’t find many stories that spoke to him, didn’t like reading or writing—until he read A House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros. This slim, powerful collection of stories spoke to him so deeply that he read it over and over again, nearly memorizing it. The story “Darius and the Clouds” particularly stayed with him, inviting him into the world of poetry, giving him permission to see poetry as something he could try.

Was it that Cisneros provided a mirror for Matt, or that she understood Matt’s heartbeat? She spoke in a language that he understood, filled with metaphors and imagery that connected to his experiences as a young Latino growing up in the United States.

And now when he writes, Matt wants to create stories that have diverse characters, yes, but really with characters full of heart, full of complex emotions, full of language and experiences from a wide range of backgrounds. Diversity is not the issue these characters wrestle with, but rather part of the fabric of their lives.

As we select stories to share with our students, we need to provide a number of ways in for our students, not just thinking about their race, but also thinking about what might create a spark for them, what helps them feel a character’s heartbeat, what helps them hear the language of their soul. It is essential that our stories have diverse characters, that we acknowledge and affirm our children’s lives and experiences, and that we say again and again that stories are for all of us.

Later this week I will share about the amazing impact that Rita Williams-Garcia and Sonia Manzano had on our audience at #AASL15. Thank you so much to Penguin Random House for sponsoring Matt de la Pena this weekend. It was a truly pleasure having him as our guest.

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. Emerson School's 2016 Mock Newbery Nominations (ages 9-12)

Our 4th and 5th graders have been reading new books, thinking hard about which ones they'd like to nominate for our Mock Newbery Book Club. This is our third year and we are having so much fun reading and sharing new books.

Emerson School's 2016 Mock Newbery Nominations
We are spending a lot of our time talking about the criteria that the Newbery Committee considers when evaluating books. Our students talk about whether they find the characters distinguished, or perhaps it's the plot that really stands out for them. I love the "book buzz" that this creates among all the students.

You may notice that some books that the Newbery Committee is surely considering are not on here. My students liked Pam Munoz Ryan's Echo, but many found it too long. The Newbery Committee considers books written for children up to age 14, while my group is made of young tweens (9, 10, 11 years old).

Remember that the actual Newbery Committee considers any book written by an American citizen or American resident that was published in the United States during 2015. There is no public nomination list, but the committee members work together to put forward books they want to be considered.

You might find these other Mock Newbery lists interesting, as you consider what you and your children think are the best books of 2015:
Which books are you and your children loving this year? Do any favorites stand out for you?

Many thanks to all of the publishers for their support of our book club. Review copies have been kindly sent by Bloomsbury, Random House, Little Brown, Penguin, Simon & Schuster and Scholastic. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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29. Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras, by Duncan Tonatiuh (ages 9-12)

Our students look forward each year to the celebration of Día de los Muertos at Emerson. Parents create an ofrenda in the library, our 5th graders decorate sugar skulls, and everyone gets to taste pan de muerto. I can't wait to share Duncan Tonatiuh's outstanding new picture book biography Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras.

Funny Bones:
Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras
by Duncan Tonatiuh
Abrams, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
*best new book*
Tonatiuh blends his signature style artwork with Posada's calaveras to help young readers understand both Posada's printmaking process and also his political messages in behind these iconic images.

My students will certainly recognize La Catrina, but few will be know about Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada (called Don Lupe Posada), who created this and many other calaveras, skeletons prominent in Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations. As a young man, Posada learned the printmaking techniques of lithography, engraving and etching. Students will be very interested to learn about these processes and see how he used them to create his images.
"Whether he made an etching, a lithograph, or an engraving, he had to draw the image in reverse--the opposite of the way he wanted the finished image to appear."
Tonatiuh also helps students think about the Don Lupe's ideas, the things he might have wanted his audience to think about when they saw his drawings. At school, we have talked about an author's message but we talk less often about an artist's message. Tonatiuh introduces this in a thoughtful way that invites students into thinking this way--without being heavy-handed.

For several spreads, Tonatiuh reproduces some of Posada's classic images, making them look like they are old-fashioned broadsides. Tonaituh invites students' own questioning by sharing his own questions.
"Was Don Lupe saying that ... no matter how fancy your clothes are on the outside, on the inside we are all the same? That we are all calaveras?"
Tonatiuh's illustrations are influenced by pre-Columbian Mixtec figures, especially those from codices. I think it's fascinating how he's combining powerful visual images from two different Mexican traditions. This is a must-have book for all school libraries, one that 3rd through 5th graders will especially like reading and discussing.

You might also be interested in:
Please find other terrific nonfiction picture books to share at the weekly Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday round-up hosted by KidLitFrenzy.

Illustrations ©2015 Duncan Tonatiuh. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Abrams. 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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30. Halloween picture books: 5 new favorites (ages 4-9)

Do your little ones love scary stories, or are you looking for gentle tales with silly ghosts? Here are five new favorite picture books with plenty of ghosts, mummies and monsters to satisfy all sorts of little beasts.

Mummy Cat
by Marcus Ewert
illustrated by Lisa Brown
Clarion, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-9
As the graceful mummy cat emerges from his tomb, he searches for “his loving friend,” the girl-queen Hat-shup-set. Bay Area team Ewert and Brown create a tender friendship story, deftly weaving together a creepy murder-mystery, hieroglyph clues, and Ancient Egyptian practices. My students are loving this story, especially the detailed illustrations and the hidden clues. Enchanting.
Fright Club
by Ethan Long
Bloomsbury, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
Only the truly scary can be members of the Fright Club. But when a cute little bunny tries to join their fun, he's outraged when they tell him he can't join. Returning with his lawyer and friends, he launches a protest: “HISS, MOAN, BOO! WE CAN SCARE TOO!” chant a butterfly, ladybug, turtle, and squirrel. I love the way Ethan Long turns kids' (and monsters') expectations upside down, showing how things are not always the way you assume they'll be. Plus, this story is a lot of fun to read aloud, and isn't actually too scary for new readers.
The Fun Book of Scary Stuff
by Emily Jenkins
illustrated by Hyewon Yum
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
A young boy makes a list of all the things that scare him. Monsters top his list (“Mom says they eat anyone who doesn’t stay in his own bed”) but his dog calmly refuses to admit that he’s afraid of anything. The pair’s hilarious back-and-forth dialog continues, until the tables turn. Jenkins and Yum perfectly capture the pair’s worry and false bravado.
Leo: A Ghost Story
by Mac Barnett
illustrated by Christian Robinson
Chronicle, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 3-7
*best new book*
Leo has a hard time making friends: no one can see him. But when he meet Jane, she invites him to play, thinking he’s one of her imaginary friends. Leo is delighted but nervous that she will be scared when she finds out he’s a ghost. I love how accepting Jane is, how open she is not only to Leo but also to her own imagination. This gentle ghost story is more about finding friendship and acceptance than a Halloween story, but it’s utterly delightful. For more, see my full review here.
The Little Shop of Monsters
by R.L. Stine
illustrated by Marc Brown
Little, Brown, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
Blending creepy descriptions with goofy illustrations, this picture book strikes just the right balance for a mock-horror picture book. “Pssssst…HEY, YOU! Are you afraid of MONSTERS? Do they make you SHIVER and SHAKE?” As the text amps up the fright, the illustrations put the emphasis on the laughs, making this right for those who like to giggle and squirm at the same time.

You might also enjoy seeing these other Halloween recommendations:
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers: Chronicle Books, Macmillan, Houghton Mifflin, Bloomsbury and Little, Brown. 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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31. Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret, by Bob Shea -- a favorite new friend for beginning readers (ages 4-8)

If you have kids who love Elephant and Piggie or Frog and Toad, laughing at the way these friends play together, bicker and work through their conflicts, then you're going to love Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret. It sparkles with humor, but underlying it is a real understanding of friendship.

Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret
by Bob Shea
Disney Hyperion, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
*best new book*
Ballet Cat’s best friend Sparkle Pony is getting a bit tired of always playing ballet -- but what’s a BFF supposed to do? Sparkle Pony tries to suggest other things. He tries to go along and dance. But then he realizes that he's holding onto a big secret.
"I will always be your friend, Sparkle Pony! No secret can ever change that."
"Sometimes..."
"Yes, I'm listening."
New readers (and little siblings) will delight in how Bob Shea builds this story, with expressive illustrations and large speech bubbles. They can laugh at the exaggeration, but also relate to how Sparkle Pony feels. I love this climax:
"SOMETIMES I DON'T WANT TO PLAY BALLET!"
This would make a great book to act out as readers' theater, but it would also make a great one to talk about at home. I can even see bringing it up in the car the next day:
"You know, I was thinking about Ballet Cat and her friend. I wonder why it was hard for Sparkle Pony to tell her that he didn't like ballet?"
Friends need to accept differences--adults know that, but often it's hard to put into practice. This is a great story about just that: loving each other even more than we love our individual interests.

Illustrations ©2015 Bob Shea. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Disney Hyperion. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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32. The Story of Diva and Flea, by Mo Willems and Tony DiTerlizzi -- a winning combination (ages 5-8)

Friends not only figure out how to work out conflicts, they also encourage each other and grow together. The Story of Diva and Flea is a delightful new chapter book that is going to have huge appeal, and at its heart it's a wonderful story of friendship.

The Story of Diva and Flea
by Mo Willems
illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi
Disney Hyperion, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-8
*best new book*
Diva has lived at the same building in Paris for as long as she can remember, loyally guarding the front courtyard. "She took her job very seriously," making sure that everything is safe. But she is a very small dog, and just a little nervous.
"If anything ever happened, no matter how big or small, Diva would yelp and run away."
When alley-cat Flea wanders past Diva's building, flaneur-ing as he does through the streets of Paris, Flea is fascinated by the little dog. Unfortunately, Flea also finds it very funny when Diva yelps and runs away. This happens day after day, until Diva has had enough:
"Then one day Diva didn't yelp or run away. Instead, she looked right at Flea's big face and asked, 'Are you trying to hurt my feelings?' Flea had never thought about it like that."
Right from the beginning, readers know that Diva and Flea are completely different: one lives in the world of humans, the other explores the streets of Paris on his own. But it's this moment--when Flea realizes that he's hurt Diva's feelings--that the story crystalizes and captures readers' interest. Flea apologizes, and their friendship develops from there as the two learn from each other.
sketches of Diva and Flea, by Tony DiTerlizzi
With Flea's encouragement, Diva ventures out beyond the gates of her courtyard. It is scary for nervous little Diva, but she learns to trust Flea and be brave. I'd love to talk with kids about what helps Diva take these steps. How do friends support one another? How have they encouraged a friend?

I loved learning about the friendship behind this creation, how Mo Willems started with the idea of a story but then reached out to Tony DiTerlizzi. Enjoy watching this video where they share the story behind the story:

Please complete the rafflecopter below to enter for a chance at winning one copy of The Story of Diva and Flea and a DIY friendship bracelet kit. The giveaway will run from Tuesday, October 6th until Wednesday, October 14th.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Illustrations ©2015 Tony DiTerlizzi. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Disney Hyperion. Giveaway open to US addresses only. Prizing is provided by Disney Publishing. 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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33. Friendshape, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld -- upbeat and funny, but with a thoughtful message (ages 4-8)

With plenty of visual puns and word play, this upbeat and funny picture book is a great place to start a conversation about friendship. Rosenthal and Lichtenheld are two of my favorite picture book creators--I adore sharing their Duck! Rabbit! with kids. Their newest creation is full of their trademark humor and definitely worth seeking out.

Friendshape
by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
Scholastic, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
As the Kirkus Review points out, you almost hope that the titles is what inspired the creators from the beginning. What shape does friendship take? Can people who are as different as a circle and a square still be friends? 

Although there is no real plot, there is plenty of humor and thoughtful messages in this picture book. I really like how they show the characters as shapes. For me, this helps young children see some of the metaphors but it also helps them see themselves in the book. By having just basic outlines of the shapes, with funny cartoonish expressions, Lichtenheld invites readers to seem themselves as characters in the book.
"Friends welcome others to join in."
The puns keep rolling along, inviting kids to figure them out and invent their own. "Friends are always there to lean on," as the shapes all lean in together. "Friends play fair and [insert the yellow square]."

Friendship isn't always easy. When conflict happens, friends never "stay bent out of shape for long." Kids would enjoy coming up with some of their own observations about friendship, adding on to the book as they go.

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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34. Finding Friends, Resolving Conflicts -- 5 terrific new books, and 2 old favorites (ages 4-9)

One of the constant themes we talk about in our school library is friendship. How can we be a good friend? What happens when conflict arises? How do friends resolve their differences? This week I'd like to share five terrific new books that all deal with friendship, and two old favorites. These all work best for early elementary -- ranging from kindergarten up through early third grade. Several are chapter books, but others are picture books.

Make sure you stop by on Tuesday for a giveaway of The Story of Diva & Flea. This new short chapter book comes out on October 13th, but you'll get an early glimpse and a chance to win a copy here.

Do you have any favorite friendship books that you like reading with children? What helps them think about how friends work through problems? I'd love to hear of books that your families or classrooms have enjoyed.

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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35. Women Scientists: 5 great nonfiction books to spark a love of science (ages 5-12)

Explorers, inventors, researchers -- throughout history, scientists have pursued many different paths. But women have not always had an open invitation to take part. We need to pay particular attention to offering our students strong role models of all types of careers. Here are five of my favorite books about women who have pursued amazing careers in all sorts of scientific fields.

Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women
by Catherine Thimmesh, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Houghton Mifflin, 2000
Your local library
Amazon
Google Books preview
ages 7-12
With short entries, Thimmesh shares how women created ingenious inventions ranging from eminently helpful like Liquid Paper or the windshield wiper, to technically complex like the “space bumper” that protects NASA spacecraft and astronauts. The book ends with suggestions and resources to help young women start inventing on their own.
Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle
by Claire A. Nivola
Farrar, Straus & Giroux / Macmillan, 2012
Your local library
Amazon
Google Books preview
ages 5-9
This picture book biography captures Sylvia Earle’s life-long love of nature and the ocean. She helped design devices that allowed deep-water dives, lived for two weeks in a deep-sea station, and studied whales, swimming alongside them. Nivola’s rich illustrations help convey the awe-inspiring vastness of the undersea world and Earle’s passion for studying and protecting it.
Lives of the Scientists: Experiments, Explosions (and What the Neighbors Thought)
by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt
Harcourt / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-12
Krull tells young readers about the lives of 20 scientists, presenting quick biographical sketches told with verve and humor. She focuses on a diverse range of scientists, including six women, from around the world. An entertaining look at what these men and women were like as human beings, in the laboratory and out of it.
Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell
by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
Henry Holt / Macmillan, 2013
Your local library
Amazon
Google Books preview
ages 5-9
Although Elizabeth Blackwell received 28 rejections from medical schools, she persevered until one accepted her. This lively picture book biography reminds readers that opportunities were different in the 1840s, and that Blackwell helped change this for girls today.
Who Was Sally Ride?
by Megan Stine, illustrated by Ted Hammond
Grosset & Dunlap / Penguin, 2013
Your local library
Amazon
ages 7-11
Sally Ride was an astrophysicist who became the first American woman to fly into space. This biography, part of the popular “Who Was…” series, clearly relates Ride’s life, from her childhood interests in sports and science to her work developing a robotic arm for space shuttles. Inspiring and informative, in an easy-to-read format. I especially like the parallel timelines at the end, which help young readers put Ride’s life in context of world events.

This article was originally published in Parents Press, September 2015. Many thanks for all of their support. On Monday this week, I shared five fiction stories that spark a love of science, especially for girls.

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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36. Top 5 stories with a spark of science, especially for girls (ages 4-14)

Only two generations ago, our grandmothers faced serious limitations on the careers they could pursue. Today, our girls can do anything they put their minds to, but far fewer women pursue scientific careers than men. Here are two picture books and three novels that share the exciting spark that fuels so much passion in young scientists.

The Most Magnificent Thing
by Ashley Spires
Kids Can, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-7
This picture book celebrates the trials and tribulations that come with making things. As the young artist & engineer pulls a wagon full of odds and ends, she starts designing her magnificent creation. But science is hard work, filled with disappointments, before a triumphant ending.
Rosie Revere, Engineer
by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Abrams, 2013
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-8
This rhyming picture book tells the story of shy Rosie who likes to build things hidden away in her attic room. Her great-great-aunt Rose comes to visit, helping young Rosie see her way through her current contraption’s failure: for now she can try again. Rosie the Riveter would be proud, indeed.
Chasing Secrets
by Gennifer Choldenko
Wendy Lamb / Random House, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
Turn-of-the-century San Francisco comes to life for young readers as 13-year-old Lizzie Kennedy accompanies her father on medical house calls, forms a friendship with the son of Jing, her family’s beloved cook, and grapples with the injustices that exist with gender, class and race. Local author Choldenko creates a tender and gripping story of friendship, mystery and persistence.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
by Jacqueline Kelly
Henry Holt, 2009
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-14
A natural-born scientist, 11-year-old Calpurnia would like spend time examining insects, getting to know her scientist grandfather or reading Darwin’s controversial The Origin of Species. But in 1899 Texas, all around her expect young girls to learn to sew, run a household and attract a future husband. Readers adore this witty heroine, and will be thrilled to read the sequel just published this year.
The Fourteenth Goldfish 
by Jennifer L. Holm
Random House, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12 
When a vaguely familiar teenage boy shows up at Ellie’s house, she is confused until she realizes that her grandfather has discovered a way to regenerate himself. But now he needs Ellie’s help regaining access to his laboratory. Young readers love the relationship between Ellie and her grandfather, but they also feel her growing excitement for scientific discoveries.

This article was originally published in Parents Press, September 2015. Many thanks for all of their support. On Wednesday, I'll share 5 nonfiction books that highlight the accomplishments of women scientists.

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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37. Crenshaw, by Katherine Applegate -- keeping hold of hope through hard times (ages 8-11)

I find that my students particularly respond to books that touch their hearts, that talk honestly about how kids can survive through difficult times, about how we can keep hold of hope even though everything seems like it's about to crumble around us. I can't wait to share Crenshaw, Katherine Applegate's newest novel, with my students and friends.

Crenshaw
by Katherine Applegate
Feiwel and Friends / Macmillan, 2015
Preview at Google Books
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-11
*best new book*
Jackson knows that his parents are worried about having enough money for rent. And he's noticed that lately, the cupboards seem pretty bare. But he's a no-nonsense kind of guy, entering 5th grade--the kind of kid who likes to learn all about the facts, not get lost in make believe stories. That's why he's seriously perplexed when he sees a giant cat surfboarding at the beach.
"Maybe I'd gotten sunstroke at the beach... Maybe I was asleep, stuck in the middle of a long, weird, totally annoying dream... Maybe I was just hungry. Hunger can make you feel pretty weird. Even pretty crazy."
Applegate draws readers into Jackson's story, blending humor with small moments that place you right in Jackson's world. For example, instead of just telling us that Jackson is hungry, she shows us how he plays a game with his little sister called Cerealball: "a good trick for when you're hungry and there's nothing much to eat."

Jackson is resilient and smart -- and that's why he's so perplexed that this giant imaginary cat has come to visit him again. But it's also why we, as readers, can relate so easily to him. He wants his parents to realize that they can tell him what's going on, but he's also shaken by the uncertainty. Will they have to move? Will they have to live in their van again? Will he have to change schools?

Applegate helps kids see the impact of worrying, something that kids can relate to all too well. She shows them how a friend can help, how talking with your family can help. But she does more than this. Applegate creates a voice for kids struggling with hunger and homelessness. She says, in effect, I see you, I know you, I care about you. And she helps all of us say the same thing.

When students perform in front of their class at school, we talk about how the audience holds their heart in their hands. I feel the same way about authors who write the books that we read as kids. They hold our hearts in their hands as they take us on a journey. Friends, I hope this is a journey that you take as well.

This book trailer does a great job of introducing the story to kids:



Please use this opportunity to talk with kids about hunger and what we can do about it. Support local food banks and food drives. Check out all the local bookstores that are participating in a nationwide food drive throughout October: #CrenshawFoodDrive.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Macmillan, and we've already purchased several more copies for school. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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38. The Marvels, by Brian Selznick: mystery unfolding through art and text (ages 10-14)

"Either you see it or you don't."
As you open the heavy novel The Marvels and read this epigraph, you wonder--just what am I supposed to see? What pieces fit of the story together? What details in his multilayered drawings does Brian Selznick intend as hints for plot twists to come? What imagery from his rich descriptions stand out?

Please join me as I ruminate over the wonder of Brian Selznick's masterful story The Marvels. And definitely add your name below for a chance to win a giveaway of this beautiful novel.
The Marvels
by Brian Selznick
Scholastic, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 10-14
As in Wonderstruck, Selznick tells two entirely different stories, one in pictures and the other in text. Instead of intertwining the two narratives, The Marvels begins with nearly 400 pages of continuous pictures, telling the story of Billy Marvel and his family of actors, who flourish in London from the 17th to 19th centuries. The text then jumps nearly a century later, to Joseph Jervis, a boy who runs away from home, seeking refuge with his uncle in London. Joseph's eccentric uncle lives in the Marvel house, and young Joseph is intrigued by its portraits and ghostly presences.

The book trailer for The Marvels is wonderful -- giving you a taste for the story, Billy's shipwreck and the sense of drama created by the theater setting.

I'm sure our Emerson book club will be talking about this as we go through our Mock Newbery discussions. Honestly, I haven't been able to fully digest this story. What parts of a story do we pay attention to? Can we see more when we look again? How does the text develop the characters and setting? The Marvels, like Selznick's other masterpieces, is definitely a story that demands multiple readings.

Brian Selznick is setting out on a multi-city tour to celebrate the release of The Marvels! Find out where to meet Brian Selznick on his tour for #THEMARVELS here.

Please complete the rafflecopter below to enter for a chance at winning your own copy of The Marvels plus a Marvels jigsaw puzzle.
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Giveaway open to US addresses only. Prizing and samples provided by Scholastic.

Here are some snippets from other reviews:

  • "Art is seen to illuminate life and life to constantly spark art — a point further reinforced in the afterword when Selznick reveals his inspiration. Rich with “miracles and sadness,” a bookmaking tour de force, this novel is as full of marvels as its title suggests." -- The Washington Post review
  • "Upon completing The Marvels, I sat still, feeling as I did after a remarkable theatrical experience, say a dramatic opera, a visually stunning film, or a striking play, in awe of what I’d just experienced. Hours later it lingers with me, a gorgeous work of art." -- Monica Edinger, Educating Alice
  • "As a mentor text, this book is an excellent anchor piece for looking at character development and characterization. We see especially how Joseph develops as a character and how he changes throughout the book. It's simple and subtle but remarkable at the same time." -- Jen Vincent, Teach Mentor Texts
The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Scholastic. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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39. Making Time for Rhyme -- guest post by Susan B. Katz

I wrote to author Susan B. Katz, author of ABC School's For Me and several other books, asking her to talk with parents about the power of rhyming stories.

I notice that so many parents love reading these aloud to their kids. Why is that? Why do these stories play such an important part in children's language development? Can listening to stories actually help kids learn to read, even if they aren't reading the words at all? And what do you think makes the difference between a good rhyming book and a bad one -- what do you look for when you read aloud to kids?

Thank you, Susan, for your delightfully fun and thoughtful response.

Make Time For Rhyme
By Susan B. Katz

I grew up on a diet of books by the master rhymer, Dr. Seuss. I devoured Green Eggs and Ham, the Sneetches and that crazy Cat on the Loose. As a teacher for 20 years, I did lots of “rug” read alouds. Rhyme sure does please the little listener crowds. Parents will find that rhyme gives students a feeling of success. Children are able to predict the last word, they love to shout out a guess. That is what’s called a Cloze, and yes, it’s spelled with a Z. In my books, predictable rhyming patterns make clozing easy. Take for example, in MY MAMA EARTH, my second title. Students guess the ending words; that brain engagement is vital. I say, “My Mama makes the hippos snore and mighty lions proudly ________.” Clozing keeps them involved and on their toes so reading isn’t a bore. My most recent book, ABC SCHOOL’S FOR ME, features bears, at school, making all sorts of creations. Students also predict the rhyming words using the colorful illustrations.

Authors are discouraged from writing in rhyme by most publishers, of course. Editors receive a lot of rhyme that is, what we call, “forced.” But, there are those of us who continue to publish in rhyme, confident that children’s love of verse will stand the test of time. Rhyme helps students learn language patterns like: might, tight, bright, sight. This impacts their spelling, long term, so they get more words right. You can teach them that rhyming words live in a family. The “cat, sat, mat” words fill up the leaves on the “AT” family tree. Research shows that children who detect rhyme orally in their early years are much more successful as the time for reading print nears. Even “pre-readers” enjoy rhyme although they’re not decoding books yet. And, as for that Common Core rhyming Kinder standard—consider it met! Rhyming is fun and can even be silly sometimes. Dr. Seuss still offers the best example of funny, whimsical rhymes. Novels in verse are becoming more popular for sure. The most recent Newbery was awarded to THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander.

The English language has so many exceptions to the rules. English Language Learners benefit from having rhyme as one of their literacy “unlocking” tools. I have written all four of my books in verse. Thinking in rhyme is both a blessing and a curse. I rhymed all of my middle and high school speeches when I was young. Rhyme and word play just roll off my tongue. Children like songs and poems, both of which are different forms of rhyme. Prose has a purpose and place too—you can’t rhyme all the time. But, rhyming helps children tune their ears and change out sounds. Rhyming is a natural part of jump roping on playgrounds. “Ms. Mary Mack Mack Mack, all dressed in black, black, black.” I probably haven’t jumped to that since I was very small. But, the rhyme makes it easy for me to recall. For songs that are on your phone, the radio, TV or in a Disney movie, rhyme makes words tickle the tongue, melts meaning into your memory. There is so much power in the rhyming word. For a child’s language development, it is like the wings of a bird.

Can you imagine a world without songs and chants? Rhyming invites imagination, it welcomes, it enchants. You’d be hard pressed to find a child who doesn’t like to play, with words, that is, like: say, day, way, today! I will continue to be a champion for writing and reading rhyming stories. The love lasts forever: college kids listen to rap (a.k.a rhyme) in their dormitories. So, find a good rhyming book that sings and allows kids to cloze. (Once in a while, you can still read them prose.) Rhyme is the foundation of word patterns and song. It makes students feels successful—how could that ever be wrong? Most importantly, rhyme gives children a love of language and reading. You feed your child three meals a day-- consider rhyme a literary feeding. It fuels your child’s brain; helps expand their vocabulary. Rhyme makes reading sound much less scary. Build a banquet of books for those picky readers at bedtime. I promise you, they will be delighted if you just feed them, I mean, read them, rhyme!

Many thanks to Susan B. Katz for sharing her thoughts on rhyme. 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 Susan B. Katz, via Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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40. Celebrating Rosh Hashanah -- finding new books to celebrate the New Year (ages 4-9)

Tonight marks the beginning of the Jewish High Holidays with the start of Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the New Year. A few books stand out as joyful ways to celebrate these holidays, both with Jewish families and in a multicultural school setting.

Apple Days:
A Rosh Hashanah Story
by Allison Sarnoff Soffer
illustrated by Bob McMahon
Kar-Ben, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
Katy loves her family's tradition of picking apples and making applesauce in preparation for celebrating Rosh Hashanah. But this year, her mom can't go apple picking--she has to go help Aunt Leah with her new baby. What can Katy do?
"The next day, the crossing guard handed Katy a yellow apple, and the principal placed another in her backpack."

Kids and families will smile at the way Katy's friends rally around her, knowing how important this holiday is for her family. Katy becomes the "expert", coaching her dad on just how she and her mom make applesauce. This simple story conveys the feeling of a community coming together, recognizing the importance of family traditions.
Celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur
with Honey, Prayers and the Shofar
by Deborah Heiligman
National Geographic, 2007
Your local library
Amazon
ages 6-9
With beautiful photographs and clear, engaging text, Deborah Heiligman helps young readers explore how Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are celebrated by Jewish families around the world. Some examples will feel familiar to American families: a boy and his mother make a round challah in Israel and a little girl practices blowing a shofar in Los Angeles, but others emphasize how widespread the Jewish diaspora is. For example, a congregation in Zimbabwe sings and dances at a Rosh Hashanah service, and thousands of Jews attend a tashlikh service around a lake in the Ukraine to cast away their sins. A wonderful way to talk about celebrations that bring families together around the world.

For more books that portray the Jewish experience, I highly recommend looking at the Sydney Taylor Book Award recipients from the past 40+ years. New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Story won this award in the young readers category in 2010. I remember very much enjoying it at the time, but haven't had a chance to reread it recently.

The review copies came from our school and public libraries. 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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41. Courage and Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs and Survivors in World War II Denmark, by Deborah Hopkinson (ages 11 to 14)

"Imagine waking up one morning to find foreign soldiers standing on the street corners of your town. Overnight, an enemy army has arrived and now occupies your entire country. This is what happened on April 9, 1940, when Germany invaded Denmark in World War II."
Deborah Hopkinson begins the prologue to Courage and Defiance by asking readers to imagine just how world-changing the events of April 1940 were. As she relates stories of Danish people who were spies, saboteurs and ultimately survivors, she paints a picture of just how complicated and dangerous life was for people who dared to make a stand against the German army.
Courage and Defiance
Stories of Spies, Saboteurs and Survivors in World War II Denmark
by Deborah Hopkinson
Scholastic, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 11 to 14
Deborah Hopkinson weaves together the complicated tale of how many different individuals took actions large and small to resist, disrupt and fight back against the German army occupying Denmark. As she acknowledges in her introduction, this is a multifaceted, complex story. One of my overriding impressions is just how frightening it would be to live in these times, precisely because you could never be sure who was an informer or in the resistance movement. Students who are fascinated by history and can grapple with its complexities will find this an engrossing account.

Deborah Hopkinson
I asked Deborah Hopkinson to share about her research process, and I'm honored to share her thoughts with you here. Thank you, Deborah.

"When students ask me my favorite part of writing about history, I tell them I’m a research nut. After all, the best way to really learn about something is to write about it. That was definitely the case with my new nonfiction title, Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in WWII Denmark, the first of three books I’m writing about the Second World War. And my favorite part of research is finding the stories of ordinary people.

Like the fictional characters in Lois Lowry’s classic Newbery-winning Number the Stars, also set during the German occupation of Denmark, the real resistance activists I encountered in my research for this book were driven by strong personal convictions. I learned that many were young college students, whose first steps were often working in small groups on an underground newspaper.

Others, like Niels Skov, defied the instructions of his own government to launch what he called his “private war against the Germans” very much on his own, setting out on a bicycle at night to find German vehicles to set on fire. Later he was arrested for his resistance work and deported to labor camps in Germany. Niels survived the war and came to the U.S., becoming a university professor. When I asked him his advice for young people today he said, “Swim against the stream.”
Niels Skov
Time travel, fantasy, and dystopian books are popular genres with young people. But learning about history can be just as exciting. Stanford historian Sam Wineburg once said studying history helps us think our way into what living in the past was like. “It's the only form of time travel that exists."

Young men and women in Denmark put their lives on the line to print and deliver underground newspapers, disrupt the German war machine by committing acts of sabotage, and prevent the deportation of their Jewish neighbors. Young readers in America today may be spared such life-and-death choices. But they nevertheless face difficult personal decisions every day.

The heroes and heroines of fantasy can certainly be models for young readers to emulate. But, I hope, so can real people. And history is full of them."
Thank you so much, Deborah, for sharing your personal thoughts on this powerful story. Friends, please do check out other stops on the Courage & Defiance Blog Tour.

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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42. Honoring Cesar Chavez on Labor Day (ages 8-11)

I want to take a moment on Labor Day to honor Cesar Chavez and share a new biography that conveys his life and work clearly for young readers. This is a must-have for school libraries, and also a good choice to have at home.

Cesar Chavez
True Books biographies series
by Josh Gregory
Children's Press / Scholastic, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-11
Cesar Chavez changed conditions for farm laborers across the United States, especially in California. He helped farm workers come together to demand better working conditions and fair wages, and still inspires people today to stand up for their rights.
"Cesar Chavez changed farm labor in the United States."
Bright photographs will draw students in to this biography, but it's the overall design that makes me recommend it so highly. This biography is written in clear, short sentences -- but more than that, it is organized clearly in a way that helps students form a clear picture of his life. As you can see from these examples, each chapter has a meaningful title, and sections headings help students create a focus for their reading. Captions provide focused information, and are set out in red.
"Chavez talks with striking workers in a worker's home."
The timeline is one of my favorite features. It is often difficult for students to piece together the different parts of a person's life. Here, the timeline helps young readers see the key details progress in chronological order.
"1962: Chavez founds the National Farm Workers Association and begins gathering members."
This biography is available in paperback for home or classroom use. Our schools subscribe to TrueFlix, an online resource that lets students access full-text books as well as curated resources. I especially like the "read along" feature that provides full-text narration. Through this subscription, we have access to books on 18 different subject areas ranging from biographies to ancient civilizations to outer space.

You might also be interested in these picture books about the fight to improve the working conditions of farm workers in California:


The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Scholastic Library, as well as accessed through out TrueFlix subscription. 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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43. Owl Diaries by Rebecca Elliott: short chapter book with big appeal (ages 6-8)

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

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

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

Illustrations ©2015 Rebecca Elliott. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Scholastic. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

Are you getting nervous about the beginning of the school year? Who gets more nervous, kids or parents?? Will your child be able to make the transition to a new school, new teacher, new friends? There's nothing like the nervous excitement of the first day of school. Some kids are raring to go, while others are tentatively clinging to their parents.

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

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

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

Want more back-to-school books? This week I'm reviewing these new favorites:
The review copy came from our home library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

Want more back-to-school books? This week I'm reviewing these new favorites:
Illustrations ©2015 Abby Carter; used with permission from the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Disney Hyperion. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

Illustrations ©2015 Lynn Munsinger; used with permission from the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Scholastic. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out these other reviews & interviews:


Illustrations ©2015 Christian Robinson. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Chronicle Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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