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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. 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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27. 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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28. 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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29. 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.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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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30. 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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31. 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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32. 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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33. 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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34. 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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35. 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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36. 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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37. 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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38. 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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39. 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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40. 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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41. 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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42. Choosing a great chapter book to read aloud (ages 8-12)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Definitely check out the whole article in School Library Journal. Thanks again to Daryl Grabareck for a great column in SLJ. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PDF for easy printing: Kindergarten & 1st grade

View full lists here via SlideShare:




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

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

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

PDF for easy printing: 2nd & 3rd grade

View full lists here via SlideShare:




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

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

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

PDFs for easy printing: 4th & 5th grade

View full lists here via SlideShare:




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

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

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

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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47. #FamiliesRead: Encouraging the Love of Reading

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

celebrating the Coretta Scott King Awards with Emerson students and staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

I purchased these review copies for my personal library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

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

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books


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