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1. Summer reading: Encouraging children to enjoy reading more

from Flikr, by Enokson
As summer approaches, kids get excited for freedom from the routines and structures of school. But parents often worry how they will encourage their children to keep reading. Kids have put a lot of effort into developing their reading abilities throughout the school year--what's going to happen to all those hard-earned skills over the summer?

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 want our kids to get lost in books, totally absorbed in whatever they're reading.
from Flickr, by Piulet
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?

Research has shown that two elements are key: children's access to interesting books and choice of books that they can read. It makes sense, doesn't it? I love the way Dav Pilkey, author of the Captain Underpants series, put it in What Kids Are Reading:
"What if all of your reading material was selected by, or restricted by people who believed that they know what was best for you? Wouldn’t that be awful? Wouldn’t you resent it? And isn’t it possible that you might begin to associate books with bad things like drudgery and subjugation?"
The first step to supporting your child is to encourage them to pick what interests them. During the summer, encourage them to seize the power and declare their own passions or interests. Baseball fan? Read biographies, baseball mysteries or sports magazines. Dolphin lover? Dive in deep, learning all about types of dolphins, threats on their habitats and scientists who study them.

The second step is to get a sense of your child's approximate reading levels--not to prescribe what your child can read, but to help her find books that are easy enough to read independently. Children will find the most success reading books in that they can read easily and fluently, especially during the summer.

The final step is to recognize that learning is social -- kids will get engaged more if you value their ideas, ask for their recommendations, talk with them. Do they resist talking with you? Figure out another way for them to engage with others--maybe it's high-tech and setting up a blog, maybe it's old-school and having a reading recommendation journal that you each put entries into, maybe it involves ice cream and friends who like to talk about books and hobbies.

Are you looking for summer reading ideas? Check out my recommendations, created for Berkeley Unified School District families.
2016 Summer Reading Suggestions
Please feel free to download these, print them and share with your friends. Most of all, try to make summer reading time a fun, relaxing part of your summer!

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books2016, Mary Ann Scheuer
Great Kid Books & Berkeley Unified School District


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2. Sharing wordless books with children: tips & favorite books (all ages)

Do you enjoy reading wordless books with your child? Do you like the freedom to make up your words and stories, or does it leave you a little lost? Wordless picture books tell the stories only through the illustrations, and they put much more of the storytelling role onto the reader.

Wordless books can be a delight and a challenge to read with children -- here are a few of my tips:

1. Encourage children to make up the story. There is no "right" or "wrong" way to read these books.

2. Spend time looking at the cover and talking about the book's title. What do you think this story is going to be about? What do you notice?

3. Take a "picture walk" through the pages, looking at the pictures and talking together about what you see.

4. Slow down and notice the details together. Talk about the characters' expressions, the setting, the use of color. What does the illustrator want us to notice?

5. Encourage your child to use different voices, add sound effects and use interesting words as they tell the story. Have fun!

These conversations will enrich your child's storytelling, bringing joy and meaning to the experience.
Here is a collection of my favorite wordless books, new and old, with a brief description (based on the publisher's description).
  • 10 Minutes till Bedtime, by Peggy Rathmann -- A boy's hamster leads an increasingly large group of hamsters on a tour of the boy's house, while his father counts down the minutes to bedtime.
  • A Ball for Daisy, by Chris Raschka -- A dog has fun with her ball, until it is lost. This story is about what it is like to lose something special, and find a friend.
  • Draw!, by Raúl Colón -- A boy who is confined to his room fills his sketch pad with lions and elephants, then imagines himself on a safari.
  • The Farmer and the Clown, by Marla Frazee -- A farmer rescues a baby clown who has bounced off the circus train, and takes very good care of him until he can reunite the tot with his clown family.
  • Flora and the Flamingo, by Molly Idle -- In this wordless book with interactive flaps, a friendship develops between a girl named Flora and a graceful flamingo, as they learn to dance together.
  • Float, by Daniel Miyares -- A boy loses his paper boat in the rain, and goes on an adventure to retrieve it.
  • Good Night, Gorilla, by Peggy Rathmann -- An unobservant zookeeper is followed home by all the animals he thinks he has left behind in the zoo.
  • Journey, by Aaron Becker -- A lonely girl draws a magic door on her bedroom wall and through it escapes into a world where she creates a boat, a balloon, and a flying carpet that carry her on a spectacular journey.
  • The Lion and the Mouse, by Jerry Pinkney -- In this wordless retelling of an Aesop fable set in the African Serengeti, an adventuresome mouse proves that even small creatures are capable of great deeds when she rescues the King of the Jungle.
  • Mr. Wuffles!, by David Wiesner -- Mr. Wuffles ignores all his cat toys but one, which turns out to be a spaceship piloted by small green aliens. 
  • Pool, by JiHyeon Lee -- Two shy children meet at a noisy pool and dive beneath the crowd into a magical undersea land, where they explore a fantastical landscape and meet various creatures.
  • Spot the Cat, by Henry Cole -- A cat named Spot ventures out an open window and through a city on a journey, while his owner (and the reader!) try to find him.
  • Tall, by Jez Alborough -- All the jungle animals help a very little monkey to feel that he is tall.
  • The Typewriter, by Bill Thomson -- Three children find a typewriter on a carousel, and begin an adventure that helps them discover the wonder of words.
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.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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3. Good Night Baddies & Fairy Tales for Mr. Barker: Two new delightful twists on fairytale favorites (ages 4-7)

My students love sharing fairy tales and they have so much fun reading new twists on old favorites. Two new favorites emphasize humor and downplay the traditional tales' darker sides, making them perfect for preschoolers and kindergartners.

Good Night, Baddies
by Deborah Underwood
illustrated by Juli Kangas
Beach Lane / Simon & Schuster, 2016
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-7
With charming rhymes, Underwood creates a scene where fairytale villains come together at the end of a long day to share dinner and bedtime stories. The baddies really shine when given a chance.
Baddies sit politely dining,
no one throwing food or whining.
All day long they must be vile;
now, at night, they chat and smile.
The evil queen puts on pajamas, while the wolves brush their teeth (well, their fangs). The sweet rhymes and soft illustrations contrast perfectly with baddies' reputation--who would think that the troll enjoys a bubble bath after a hard day waiting for the three billy goats gruff?
"Evil queen, take off your crown;
trade pajamas for your gown.
Tuck your poisoned fruit away.
Find Snow White another day."
Children will enjoy recognizing favorite tales and spotting details from each in the illustrations. I absolutely agree with the BookDragon's review: "Deborah Underwood and Juli Kangas are a delightfully subversive team, proving even the meanest baddies need time to relax and recharge."
Fairy Tales for Mr. Barker: A Peek-Through Story
by Jessica Ahlberg
Candlewick, 2016
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-7
Young Lucy chases her dog through fairy tale lands, dodging bad guys along the way. Even before you get to the title page, young Lucy asks her dog, "Do you want to hear a story, Mr. Barker?" But the pup is distracted by a butterfly, and takes off out of the open window. When Lucy follows him, she enters one new fairytale world after another -- and readers must guess (along with Lucy) where she is.
"Where are we?" asked Lucy. She saw a broken chair, three bowls of porridge, and a little golden-haired girl."
Just as the villain enters the scene, Lucy knows that it's time to leave and invites her new friends to join her. Soon she's followed by Goldilocks, the three little pigs and Jack, with the three bears, the wolf and the giant all chasing them. Ahlberg uses the cutouts very effectively, engaging young readers and prompting them to wonder what's on the other side.

In each new scene, she provides just enough clues for readers to guess which tale Lucy has entered. This encourages young readers to take part in the story, actively engaging with the text. Jessica Ahlberg is the daughter of Allan and Janet Ahlberg, whose classic The Jolly Postman is one of my all-time favorite fairytale mashups. Jessica told Publisher Weekly,
“I think fairy tales are a great shared knowledge, and so if you assume prior knowledge you can play with expectations or make it into a guessing game, as I did in Mr. Barker. I think the fact that the tales are ‘universal’ gives the child reader power. I think it can be fun for them to spot changes, or mistakes, or to know what’s going to happen next. It gives them a bit of control, perhaps. Similarly, my protagonist is able to help the fairy tale people she meets, because she knows their stories and knows what’s going to happen before they do.”
It is interesting that both books draw only from European folktales and fairytales. The illustrations show mainly white characters, although Ahlberg draws both Lucy and Sleeping Beauty with brown hair and slightly darker skin tones.

The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Time, Inc. (via BlueSlip Media) and Capstone 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.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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4. Engaging with Preschool Writers

Last week, I encouraged a group of preschoolers to write books about their experiences. It went better than I expected.

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5. Engaging with Preschool Writers

Last week, I encouraged a group of preschoolers to write books about their experiences. It went better than I expected.

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6. Engaging with Preschool Writers

Last week, I encouraged a group of preschoolers to write books about their experiences. It went better than I expected.

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7. The Airport Book, by Lisa Brown: Full of things to see and talk about! (ages 2-8)

I love traveling, going to see new places and experience new things. But traveling with kids, well that takes a special sort of patience, humor and--above all else--preparation. I adore, adore, adore Lisa Brown's newest picture book, The Airport Book, precisely because she celebrates the adventure of traveling by airplane with kids, full of so many things to look at and so many stories within the main story.

The Airport Book
by Lisa Brown
Roaring Brook / Macmillan, 2016
Your local library
Amazon
ages 2-8
*best new book*
"Don't forget monkey!" a mom reminds her family, as they are finishing their packing. "Of course I won't forget monkey!" the dad replies, and kids will smile as the little girl announces proudly, "I pack monkey!" Right from the beginning, Brown engages readers with the story, encouraging readers to predict just what's going to happen when monkey goes missing.
"Monkey monkey monkey!"
"Did you forget to pack monkey?"
Young readers will start by following the toddler's cry for her beloved monkey. With an adult or older reader, they will then read the cool, composed voice explaining the experience. I like to think of this as the big brother coaching the little sister through the experience.
"Inside the airport you stand in lines. You stand in lines to get your ticket. you stand in lines to check your bags. There are lines for the restrooms. There are lines to go through security."
Linger on the page for a while, and you'll notice that there are all sorts of little stories within the central story. Readers will have a great time choosing a character and seeing what's happening to them in the next scene.
"You squeeze into your seat. Some bags go up top. Some bags go underneath."
Brown captures the busy nature of airplane travel without leaving the reader overwhelmed. Part of this is the reassuring, matter-of-fact tone of the main narrator and of the parents on the journey. Partly it's the satisfying story arc, both for the main character and the smaller stories. She balances detailed illustrations with a few large, open spreads of the airplane flying in blue sky.

I especially love how diverse Brown's airplane travelers are--in so many ways. The main family is multiracial, with a black dad, white mom, two brown kids. There are people of different ethnic and racial groups. There is a working mom, constantly on her cell phone. A dad is traveling alone with a little baby. A woman is traveling independently in a wheelchair. And yet none of this diversity draws attention to itself--it seems effortless and natural, and yet Brown carefully, thoughtfully includes in so many ways.

Check out these stellar reviews:
Illustration copyright © Lisa Brown, 2016, shared with permission of the publisher. The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher, Roaring Brook / Macmillan. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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8. Emergent Writing and Star of the Day

My son, Alex, will be starting kindergarten this coming September, and I find myself thinking back to what I did to help those four and five year old emergent writers. With rising expectations for what incoming kindergarteners can do, I've been dusting off my kindergarten bag of tricks to work with Alex, to help him feel confident and ready when school starts.

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9. Emergent Writing and Star of the Day

My son, Alex, will be starting kindergarten this coming September, and I find myself thinking back to what I did to help those four and five year old emergent writers. With rising expectations for what incoming kindergarteners can do, I've been dusting off my kindergarten bag of tricks to work with Alex, to help him feel confident and ready when school starts.

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10. Winter Wonderland sketches - preschool book that celebrates the wonder of winter for young and old....





Sketches from "Winter Wonderland"  written by Debbie Estrem.
This is the third book in a nostalgic series for parents and 
grandparents to share with little ones, celebrating 
the best memories of every season. 

The first two books in the series are now available!




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11. The Wunderglasses app review

wunderglasses menuAs The Wunderglasses app (Gentle Troll, December 2015) opens, a little boy named Max is playing in the park. He notices a strange pair of glasses on the ground; when he puts them on, everything ordinary now looks extraordinary. Users swipe down from the top-right corner of the screen to see what Max sees: a rose garden becomes an array of lollipops, two ducks appear as a giant blue frog, an older couple on a bench transforms into two turtles. You can swipe back up to see the scene as normal; it’s fun to swipe up and down to see exactly what has changed.

Max goes by an ice-cream stand (there he sees a red sun, a couple with ice-cream-scoop heads, and a businessman wearing a tutu), then walks home past a construction site (two workers playing wheelbarrow, a woman walking an ostrich), the outdoor market, the lake, the downtown, and his street — usually “rather boring,” but not today.

wunderglasses street

The story itself, narrated gently and with a touch of wonder (the narration can also be turned off), is a little kooky: “He feels like eating some candy. But of course, you cannot eat the roses or the grass, and butterflies are not made of sugar.” The visuals are great — hand-painted watercolor scenes are very child-friendly as they are, and they become even more so once kids start to swipe and the silliness kicks in. There’s a map of the town on the home screen, along with some great jazzy sax music. With some light sound effects and over one hundred animations, this should keep kids entertained, occupied — and giggling.

Available for iPad (requires iOS 6.0 or later); $2.99. Recommended for preschool and primary users.

The post The Wunderglasses app review appeared first on The Horn Book.

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12. Review of On the Ball

pinkney_on the ballOn the Ball
by Brian Pinkney; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary   Disney-Hyperion   32 pp.
9/15   978-1-4847-2329-6   $17.99

Pinkney’s latest picture-book offering begins on a soccer field, then takes flight as a young boy’s imagination soars. The opening text reads, “Owen loved playing ball,” and the accompanying illustrations show a boy first dribbling and then tripping over a soccer ball, because “playing ball…didn’t always love Owen.” Pinkney employs loose black ink brushstrokes accented with swabs of color that recall the style of his contemporary Chris Raschka to visually convey movement. This sense of motion is crucial to the success of the story, which has the intrepid Owen “chase down” the ball when it gets away from him. Fantastical scenarios show the ball floating away through the water, as Owen transforms into a merman; next rolling into “tangled bushes” with a now tiger-shaped Owen pursuing it. When the ball bounces off a cliff, Owen sprouts wings and flies after it, then finally brings it (and himself) back down to earth on the soccer field. Triumphant, a “fierce” and loose Owen now floats and flies through the game, having learned a lesson about focus and determination through a story that also offers an artful, subtle message about the importance of perseverance in life.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

The post Review of On the Ball appeared first on The Horn Book.

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13. Read Out Loud | Hervé Tullet’s PRESS HERE !

Read Out Loud Herve Tullet

A KidLit TV EXCLUSIVE!

Follow along with Best Selling author Hervé Tullet’s spirited reading of Press Here!

Press Here From Chronicle Books:
Press here. That’s right. Just press the yellow dot, and turn the page. The single touch of a finger sparks a whimsical dance of color and motion in this joyful celebration of the power of imagination.
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY BESTSELLER

A NATIONAL INDIE BESTSELLER
AN ALA NOTABLE CHILDREN’S BOOK NOMINEE
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
KIRKUS REVIEWS BEST CHILDREN’S BOOK OF THE YEAR

“Brilliant.”
—School Library Journal, starred review

star“An interactive book that gives the iPad a licking.”
—The Horn Book, starred review

Click here for your Press Here Activities GUIDE!
Study Guide and Activites for PRESS HERE
Watch Hervé Tullet’s FULL interview with Rocco on STORYMAKERS!
HerveTullet

StoryMakers
Host: Rocco Staino @RoccoA
Executive Producer: Julie Gribble @JulieGribbleNYC

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Get Your Backstage Pass to view interview EXTRAS from Hervé Tullet: http://kidlit.tv/newsletter

Backstage at KidLit TVKidLit TV is TulletedHervé creates original art for Rocco and Julie GribbleCastAndCrewPressHERE

The post Read Out Loud | Hervé Tullet’s PRESS HERE ! appeared first on KidLit.TV.

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14. Review of I Hear a Pickle (and Smell, See, Touch, 
and Taste It, Too!)

isadora_i hear a pickle2I Hear a Pickle (and Smell, See, Touch, and Taste It, Too!)
by Rachel Isadora; illus. by the author
Preschool   Paulsen/Penguin   32 pp.
1/16   978-0-399-16049-3   $16.99   g

Starting with a clever, attention-grabbing title, Isadora’s book about the five senses is aimed perfectly at another sense — kids’ sense of humor. Separate sections, beginning with sound and ending with taste, visit each sense in double-page spreads that contain small vignettes of children exploring their world, both indoors and out. Brief sentences describe what each child hears, smells, sees, touches, or tastes. Frequent statements about what the child doesn’t sense add levity: “I see the turtle’s shell but I don’t see the turtle”; “I don’t smell. I have a cold.” Interjections throughout, printed in italics, add read-aloud pleasure: “I touch my brother’s foot. Hee-hee. / I don’t touch my boo-boo. Ouch! / I don’t touch the plug. No-no!” Certain items are revisited in different sections: “I don’t hear the snow falling…I see the snow. I don’t see my mitten.” Delicate ink and watercolor illustrations on white backgrounds nicely elicit a young child’s point of view, such as when a girl peering over a counter can just barely see the pizza she smells. The final page wraps things up by going back to the titular pickle in all its sensory glory: “I taste the pickle. / It’s sour,” and so on until “I hear the pickle…CRUNCH!” Be sure to have a jar of baby dills on hand for this one.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

The post Review of I Hear a Pickle (and Smell, See, Touch, 
and Taste It, Too!) appeared first on The Horn Book.

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and Taste It, Too!) as of 1/1/1900
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15. Five questions for Barbara McClintock

Barbara McClintockEach of author/illustrator Barbara McClintock’s picture books provides a glimpse into a jewel-box of a world, from bustling early-twentieth-century Paris (Adèle & Simon; Farrar, 4–7 years) to a cozy 1970s mouse-house (Where’s Mommy?, written by Beverly Donofrio; Schwartz & Wade, 4–7 years). Her latest, Emma and Julia Love Ballet (Scholastic, 4–7 years), does the same for the vibrant world of ballet, giving readers a look at the daily routines of two dancers: one a student just starting out, the other a professional in her prime. A dancer myself, I jumped at the chance to talk to Barbara about how she translates movement to the page.

1. How did you decide on this day-in-the-life, compare-and-contrast format for showcasing a dancer’s reality?

BM: I blame two of my favorite books for putting the idea in my head: The Borrowers by Mary Norton and The Philharmonic Gets Dressed by Karla Kuskin, illustrated by Marc Simont. The parallel world of The Borrowers fascinated me as a child. And I fell in love — hard! — with the behind-the-scenes showering, sock-pulling-on, hair-combing, and beard-trimming preparations of orchestral musicians before their evening performance in The Philharmonic Gets Dressed.

My older sister Kathleen lived, breathed, ate, and slept ballet when she was little, and I’d wanted to make a book honoring her for a long time. She took me to my first professional dance performance, which proved to have a profound influence on my creative life. Her passion for dance inspired me to believe in myself as an artist.

2. Many of your books are set in bygone eras, with richly evoked historical settings full of texture and detail. How does your process differ when you’re portraying a contemporary setting rather than recreating a historical one?

BM: I tend to use slightly bolder, brushlike line work, little or no crosshatching, and brighter colors when working with a contemporary setting. Modern surfaces are shinier, glossier, brighter, harder. Metal and glass predominate. I find it’s easier to depict those hard, shiny surfaces with gradated watercolor washes. Textural ink crosshatching seems appropriate for older stone, wood, and plaster surfaces.

Modern forms call for fluid lines, less encumbered by lots of line work. There’s detail in contemporary buildings and clothing, but forms are more nuanced, freer, with open patterns and simplified shapes compared to historical structures and fashion.

Shapes of contemporary things that move — cars, airplanes, trains — are smooth and somewhat egg-shaped, reflecting aerodynamic design considerations. Carriages, carts, and buggies are boxy, with lots of angles, which makes for different compositional elements in pictures.

mcclintock_emma and julia love ballet23. The format of Emma and Julia Love Ballet is almost graphic novel–like, with the illustrations changing sizes and shapes to accelerate the pacing. How do you know what size illustration to use when?

BM: The size and shape of the illustrations is all about creating a sense of time, movement, emotion, and place.

Vignettes isolate characters to form a sense of intimacy between the reader and the character, like a spotlighted actor on stage. There can be a powerful emotional component to vignettes. Toward the end of the book as Emma prepares to go to the ballet performance, we see her in her fancy coat, with no background, nothing else in the image. Her facial expression alone tells us this is an important time for her. Anything else in the scene would impede the immediacy of her excitement.

Vignettes can also signify rapid movement and the passage of time. Several small vignettes on a page require only short amounts of time to look at. This visual device works well to depict Emma and Julia stretching, jumping, and spinning. Viewing several small images in quick succession can be like looking at a flip-book that gives the impression of fast, fluid motion.

Broad, dramatic scenes create a sense of mood and establish place; and fuller, detailed pictures slow the reader down at significant moments by creating an environment that invites investigation. That lingering pause can give majesty to a scene or narrative concept.

At the very end of the book, I wanted to go back to a vignette approach. We see Emma and Julia connected by their shared love of ballet. I wanted Emma and Julia to dominate and fill up the entire page with no external stuff to clutter up their emotional connection. This is their story, and they tell us absolutely and directly how they feel about ballet and each other.

4. You observed the Connecticut Concert Ballet as models for the illustrations, and took some ballet classes yourself for research. How did your perspective — or your illustrations — change after these experiences?

BM: I have a much better idea of just how hard a plié in fifth position is on your inner thighs!

Watching people in motion is a much different experience than simply studying photographs. Semi-realistic drawing has so much to do with gesture, and the best way to understand how an arm or leg really moves through space is to observe someone in the act of moving. As I draw the sweep of an arm, I get inside that motion. I’m not entirely sure how to express this, but I feel the movement in my head as a physical motion and visualize where that arm is going, then translate that motion as well as I can in a two-dimensional way on paper.

Ballet has its own regimented structure of movement. I just dipped into the surface of knowledge of ballet training, but hopefully enough to give some authenticity to the way the dancers in my book move.

Barbara loves ballet

Barbara in the ballet studio

5. The book is dedicated in part to the wonderful Judith Jamison, dancer and Artistic Director Emerita of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Is there a particular role of Ms. Jamison’s that resonates most with you?

BM: In the early 1970s my sister took me to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Minneapolis. Judith Jamison was the featured soloist. This was the first professional dance performance I’d ever seen. I had no idea what to expect, and was almost afraid to go. Any hesitation vanished the moment Judith stepped on stage. She dominated space and time, creating vivid shapes and patterns.

Judith performed Cry, a sixteen-minute solo homage to black women, choreographed by Alvin Ailey for his mother with Judith in mind. Judith expressed grief, depression, loss, redemption, and joy as eloquently as any novelist. I loved dance from that evening on.

Judith’s presence, authority, and grace inspired me in my work. I admired her, and looked up to Judith as a role model — a woman who was in command of her talent and a force almost bigger than life.

From the January 2016 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

The post Five questions for Barbara McClintock appeared first on The Horn Book.

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16. Review of Murphy in the City

provensen_murphy in the cityMurphy in the City
by Alice Provensen; 
illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary   Simon   32 pp.
11/15   978-1-4424-1971-1   $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4814-1832-4   $10.99

The small, busy, curious, noisy farm terrier from A Day in the Life of Murphy (rev. 7/03) is on his way to the big city with his family for a day of adventures (visits to a dog park and a doggie boutique) and misadventures (wandering off and a resultant brief stay at the animal shelter). Murphy’s unbounded energy is reflected in bustling city scenes that often include multiple images of Murphy; one particularly effective 
double-page spread contains three stacked horizontal panels in which a progression of Murphys explores a crowded and fascinating sidewalk — humans seen only from the knees down — after his accidental escape out the back door of the doggie boutique. This sense of motion and energy is 
reinforced in the all-caps typeface and in the endpapers — a riot of paw prints going every which way — not to mention Murphy’s own spiky fur, hyper-alert gazes, and many BARK BARK BARKs. The arc of the story, from early-morning enthusiasm to late-night exhaustion, will be both satisfying and familiar to children, who often follow that same arc in their own lives. After such a hectic and exciting day full of new sights, sounds, and experiences, everyone will be happy that Murphy ends up back home, curled up in the hay in the barn with his familiar toys: “Dear sock, good old bone, good old stick. / Sigh. / Good night.”

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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17. Sago Mini Music Box app review

music box titleI’ve been singing Sago Mini’s praises for some time (see my reviews of Ocean Swimmer, Road Trip, Friends, and Fairy Tales, as well as Shoshana’s review of Monsters), and now I have musical accompaniment! Sago Mini Music Box (2014) invites users to join cheerful animal characters to play three familiar tunes.

First things first: choose a character and thus the song you’ll be performing. Select the orange cat to drift over a meadow, through mountains, and into space in a hot air balloon, to the strains of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Hop in a sled with the blue bunny to dash through the snow as you play “Jingle Bells.” Or “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” through a tropical paradise with the brown dog.

music box menu

Regardless of which character/song combination you choose, tap your device to both play the appropriate musical notes and accelerate your vehicle — you set the tempo of your song and the speed of travel.

Tapping different items or locations on your screen produces different instrumentation and a wide range of humorous visual surprises. For instance, in “Twinkle, Twinkle,” tapping the meadow as the kitty floats over in the balloon plays a low guitar note (and might produce a tree, flower, or mountain goat), while tapping the night sky plays a higher keyboard tone (as a star, comet, or rocket appears). When you drift past the moon, alien groundhogs pop out to greet you. Tap the same item twice in a row, and you might get a brief animation. If you’re lucky, you may spot paper airplanes soaring through the sky, or even a UFO beaming up one of the goats. Throughout, the kitty oohs and ahhs at the sights. Both the music and the landscapes are seamlessly looped, allowing for unhurried exploration.

music box moon

The visual surprises and various instrument sounds add considerable variety to the otherwise similar tunes. Bright colors; simple, rounded shapes; and a sense of joyful wonder enhance the experience. A locked parents’ section offers some usage tips.

Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (requires iOS 5.1.1 or later; free) and Android devices ($2.99). Recommended for preschool users.

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18. LumiKids Snow app review

lumikids snow title screenIt’s rainy, not snowy, in Boston right now, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to explore the winter wonderland that is LumiKids Snow (Lumosity Labs, December 2015).

Opening the app, you’re taken to a landscape of white and icy teals, where a friendly seal waits on a small ice floe. Tap to access a game starring the seal, or swipe either direction to play any of five other winter-themed activities alongside cute kids and critters. Three of these — ice fishing, toasting and sharing marshmallows, and having a snowball fight — are more silly winter fun than educational activities. But the other three are the type of “brain training” game found in Lumosity’s app for adults. (It’s challenging and fun; I recommend it for grownups!)

In the first of these brain games, the seal and his friends play hide-and-seek. The challenge? To remember where each seal is hiding, even when their ice floes start to move.

lumikids snow seals

Another game invites you to create increasingly complex systems of ramps, bouncy castles, and catapults for penguins to reach floating balloons (so they can fly, natch).

lumikids snow penguin

Both of these start off simple, but get incrementally more difficult as you proceed through them and return for subsequent visits. In the last brain game, you practice writing capital letters (letter names and sounds provided) by directing kids’ sleds. There is no text to read or directions of any sort, but figuring out what to do is part of the process. A locked parents’ section offers some usage tips.

Bright colors against the wintry background, cheerful music and silly sound effects, and visual humor (for instance, the ski-jumping penguins wear safety goggles) make this an engaging way to practice a variety of skills. Fun for an indoor snow day activity. There are several other LumiKids apps — Park, Beach, and Backyard — and I’m looking forward to giving them a spin as well.

Available for iPad (requires iOS 7.0 or later) and Android devices; free. Recommended for preschool users.

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19. Review of Here Comes Valentine Cat

underwood_here comes valentine catHere Comes Valentine Cat
by Deborah Underwood; 
illus. by Claudia Rueda
Preschool   Dial   88 pp.
12/16   978-0-525-42915-9   $16.99   g

Valentine’s Day has its haters, and Cat (Here Comes the Easter Cat, rev. 3/14, and sequels) is one of them. Cat can’t think of anyone to grace with a Valentine, and new neighbor Dog doesn’t seem a likely candidate, what with all the bones he annoyingly keeps lobbing over the fence. Using this series’ trademark format — offstage narrator addresses nonverbal Cat, who responds with humorous placards and body language — the book shows Cat’s escalating plans against Dog (starting, but not ending, with a few not-so-sweet Valentines), and then shows that Dog may not deserve such poor treatment. Rueda’s ink and colored-pencil illustrations, surrounded by white space, once again convey lots of information via Cat’s facial expressions and other simple cues. Young listeners should enjoy the simply delivered misunderstandings, as well as the opportunities to yell emphatically at the main character (“You can’t send Dog to the moon!”).

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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20. Apps for morning, noon, and night

Whether following friendly characters through a day of fun or settling users down for sweet dreams, these apps make perfect additions to preschoolers’ own busy days.

fiete day at the farmIn Fiete: A Day on the Farm, children help sailor Fiete and his farmer friends, Hein and Hinnerk, throughout their busy day. Users wake the snoring men in the quiet early morning, then assist them as they gather eggs, shear sheep, pick apples, milk a cow, and, finally, load each item into a delivery truck before settling in around a campfire. It’s all very low-key and low-stress; the sound effects are quiet nature noises, and background movement is generally of the gentle swaying-in-the-breeze variety. The visuals are all rounded shapes and subdued colors (until the glorious pink sunset). (Ahoiii, 3–6 years)

goldilocks and little bearGoldilocks and Little Bear gives Little Bear a plot of his own, parallel to Goldilocks’s: he wanders off and finds himself at Goldilocks’s house, where he samples her family’s pancakes, wardrobes, and reading material. Hold the device one way for a scene in Goldilocks’s tale, then flip it upside down for a complementary scene in Little Bear’s. The stories converge when Goldilocks and Little Bear, fleeing each other’s parents, run smack into each other and strike up a friendship. Engaging narration, dialogue by child voice actors, plenty of visual and textual humor, and upbeat music round out the app. (Nosy Crow, 3–6 years)

sago mini fairy talesSago Mini Fairy Tales invites users to guide a fairy-winged kitty horizontally and vertically through a nighttime fairyland scene, discovering fairy-tale and folklore–related surprises along the way. These interactive moments occasionally mash up fairy-tale tropes, with very funny results (e.g., an ogre tries on Cinderella’s glass slipper). While full of preschool-perfect humor, this not-too-rambunctious app is a great choice for bedtime: the landscape is all purples, blues, and greens, and the screen dims a bit at the edges; subtle cricket chirping provides the background sound. (Sago Mini, 3–6 years)

steam train dream trainSherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld, of Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site fame, chug along with the digital book app edition of their goodnight-train picture book Steam Train, Dream Train. Just as with the Construction Site digital book app, this one includes soothing narration that can be turned on or off; you can also record your own. There’s some dynamic motion and zooming in and out of the scenes, but it’s all fairly subdued, as befitting a bedtime book for lovers of: trains, monkeys, other zoo animals, dinosaurs, ice cream, hula hoops, balls, and most other kid-friendly items. (Oceanhouse Media, 3–6 years)

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21. Poetry for the Birds: Woodpecker Wham and Every Day Birds (ages 3-8)

Poetry can be a terrific way to explore different topics kids might want to learn more about. In particular, poetry and science make a great pair. Above all else, poets and scientists ask us to stop and notice the world around us.  I love these two picture books that celebrate our fine feathered friends, and do it with terrific word play and illustrations.

Woodpecker Wham
by April Pulley Sayre
illustrated by Steve Jenkins
Henry Holt / Macmillan, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
Sayre’s dynamic verse brings alive the sound and movement of six different woodpecker species as they chop, bonk, tap, and slam, doing serious work.
"Swoop and land.
Hitch and hop.
Shred a tree stump.
Chop, chip, chop!"
The bouncing, rhythmic verse and the bold illustrations make this a great read-aloud. As you read, ask kids which words they think have real pizzaz--notice Sayre's word choices. Whether she's showing how the birds fly or how their tapping sounds, Sayre chooses dramatic words. Encourage your kids to try using words like this on your next walk outside.
Every Day Birds
by  Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
illustrated by Dylan Metrano
Orchard/Scholastic, 2016
Your local library
Amazon
ages 3-6
Short simple verses and cut-paper collage illustrations introduce young readers to common North American birds. Choosing birds that preschoolers like to notice, VanDerwater displays one bird on each page, highlighting a memorable characteristic for each.
"Chickadee wears a wee black cap."
"Owl swoops soundlessly late at night."
The bold illustrations focus young readers on each bird, setting each bird against a simple background helps highlight the species and the poetry. I especially like how VanDerwater focuses on one key feature of each bird, highlighting it with strong language. The endnotes provide more detail on each species for adults to share, as kids as more quesitons.

Together, the cumulative effect leads to a rhythm and rhyming scheme that makes for a lovely read-aloud for preschoolers. "Heron fishes with his bill./ Sparrow hops in brown./ Mockingbird has many voices./ Pigeon lives in town." Perfect for budding naturalists.

Illustrations from Woodpecker Wham copyright ©2015 Steve Jenkins, used with permission of the publisher. Text from Every Day Birds written by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater. Illustrations copyright 2016 by Dylan Metrano. Used with permission from Orchard Books/Scholastic. The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Macmillan 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.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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22. Sharing family time this Thanksgiving: four picture books to share (ages 3-8)

As the world is rocked again by horrific events, Americans are getting ready to celebrate Thanksgiving--a holiday marked in my mind by spending time together as a family in the kitchen. Here are four picture books to share that celebrate cooking together. My goal in pulling together this set is to share books that show different perspectives from different ages. Snuggle up and enjoy!

Sharing the Bread:
An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story
by Pat Zietlow Miller
illustrated by Jill McElmurry
Schwartz & Wade / Penguin Random House, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
With gentle rhymes and old-fashioned pictures, this book celebrates a family coming together to prepare a Thanksgiving meal. "Sister, knead the rising dough. / Punch it down, then watch it grow. / Line your loaves up in a row. / Sister, knead the dough." I love how each family member contributes and kids will like all the ways they're involved. As the kitchen fills with family members sharing the cooking tasks and anticipating the feast, readers see the dinner coming together—and may be surprised at how familiar it feels. The old-fashioned illustrations don't appeal to me as much as they might to others, but I suspect that's because I don't connect to the Victoriana setting.
Too Many Tamales
by Gary Soto
illustrated by Ed Martinez
Puffin / Putnam, 1996
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
Maria is so excited to help her mother make tamales for their family Christmas celebration. Maria feels so grown-up helping. When she sees her mother's diamond ring sparkling on the counter, she just has to try it on. A few hours later, when she realizes that the ring is no longer on her finger, Maria panics--convinced that the diamond got lost in the tamales. So she does what any worried kid would do: persuade her cousins that they have to eat ALL the tamales, looking carefully for the ring.

My students love this holiday story. They can relate to how Maria's anxious worry and laugh at the thought of eating all those tamales. I love the family warmth and love that shines through each page.
A Fine Dessert
Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat
by Emily Jenkins
illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Schwartz & Wade / Penguin Random House, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-8
This is a warm and sweet book about how parents and children have made blackberry fool together throughout the ages. Jenkins and Blackall take readers to 1710 Lyme, England, as a mother and daughter pick wild blackberries; 1810 Charleston, South Carolina, where an enslaved mother and daughter gather them from the plantation garden; 1910 Boston, where a mother and daughter go to the market and then prepare a Sunday dinner; and finally 2010 San Diego, where a boy and his father use store-bought berries to make a feast for family and friends.

Probe a little deeper, and it's a book that can lead to many conversations with children. Some families will want to talk about who is making the food and serving it--the role of women and slaves. Others will notice the way preparing and storing food has changed. There has been much debate about the depiction of the 19th century slave family this book (see this NY Times article), but each reader will need to judge for herself. As Emily Jenkins wrote in her author's note,
"The story includes characters who are slaves, even though there is by no means space to explore the topic of slavery fully. I wanted to represent American life in 1810 without ignoring that part of our history. I wrote about people finding joy in craftsmanship and dessert within lives of great hardship and injustice--because finding that joy shows something powerful about the human spirit."
As we come together as families, I believe we must find ways to talk about the hard subjects while still acknowledging our community and support for one another. I accept Jenkin's decision, especially since she and Blackall explain their thinking in endnotes, although my strongest belief is that we must share a wide range of views of the past with children. No one book can present all views.
Feast for 10
by Cathryn Falwell
Clarion / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1993
Your local library
Amazon
ages 3-6
This counting book follows an African-American family going to the grocery story and then home to make dinner together. Simple rhymes are easy to read aloud: "Two pumpkins for pie / Three chickens to fry." The illustrations celebrate the children's role throughout and are full of warm family love. A delightful, modern story that rounds out this set nicely.

The review copies came from our school library, as well as from 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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23. Review of Lost. Found.

arnold_lost foundLost. Found.
by Marsha Diane Arnold; 
illus. by Matthew Cordell
Preschool   Porter/Roaring Brook   32 pp.
11/15   978-1-62672-017-6   $16.99

A bear’s red wool scarf is carried off by a strong gust of wind (“Lost”). Two quarrelsome raccoons spy the scarf lying in the snow (“Found”); they get into a tiff and run off squabbling, leaving the scarf behind (“Lost”). Next, a beaver finds it and dons the scarf as headgear…until it’s snagged by a low-hanging branch and lost again. With one of the two title words on most pages (there are also some well-placed wordless pages), this effectively paced story plays out in Cordell’s lively but spare pen-and-ink and watercolor pictures (occasional silly sound effects included). The book invites participation, and young listeners will quickly catch on to the narrative pattern. The scarf is found and lost five more times by various woodland creatures who tug, pull, squeeze, swing on, jump on, and brawl over it. It’s at this point that the rightful owner re-enters the story: the bear finds the scarf completely unraveled but doesn’t lose hope. Along with some contrite-looking critters, the bear gathers the yarn and knits a new scarf, one that brings everyone together — in friendship. The final cozy, color-drenched scene (a departure from the preceding white-dominated pages) shows the characters sitting companionably around a nighttime campfire connected by the scarf, which fits everyone perfectly. Pair this with Kasza’s Finders Keepers (rev. 9/15) for more lost-and-found accessory fun.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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24. The Plan, by Alison Paul & Barbara Lehman -- story taking flight with just a few words (ages 3-8)

New readers and pre-readers are so often frustrated that their imaginations take flight far ahead of their reading skills. They want complex, interesting stories -- and they'll be delighted with The Plan. With just one or two words on each page, Alison Paul & Barbara Lehman tell a story full of imagination through the interplay between pictures, characters and words.

The Plan
by Alison Paul
illustrated by Barbara Lehman
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016
Google Books preview
Your local library
Amazon
ages 3-8
*best new book*
A young child dreams of flying to Saturn, and so it all begins with a plan. A plane, a map of the solar system, her trusty dog. Soaring up to the planets. By the third page in (maybe I'm slower than your typical kid?), I realized that each word just changes by one letter: plan becomes plane, then plane becomes planet. Here are the first two spreads:
It all begins with a "plan"
Look outside to see the "plane"
You can't read the story without spending time investigating the pictures. What is happening? What is the girl thinking about? Whose plane is outside? Why is a plane sitting outside at a farm? But the words help move the story along, too. The word game adds intrigue and humor, as readers try to figure out the rules of the game.

What's magical is how the story has depth and feeling far beyond the words. As the young girl discovers a key to a photo album, we realize that her mother used to fly the plane but that she is no longer here. As the story unfolds, the father and daughter together plan to launch the plane--honoring the girl's mother.

I've been wondering about the age range for this book. While I think it sings particularly well for new readers in kindergarten or 1st grade, I think the story will resonate with older and younger children. Pre-readers will love being able to read the story developing through the pictures. And the story will resonate with older children who will understand the emotional depth, as well as have fun with the very clever word play. In my ideal world, I'd love to have 2nd and 3rd graders create new stories that change word by word, one letter at a time--and see where it takes them!

Illustrations ©2015 Barbara Lehman, used with permission of the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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25. Goldilocks and Little Bear app review

goldilocks title screenIt’s not exactly news that I love Nosy Crow’s apps, particularly their fairy-tale series (see our reviews of The Three Little Pigs, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Snow White). The latest in the series, Goldilocks and Little Bear (November 2015), makes the most of the app format.

Choose from “Read and Play” and “Read by Myself” options to begin. In this retelling, Goldilocks’s story is fairly standard, except for her biracial family (yay!) and a few embellishing details. She goes into the bears’ home, helps herself to their porridge, chairs, and beds, gets discovered, and is chased away.

But Little Bear also gets his own plot here, parallel to Goldilocks’s. His parents make porridge for breakfast, but it’s too hot, so they head into the woods for a game of hide ‘n’ seek while they wait for it to cool down. Little Bear wanders off and finds himself at Goldilocks’s house, where he samples her family’s pancakes (“too sweet,” “too salty,” just right), wardrobes (“too scruffy,” “too fancy,” just right), and reading material (“too boring” with “not enough pictures,” “too scary,” just right).

golidlocks pancakes

little bear with pancakes

What’s really innovative about this app — compared both to previous apps in the series and to other children’s apps I’ve seen — is the way it relates the two interconnected stories in tandem. Hold the device one way for a scene in Goldilocks’s tale, then flip it upside down for a complementary scene in Little Bear’s. The stories converge when Goldilocks and Little Bear, fleeing one another’s parents, run smack into each other and strike up a friendship.

Subtly pulsing blue dots indicate where to tap for interactive moments that advance the plot. In addition to interactive opportunities throughout, simple activities such as collecting berries, playing hide-and-seek, jumping on the bed, and playing dress-up are naturally integrated into the storyline(s). A few screens allow you to incorporate your own audio or visuals from the device’s camera.

Tap a bookmark at the right-hand side of every screen to access two maps of scene thumbnails (one for each character’s arc) and revisit favorite moments. A parents’ section offers some tips for using the app.

goldilocks map

All the Nosy Crow production hallmarks — a two-dimensional (with a somewhat cut-paper look) illustration and animation style, engaging narration supplemented with dialogue by a cast of charming child voice actors, plenty of visual and textual humor, and upbeat music — round out the app. Another winner.

Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (requires iOS 7.0 or later); $4.99. Recommended for preschool and early primary users.

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