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1. How Are You?

The most disingenuous three words in the English language. Unless you are the ultimate cynic and cast your lot with I love you. I hope that’s not the case.

Do we ever mean it when we ask? Really? When is the last time you passed someone in the hall and said “how are you” and truly wanted to take the time to know how they were? I’ll bet it’s been a while.

I’m not holier than thou. I say it all the time and rarely care. If some slick gunslinger is quicker on the draw than me, I even add the oft-disregarded, “I am well, and you?” Of course, I don’t want to know.

Until yesterday.

I get these wild hairs – often they involve really stupid things, but this one actually had redeeming potential. I decided to spend my lunch hour in the lobby of my building asking people I saw, “How are you?” and giving them available time and a proper interest to see if they would answer.

Most people don’t stop long enough to notice my disarming voice beckoning them to unburden themselves. The first seven I asked kept moving and gave the appropriate return without so much as an upward glance.

I don’t believe that anyone is “fine” like these seven told me. Pawn your lies and rote responses elsewhere.

Fine

Number eight seemed to think I had serious mental problems and eyed me warily while reaching into her purse for either a small handgun or pepper spray. Needless to say I decided against an elevator ride with this charmer. “I’ll take the next one, Bonnie Parker.”

You can trap the elderly.

In walked a slow, older gentleman. Number nine. He began scanning the directory and seemed somewhat confused.

“How are you?” I asked in a very welcoming and reassuring tone.

“I’m fine young man, just fine,” he replied. Something was different, though. Before he spoke, he turned and made eye contact.

He was rather unkempt, smelled like my high school gym teacher, and had a thick bushel of hair growing out of each nostril. But he smiled warmly. In fact, he smiled all over… an infectious smiled that started at his lips, slowly ran through his eyes and worked its way off his person and onto me. I liked this old dude.

“Say, would you know where the office of Litton & Driscoll is located,” he asked.

“I think that’s on the fourth floor.”

He patted me gently on the chest with some paperwork he had rolled into a tube, like a kid’s telescope. “Thank you, friend.”

“Don’t mention it.” Judging from his demeanor, this might be my first victim who actually was okay. He might just be fine. I had to be certain, though. “Are you sure you are fine?”

He looked at me long whilst I returned my best, biggest, dopiest smile.

“Well, I am headed up to settle my wife’s affairs. So, if you want an honest answer, I suppose I’m not fine.”

Oh boy…  Panic!   In over my head…  I thought I would learn about a foot ailment… or a wayward kitten. Not this. Why am I so stupid? All of me wanted to say, “I’m fine, and you?” But I got myself into this.

“I’m sorry to hear that. I can’t imagine.”

“You married?”

“Yes, sir. For 22 years now.”

“Seem young for that.”

I really liked this old dude.

“How long were you married?”

“Fifty-three years last August….”

And so began a wonderful story of love and loss.

You know what? I’m glad I asked. In fact, I’m going to break the habit of asking when I don’t care. From now on, I will only ask, “how are you” if I have time and interest in the answer. Try it yourself. Better yet, come join Joseph and me for coffee tomorrow morning and see that infectious smile.


Filed under: Learned Along the Way

5 Comments on How Are You?, last added: 11/19/2014
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2. The Paper Cowboy

Levine, Kristin. 2014. The Paper Cowboy. New York: Putnam.

In the seemingly idyllic, 1950s, town of Downers Grove, Illinois, handsome and popular 12-year-old Tommy Roberts appears to be a typical kid.  He lives with his parents, older sister Mary Lou, younger sisters Pinky and Susie, and a devoted family dog. He and his older sister attend Catholic school, his father works for Western Electric, and his mother stays at home with the younger girls.

Amidst the backdrop of the Red Scare and McCarthyism, Tommy's discovery of a Communist newspaper in the town's paper drive truck, and a horrific burn accident to Mary Lou, begin a chain of events that uncovers secrets, truths, and lies in his small town populated with many Eastern European immigrants.

Perhaps the biggest lie is Tommy's own life.  Though he never gets caught, Tommy is a bully, picking on kids at school, especially Little Skinny. When he plants the Communist newspaper in a store owned by Little Skinny's immigrant father, he's gone too far - and he knows it.  Now it's time to act like his cowboy hero, The Lone Ranger, and make everything right, but where can he turn for help?  His mother is "moody" and beats him relentlessly while his father turns a blind eye. His older sister will be hospitalized for months. He has his chores and schoolwork to do, and Mary Lou's paper route, and if Mom's in a mood, he's caretaker for Pinky and Susie as well.

It's hard to understand a bully, even harder to like one, but readers will come to understand Tommy and root for redemption for him and his family.  He will find help where he least expects it.

     I couldn't tell Mrs. Glazov about the dinner party. Or planting the paper.  But maybe I could tell her about taking the candy.  Maybe that would help.  "There's this boy at school, I said slowly, "Little Skinny."
.....
     "I didn't like him.  I don't like him.  Sometimes, Eddie and I and the choirboys, we tease him."
     "Ahh," she said again.  "He laugh too?"
     I shook my head.  I knew what Mary Lou would say.  Shame on you, Tommy! Picking on that poor boy.  And now she would have scars just like him.  How would I feel if someone picked on her?
     "What did you do?" Mrs. Glazov asked, her voice soft, like a priest at confession.  It surprised me. I'd never heard her sound so gentle.
     "I took some candy from him," I admitted.
     "You stole it."
     I shrugged.
     "Ahh."
     "It's not my fault! If Mary Lou had been there, I never would have done it!"
     Mrs. Glazov laughed.  "You don't need sister.  You need conscience."
     I had the horrible feeling that she was right.  I wasn't a cowboy at all. I was an outlaw.
Author Kristin Levine gives credit to her father and many 1950s residents of Downers Grove who shared their personal stories with her for The Paper Cowboy. Armed with their honesty and openness, she has crafted an intensely personal story that accurately reflects the mores of the 1950s.  We seldom have the opportunity (or the desire) to know everything that goes on behind the doors of our neighbors' houses.  Levine opens the doors of Downers Grove to reveal alcoholism, mental illness, abuse, disease, sorrow, and loneliness. It is this stark realism that makes the conclusion so satisfying.  This is not a breezy read with a tidy and miraculous wrap-up.  It is instead, a tribute to community, to ordinary people faced with extraordinary problems, to the human ability to survive and overcome and change.

Give this book to your good readers - the ones who want a book to stay with them a while after they've finished it.


Kristin Levine is also the author of The Lions of Little Rock (2012, Putnam) which I reviewed here.

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3. The Schoolies Series | Book Reviews

Two excellent installments from the Schoolies series, combining vibrant drawings and lessons on navigating school life.

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4. Courage for Beginners (2014)

Courage for Beginners. Karen Harrington. 2014. Little, Brown. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

I would definitely recommend Karen Harrington's Courage for Beginners. This middle grade novel is a compelling coming of age novel. It would pair well, I think, with The Swift Boys and Me by Kody Keplinger.

Mysti Murphy is a seventh grader with special challenges. Her mom is agoraphobic; for as long as Mysti can remember her mom has been that way. Her dad does it all: all the driving, all the errands. But the fall of her seventh grade year, her dad has an accident, and ends up in the hospital in a coma for several months. The guy who has been her best friend--by all appearances--decides to drop her. She won't fit in with his new "hipster" persona. He's decided that by wearing a hipster hat and being a huge jerk, he'll become more popular with people who count. Mysti definitely doesn't count. At least when there's a small chance that others are watching. Mysti struggles. No doubt. The book is about her growing pains--everything going all wrong at once. But does she have the strength and courage to face her problems and cope with them?

I enjoyed this one. I enjoyed spending time with Mysti. I was very glad that she got to make some new friends. I thought there was a nice balance of scenes between home and school.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. Storytime: Thanksgiving Roundup

   10 Fat Turkeys by Tony Johnston & illustrated by Rich Deas “Looky!” says a silly turkey swinging from a vine. Gobble gobble wibble wobble. Whoops! Now there are nine.” Girls and boys will gobble up this hilarious counting story about ten goofy turkeys roller-skating on a fence, doing a noodle dance, and more! Give …

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6. The Farmer and the Clown, by Marla Frazee -- listening with our eyes, ears and heart (ages 3-8)

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

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

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

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

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

The review copy was purchased for our school library. Illustrations are copyright ©2014 Marla Frazee, used with permission from the publisher Simon & Schuster. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

0 Comments on The Farmer and the Clown, by Marla Frazee -- listening with our eyes, ears and heart (ages 3-8) as of 11/3/2014 12:31:00 AM
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7. HAT WEEK: Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau and David Roberts’ previous life as a milliner

What’s a life without love, even if that love is a bit wonky and not quite what you expected?

1403988049Madame Chapeau, the latest creation from the finely paired team of Andrea Beaty and David Roberts, does her best to send little flights of joy and love out into the world, by making hats that perfectly match each of her clients. She’s imaginative, attentive and playful with what she creates, and her customers are delighted. However, poor Madame Chapeau lives alone. There clearly once was someone important in her life, but now, on her birthday she is left dining without close company.

What makes it even harder to bear is that her most treasured hat has been lost en route to her solo birthday meal. Passers-by try to help by offering their own hats to Madame Chapeau, and although their kindness is appreciated. nothing is quite right.

But then up steps a secret admirer, who has been watching Madame Chapeau for some time. A young girl, clearly fascinated by the hats Madame Chapeau creates, offers the milliner a little something she has been working on. It’s rather odd, but this gift has been made with much love and turns out to be the best sort of birthday present Mme Chapeau could have wished for. A new friendship is formed and – one suspects – a new hat maker begins her training.

Detail from Happy Birthday, Madam Chapeau. Note the hat that Madame Chapeau is wearing and compare it with the hat in the photo below of David Roberts' mum.

Detail from Happy Birthday, Madam Chapeau. Note the hat that Madame Chapeau is wearing and compare it with the hat in the photo below of David Roberts’ mum.

This is a whimsical and charming book which celebrates creativity, generosity and thoughtfulness from start to finish. Beaty’s rhyming text tells a heart-warming tale, but Roberts’ detailed and exuberant illustrations steal the show. With lots of famous hats to spot (look out for Princess Beatrice’s hat, for example, or Charlie Chaplin’s Derby) and fabulous fashion, food and architectural details to pour over, this book rewards repeated readings. Happy Birthday Madame Chapeau is a joyous, life-affirming read and if that isn’t enough of a reason to seek it out, do read Maria Popova’s commentary on the subtle message this book has about diversity and cultural stereotypes.

We brought Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau to life by customizing our own hats with pom-poms (these play an important role in the book).

chapeau1

Beanie type hats, plus some colourful craft pompoms make for some enjoyably silly headgear – perfect as winter approaches ;-)

chapeau2

chapeau3

I wonder what David Roberts would make of our hats? I ask this because it turns out he was himself a milliner before he became an illustrator. From a young age he had an interest in fashion, making clothes for his sister and her dolls, before going on to study fashion design at college. From this, a special love and skill with hats grew – a love and eye that can clearly be seen in his Madame Chapeau illustrations. I asked David if he would share a little about his love of hats, how it developed and what he finds so enjoyable about making hats. Here’s what he had to say:-

One of the first hats David Roberts made  - for The Clothes Show competition in 1993.

One of the first hats David Roberts made – for The Clothes Show competition in 1993.

“As a kid I was fascinated by Mrs Shilling, and the hats her son David made that she wore to Ascot. They were so theatrical that it would make the news! I loved how she wore these amazing and often bizarre creations with such style and elegance – even if the hat was ridiculous she never looked ridiculous in it.”

David Shilling with his mother Gertrude Shilling. Photo: Sidney Harris

“So when I had the option to do a course in millinery while studying for a degree in fashion design at Manchester Polytechnic, I jumped at the chance, and from then on I was hooked.”

David Roberts' sister in the hat he made her for her wedding day.

David Roberts’ sister in the hat he made her for her wedding day.

“I love the sculptural aspect of millinery; a hat can be so individual, so singular, a one off. It’s so exciting to have all your elements to create a hat, cloth, wire, glue, buckram, feathers, beads, tulle, net and just let something evolve in your hands. It can turn in to anything really – an abstract shape or something natural like a plant or a flower.”

Stephen Jones, surrounded by some of his hat creations, London, circa 1985. Photo: Christopher Pillitz

“I worked for Stephen Jones for 5 years make his couture hats , where I learned so many skills. And although I loved making his imaginative creations, I stared to realise that I wanted to try my hand at illustrating children’s books – the other great passion in my life.”

This hat is one David Roberts made for his partner Chris (modelling it here). David used this as one of the hats in Madame Chapeau's shop.

This hat is one David Roberts made for his partner Chris (modelling it here). Do look out for it in Madame Chapeau’s shop!

“I am glad I made the step in to illustration, but I do still love to get the wire and beads and feathers out to make a hat once in a while. Madame Chapeau came about when the author Andrea Beaty heard that I had once been a milliner: She wrote the text for me and sent it from Chicago in a hat box! I was utterly captivated by it and enjoyed illustrating it and indulging myself once more in the wonderful world of millinery.”

This is the hat David Roberts gave to Madame Chapeau to wear. It is one David made for his mum to wear at his sister's wedding.

This is the hat David Roberts gave to Madame Chapeau to wear. It is one David made for his mum to wear at his sister’s wedding.

My enormous thanks to David for sharing some of his millinery background with us today. His passion for hats shines through in his gorgeous illustrations for Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau. Don’t take my word for it – go and find a copy to enjoy yourselves!

3 Comments on HAT WEEK: Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau and David Roberts’ previous life as a milliner, last added: 10/30/2014
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8. HAT WEEK: Hooray for Hat! by Brian Won

Elephant’s day doesn’t get off to a good start. He wakes up GRUMPY.

When the doorbell rings, it only annoys him. When he thumps downstairs to see who it is, there is a mystery present waiting for him and this unexpected gift – a most spectacular hat – turns his day around and puts a great big smile on his face.

Keen to share his good fortune Elephant visits his friends. They too have woken up out of sorts but Elephant knows a great way to spread his happiness: by sharing his present and giving each friend a fabulous hat to wear.

hoorayHooray for Hat by Brian Won is a wonderfully up-beat and joyous ode to friendship, the good things that come from ‘paying it forward’ and teamwork. It perfectly captures the transformational magic of hats; a little bit of frivolity and exuberance bursting out of your head can indeed do wonders to how you feel!

From the deftly humorous grumpy facial expressions in a range of animals, to the appealing candy colour palette beautifully set off against stark white pages, Hooray for Hat‘s illustrations and design are a delight. The dapper carnival procession of animals are sure to make young readers giggle and banish any blues, helping us remember how little acts of kindness in life can make all the difference. A treat, pure and simple!

In response to Hooray for Hat we set up our own millinery studio, using old lampshades as bases for our hats (we were able to source lots of old lampshades from a local recycling centre).

hoorayforhat5

Lampshades, ribbon, paper, hot clue, sequins and a whole lot of imagination and craziness later we had our hats:

hoorayforhat4

hoorayforhat3

As you can see, they made us feel very happy!

hoorayforhat2

Whilst making our hats we listened to:

  • I Wanna Hat with Cherries played by the Glenn Miller Orchestra
  • Top Hat Ramble by Big Country Bluegrass – great for dancing to, but the only free recording I can find on YouTube isn’t great quality.
  • The Tinfoil Hat made both girls giggle

  • Other activities which would go well alongside reading Hooray for Hat include:

  • Playing with the activity sheet Brian Won has created to go with his book. You can download it from here and it includes bunting, different paper hats to make and colouring in.
  • Checking out this Pinterest board with lots of hats kids can make themselves. I like the tissue paper hats and the peacock hat.
  • Choosing to make and deliver a surprise gift for someone, just because…
  • Are you a hat person? If so, I’d love to hear about your favourite hat!

    Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of Hooray for Hat from the publisher.

    3 Comments on HAT WEEK: Hooray for Hat! by Brian Won, last added: 10/29/2014
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    9. Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus - good bye and thank you


    Angleberger, Tom. 2014. Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus. Recorded Books.

    Sometimes you get lucky. I've had the opportunity to meet Tom Angleberger several times (including a Skype visit with my book club), I've had an enthusiastic group of Origami Yoda fans that frequent my library, and most recently, I won a copy of Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus from Recorded Books (more on that in a minute).

    Since the first time I read and reviewed The Strange Case of Origami in 2010, I've been a fan, and so have legions of kids.  In addition to the fact that Tom Angleberger's writing style is perceptive, relevant, and flat-out funny; he, himself, is a great part of his success.  Just check his website, or his presence on Twitter (@origamiyoda).  He is unfailingly polite, positive, and accessible.  Kids love him and he loves them right back.

         

    Back to Emperor Pickletine... so, I entered the Recorded Books contest because I hoped to win something for my book club members. With rare exception, after I've read them, I give away any book I receive gratis. Lucky me!  Not only did I receive the audio book, I received an Emperor Pickletine standee, some origami paper, and the biggest hit of all - pickle stickers - and boy, did they stink!

    I was a little unsure about an audio book version of an illustrated book, however.  Would it be as good?  How can a narrator explain a comic? Will kids like it?

    I discovered that, yes, it is as good.  The Origami Yoda books are written as "case files" with multiple students from  McQuarrie Middle School contributing to each file. The audio book version enhances that format because there is a cast of narrators, making it easy to differentiate between the student contributors.  

    It's difficult to explain exactly how the printed illustrations from the book are narrated, because I don't have a transcript, but I can assure you that they retain their humor and flow easily into the narrative.  I was pleasantly surprised by this.

    Will kids like it?  My book club meets next week, but I already have two kids who have let me know that they are already audio book fans.  I'm sure they'll like it. I did.

    In the final chapter, Origami Yoda (voiced by none other than Tom Angleberger himself!) is heard to say,
    "The end this is not,"  
    however, this is the end of the series. And yes, you will find out if Origami Yoda is indeed real.  

    A fond farewell, Origami Yoda!  You'll be sorely missed.

    My reviews of other Tom Angleberger books:

    0 Comments on Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus - good bye and thank you as of 10/28/2014 6:03:00 AM
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    10. An Interview with Elli Woollard, creator of Woozy the Wizard

    woozyWoozy the Wizard: A Spell to Get Well written by Elli Woollard and Al Murphy is the first in a new and very funny series of readers for children just gaining confidence in reading alone.

    Woozy is a terribly well-meaning wizard who’s keen to help his friends, but more often than not he gets somewhat mixed up and his spells don’t quite do what they’re meant to. With the help of his pet pig Woozy flies around trying to sort things out, and in the process it becomes clear that whilst it may not be magic, it is certainly something quite magical that helps put the world to rights.

    Lots of humour, great rhythm and rhyme (enormous aids when practising reading because they help with scanning a line, and predicting how words should be pronounced), and clear, bright and colourful illustrations all add up to a lovely book perfect to give to your emerging reader.

    To celebrate the publication of I interviewed the author of Woozy the Wizard: A Spell to Get Well, Elli Woollard, about her work. Given Elli is a poet, I challenged her to answer me in rhyme….

    Zoe: Rhyming seems to be in your blood. Where did this passion come from?

    Elli Woollard: The thing about me is I sing quite a lot
    (I rather enjoy it; the neighbours might not),
    And I guess if you’re singing for much of the time
    Your mind sort of slips into thinking in rhyme.

    Zoe: How does your blog, where you regularly publish poems/works in progress, help you with your writing?

    Elli Woollard: My blog’s like a sketchbook for scribbles and scrawls
    And all of my mind’s muddly mess.
    I write them all down, and sometimes I frown,
    But some make me want to go ‘YES!’

    Elli on the Dr Seuss book bench that was recently on view in London.

    Elli on the Dr Seuss book bench that was recently on view in London.

    Zoe: What would your ideal writing location/environment be like and why?

    Elli Woollard: A hot cup of coffee, a warm purring cat;
    There’s not much more that I need than that.
    Working at home is really quite nice
    (Except when the cat thinks my fingers are mice).

    Zoe: What was the most magical part for you in the process of seeing Woozy the Wizard come to life as a printed book?

    Elli Woollard: Writing, writing, is ever so exciting,
    Especially when you’ve finished and say ‘Look!
    All of my creations now come with illustrations!
    Bloomin’ heck, I think I wrote a book!’

    Zoe: What tips do you have for kids who love to write poetry?

    Elli Woollard: Use your ears, use your eyes, use your heads, use your feet,
    Stand up proud, read aloud, and just listen to that beat.
    Feel the rhythm, feel the vibes of the poetry you’ve heard,
    And think about the magic that’s in every single word.

    Zoe: Which poets for children do you like to read?

    Elli Woollard: Donaldson (Julia), Rosen (Mike),
    Lear (Edward) and Milligan (Spike),
    I could go on, and write a long list,
    But so many good ones I know would get missed.

    Zoe: Thanks Elli! I’m already looking forward to the next outing for Woozy, in spring 2015!

    2 Comments on An Interview with Elli Woollard, creator of Woozy the Wizard, last added: 10/20/2014
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    11. Doodles and Drafts – A bewitching encounter with Angela Sunde

    Hold on to your broomsticks because today we have someone special visiting. She’s a bit of a drafter and doodler, a fellow resident of the magical Gold Coast and a wickedly wonderful conjurer of stories. Snap Magic is her latest light-hearted, fairy tale inspired fantasy novel about friendship and young girls approaching the precipitous edge […]

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    12. A Look at the 2014 Theodor Seuss Geisel Medal Award Winner and Honor Books

    A Look at the 2014 Theodor Seuss Geisel Medal Award Winner and Honor Books | Storytime Standouts

    Storytime Standouts Shares Wonderful Choices for Beginning Readers












    The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli 2014  Theodor Seuss Geisel Medal Award WinnerThe Watermelon Seed written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli
    Picture book for beginning readers published by Disney Hyperion Books, an imprint of Disney Book Group





    When a charming and exuberant crocodile explains that he loves watermelon, we are utterly convinced,

    Ever since I was a teeny, tiny baby cocodile, it’s been my favorite.
    CHOMP! SLURP! CHOMP!

    While enthusiastically devouring his favorite fruit, the crocodile accidentally ingests a seed, his imagination runs wild and he assumes a variety of terrible outcomes.

    Repetitive text, limited use of long vowel words and very good supporting illustrations make this a great choice for beginning readers.

    The Watermelon Seed at Amazon.com

    The Watermelon Seed at Amazon.ca



    Ball by Mary Sullivan a 2014 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award Honor BookBall written and illustrated by Mary Sullivan
    Picture book for beginning readers published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children





    There is little doubt that this dog loves his small, red ball. From the moment he wakes up, he is focused on only one thing: playing with the ball. He especially loves when the ball is thrown by a young girl but when she leaves for school there is no one available to throw it.

    This is a terrific picture book that relies heavily on the illustrations for the narrative. Apart from one repeated word (ball) it could be classified as a wordless picture book.

    It will be thoroughly enjoyed by dog lovers and young children – especially those who are eager for an opportunity to read independently.

    Ball at Amazon.com

    Ball at Amazon.ca



    A Big Guy Took My Ball by Mo Willems a 2014 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award Honor BookA Big Guy Took My Ball written and illustrated by Mo Willems
    Series for beginning readers published by Hyperion Books for Children





    This charming story will remind readers that appearances can be deceiving and perspective is everything! Gerald and Piggie’s friendship is solid and Gerald is more than willing to stand up for Piggie when her ball is taken by a big guy.

    Delightful illustrations will appeal to young readers as they effectively portray a range of emotions. The text is perfect for children who are beginning to read – lots of repetition and very few long vowel words.

    A Big Guy Took My Ball! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) at Amazon.com

    A Big Guy Took My Ball! at Amazon.ca



    Penny and Her Marble by Kevin Henkes a 2014 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award Honor BookPenny and Her Marble by Kevin Henkes
    Generously illustrated chapter book series for beginning readers published by Greenwillow Books An Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers





    It truly is a treat to read such a beautifully-written chapter book for beginning readers. Kevin Henkes has created a new character: Penny. She is a young mouse with a sense of right and wrong. In this book, she is out with her sister when she “finds” a beautiful blue marble. She excitedly puts it into her pocket and later wonders if she did the right thing.

    Lovely, full color illustrations and a thought-provoking dilemma make this a great choice for newly independent readers.

    Penny and Her Marble at Amazon.com

    Penny And Her Marble at Amazon.ca

    Storytime Standouts - Raising Children Who Love to Read

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    13. Puddle Pug, by Kim Norman | Book Review

    Puddle Pug, by Kim Norman, is a beautifully illustrated hardcover book that tells the story of a pug in the search for a perfect pond.

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    14. The Colour Thief x 2

    Can you imagine a world without colour, where all you see is black, white or the shades of grey in between? As a self-confessed colour junkie such a world would sap my energies and leave my life (perhaps ironically), somewhat blue.

    Thus when two new books came to my attention both titled ‘The Colour Thief’ I was very intrigued; not only did they look like their subject matter would appeal to me, it was funny and surprising to see two books, from different authors/illustrators/publishers with the same title.

    thecolourthief_frontcovers

    In The Colour Thief by Gabriel Alborozo an alien looks longingly across space to planet earth, full of colours and brightness. He believes such a beautiful place must be full of joy, and so sets off to bring some of that happiness back to his home planet.

    With just a few magic words the alien is able to suck up first all the reds, then the blues and the greens and before long planet earth is looking very grey and sad. But what of the alien? Can he really be happy when he sees the glumness he has caused?

    Alborozo’s story about kindness, desire and what makes us joyous and content is full of appeal. There are lots of themes which can be explored; from the beauty around us which we might take for granted (requiring an outsider to alert us to us), to whether or not we can be happy if we’ve caused others distress, this book could be used to open up lots of discussion.

    Click to see larger image

    Click to see larger image

    Although the alien’s actions could be frightening, this is mitigated by his cute appearance, just one of the book’s charms. I also think kids will love the apparent omnipotence of the alien: He wants something, and at his command he gets it, just like that, and this identification with the alien makes the story more interesting and unusual. The artwork is fun and energetic, seemingly filled with rainbow coloured confetti. I can easily imagine a wonderful animation of this story.

    The Colour Thief by Andrew Fusek Peters and Polly Peters, illustrated by Karin Littlewood is a very different sort of story. It draws on the authors’ own experience of parental depression, exploring from a child’s perspective what it can feel like to watch a parent withdraw as they suffer from this illness.

    Father and son lead a comforting life “full of colour”, but when depression clouds the father’s mind he withdraws, and all the colours around the family seem to disappear. The child worries that he might somehow be the cause of this loss, but he is repeatedly reassured it is not his fault and gradually, with patience and love, colours start to seep back into the father’s life and he returns to his family.

    Mental health is difficult to talk about when you’re 40, let alone when you are four, but this lyrical and moving book provides a thoughtful, gentle, and unsentimental way into introducing (and if desired, discussing) depression. If you were looking for “when a book might help” to reassure a child in a specific situation, I would wholeheartedly recommend this; it is honest, compassionate and soothing.

    However, I definitely wouldn’t keep this book ONLY for those times when you find a child in a similar circumstances to those described in the book. It is far too lovely to be kept out of more general circulation. For a start, the language is very special; it’s perhaps no surprise when you discover that one of the author’s has more than 70 poetry books to his name. If you were looking for meaningful, tender use of figurative language, for example in a literacy lesson, this book provides some fabulous, examples.

    Click to see larger image.

    Click to see larger image.

    And then there are the illustrations. Karin Littlewood has long been one of my favourite illustrators for her use of colour, her graceful compositions, her quiet kindness in her images. And in The Colour Thief there are many examples of all these qualities. I particularly like her use of perspective first to embody the claustrophobia and fear one can feel with depression, with bare tree branches leaning in onto the page, or street lamps lowering overhead, and then finally the open, sky-facing view as parent and child reunite as they walk together again when colour returns.

    *******************

    Particularly inspired by the imagery in Alborozo’s The Colour Thief we made a trip to a DIY store to pick up a load of paint chips.

    paintchips2

    Wow. My kids went crazy in the paint section: Who knew paint chips could be just so much fun? They spent over an hour collecting to their hearts’ desire. A surprising, free and fun afternoon!

    Once home we snipped up the paint chips to separate each colour. The colour names caused lots of merriment, and sparked lots of equally outlandish ideas for new colour names, such as Beetlejuice red, Patio grey, Spiderweb silver and Prawn Cocktail Pink.

    paintchips1

    We talked about shades and intensity of colours, and sorted our chips into three piles: Strong, bright colours, off-white colours, and middling colours. I then put a long strip of contact paper on the kitchen table, sticky side up, and the kids started making a mosaic with the chips, starting with the brightest colours in the middle, fading to the palest around the edge.

    colourthief

    Apart for the soothing puzzle-like quality of this activity, the kids have loved using the end result as a computer keyboard, pressing the colours they want things to change to. I also think it makes for a rather lovely bit of art, now up in their bedroom.

    colourthiefartwork

    Whilst making our colour mosaic we listened to:

  • My favourite ever, ever song about colours…. Kristin Andreassen – Crayola Doesn’t Make A Color For Your Eyes
  • Colors by Kira Willey. This song would go really well with ‘My Many Colored Days’ by Dr. Seuss.
  • Roy G Biv by They Might Be Giants

  • Other activities which might go well with either version of ‘The Colour Thief’ include:

  • Taking some online colour quizzes to learn more about just how you see colour (and how that might be different to someone else)
  • Making your own colour swatches or favourite colours book, using this amazing 322 year old Dutch book as inspiration. It will be much cheaper and a lot more fun than buying a Pantone Colour Guide.
  • If you know someone suffering from depression these charities may be of help:

  • Depression Alliance
  • Mind
  • Sane
  • Pandas Foundation – Pre and Post Natal depression support
  • Acacia – Pre and Post Natal depression support
  • Disclosure: I received free review copies of both books reviewed today from their respective publishers.

    Some other books I have since found with the same title but by different authors/illustrators/publishers include:

    thesnowyday

    ‘The Snowy Day’ by Ezra Jack Keats, and ‘The Snowy Day’ by Anna Milbourne and Elena Temporin

    bubbleandsqueakpair

    ‘Bubble and Squeak’ by Louise Bonnett-Rampersaud and Susan Banta, and ‘Bubble and Squeak’ by James Mayhew and Clara Vulliamy

    mydadtrio

    ‘My Dad’ by Anthony Browne, ‘My Dad’ by Steve Smallman and Sean Julian, and ‘My Dad’ by Chae Strathie and Jacqueline East

    My thanks to @josiecreates, @FBreslinDavda and @illustratedword for alerting me to some of these titles.

    3 Comments on The Colour Thief x 2, last added: 10/15/2014
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    15. Mending our hearts: how do we teach kids to be kind to one another, guest post by Julie Sternberg

    My heart is feeling very full right now, and I hope you'll join me reading this special guest post. Julie Sternberg recently asked me to help celebrate her new book, Friendship Over: The Top-Secret Diary of Celie Valentine. I said yes right away, since my students love love love Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie. But I decided on a spin -- I wanted to hear a little more from Julie about her thoughts on friendship and how we can help kids be good friends.
    Friendship Over
    The Top-Secret Diary of Celie Valentine
    by Julie Sternberg
    illustrated by Johanna Wright
    Boyds Mills, 2014
    Your local library
    Amazon
    ages 8-11
    Berkeley elementary schools have just adopted the Toolbox Project social-emotional learning curriculum. As our districts' announcement stated, Toolbox "teaches critical social competencies necessary for academic and life success such as: resiliency, self-management, and responsible decision-making skills." But really, it teaches us how to be good friends, how to create a community together.

    I shared the Toolbox Project with Julie and asked her which tools helped her character, Celie. You see, Celie has trouble with her friends -- troubles that I just know my students will relate to. I was very touched by Julie's reply:
    Mending our hearts, by Julie Sternberg

    I wish I could go back in time and give this toolbox to my fourth-grade teacher to use with our class. She struggled and struggled to help us resolve conflicts and manage our emotions. She didn’t have difficulty because she was inexperienced or untalented—far from it. Our class just somehow tended to bring out the worst in each other.

    Our teacher led several discussions on kindness and respect, but they made little difference. Then a boy grabbed a girl in an extremely sensitive, private area. We all found it horrifying. After that, our teacher took an unusual step. She cut the biggest heart I’ve ever seen out of butcher paper. Then she split that heart into two jagged pieces. She taped one on the far left side of one of our classroom walls, and the other on the far right. When she’d finished taping, she told us that the heart of our class had been broken. Only by being very kind to each other could we mend it.

    From that time on, at the end of every school day, she’d give an official assessment of our behavior. If we’d been kind to each other, she’d move the pieces of broken heart closer together. If not, she’d inch them farther apart. When the heart was finally whole again, we had a party with lots of candy.
    Julie Sternberg
    Part of me loves this broken-heart strategy. When my daughters have long and needless fights, I consider cutting an enormous heart in two and taping the pieces far from each other in our apartment. But I know the strategy is flawed. Because I don’t remember how my classmates and I managed to be kind enough to each other to mend our collective heart. I just remember succeeding, and getting candy.

    Instead I now see that I should tape up in my apartment the Twelve Tools for Learning, so we can all practice the skills that would help us manage our emotions and prevent conflicts from escalating. I particularly love the “Quiet/Safe Place” tool. I love the idea of saying, in the heat of a senseless battle, “Let’s all three go find a ‘place of rest and peace where we can gather ourselves.’” It seems so much nicer than shouting, “BOTH OF YOU GO TO YOUR ROOMS! NOW!” Which I might have done once or twice, or a hundred times, in the past.
    Celie Valentine

    It would have been interesting to use the Twelve Tools before I wrote FRIENDSHIP OVER, the first book in the series THE TOP-SECRET DIARY OF CELIE VALENTINE. Celie has all kinds of difficulty managing her emotions, and I would love to have her try the tools. The “Garbage Can Tool” might be my favorite for her: “I let the little things go—Put it in the garbage can and walk on by.” This would NOT be easy for Celie (though it would certainly be helpful). And it would be so much fun to write the scenes in which she tries, and fails at first, and ultimately succeeds.

    It’s something I’ll keep pondering. Because there are Celie sequels to come!
    I know my students are really going to enjoy reading Celie. She struggles with how to be a friend, how to be true to her own feelings but respectful of others. I wonder if Celie uses drawing and writing in her diary as a way to find a "quiet/safe place" -- somewhere she can go in her mind to sort through her feelings, calm down, and remove herself from conflict.

    Please enjoy sharing Friendship Over: The Top-Secret Diary of Celie Valentine with kids who like realistic fiction. As the starred review from Kirkus says, "This satisfying slice-of-life story about the permutations of friendship and family resonates."

    About the author:
    Julie Sternberg is the author of the best-selling Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie and its sequels, Like Bug Juice on a Burger and Like Carrot Juice on a Cupcake. Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie is a Gryphon Award winner and a Texas Bluebonnet Award finalist; Like Bug Juice on a Burger is a Gryphon Honor Book, a Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Awards Nominee, and an Illinois Monarch Award Finalist. Formerly a public interest lawyer, Julie is a graduate of the New School's MFA program in Creative Writing, with a concentration in writing for children. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York. For more information about her life and work and to download free activity materials based on her books, visit her website: juliesternberg.com.

    Check out the other stops on Julie’s blog tour!
    Mon, Sept 29: Mother Daughter Book Club
    Tues, Sept 30: 5 Minutes for Mom
    Wed, Oct 1: Sharpread
    Thurs, Oct 2: KidLit Frenzy
    Fri, Oct 3: The Hiding Spot
    Sat, Oct 4: Booking Mama
    Mon, Oct 6: Ms. Yingling Reads
    Tues, Oct 7: GreenBeanTeenQueen
    Wed, Oct 8: Great Kid Books
    Thurs, Oct 9: Teach Mentor Texts
    Fri, Oct 10: Unleashing Readers
    Sat, Oct 11: Bermuda Onion
    Illustrations copyright © 2014 b Johanna Wright, used with permission of the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Boyds Mills Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

    ©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

    0 Comments on Mending our hearts: how do we teach kids to be kind to one another, guest post by Julie Sternberg as of 10/8/2014 8:31:00 AM
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    16. Ghosts and libraries -- a perfect mix! Interview with Dori Hillestad Butler

    Today, I have the great pleasure of chatting with Dori Hillestad Butler, author of the new series The Haunted Library. Read on below, but also check out this great video on Open Road Media. It will give you a sense of the joy that Dori brings to writing for kids.

    Kids new to chapter books will have fun with The Haunted Library, with its blend of mystery, humor and kid-powered detective work.

    MAS: How did you come up with the idea of a haunted library?

    DHB: I just combined two of my favorite things...ghosts and libraries! The idea for the series came while I was writing book 6 in my Buddy Files series. My husband thought I was putting too much emphasis on the ghost in that story and not enough emphasis on the dog. He said, "If you want to write a ghost series, write a ghost series. This one is your dog series. It needs to be more about the dog." He was right. So I streamlined that story a little more and then started on the Haunted Library.

    The "Wohleter Mansion" is the house I see in my head when I picture the Haunted Library. This was also a house in my hometown. I LOVED that house as a kid. Not that I was ever inside it. But I used to ride my bike past it all the time just because I liked to look at it. Now it's probably good that I was never inside because I can imagine the inside however I want. I imagine the "library" on the entire first floor. Claire and her family live on the second floor. And the third floor is storage.
    The Wohleter Mansion
    MAS: That's such a great image -- no wonder it inspired you to write a terrific story! My student Maddy wants to know: “Have you ever been in a haunted library?”

    DHB: Not that I know of. But I'd sure like to visit one! Assuming the ghosts are friendly, that is.

    MAS: I really enjoy the way you make ghosts friendly. Our teachers want to know: Do you keep a writer's notebook? What do you put in it? They ask their 2nd graders to keep writer's notebooks.
    Dori Butler's writer's notebooks

    DHB: I do! Several of them, actually. One is really just a journal where I make to-do lists and keep track of progress made on various projects. I also record writing related events/phone calls as they happen. The others are notebooks for each of my projects. I brainstorm ideas in those notebooks.

    MAS: Are there any other images that inspired you as you wrote the series?

    DHB: Definitely! The "Fairmont School" is the school I saw in my head when I wrote about the "old schoolhouse" where Kaz lived with his ghost family. Except I remember the school looking a lot more rundown! That was the first elementary school in the town I grew up in. But it's clearly been restored, which I think is really cool!
    Fairmont School
    This is library in my hometown. I worked there all through high school. I loved that job! I loved it so much that I didn't want to go home after the library closed. I used to stay in the library after closing, by myself, and write stories. Until I got caught! You can read more about that here on my agent's blog: http://acrowesnest.blogspot.com/2014/09/why-haunted-library.html (MAS: It's a wonderful post!)
    Dori's hometown library -- her refuge as a young writer
    I've always loved libraries. And I've always loved writing in libraries. Much of the first three Haunted Library books were written in the Coralville Public Library (see the CPL picture) in Coralville, Iowa. I don't live in Iowa anymore...now I live in the Seattle area. But I went back to Coralville to launch this series...at the library! It was the best place to launch this particular series!

    MAS: What are some other mysteries you like to recommend for 2nd and 3rd graders?

    DHB: Well...my Buddy Files series is also aimed at 2nd and 3rd graders. It's about a school therapy dog who solves mysteries and the books are told from the dog's point of view. There's also David Adler's Cam Jansen series...Encyclopedia Brown...and the Boxcar Children.

    MAS: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat, Dori. It really means a lot to my students to think of real authors work hard at writing stories, just like they do.

    DHB: Thank you, Mary Ann! One of the most important things to me is inspiring kids to read.

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

    ©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

    0 Comments on Ghosts and libraries -- a perfect mix! Interview with Dori Hillestad Butler as of 10/7/2014 9:27:00 AM
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    17. The Haunted Library, by Dori Hillestad Butler -- new series for beginning readers (ages 6-9)

    New readers love finding series that make them laugh and bring them back for more adventures. These chapter books fill an important step in children's reading development. I was excited to hear that author of one of my favorite series, The Buddy Files, has just written a new series: The Haunted Library. I think our 1st and 2nd graders are going love this silly mix of humor, ghosts and mystery.
    The Haunted Library
    by Dori Hillestad Butler
    illustrated by Aurore Damant
    Grosset & Dunlap/ Penguin, 2014
    Your local library
    Amazon
    ages 6-9
    When the Outside wind blows Kaz away from his home and separates him from his ghost family, it's a scary thing. Kaz finds a new home and discovers a human girl who can see him. It's unsettling at first, but Claire is friendly and reassures Kaz that she can see lots of ghosts. In fact, she has a ghost notebook where she keeps track of all her ghostly sightings!

    Kids will have fun learning the ins and outs of Butler's ghost world, but they definitely won't be scared. Damant's cartoonish illustrations emphasize the humor involved, and the friendliness of each character.
    Kaz and Claire, from The Haunted Library
    Kaz and Claire set out to solve the mystery of the library ghost -- trying to figure out who's turning off the lights and scaring the library patrons. Kaz wonders if it's his lost brother, and Claire wonders if her grandmother knows more than she's letting on.

    I especially love the interplay between the simple sentences and the illustrations in this chapter book. As you can see below when Kaz and Claire are chasing another ghost through the library, the illustrations show the action to guide readers in a crucial moment. The words add enough description for readers to add more to their "mental movies", especially helping them understand the characters' emotions.
    Enjoy sharing this new series, either as a read aloud with 1st graders who are eager to read more chapter books with you, or with 2nd graders ready to try chapter books on their own.

    For more fun, check out the rest of The Haunted Library Blog Tour. Tomorrow, I'll be interviewing Dori Hillestad Butler with some questions my students wanted to know. Come back to see her notebooks, her own haunts and more pictures!

    If you're looking for other series I love sharing with 2nd graders, check out these other suggestions:
    The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Grosset & Dunlap, an imprint of Penguin Books for Young Readers. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

    ©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

    0 Comments on The Haunted Library, by Dori Hillestad Butler -- new series for beginning readers (ages 6-9) as of 10/6/2014 7:41:00 AM
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    18. The Map Trap - a review

    Move over, Frindle. A new classic has arrived!

    Below is my review of The Map Trap by Andrew Clements, as it appeared in the October, 2014, edition of School Library Journal.

    CLEMENTS, Andrew. The Map Trap. 2 CDs. 2:29 hrs. S. & S. Audio. 2014. $14.99. ISBN 9781442357013. digital download.

    Gr 3-6 -- Alton Ziegler is crazy about maps. He particularly loves the way they can visually display any manner of information in a variety of ways. Surreptitiously, he collects data and creates humorous maps detailing such trivia as the popularity of lunchroom tables (depicted as a topographical map of the cafeteria) or a weather map of a teacher's clothes. Striped tie today? Look out -- the probability of a pop quiz is high. He never meant for anyone to see his collection, but when it's "mapnapped," there's no telling where the road might lead. Keith Nobbs is perfectly cast as the narrator. He creates a pensive Alton that fits the mood of the story. Clements's (In Harm's Way) use of subjective third-person narration is interesting in that the listener is privy to the inner concerns not only of Alton but of his teacher Miss Wheeling as well. Rarely is a teacher's perspective presented with such honesty and clarity in a middle grade novel. Though Nobbs's voice sometimes cracks when portraying female characters, his delivery, nonetheless, is still pleasing and believable. The Map Trap is a thoughtful, holistic look at the middle school environment that will have wide appeal. 

    Copyright © 2014 Library Journals, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc.
    Reprinted with permission.


    The publisher's website contains an audio and a printed excerpt from The Map Trap, as well as a video with author, Andrew Clements.

    0 Comments on The Map Trap - a review as of 1/1/1900
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    19. Cover Reveal: Rose Eagle

    Last fall, Tu Books released Killer of Enemies, a post-apocalyptic steampunk adventure by Joseph Bruchac. Readers were introduced to seventeen-year-old Apache hunter Lozen, a kick-butt warrior who kills monsters to ensure the safety of her family.

    Set to be released next month, Joseph Bruchac has written an e-novella that’s a prequel to Killer of Enemies, titled Rose Eagle.

    Rose Eagle is set in the Black Hills of South Dakota, where readers are introduced to seventeen-year-old Rose Eagle of the Lakota tribe who is trying to find her place in a post-apocalyptic world.

    Before the Silver Cloud, the Lakota were forced to work in the Deeps, mining for ore so that the Ones, the overlords, could continue their wars. But when the Cloud came and enveloped Earth, all electronics were shut off. Some miners were trapped in the deepest Deeps and suffocated, but the Lakota were warned to escape, and the upper Deeps became a place of refuge for them in a post-Cloud world.

    In the midst of this chaos, Rose Eagle’s aunt has a dream: Rose will become a medicine woman, a healer. She sends Rose into the Black Hills on a quest to find healing for their people.

    Gangly and soft-spoken, Rose is no warrior. She seeks medicine, not danger. Nevertheless, danger finds her, but love and healing soon follow. When Rose Eagle completes her quest, she may return with more than she ever thought she was looking for.

    rose eagle coverThanks to the following blogs for participating in the Rose Eagle cover reveal:

    Beyond Victoriana

    Finding Wonderland

    Rich in Color

    We can’t wait to hear what you think of the cover!


    Filed under: Book News, Cover Design, New Releases, Tu Books Tagged: black hills, cover reveal, dystopia, family, first love, friendship, genetic engineering, healer, healing, Joseph Bruchac, Killer of Enemies, lakota, medicine woman, mining, native americans, novella, rose eagle, science fiction, south dakota, steampunk

    0 Comments on Cover Reveal: Rose Eagle as of 9/24/2014 3:28:00 PM
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    20. Jimi & Isaac 2a: Keystone Species, by Phil Rink | Dedicated Review

    Good friends Jimi and Isaac set off on an oceanic coming-of-age adventure of a lifetime.

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    21. The Magician of Auschwitz by Kathy Kacer, illustrated by Gillian Newland

    Werner Reich is just a young boy when he arrives alone at Auschwitz.  His father had died a few years before, he was separated from his mother when the Nazis took her and his older sister was supposedly hiding in plain sight with a Christian family.

    Werner may be young but he quickly assesses that the best chance to survive Auschwitz is to appear not to be weak.  So, climbing up to the third rung of  the triple decker bunks in his barracks, scared and lonely, Werner meets his bunk mate, Herr Herbert Levin.

    By day, Werner and the other men and boys stand hours for roll call, then move heavy rocks from one place to another, eat the watery soup and stale bread, then try to sleep so they can do this all over again the next day.

    One night, however, the guards come in and wake Herr Levin up, demanding magic.  Giving him a deck of cards, Herr Levin performs all kinds of magic tricks for the guards entertainment.  His magic also delights Werner, who thinks Herr Levin might be favored with an extra piece of bread, but his thinking is quickly straightened out by his bunk mate.  "This is not a game and it is not a show…if I displease the guards, if I fail in my magic, if I run out of tricks, if they tire of me…my life will be over."  Werner quickly grasps the capriciousness of life in a concentration camp.

    Then one night, Herr Levin teaches Werner how to do a card trick, one just for Werner only.  Magic helped keep Herr Levin alive in Auschwitz so far, maybe it will help Werner, too, he tells the boy.

    Eventually the two are separated, and towards the end of the war, Werner is forced to walk on a Death March from Auschwitz to Germany, a walk he survives.  Herr Levin also survives, but the two have no idea what happened to the other.

    Werner remained interested in magic throughout his adult life, performing tricks for his family and friends after marrying and migrating to the United States.  But he never found out what happened to Herr Levin until one day he was reading a trade magazine about magic…

    and discovered that his Auschwitz bunk mate Herr Levin was none other that the renowned Nivelli the Magician, eminent pre-war magician known all over Europe and who, after the war ended, had been performing in the United States.

    It must be so difficult to write books for young readers about the Holocaust that aren't too scary, too grime, too graphic, but istis doable and many parents and teachers find that they are a sensitive way to introduce the heinous circumstances of the Holocaust to their kids.  Canadian author Kathy Kacer, who has written many books for young readers about the Holocaust, seems to instinctively know how to make a Holocaust book accessible and informative without frightening young readers.  And she has done just that in The Magician of Auschwitz, a picture book for older readers.

    What makes The Magician of Auschwitz such a fascinating story it that it shows so clearly how one small act of kindness can make such a difference in a person's life - in this case, maybe even helping to save it.   The themes of hope and friendship forbidden in a place where often it really was (understandably) every man for himself are reflected in the muted, subdued illustrations, almost as though they are being hidden from the Nazi captors.

    The watercolor illustrations by Gillian Newland are indeed dark and foreboding grays, blacks, browns and gray-green, reflecting life in a concentration camp, with only small touches of red on the playing cards and the swastika on the guards armbands.

    Though based on the experiences of the real Werner Reich and Herbert Levin or Nivelli the Magician, however, this is a fictional retelling of their story, told from Werner's point of view.  As a biographical picture book for older readers, there should have been more souces in the back matter than just the author's one extensive "How it Happened" explanation.  However, readers will still enjoy reading this and seeing the accompanying photographs of Werner as a youth and as an older man.  Sadly there is only one photographs of Herr Levin and his wife.

    You might find the trailer for The Magician of Auschwitz by the author of interest:


    This book is recommended for readers age 7+
    This book was obtained from the publisher

    0 Comments on The Magician of Auschwitz by Kathy Kacer, illustrated by Gillian Newland as of 9/28/2014 1:30:00 PM
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    22. Leroy Ninker Saddles Up, by Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen (ages 5-9)

    Our first and second graders are crazy about Mercy Watson, the adorable, butter-loving pig from Kate DiCamillo's series of early chapter books. And they're going to love, love, love Leroy Ninker Saddles Up, the first in DiCamillo's companion series Tales from Deckawoo Drive. Sequels and spinoffs are no sure thing; but DiCamillo had me smiling and laughing all the way through this new adventure.
    Leroy Ninker Saddles Up
    by Kate DiCamillo
    illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
    Candlewick, 2014
    Google Books preview
    Your local library
    Amazonages 5-9
    *best new book*
    Leroy may be a small man, but he has big dreams of being a cowboy--a real cowboy like he sees in the movies. But--as his coworker at the drive-in movie theater tells him--every cowboy needs a horse. He's got to "take fate in (his) hands and wrestle it to the ground." And with this inspiration, Leroy sets out to find himself a horse and a loyal friend.
    When Leroy finds Maybelline, we wonder if she's the right horse for him. We can certainly see in Van Dusen's drawings that she doesn't look like an ideal horse. And yet, Leroy understands exactly what she wants: plenty of compliments, lots of food and loyal companionship. That isn't too much for anyone to ask, is it?

    Leroy and Maybelline's mishaps, from a tiny apartment balcony to a rain-sodden chase scene, will bring lots of laughter from listeners and readers alike. But it's Leroy's devotion and Maybelline's happiness that will stick with readers. Just look at him bounding over this fence as he races to find her:
    Leroy Ninker Saddles Up is a longer chapter book than the Mercy Watson series. It will make a great read-aloud to first graders who are reading Mercy Watson on their own. Second and third graders who loved Mercy last year will get a hoot reading Leroy Ninker now. There's definitely more text, fewer illustrations and more challenging words.

    If you want to explore, read some of Leroy Ninker Saddles Up in the Google Books preview:


    The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Candlewick Books, but I've already purchased three more copies to share with teachers and families. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

    ©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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    23. Grief

    Death. Grief. Sorrow. Those aren’t words that any of us like, especially when they involve those closest to us. I don’t pretend to understand sorrow, though I have experienced it many times. I experienced it when my grandparents died. I experienced it when my own father was in a car accident, and again when my…

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    24. Aaron Blabey’s Lessons With a Twist

    Aaron Blabey is an actor-turned children’s author and illustrator, having great success with award-winning books including Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley, The Ghost of Miss Annabel Spoon, and Pig the Pug, which is becoming one of Australia’s best selling picture books. Fortunate to have Sunday Chutney as the chosen book to be read in schools […]

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    25. The Winged Watchman by Hilda van Stockum

    Original 1962 Edition, which is what I read
    Books about the Netherlands during World War II are generally about the Dutch Resistance, but Hilda van Stockum has focused more on the daily experiences of one very close knit, religious family living, but without ignoring Resistance activities.  

    At ten years old, Joris Verhagen can barely remember what life was like before the Nazis invaded Holland in 1940 when he was 4.  Life is hard for the Verhagen family - father, a 4th generation millwright, mother, Dirk-Jan, 14, Joris and Trixie, 4, but because they lived in a working windmill, things were not quite as hard as for others in their small village.   Now, after four years of Nazi occupation, everyone is hopeful that the Allies will soon arrive.

    The novel is told as a series of connecting vignettes that show how the family quietly worked hard to resist the Nazis.  And so there are some wonderful moments in which their occupiers are outsmarted, like the downed RAF pilot who Joris discovers hiding in an old abandoned windmill and the amusing way that he was he was hidden in plain sight by Joris's Uncle Cor before escaping back to England.

    Or the two little girls who come to stay with the Verhagens after their parents are forced into hiding and their absolute faith that St. Nickolas will show up at the Verhagen door with Christmas surprises.

    Even little Trixie has a very surprising story.

    There are some scary, tense moments as when Leendert, an adolescent, becomes a landwatcher for the Nazis, even though his own parents are against them and threatening to turn his own father in.  Always trying to win favor with the Nazis, Leendert like to throw his weight around, like pushing a young girl off a broken-down bike with wooden wheels, causing her to loose consciousness, but not before she manages to toss her satchel into the bushes.  Joris later discovers, when he retrieves the bag for her, that it is full of Resistance newspapers.

    There is so much more that happens to the Verhagen family, and their friends and neighbors, all related with such compassion.  But at the heart of everything, is the Winged Watchman.  It is the Winged Watchman that ultimately saves the day for so many of them.

    The two main characters, besides the windmill, are Joris and brother Dirk-Jan, who are portrayed as quite heroic, but not without a certain amount of fear.  And who can blame them, living in an atmosphere of betrayal and danger.  The most striking descriptions are of the hunger and homelessness that so many Dutch experienced by the winter of 1944 (known as the Hunger Winter) because the Nazis confiscated more and more of the food grown in Holland for themselves and because so many homes were bombed.

    The Winged Watchman was written in 1962 and may feel a little dated and the writing may seem a little stiff to today's young readers, but it is still a compelling story of resistance and courage.  The family is deeply religious and van Stockum shows how that also helped the Verhagens preserver throughout.

    I also learned two intersting facts about windmills in this novel.  The Winged Watchman is not a mill used for grinding, but was used for draining the water out of areas below sea level in order the reclaim the land below the water.  The reclaimed land is called a polder.  The water is diverted to a canal and is kept out of the reclaimed land by a dyke.  This kind of windmill, of course, plays an important role in The Winged Watchman, so it helps to understand what it is all about.

    The other interesting fact I learned is that windmills were used to send coded messages from member of the Dutch Resistance to other members right under the nose of the otherwise ever vigilant Nazis.  The messages were read according to the location of the windmills sails, or the different color stripes of cloth tied onto them and sent windmill to windmill.  Most Dutch citizens were ferociously patriotic, with only a few traitors like Leendert.

    Hilda van Stockum was born in Rotterdam, Holland, and she clearly loved her country very much,
    though by the time World War II began, she was living in the US, having married an American.  She based many of the occurrences in The Winged Watchman on letters and stories of relatives who remained in Holland.  Van Stockum was a prolific writer and in 1935, her short novel A Day on Skates: the Story of a Dutch Picnic was a Newbery Honor book.

    The Winged Watchman is still in print and can be found in most bookshops and libraries and is still a worthwhile book to read.

    This book is recommended for readers age 9+
    This book was a hand-me-down from my sister


     

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