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1. Jorge Argueta: Interview series with California poets for young people

Poetry holds a special place in my heart, for the way it helps me slow down and notice. As I share poetry with my students, it's very important to me to help them see that the poems we read have been created by real people. We need to help our children see that they, too, are poets.

I am thrilled to share interviews with California poets for young people. This month, I will share interviews with Jorge Argueta, Nikki Grimes, Isabel Campoy, and Lee Wardlaw. Please consider inviting these wonderful poets to your schools to connect in person with your students. In the meantime, let's welcome our first guest.

Jorge Argueta
Jorge Argueta is a prolific Salvadoran poet who lives in San Francisco. I love sharing his bilingual poems and stories with children. Argueta immigrated to the United States more than 30 years ago in the midst of his country’s civil war. He writes poetry and children’s books, runs Luna’s Press and Bookstore in San Francisco, and gives poetry presentations and workshops in the US and in El Salvador.

Argueta’s two most recent books are Salsa, a cooking poem illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh (see my review), and Olita y Manyula: The Big Birthday/El gran cumpleaños, a sweet story illustrated by El Aleph Sanchez (see a review at De Colores). I am so honored and happy to share this interview with you.

1. How do you get into a place or mindset for writing your poetry? Do you have any habits you could share with young writers?

When I write a poem, I normally visualize it. If it’s a place or a person, I visit with them. In my imagination, I talk to the people, trees and fruits and vegetables. I live with them. I have an office, but I like to do my writing in my kitchen because I feel it is a place where I can dream. My tea kettle is a steam train, it brings people, cows, mountains, rainbows, rivers, moons, suns, stars, they all come to keep me company when I’m writing.
three of Jorge Argueta's cooking poems
I love writing in my kitchen because it reminds me of my home in El Salvador. I have the sweet company of my family and friends, here I can bring the past to the present, to the future. In the kitchen I have chairs, tables, kitchen utensils and photos. I am surrounded by wonderful colorful vegetables and fruits, each with different shapes and scents. To me the kitchen is a place where I make connections with the whole world. Just as life, the kitchen is a poem.

2. I love sharing descriptive words with kids. What are some words that you have been thinking about lately, that might be particularly delicious?
Water    fire     colors   mango   sunrise
I believe words were given to us to talk about our happiness, our sadness, our joy, our perseverance, our justice. As an indigenous person, a Latino person, I need to talk about our endurance. I believe words were given to me to talk about the needs of people for justice, and to see the world in different ways.
from Jorge Argueta's website
3. What are three (classics) books you’d like to see in every child’s home?

The Popol-Vuh, 1001 Arabian Nights and Jungle Book.

There’s definitely classical literature that you can turn to, like The Popol–Vuh for children, a classical book by the great Mayan people, adopted for children by Ana Maria Dueñas, or The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling, or picture books by Dr. Seuss. But I also want to share other poets’ work with children.

The great Chilean writer, Gabriela Mistral, wrote for children’s and for social justice. She was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1945. Pablo Neruda’s mind, his writing touches children, young adults and adults. His words are child-like, yet also powerful enough to touch anybody. Also a Nobel prize winner. In El Salvador, Claudia Lars, wrote amazing poems for children.

Most recently, my good friend, Juan Felipe Herrera--current Poet Laureate of the United States-- conveys the power and the tenderness to share the experience of the farm workers and Latino immigrants, to talk about important issues today. Francisco Alarcón—another good friend who just passed away, wrote such fun poems for children, that make me laugh and smile and wonder.

A good message to convey to parents is the importance of the oral tradition. We are telling parents to make sure their children read, read, read -- but we also need to remind ourselves how important it is to keep the oral tradition alive. Tell children where they come from, who grandpa was, what he did as a young boy. We have beautiful family stories that we sometimes forget to tell our children.

4. Is there a poem you can share a snippet with us?

I’d like to share a little from my newest book, Olita y Manyula: The Big Birthday/El gran cumpleaños:
My name is Holly
but my friends in El Salvador call me Olita
Spanish for little wave
I love to be called Olita,
little wave…
This fall, Jorge Argueta's next book will be published: Somos como las nubes: We Are Like the Clouds (Groundwood Books, October 2016). Here is the description from the publisher:
Why are young people leaving their country to walk to the United States to seek a new, safe home? Over 100,000 such children have left Central America. This book of poetry helps us to understand why and what it is like to be them.

This powerful book by award-winning Salvadoran poet Jorge Argueta describes the terrible process that leads young people to undertake the extreme hardships and risks involved in the journey to what they hope will be a new life of safety and opportunity. A refugee from El Salvador’s war in the eighties, Argueta was born to explain the tragic choice confronting young Central Americans today who are saying goodbye to everything they know because they fear for their lives. This book brings home their situation and will help young people who are living in safety to understand those who are not.
Thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us, Mr. Argueta. It was a true delight and pleasure.

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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2. Booked--Kwame Alexander scores again with this novel in verse (ages 10-14)

I am ridiculously excited to share Booked with kids, friends and librarians. Kwame Alexander hits the sweet spot again, this time scoring a goal with his mix of soccer, family, first crushes, friendship and poetry.

Booked
by Kwame Alexander
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016
Your local library
Amazon
ages 10-14
*best new book*
Nick loves soccer, whether it's playing futsol with his best friend, dreaming of playing professionally, or staying up late playing FIFA online. What Nick hates are books. More specifically, he hates that his dad makes him read his own dictionary of unusual words.

Kwame Alexander has crafted a novel that is fast to read, full of wordplay and humor, and leaves you thinking. I love the way he captures the bantering between Nick and his mom, as well as between Nick and his best friend Coby. Right from the beginning, he shows how kids play with words in smart, sophisticated ways. My students love telling jokes, and will love seeing if their friends get this. Just see if they see why this is such a funny way for Nick to introduce his dad, the linguistics professor:
"In the elementary school spelling bee
when you intentionally
misspelled heifer,
he almost had a cow."
As Nick struggles with his parents' impending divorce, bullying at school and figuring out how to talk to the girl of his dreams, he discovers that words and poetry can actually be cool. A great follow up to The Crossover!

Want to read more? Check out this terrific NPR interview with Kwame from this weekend:
How To Get Kids Hooked On Books? 'Use Poetry. It Is A Surefire Way'
-- NPR radio interview, April 3, 2016
I'm so jazzed to share this that I've already placed an order for 15 books (!!) with my favorite local bookstore, Mrs. Dalloway's, and I will be sharing these with friends tomorrow. I hope to share soon how kids respond to Booked. My sense is that Booked will resonate more with middle school students than elementary students, but I do think many 5th graders will enjoy and relate to Nick's struggles.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, 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.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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3. Honoring & celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the library (ages 6-10)

We celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the 3rd Monday of January by honoring the life and legacy of the man who brought hope and healing to America. Here are some resources you may find helpful in talking about this great man’s life and contributions with young children.


I Have a Dream, by Martin Luther King, Jr. and illustrated by Kadir Nelson. This book is a powerful way to share Dr. King's famous speech at the March on Washington. Kadir Nelson's paintings are not only a moving tribute, they provide a way for children to reflect on the meaning of King's words. A CD is included with a recording of Dr. King's speech.


Martin’s Big Words, by Dorreen Rappaport, illustrated by Brian Collier. This picture book biography is an excellent way to introduce children to Dr. King's life and work. I love the way Rappaport weaves quotes from Dr. King throughout the story, giving readers a real sense of the power of his words.

Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song, by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney. When Dr. King gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington, he asked gospel singer Mahalia Jackson to sing for the crowd, to lift their spirits, to inspire them with her voice. This picture book tells the story of both Martin and Mahalia, as they each found their passions and their voices. Part picture book biography, part story of a historic moment--this is an evocative picture book.

We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song, by Debbie Levy, illusrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. The song "We Shall Overcome" became an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, but it has gone on to represent the fight for equality and freedom around the world. This picture book tells the history of the song, from its beginnings in America's harsh times of slavery through gospel songs of the early 20th century, to the protest movements of the 1960s.

Websites and online resources:
  • The King Center is both a traditional memorial and an active nonprofit committed to the causes for which Dr. King lived and died. Browse the digital archives; have students reflect on quotes.
  • I Have a Dream speech (audio only)
  • Time for Kids: One Dream -- 17 people remember the March on Washington. Time for Kids has an excellent mini-site dedicated to honoring Dr. King's work and legacy. I particularly like the One Dream video, with reflections of people including Representative John Lewis, Clarence Jones (speechwriter for Dr. King), Joan Baez and many others.
  • History.com: Martin Luther King, Jr. Leads the March on Washington This is a good, short video that explains the context of the March on Washington and its political message, but please preview because some of the scenes are intense.
As our communities struggle with the impact of racism near and far, it is important that we take time in our families and in our classrooms to reflect on Dr. King's message. I am inspired by the work of the artists and authors who share that message through their own work. And I am inspired by the thoughts my students have shared this week as they reflect on their hopes and dreams for a more just, more peaceful, more equitable society.

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

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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4. Newsela: Engaging news stories for kids, with adjustable reading levels (ages 8-14)

Splashy news headlines can grab our attention, but it's crucial that we engage kids with deeper thinking about current events. Whether it's prompting dinner-table discussions or classroom debates, current events provide so many avenues for kids to question, think and discover. One of my favorite sources is Newsela. Here are my top 5 reasons why I recommend Newsela for kids, teachers and families:

1. Engaging content, easy to search

Newsela consistently engages kids with its content. They have a terrific sense of what kids will be interested in and yet they never underestimate kids' ability to think about big issues. They balance fun articles (Jedi lightsaber exercise class) with hard-hitting news (Flint, Michigan water pollution crisis). And they use great photos to draw kids in.

It's easy to search for specific topics or browse general interest areas--and this encourages kids to figure out what interests them, to discover the news that matters. I also love that there's a dedicated site for elementary kids, recognizing that some articles are better for younger kids than others.
screenshot of "latest news" from Newsela 1.22.15
2. Adjustable reading levels for every article

Kids can select the right reading level for them, adjusting the article with an easy click. Nonfiction is harder for many kids to read, especially current events about topics that are new to them. Newsela lets kids read an article at an easier level, with simpler sentences and less complicated vocabulary. They can read, change the level and re-read the same article. Kids with different reading levels can read and discuss the same article but at a level just right for each kid.
Kids can easily adjust the reading level
3. Easy ways to personalize & save content

We all like personalizing our reading experience. Kids sign up for free Newsela accounts--at school, I recommend that they use their school Google account to automatically sign in.  Newsela lets readers mark which articles they like and recommends other articles on a similar subject.

Teachers love the annotation features. Kids can highlight and annotate articles, saving their thoughts for later. This makes it great for prompting deeper thinking, discussions and further writing about articles. This feature promotes active reading, helping kids focus on main ideas and engage with the material. It's so easy to use that I have found kids enjoy it.
annotations made with a 5th grade class
4. Quizzes help kids check understanding

While I am not a fan of multiple-choice quizzes, I actually think these quizzes help kids check their understanding of the article. They also let kids practice taking this type of quiz in a low-stress environment. This helps them practice just the sorts of questions that will be on state tests, but helps them keep a growth mindset--noticing how they get better as they practice more.

5. Text sets encourage kids to broaden thinking

I love the way that Newsela editors are creating text sets to encourage kids to read more broadly. Some recent examples include text sets on animal ethics, bullying, and pollution. Teachers will especially like the PRO/CON text set to support students' persuasive writing.

Newsela App

And now, it's even easier to use at home with your mobile device--Newsela has just released its app for iPads and iPhones. See this Newsela blog article for more information. I've only just started testing this, but I like it already. It's easy to check the most recent news, and it's also easy to search for specific topics. I love the way readers can easily change the reading level on the app -- very well designed.
If you're looking for a way to engage kids with the news, definitely check out Newsela. I'd recommend the Newsela Elementary site for grades 3-5, and the regular site for grades 6 and up. I have only used the free site, and I hope that it continues to provide robust access for general free users.

We use both the free and PRO site in our school district. My daughter's 6th grade teacher uses the PRO subscription site and really likes the additional data he gathers. For families and many classrooms, the free site is a terrific resource. 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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5. Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It, by Gail Carson Levine: poetry with snarky humor perfect for tweens (ages 8 - 10)

It seems utterly perfect to start our celebration of National Poetry Month on April Fools Day with a collection of poems that will get kids laughing and sharing: Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It. It isn't politically correct. It isn't always nice. But it will get kids snickering and reading and wanting more. Share this snarky book with 4th and 5th graders, hand them a set of post-its, and ask them to mark their favorites.

Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It: False Apology Poemsby Gail Carson Levineillustrated by Matthew CordellHarperCollins, 2012
your local libraryAmazonages 8-10
This is just to say, open this book at your own risk. You'll find sarcastic takes on classic fairy tales. You'll find brothers being mean to sisters. You'll find authors sneering at their editors. But share it with the right kids, and you'll see them marking pages, showing friends and reading them again and again.

Each poem starts with a simple statement. There's no denying the wrong-doing.
I have eaten
your hot fudge
sundae
and the cherry on top
Then describe the effects. Show your point of view. Be blunt. But try to see what someone else's perspective might be.
which
I thoughtfully
replaced
with anchovies
End the last stanza with "Forgive me" but know that this is a false apology. You're really not sorry at all. And your reader knows it.
Forgive me
I gave three spoonfuls
of ice cream
to the cat
Add in Matthew Cordell's line drawings, and kids will be laughing and sharing.

I have to be honest. The first time I read this book, I didn't really get it. But when I shared it with kids, that's when I realized the true value of it. They had to read it with friends. They started debating which poem was best. They immediately got point of view, connected it to their experiences, and wanted more.
Snow White gets tired of the dwarves ("you snore/ pick your noses/ never take a bath") and runs off with the evil witch. Kids call up a genie and put parents behind bars ("Forgive me/ time-out and grounded / and other unpleasant phrases/ can no longer be uttered").

Pure magic, in my view. And especially best shared on April Fools Day. Don't you think? For other reviews, check out Franki's at A Year of Reading, Betsy's at Fuse #8.

Poetry ©2012 by Gail Carson Levine, illustrations ©2012 by Matthew Cordell; used with permission from the publisher. The review copy came from our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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6. Video Sunday: Favorite Poem Project (ages 10 and up)

The Favorite Poem Project is dedicated to celebrating, documenting and encouraging poetry’s role in Americans’ lives. Founded by Robert Pinsky shortly after he was appointed the 39th Poet Laureate of the United States in 1997, this project has become a wonderful resource and inspiration.

Favorite Poem Project
It began as an initiative to create an audio and visual archive of 1,000 Americans reading aloud their favorite poems. Americans from every state and from all ages have submitted their favorite poems. I have loved exploring the resources available online, both video and audio recordings of Americans young and old sharing their favorite poems. Today, I'd like to share two favorite videos that particularly spoke to me.

Pov Chin, a student from Stockton, California, shares Langston Hughes' "Minstrel Man". I love how she connects to this poem, how it helps her express her own experience as a teen.

You can find the full text of the poem at PBS NewsHour, along with a transcript of Pov's reflections.
"I like it (Langston Hughes' poem) because it describes me. Like, I walk around with a smile on my face all the time at school and with friends and stuff, but I still have different thoughts running through my head. It’s never stable. It’s always going."
"We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks, is a poem that's often shared in middle school--I think that kids will respond to the way John Ulrich, a student in South Boston, Massachusetts, reads it and talks about it.

John speaks about the "cluster of death" that has surrounded his neighborhood, from young people's deaths due to drug overdoses and depression. He also shares the program he started "South Boston Survivors", to help young people find creative sparks to redirect them from depression.
"When I first heard 'We Real Cool', ...it just made sense to me, how things started out so innocent and got so drastic so quick."
Yina Liang, a student in Decatur, Georgia, shows how she connects to Emily Dickinson's poem "I'm nobody! Who are you?" I particularly like the way that Yina shows how she has to juggle all of the expectations she feels, all of the demands--and how sometimes, she just wants to escape and be nobody.

"I think I discovered this poem in 7th grade... Every year, as life gets busier, the poem keeps coming back to me and it connects so much better every time that I think, in time, it discovered me instead."
There are many more Favorite Poem Project videos that spoke to me as an adult, but today I wanted to share the ones that I think will particularly resonate with kids. I hope you enjoy exploring these resources as much as I have.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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7. Peaking into students' Mock Newbery conversations (ages 9-12)

Our Mock Newbery Book Club discussions have been so thoughtful and interesting that I just have to share them. This year, we've been focusing on the qualities that the Newbery Committee manual instructs members to consider: character, plot, setting, theme and language. We keep a reminder of these qualities up to help guide our conversations. It helps us be more analytical as we talk about what we love about stories. It also helps us compare very different books, thinking about different strengths that each might have.

Last week, Talia and Alessandra (both 5th graders) were talking about Chasing Secrets, by Gennifer Choldenko, and Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan.  My full reviews are here if you'd like to learn more about these terrific novels: Chasing Secrets & Echo.

Talia gushed that Chasing Secrets is The.Best.Book.Ever. I just wish I could have captured the sparkle in her eye when she talked. But then she went on to share why she thought it was so good: the plot kept her interested, full of twists and turns, with lots of unexpected pieces. It was complicated, but it also stayed woven together tightly.

Talia compared this to Echo, which she found too long. She liked Echo, but found it didn't hold her interest as much. I'm not sure if she found it went off on too many tangents, or if she didn't lost the feeling of one set of characters as she got involved in another character's story.

At this point, Alessandra spoke up saying how much she liked Echo. As I asked her why she thought it was so good, she said that it was the same thing that Talia said about Chasing Secrets -- in Alessandra's view, the different pieces of Echo wove together in a very interesting way. She loved how each character reacted in his or her own way to the harmonica, how music gave each of the character's courage and strength, and how much family meant to each of the characters.

Echo isn't part of our formal Mock Newbery selection, in part because it is very long. But my guess is that the Newbery Committee will be talking about it in January -- much in the same manner that our students have been talking about it.

There is a special bond that comes when you've read the same books as your friends and can have these thoughtful discussions. We don't read the same books at the same time. Partly this is because we only have 2 to 4 copies of each book.

I want students' reading to be more organic. I want them to choose what they want to read. Most of all, I want them to share the books they love with their friends, persuading others to read them too. This is what Lucy Caulkins calls spreading "book buzz" and it makes the process much more exciting for kids.

The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Scholastic and Random House, but we have also purchased additional copies for our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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8. So You Want to Be a Jedi? : an original retelling of Star Wars--the Empire Strikes Back, by Adam Gidwitz (ages 9-12)

Tonight we're having a family movie night, all going to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens and I've had a great few days anticipating this, reading So You Want to Be a Jedi?an original retelling of Star Wars: the Empire Strikes Back, by one of my favorite storytellers Adam Gidwitz (see here for our fantastic author visit). If your kids are excited by the new Star Wars movie and like books full of action, they'll have fun diving head first into this book.

So You Want to Be a Jedi?
an original retelling of Star Wars: the Empire Strikes Back
by Adam Gidwitz
Disney / LucasFilm Press, 2015
preview on Google Books
your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
Kids will love this story's action and adventure, even if they already know how it's going to turn out in the end. Gidwitz brings readers right into the story by making the reader step into Luke's shoes--telling it through second-person narration. Here's a glimpse of the great battle on the planet Hoth:
"The rebel fire is doing nothing to slow the snow walkers, which are lumbering inexorably onward, laser blasts bouncing uselessly off their armor.
Your craft approaches the lead snow walker. Another speeder skims the snow just behind you.
Then it explodes. 'They got Rogue Seven!' Dak yells.
You grit your teeth. 'Stay with me, Dak. We're coming in.'" (chapter 9)
At school, we often talk with kids about the movie that runs in their mind as they're reading. We want them to visualize the setting, the action. We want them to connect with the character and feel what the character is feeling. Gidwitz's dramatic writing demonstrates this perfectly.

Gidwitz explains in his author's note that Star Wars can be seen as the reinvention of the classic hero's tale, as a fairy tale for modern times--much as Gidwitz tried to do with his Grimm trilogy. Much like Cinderella, Luke is a character who can be seen as a little bland, without distinguishing characteristics. But this is intentional, Gidwitz points out.
"They are avatars for the reader. They are empty so we can inhabit them, so we can do their deeds, live their lives, and learn their lessons." 
Will my 4th and 5th graders understand this? Perhaps not, but they will certainly think about Luke's heroic journey and what it takes to be a Jedi. And in the meantime, they will love the action and adventure along the way.

So You Want to Be a Jedi? is part of a trilogy of original retellings of the first three Star Wars movies. If your kids like this, you'll also want to seek out The Princess, the Scoundrel and the Farm Boy (a retelling of Star Wars: The New Hope, by Alexandra Bracken), and Beware the Power of the Dark Side! (a retelling of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, by Tom Angleberger).

The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Disney / LucasFilm Press, and we have also purchased additional copies for our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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9. The Nutcracker: a holiday tradition (ages 4-10)

Going to see The Nutcracker ballet is a special holiday tradition for many families. These two picture books celebrate the classic story in different ways: a beautiful retelling and a look at how this ballet came to be a holiday tradition.

The Nutcracker
by Susan Jeffers
HarperCollins, 2007
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
Set in Victorian times, this large picture book version of the Nutcracker is a beautiful, lush introduction to the story and the ballet. Jeffer's illustrations bring alive a sense of wonder and enchantment, with their romantic, detail-rich scenes.
"'Come,' said the Prince. They walked through falling snowflakes to a waiting boat that flew them through the night."
Jeffers captures the story with just a few lines of text per page, allowing children to savor the illustrations as the ballet comes to life in their imaginations.

In The Nutcracker Comes to America, we learn that this holiday tradition actually started with the San Francisco Ballet after World War II.
The Nutcracker Comes to America
How Three Ballet Loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition
by Chris Barton
illustrated by Cathy Gendron
Millbrook, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 6-10
When the three Christensen brothers learned ballet, they not only fell in love with dance, they also loved the show-stopping way it entranced audiences. Fast forward to 1940s when the brothers were in charge of the San Francisco Ballet, searching for a big production that would draw in crowds and they staged the first American full-length production of what was soon to become an American tradition.
"After the closing number 'Waltz of the Flowers,' two hundred or so dance students and young musicians got a standing ovation from the crowd. Willam would remember that response."
This well-researched history helps children see that what we love as classics today were actually the result of hard work and inspiration by real people.

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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10. Roller Girl, by Victoria Jamieson -- the bumpy road of adolescent friendships (ages 9-13)

It's no secret that my students love graphic novels, but many parents and teachers are still reluctant to see these as stories worth reading. Yet I would argue that Roller Girl presents a compelling story with interesting, well-developed characters who struggle with friendship issues -- and does so better than many of the more traditional novels I've read this year.

Astrid and her best friend Nicole have been best friends since 1st grade, but things begin to change as they head toward middle school. When Astrid's mom takes them to see a roller derby match, Astrid thinks it's the coolest thing ever--the players looked really tough, with weird hair, crazy names and creepy makeup. When she sees a flyer announcing a summer camp, Astrid knows she just has to go -- she is totally determined to become a roller girl.
Life isn't so neat and simple. Even though they've always done everything together, Nicole decides to go to ballet camp instead of roller derby camp. Astrid doesn't let this sway her, and heads off to roller derby camp on her own. The summer is full of ups and downs, twists and turns as Astrid navigates friendship issues and learns how to play roller derby.

Jamieson creates characters who are likable but flawed in a way that rang true with me. Astrid is strong and determined, but she jumps to conclusions at times -- and ends up coming close to ruining friendships as a result. When she grows apart from Nicole, she assumes that mean-girl Rachel is going to take her place. I especially liked the way that Jamieson shows the complexities of friendship and avoids a sugar-sweet ending. 

Learning how to play roller derby takes grit and determination. Astrid falls down time and time again. But she's inspired by her hero Rainbow Bite, who encourages her to practice and practice if she wants to get playing time. Throughout, Jamieson weaves themes of determination, honesty and friendship without overpowering the plot or making it feel didactic.

Today we discussed Roller Girl and 8 other books in the Heavy Medal Mock Newbery discussion. The rules for the Newbery Award instruct committee members to focus on the words and not the pictures--and so for many years I had considered graphic novels difficult to consider in the same way as other books. But today I had the realization that I want to look at the whole book that the author has created. 

The Newbery rules (see the Newbery terms and criteria online) instruct committee members to consider the following criteria: theme, information, plot, characters, setting and style. And so I want to start encouraging my students to think about graphic novels in terms of these criteria as well. In my view, Roller Girl is distinguished in the way it presents themes for children as they transition from childhood to adolescence. The roller derby setting is exciting, thoroughly developed and compelling. The characters are fully developed in nuanced, authentic ways. I want to focus on the overall story, as I read and talk about books with children, instead of just trying to focus on the words.

As I reflect on this story, I am reminded of the power of talking about books. We grow through our chance to share and reflect together. I entered today's discussion liking Roller Girl, but unsure how to compare it to other books. Today's discussion helps me see why my students return again and again to books like Raina Telgemeier's Smile and Kazu Kibuishi's Amulet series. It isn't just their visual appeal, it's their overall literary appeal as stories that speak to children in powerful ways.

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

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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11. 2016 Mock Newbery, part 1: All the Answers + Appleblossom the Possom (ages 8-12)

Our 4th and 5th grade Mock Newbery Book Club meets on Thursday for final discussions & voting. This week, I'll share my students' thoughts on each nominated titles (see this post for our full list). Special thanks goes to Armin Arethna, our fantastic Berkeley Public Library colleague who is a vital part of our book club--what a terrific school-public library collaboration and friendship!

As we discuss books, we start out by sharing what we like about them. We only have two or three copies of each title, so kids are reading different books all the time. We have lunch together and share about what we've been reading. If someone raves about a book, their friends start clamoring to check it out next. This "book buzz" is the best thing ever!

As more kids read a book, I start guiding the discussion a little deeper--prompting students to think about the criteria that the Newbery Committee examines, using this poster:

Students talk about these different aspects of a book in their classes, so they are able to apply them here when we start comparing books. Just like with the right committee, they end up with a few favorites and then have a terrible time deciding on which one to vote for!
All the Answers
by Kate Messner
Bloomsbury, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
*best new book*
My students *loved* this novel: a realistic friendship story touched with just a bit of magic. Ava is a worrier; whether it's homework or a test or her family, she gets anxious. Math tests are the worst. One day when Ava finds a pencil at the back of her junk drawer, she starts doing her math homework just like normal--but it turns into anything but normal when the pencil starts talking to her, telling the answers to any question she writes down.

This book spread through our 4th and 5th graders, getting passed from one friend to the next. Our two copies were checked out over 30 times in just 3 months! In the poster below, you can see how many kids wanted to share their thoughts. Right away students talked about how much they would like a pencil that told them the answers to test questions. But soon, they started reflecting on the characters, plot and themes.
As Kalia wrote, "The characters were really good." Josselin added right away how she enjoyed the characters (the Pencil and Ava). As we started talking more, students noticed how much Ava changed during the course of the novel, growing stronger and more self-assured. They realized how much they related to Ava, her worries and her dilemmas.
"I admired how Ava only used the pencil for good, not evil." -- Amelie
"I felt sad when she was sad, and I felt happy when she was happy." -- Gwen
Talking about these books, digging into them together really deepens all of our appreciation for the author's craft. Just look at what Norah wrote on our poster -- and remember that this is after she's been talking about it with her friends and classmates for two months.
"I also really liked how the author created Ava. Ava worried a bit about everything. So when you first think about her, you think oh Ava is not that strong. She's just a scaredy-cat that needs all the answers. But when you think about her more deeply, you realize, wow, Ava was very strong.  Like if you had a pencil with all the answers, would you be able to get rid of it? Would you be able to realize sometimes it is better not knowing?" -- Norah
In contrast, while students reported liking Appleblossom the Possom, it wasn't a book that kids shared much about. Two students liked it enough to nominate it, but it never created that "book buzz".
Appleblossom the Possom
by Holly Goldberg Sloan
illustrated by Gary A. Rosen
Dial / Penguin, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-12
Like for all young possums, there comes a day when Appleblossom has to venture out on her own and find her way in the world. In many ways, exploring the world is exciting for a curious youngster--but it quickly turned frightening for Appleblossom when she fell down a chimney and was trapped inside a human family's house.

Holly Goldberg Sloan creates an immediacy in the nighttime setting as seen from a possum's perspective, and she adds a humorous element by emphasizing the dramatic tendencies of possums as they learn how to "play dead". The story is full of adventure as Appleblossom's brothers work to rescue their sister.

I'm not quite sure why students didn't talk about this as much. Perhaps they found the dramatic asides to be overbearing, or perhaps Appleblossom didn't change enough to be satisfying for them. But it could also be that kids who like animal fantasies didn't come to our book club because they didn't find other animal fantasies to read. I was fascinated by the contrast between this book and Holly Goldberg Sloan's previous novel, Counting by 7s, which my students really responded to and nominated for our 2014 Mock Newbery.

Review copies were sent by the publishers, Bloomsbury and Penguin, and copies were also purchased for our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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12. 2016 Mock Newbery, part 2: Bayou Magic & Chasing Secrets (ages 8-12)

Kids who are excited by a book love telling their friends about it. And the honest truth is that they listen to their friends much more than they listen to adults. But often kids start rambling too much as they summarize the story.

Our Mock Newbery discussions have helped kids focus on what really makes a story good--what aspect of the story grabbed them. Today's books have definitely created "book buzz" at Emerson: Bayou Magic and Chasing Secrets.

This summer is Maddy's turn to visit her grandmother; each summer, Grandmére sends for one of her grandchildren, asking that they spend the summer with her in the Louisiana bayou. Maddy's older sisters warn her that Grandmére is strange, a witch, and very strict, but Maddy develops a special relationship with her and realizes that she feels at home in the bayou. In fact, Maddy senses that she has a special power to feel things, to hear things like her grandmother does.
student responses (click to enlarge)
Students loved the way Jewell Parker Rhodes describes the setting--it brought them right into feeling like they were in the bayou. But I think it's more than that; Rhodes helps them see the bayou through Maddy's eyes. She's a newcomer, but one with an innate sense of the magic in the bayou. Several commented about how many sensory details they noticed in the book. You knew how Grandmére smelled, how the hot air felt on your skin, how the light sparkled through the trees.
"I love this book so much because it feels like I'm in the book." -- Meleia
Maddy becomes good friends with Bear, a young boy who lives near her grandmother. Rhodes skillfully develops the plot, as Bear helps Maddy search for the elusive mermaid she is sure she's seen, sticking by her when all logic would say she's imagining it. And this friendship helps her believe in herself and trust her intuition, her sense of family magic as an environmental disaster is about to strike.
Chasing Secrets
by Gennifer Choldenko
Wendy Lamb / Random House, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
*best new book*
Choldenko weaves a plot with plenty of action and suspense, full of historical details but never weighed down with too many details. San Francisco in 1900 was a growing city full of wealth from railroads and the Gold Rush, but it was also a city marred by discrimination against the Chinese American community. In the midst of this, the city leaders try to cover up an outbreak of the plague, and then try to show they are handling it by quarantining Chinatown.
student responses (click to enlarge)
Lizzie can't stand all the expectations for her to act like a lady, prim and proper, when she really wants to become a doctor just like her father. Right away readers get a sense of just how different medical care was at the turn of the 20th century when Lizzie accompanies her father on a house call.
"I really admired how Lizzie wanted to be a doctor and how being a doctor was more of a man's job. She spent all of her free time reading about diseases and sicknesses, and cures. Eventurally, the plague comes and she uses everything she knows to help her family." -- Amelie
The plot is full of twists and turns, as Lizzie overhears her uncle's newspapermen colleagues talking about the plague. When Jing, the cook for Lizzie's family, fails to return home, she sets out to help him. Choldenko's steady pacing kept students interested in the mystery, as the story built to an exciting climax.
"I loved how the plot was very sophisticated, but in a way where there are a lot of little parts to find out what the end would be. In lots of other books, you can figure out the end." -- Talia
Both of these books create a specific setting and characters, so students could create a movie in their mind and imagine being right there alongside the main character. It's interesting that both of these stories are told from the first person perspective, and this helps many young readers step into the shoes of the main character. It will be interesting to see what kids think about the secondary characters in these stories, whether they feel fully developed as individual, distinct people.

The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Little, Brown and Random House, but we have also purchased additional copies for our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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13. 2016 Mock Newbery, part 4: Mad Brownie + Pip Bartlett (ages 8-11)

Kids ask for funny books all the time, but the Newbery Committee does not often honor books that kids find as truly funny. I try to honor that in the books we consider for our Mock Newbery discussions. Many have speculated that this is because humor is so subjective, but I would argue that it is more because kids value humor so much more than adults. Many kids would prefer book with lots of humor and perhaps less weighty themes.

The Diary of a Mad Brownie
by Bruce Coville
Random House, 2015
Google Books preview
audiobook (Audible)
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-11
A tiny magical creature known as a brownie, Angus Cairns is bound by a family curse to serve the youngest female in the McGonagall line. As the story opens, he must travel from Scotland to America to find Alex Carhart, the great-great-great-niece of his recent mistress. Brownies excel at putting things in order, and this could be a huge help to young Alex--except that she and Angus both have feisty tempers that often get in their way.

My students loved the humor in this story. They talked about the magical creatures with delight, saying they were well developed and came alive.
"It was so so funny." -- Kimani
"Super funny!!" -- Cavaeyah
I had so much fun listening to the audiobook for this story. Euon Morton especially brought Angus to life, with his terrific Scots accent. I would argue that Coville's use of language is outstanding, especially creating Angus' voice. Just look at how Angus describes Alex: She's a "disorderly, messy, negligent, slapdash, untidy, unfastidious, unsanitary creator of disorder," (as quoted in the PW Review).
Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Creatures
by Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic, 2015
Google Books preview
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-11
Magical animals also infuse Pip Bartlett's world, and she relishes her special ability to talk with them. She can't wait to spend the summer with her aunt, who's a vet for magical animals. But disaster seems to strike around every corner for Pip, whether it's the unicorns stampeding at a school fair, or Fuzzles catching fire as they hide in people's underwear drawers.
"I like this book because I really like the magical creatures and I want a unicorn now." -- Josselin
Students definitely liked this for the magical creatures, but they also recommended it to friends who like funny books. Pearce and Stiefvater create many laughs from both the situations Pip finds herself in, and from the outlandish behavior of some of the animals. As students talked about the story, they started to notice the growth in Pip's character.
"Pip really learns how to connect to the magical animals, and not just talk to them." -- McKenna
Both of these books are the beginnings of new series for established authors. My students are definitely looking forward to the next installments, both scheduled to be published in October.

The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Random House and Scholastic, but we have also purchased additional copies for our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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14. 2016 Mock Newbery, part 3: Enchanted Air & Fish in a Tree (ages 9-13)

We read to get to know other characters, but at the same time we read to get to know ourselves. Some of my students really want to get inside and feel what the characters in books are going through. Enchanted Air and Fish in a Tree appealed to readers who like heartfelt, emotional stories.

Enchanted Air
Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir
by Margarita Engle
Atheneum / Simon & Schuster, 2015
Google Books preview
Your local library
Amazon
ages 10-14
In this memoir in verse, poet and novelist Margarita Engle writes about her childhood growing up in Los Angeles and visiting her grandmother in Cuba. My students talked about how they felt that Engle almost had a twin living a whole life in each country, that she had twin homes--feeling at home both in Cuba and in the United States. Her heart was in both places.

Although this is a very touching story, some students felt that it was too slow. The plot didn't hook them, and so I think it was harder for them to connect to the character and her emotions. I wonder if this is a book better appreciated by a slightly older reader, or one that would benefit from more discussion with a group so students can unpack some of the ideas about immigration, identity and home.
Fish in a Tree
by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Nancy Paulsen / Penguin, 2015
Google Books preview
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
Aly Nickerson has changed schools nearly every year: seven schools in the past seven years. With each new teacher, she acts out and dodges questions to cover up the fact that she cannot read. Letters and words dance on the page. Aly's confusion and anger touched my students, but it was really her journey that made them recommend this to friends with earnest enthusiasm.
"I thought that the characters were strong because I felt what they felt. The author could evoke their feelings." -- Rebecca
student responses (click to enlarge)
Students talked right away about how Lynda Mullaly Hunt helped them understand the range of Aly's complex emotions, feeling empathy but never pity. Aly's friends were all interesting, distinct characters. While adults might wonder why Aly's previous teachers never noticed her dyslexia, my students just loved her relationship with Mr. Daniels.
"I like how the book showed that just because you are different doesn't mean you can't shine." -- Norah
This is a book that will continue to touch students for years to come.

The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Simon & Schuster and Penguin, but we have also purchased additional copies for our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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15. Choosing a great chapter book to read aloud (ages 8-12)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

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


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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some snippets from other reviews:

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

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

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

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

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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24. Hiawatha and the Peacemaker, by Robbie Robertson and David Shannon -- a stirring, heroic tale of peace (ages 9-12)

With the news so full of violence and conflicts, I yearn to share with my students stories that show us how to resolve their disputes large and small. Hiawatha and the Peacemaker, by legendary musician and songwriter Robbie Robertson, is a powerful, stirring tale of the brave Mohawk warrior who wants revenge but ends up leading six Iroquois tribes to peace, following the guidance of the Peacemaker.

Hiawatha and the Peacemaker
by Robbie Robertson
illustrated by David Shannon
Abrams, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
*best new book*
The path to peace is never easy--it's full of anger, turmoil and resistance. Hiawatha starts telling his tell by recounting how his family was killed in battle. Afterward, he could only think of taking revenge. But one morning, a man paddled across the water in a white stone canoe. The Peacemaker said to Hiawatha, in a halting voice,
"I-I-I know of your pain. I know of your loss. I carry a message of healing. I h-h-have come to tell you of the Great Law: Fighting among our people must stop. We must come together as one body, one mind, and one heart. Peace, power and righteousness shall be the new way."
"a man paddled gently toward me... (in) his hand-carved white stone canoe"
Robbie Robertson, who is of Mohawk and Cayuga heritage, first heard this story as a young boy visiting his relatives at Six Nations of the Grand River in southern Ontario, Canada. In his author's note, he recounts the day they journeyed through "the bush" to a longhouse and heard a respected Elder tell the story of the Great Peacemaker and his disciple, Hiawatha. Now Robertson, with the aid of his son, comes full circle to becomes the storyteller.

Young readers, especially in 4th through 7th grades, will grasp the difficulties Hiawatha faced, first battling his own rage and anger at his enemies, and later as he brought the Peacemaker's message to warring tribes. Healing can only be achieved by forgiveness and trust. Hiawatha was passionate and convincing delivering his message to the Seneca and others:
"We will all perish if we continue this violence. A change must come, and the time is now. Alone, we will be broken," I said, "but together we are more powerful than the greatest warrior."
Students will be able to see how this transformed the Iroquois nations to form the united league that eventually became the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy. I think it would be fascinating for students to also apply these themes to conflicts we face today, whether in our local communities or in world politics.

David Shannon's illustrations are powerful, evocative and stunning. Although you may know him for his humorous No, David!, his picture book The Rough-Face Girl (with Rafe Martin) remains one of my all-time favorite folktales. In Hiawatha and the Peacemaker, he conveys both the heroic and mythological nature of the two main figures--but he also lets readers feel the anguish that results from the conflict and the power struggles. I found this interview with David Shannon at TeachingBooks very interesting.



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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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25. Basketball books for young fans: Stephen Curry and beyond (ages 6-12)

It's an exciting start to the basketball season for Warriors fans here in the Bay Area, and I love helping students find great books to fuel their love of the game. Below are some new basketball books geared for 2nd through 5th grade reading. But really, I've found that they all appeal to a wide range of ages.

Full disclosure--I am not a huge sports fan. While I can look at these books in terms of their readability and design, only a real fan will be able to tell you if they are accurate and interesting.

All About Basketball
by Matt Doeden
Capstone, 2015
Google Books preview
Your local library
Amazon
ages 6-9
Doeden is one of my favorite sports writers for young readers. Here he introduces the sport of basketball using short sentences, dynamic photographs and clear diagrams. "Defenders try to stop the other team from scoring. They knock the ball away. They steal passes." Throughout, Doeden uses nonfiction features like headings, captions and vocabulary to direct kids' reading. I especially noticed how diverse the photographs are, with plenty of examples of women players as well as kid and amateur players too. A terrific book for new readers who are interested in learning more about the game.
Stephen Curry
Amazing Athletes series
by Jon M. Fishman
Lerner, 2016
Google Books preview
Your local library
Amazon
ages 7-10
The Amazing Athletes series is one of our favorite new series for sports biographies. Geared for third grade readers, this series balances straightforward, simple writing with interesting details. As any of our basketball fans can tell you, Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry has racked up impressive stats, winning 2014-15 Most Valuable Player for the NBA. With this biography, readers will learn about his family life, high school and college years, and then look at his first few years playing for the Warriors. While there is not any mention of winning the 2015 NBA championship, most of my students will know all about that already.
Basketball Legends in the Making
by Matt Doeden
Sports Illustrated Kids / Capstone, 2014
Google Books preview
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-12
Instead of focusing on the classic players you may remember, this book looks at the new stars--wondering who will be the superstars of tomorrow. Young fans will like the trading card like layout which features one large action photo, a short description of the player's playing history and achievements, and a quick "Did You Know?" fact in bold print. Pair this with Side by Side Basketball Stars, also from Sports Illustrated Kids but with more challenging text, and encourage students to debate which stars are the greatest players--backing up their arguments with facts and reasons. On the easier side, I've just ordered Basketball's Greatest Stars, by S.A. Kramer, which is a new book in the Step Into Reading series.

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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