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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: ages 5-8, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 322
1. Ferocious Fluffity, by Erica S. Perl and Henry Cole (ages 4-8) -- uproariously funny (cautionary) tale

Just look at this cute little hamster on the cover--but wait, the title says it's ferocious?!? Yes, my friends, things are not always as they seem. And you better listen when your teacher says to be careful...

Ferocious Fluffity: A mighty bite-y class pet
by Erica S. Perl
illustrated by Henry Cole
Abrams, 2016
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
Right from the get-go, readers will know that Erica Perl wants them to question whether Fluffity is indeed as cute as her name suggests. And her subtitle, "a mighty bite-y class pet" gives a clue about the way she plays with rhymes. The cover only hints how uproariously funny this story is--just wait till Fluffity gets loose.

Mr. Drake's second grade class is so excited when Fluffity arrives as their new class pet. Kids call out, "She's so tiny." "She's so sweet!"/ "Such cute whiskers!" "Such cute feet!" Mr. Drake warns them that they have to wait to hold her, but every kid is yearning to hold her.
"The box was big and tall and wide.
Could there be a pet inside?"
"Look--don't touch," warns Mr. Drake, "Though the children nodded yes, / Did they mean it? Take a guess." Just a few days later, Mr. Drake is late and the class decides to take out Fluffity, passing her around. Right then, the class discovers her true FEROCIOUS nature--biting and chasing everyone down the hall and into the library!
"No one's sure who held her first.
Things got bad. Then things got worse."
Erica Perl's rhyming text is delightful to read aloud, and kids will love how the pacing adds to the excitement. I'd recommend this either as a read-aloud, or for a developing reader to read. They rhymes remind me a lot of Dr. Seuss's beginning readers. As Tasha Sackler says in her review at Waking Brain Cells,
"Perl handles her rhyme with panache, using it to up the frenzied action and to increase the humor as well. The rhyme adds a galloping pace to the book that is wonderful as well as making it a treat to read aloud."
Henry Cole's illustrations amplify the humor, with student's cartoon faces and astonished expressions. Kids will love how he contrasts Fluffity's tiny size to the kids' panicked reactions. His diverse classroom, with its African American teacher, make this even more relatable.
"First she chased them down the hall,
Through the gym, and up a wall."
So my young friends, here's hoping that you listen to your teacher's instructions. You can't always judge a book by its cover, or a pet by its size. (PS: Mr. Cole, I adore the cover and think kids will too.)

Illustrations copyright © Henry Cole, 2016, shared with permission of the publisher. The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher, Abrams 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.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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2. The Infamous Ratsos, by Karen LaReau -- Humor hooks developing readers (ages 6-9)

Reading can be tough work, so I often try to give developing readers a big dose of humor to keep them engaged in stories. These new readers also need a story that develops in a predictable way, so they can build a solid understanding of the plot and characters. The Infamous Ratsos, a new chapter book, hits the sweet spot--providing humor and a story that's engaging, but easy to follow.

The Infamous Ratsos
by Kara LaReau
illustrated by Matt Myers
Candlewick, 2016
Your local library
Amazon
ages 6-9
Louie and Ralphie want to be tough just like their dad, Big Lou. "There are two kinds of people in this world," Big Lou likes to say. "Those who are tough, and those who are soft." Louie and Ralphie decide they're going to show everyone just how tough they are.
"Let's do something," Louie says to Ralphie. "Something to make us look tough."
The brothers decide to play mean tricks on other people in order to look tough. On the playground, they steal big badger's hat on the playground, trying to look like playground bullies. But it turns out that they've rescued Tiny Crawley's hat which the badger (the real bully) had stolen. Nothing ever comes out quite like they plan--instead of doing dastardly deeds, they help people.
"That was nice of you boys, sticking up for Tiny," says Miss Beavers.
"We're not nice, we're TOUGH," Louie tries to explain...
But no one is listening. Instead, everyone on the playground is looking at the Ratso brothers like their heroes.
Short chapters, frequent illustrations and large font make this book well suited for developing readers. In four successive chapters, Ralphie and Louie try to do mean things and show everyone just how bad they are. Young readers will enjoy finding how things will turn out badly for the brothers, and soon will start predicting their mishaps.

I especially enjoyed the ending, when their dad finds out about how they've been helping people at school and in the neighborhood. LaReau has laid the groundwork--Big Lou's reaction isn't just that of a tough guy. He has a soft heart, too, especially when he thinks about Mama Ratso, who's been "gone" for a little while now.
"Being tough all the time is so... so... tough," says their father. He puts his arms around the Ratso brothers and pulls them close.
This beginning chapter book, similar in difficulty to a Frog and Toad book, will engage developing readers with its humor and twists, providing nice moments for talking about what the brothers learn in the story. A great choice for late 1st grade or early 2nd grade readers. Here's hoping for more trouble from the Louie and Ralphie.

Illustrations copyright © Matt Myers, 2016, shared with permission of the publisher. The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher, Candlewick. 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. The Thank You Book, by Mo Willems: A terrific finale for Elephant and Piggie (ages 4-8)

It's almost the end of the year for us, and kids are starting to think about how hard it is to say goodbye to favorite teachers. I wish I could give every teacher a copy of The Thank You Book, Mo Willem's terrific finale for his Elephant and Piggie series.

This is a must-read series; kids of all ages love the friendship and banter between Elephant and Piggie, especially 1st graders who are venturing into reading independently.

The Thank You Book
from the Elephant and Piggie series
by Mo Willems
Disney-Hyperion, 2016
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
*best new book*
Gerald and Piggie are best friends. They help each other, they play with each other, and they give each other advice--plenty of it. Piggie is outgoing, and Gerald is cautious. Piggie tends to be head-strong, while Gerald tends to be a worrier. This combination creates plenty of laughs, and it lets kids see different sides of their own personalities.

Kids love reading Elephant and Piggie books aloud--the whole story is told through dialog which bubbles over with emotion. As my friend Carrie Gelson wrote in her Goodreads review,
"This series has transformed many a little reader. It has given the gift of expression, confidence, laughter and fun. And it ends with gratitude."
Gerald and Piggie have starred in twenty five books(!!) together. For their finale, Piggie decides to thank everyone. She's so happy, that she's thanking of all her friends, "everyone who is important to me." But Gerald is worried that she might forget someone...someone very important.
"Thank you all for being great friends!"
Willems creates tension with ease, as Gerald gets more and more upset. Readers are just sure that he wants Piggie to thank HIM, but Willems pulls out the perfect surprise ending.
"You are forgetting someone! Someone VERY important."
In a delightful twist, Gerald turns to Piggie and reminds her that they need to thank their readers. “We could not be ‘us’ without you,” says Gerald. Piggie joins in, adding, “You are the best!” Talk about a moment that melts my heart, each and every time I read it. Willems honors the hard work that young readers do in bringing stories to life, and he does so with joy, humor and heart.

As a teacher and a librarian, I want to thank every child who's shared their reading lives with me, every parent who's entrusted their child to me, every author who's shared a bit of themselves with us through their words. Thank YOU, Mo Willems, for bringing so much joy to all of us, helping us create so many teachable moments, so many wonderful conversations.

Head on over to ThankoRama.com to download, print, and fill out your own #ThankoRama speech bubbles. Teachers, definitely check out The World of Elephant and Piggie Teaching Guide.

Thank you, my blog readers, for sharing the joy of reading with me and with all the kids in your lives! The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Disney-Hyperion. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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4. Summer reading: Encouraging children to enjoy reading more

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

Parents and children know that it’s important for children to develop strong reading skills--the question I hear so many parents asking is, “How can I get my child to enjoy reading more?” They’re absolutely right. Enjoying reading is key--we want our kids to get lost in books, totally absorbed in whatever they're reading.
from Flickr, by Piulet
We do what we enjoy doing--that’s basic human nature, isn’t it? Reading develops only with practice -- the more you read, the better you get; the better you get, the more you read. So how do we help children enjoy reading and choose to read more often?

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

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

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

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

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


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5. Starting School: 10 favorite picture books (ages 3-6)

Starting school is a big deal in a little person's life. I love sharing these ten picture books with kids throughout the fall. In part, it's creating a shared experience--letting kids know they aren't the only ones going through these experiences. It's also a time to notice all the changes and talk about what's happening.

10 picture books for the beginning of school
Preschoolers will particularly like the energetic, sweet rhyming in Susan Katz's ABC, School's for Me and the fun song that goes along with Pete the Cat.

Kids new to kindergarten will be reassured that they'll quickly get used to kindergarten, just like monkey in Monkey: Not Ready for Kindergarten. Other new kindergarteners will love the out-of-this-world energy of Planet Kindergarten. My teenagers still smile at the classic ABC story of Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten.

If your little one is anxious, they might like the upbeat reassurance in Little Lola, or they might like the way Hyewon Yum turns the tables in Mom, It's My First Day of Kindergarten! showing how nervous parents are, even if the kids have everything under control.

Do you have any favorite books to share as your kids start the school year? I love adding to my collection!

The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Macmillan, Harper Collins, Chronicle, Penguin, Random House, Simon & Schuster and Boyds Mills. 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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6. The Infamous Ratsos, by Kara LaReau -- Humor hooks developing readers (ages 6-9)

Reading can be tough work, so I often try to give developing readers a big dose of humor to keep them engaged in stories. These new readers also need a story that develops in a predictable way, so they can build a solid understanding of the plot and characters. The Infamous Ratsos, a new chapter book, hits the sweet spot--providing humor and a story that's engaging, but easy to follow.

The Infamous Ratsos
by Kara LaReau
illustrated by Matt Myers
Candlewick, 2016
Your local library
Amazon
ages 6-9
Louie and Ralphie want to be tough just like their dad, Big Lou. "There are two kinds of people in this world," Big Lou likes to say. "Those who are tough, and those who are soft." Louie and Ralphie decide they're going to show everyone just how tough they are.
"Let's do something," Louie says to Ralphie. "Something to make us look tough."
The brothers decide to play mean tricks on other people in order to look tough. On the playground, they steal big badger's hat on the playground, trying to look like playground bullies. But it turns out that they've rescued Tiny Crawley's hat which the badger (the real bully) had stolen. Nothing ever comes out quite like they plan--instead of doing dastardly deeds, they help people.
"That was nice of you boys, sticking up for Tiny," says Miss Beavers.
"We're not nice, we're TOUGH," Louie tries to explain...
But no one is listening. Instead, everyone on the playground is looking at the Ratso brothers like their heroes.
Short chapters, frequent illustrations and large font make this book well suited for developing readers. In four successive chapters, Ralphie and Louie try to do mean things and show everyone just how bad they are. Young readers will enjoy finding how things will turn out badly for the brothers, and soon will start predicting their mishaps.

I especially enjoyed the ending, when their dad finds out about how they've been helping people at school and in the neighborhood. LaReau has laid the groundwork--Big Lou's reaction isn't just that of a tough guy. He has a soft heart, too, especially when he thinks about Mama Ratso, who's been "gone" for a little while now.
"Being tough all the time is so... so... tough," says their father. He puts his arms around the Ratso brothers and pulls them close.
This beginning chapter book, similar in difficulty to a Frog and Toad book, will engage developing readers with its humor and twists, providing nice moments for talking about what the brothers learn in the story. A great choice for late 1st grade or early 2nd grade readers. Here's hoping for more trouble from the Louie and Ralphie.

Illustrations copyright © Matt Myers, 2016, shared with permission of the publisher. The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher, Candlewick. 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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7. 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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8. 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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9. Daniel Finds a Poem, by Micha Archer -- exploring nature, finding wonder everywhere (ages 5-9)

As we launch into National Poetry Month, I want to start by sharing Daniel Finds a Poem--an absolutely beautiful new picture book that celebrates finding poetry all around us. I adore watching spring burst forth--and this book inspires me to stop, pause and take note of all the wonder around me.

Daniel Finds a Poem
by Micha Archer
Nancy Paulsen Books / Penguin, 2016
Preview on Google Books
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-9
"What is poetry?" Daniel wonders as he sees a sign announcing a poetry performance in his local park. In this picture book, Micha Archer helps children see that poetry can be a moment of stopping to notice what's around you--just catching that moment in time, that spot in a place you know.
"On Monday morning, Daniel sees something new on the park gate: POETRY IN THE PARK...
'What is poetry?' Daniel says."
As he wanders through his local park and neighborhood, Daniel watches and asks different animals for their views on what poetry is. With his dark curly hair and eyes full of wonder, Daniel soaks each detail. Notice how Archer keeps the child part of each moment, even though the story is really about poetry and nature. This helps keep the child reader part of the story each step of the way.
"He looks up in surprise when he hears Spider say,
'To me, poetry is when morning dew glistens.'"
"'Poetry is when crisp leaves crunch,' Squirrel tells him."
Archer's illustrations are so lush, pulling readers into each scene, inviting them to linger and soak up the beauty just as Daniel does. I especially like the ending, as Daniel takes the small details each of the animals shares and creates his own found poem--and then performs it for a small audience in the park.

Share this delightful story and stop to notice the small details all around us. A wonderful introduction for poetry in the classroom or at home--best suited for kindergarten through 3rd graders as they start writing their own poems.

Illustrations ©2016 Micha Archer, used with permission of the publisher. The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher, Nancy Paulsen Books, 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.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

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

Illustrations from Woodpecker Wham copyright ©2015 Steve Jenkins, used with permission of the publisher. Text from Every Day Birds written by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater. Illustrations copyright 2016 by Dylan Metrano. Used with permission from Orchard Books/Scholastic. The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Macmillan and Scholastic. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

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

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

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

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

The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Time, Inc. (via BlueSlip Media) and Capstone Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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15. 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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16. 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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17. 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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18. Finding Friends, Resolving Conflicts -- 5 terrific new books, and 2 old favorites (ages 4-9)

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

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

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

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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19. Friendshape, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld -- upbeat and funny, but with a thoughtful message (ages 4-8)

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

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

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

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

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

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

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

Illustrations ©2015 Tony DiTerlizzi. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Disney Hyperion. Giveaway open to US addresses only. Prizing is provided by Disney Publishing. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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21. Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret, by Bob Shea -- a favorite new friend for beginning readers (ages 4-8)

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

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

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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22. Halloween picture books: 5 new favorites (ages 4-9)

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

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

You might also enjoy seeing these other Halloween recommendations:
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers: Chronicle Books, Macmillan, Houghton Mifflin, Bloomsbury and Little, Brown. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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25. Around the world--sharing with children a sense of global community (ages 4-9)

As our news is filled with global and local conflict, I wonder about how to share a sense of our global community with our young children. Their experiences are rooted in their immediate surroundings. So how do we share a sense that things are similar for children in other parts of the world?


Two beautiful picture books help young children think about how our experiences are similar but different, without being didactic. Instead, they draw children into observing and reflecting other family's moments in the same day.
How the Sun Got to Coco's House
by Bob Graham
Candlewick, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
The moon peeks in through Coco's window as her parents tuck her into bed, but on the other side of the world the sun is rising over a polar bear family. The sun is busy already, lighting the way for a fishing boat, catching the eye of a great whale, "making shadows on the snow and in Jung Su's footsteps." 
"It balanced out on the wing--just for young Lovejoy, off to visit his grandma."

Readers follow the sun from one brief moment to another, watching the rising sun crest over a yurt and bounce off the tip of an airplane. As readers wonder what has happened to Coco, they turn the page and "the winter sun barged straight through Coco's window!" 
"It followed her down the hall,
made itself quite at home on her mom and dad's bed,
and joined them for breakfast."
Throughout, Bob Graham varies the perspective--taking readers close up to some children's lives and looking down from up high at others. The story ends by gradually pulling back on the view of Coco playing outside on a winter's day with her friends, helping readers see her small, immediate world in a larger context of her factory town.

French artist and author Clotilde Perrin follows one point in time across different time zones across the globe, in the striking picture book At the Same Moment, Around the World.
At the Same Moment, Around the World
by Clotilde Perrin
Chronicle, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-9
This story begins in Dakar, Senegal at six o'clock in the morning, as Keita helps his father count the fish caught during night. Following eastward, Perrin moves around the globe. “At the same moment,” it is 7 a.m. in Paris and Benedict is drinking his hot chocolate before school--while it is 8 a.m. in Bulgaria and Mitko is chasing the school bus. Each spread shows two time zones, emphasizing the point that these are happening at the same moment.
"At the same moment, in Hanoi, Vietnam, it is one o'clock in the afternoon, and Khahn takes a nap despite the noise outside.
At the same moment, in Shanghai, China, it is two o'clock in the afternoon, and Chen practices for the Lunar New Year parade."
Perrin's artwork is full of small details and drama, including some darker moments--lending complexity to the simple prose. A foldout world map in the end helps readers locate each place and names all these children.

The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Candlewick and Chronicle. 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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