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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: ages 5-8, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 262
1. Sharks ahoy: fun with sharks for 1st & 2nd graders -- giving books & toys for lasting fun (ages 5-8)

There's no doubt about it: sharks are cool--especially great white sharks. They're fast, they're strong and they're big. Here are three books that spark a little kid's imagination and weave in fascinating facts. Combine them with a toy shark, and you're all set to go.

Fly Guy Presents: Sharks
by Tedd Arnold
Scholastic, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-8
Buzz and Fly Guy are two hugely popular characters with our beginning readers--so I was very excited to see this new blend of nonfiction and cartoons. In this book, Buzz visits his local aquarium and his best friend Fly Guy comes along.
"A shark uses its sharp teeth to rip prey. Then the shark swallows the meat whole--without even chewing." -- already an Emerson favorite!
My students love the combination of cartoon characters and dialog with clear nonfiction facts and color photographs. When the text explains that sharks don’t have any bones, and their cartilage helps them turn quickly, Fly Guy wonders, “NO BONEZ?”--adding just the right humor for young kids. Throughout, the sentences are short and clear, just right to read with kindergarteners or for 2nd graders to read by themselves.

Stink and the Shark Sleepover
by Megan McDonald
illustrated by Peter Reynolds
Candlewick, 2014
Google books preview
Your local library
Amazon
ages 6-9
Stink and the Shark Sleepover also combines humor and facts, but this time with a longer chapter book that's great to read aloud with young kids. Our students love the whole Stink series--Judy Moody's little brother who has his own series. You really don't need to read the series in order, especially if you're reading it aloud together.

Stink’s parents win tickets for a family sleep over at the local aquarium, and Stink is thrilled! Right away, he runs up to get all his things to bring.
"What's all this junk?" Judy asked.
"It's for the sleepover. There's my shark sleeping bag and Leroy my stuffed tiger shark that I use for a pillow sometimes and my Big Mouth Book of Sharks."
"Is that all?" Judy teased.
"Oh. Yeah. I can't forget to wear my shark-tooth necklace... Check it out. Shark slippers."
"Check it out. Shark slippers."
Stink loves the sea-creature scavenger hunt, the jellyfish light show, and the sharks with their razor-sharp teeth. But will he and his friends really be able to fall asleep after hearing creepy stories?

McDonald clearly loves the science aspect and intersperses this fun story with high-interest facts. Reynold's illustrations help kids create those "movies in our minds" that help all readers--especially ones new to chapter books--build a sense of the story.
Safari Ltd. plastic shark
Melissa and Doug plush shark

Combine either of these with a toy shark, and you'll create hours of fun. I think 1st and 2nd graders would like either a realistic plastic shark or a soft stuffed animal shark. Check these out:

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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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2. The Hula-Hoopin' Queen: terrific picture book + gift idea (ages 5-10)

Each holiday I love pairing books with toys that kids will enjoy. Kids love toys (duh!) and these pairings extend the experience of both book and toy by capturing their imagination. This week, I'll share posts each day with fun ideas.

The Hula-Hoopin' Queen would be a perfect grandma gift for a young reader -- especially from a grandma that's still young at heart. Pair it with a sparkly hula hoop and you're all set!
The Hula-Hoopin' Queen
by Thelma Lynne Godin
illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Lee & Low
, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-10
Kameeka loves hula hooping and is sure she can become the Hula-Hoopin’ Queen of 139th Street--but Mama reminds her that she has to help get ready for Miz Adeline’s birthday. After all, Miz Adeline took care of Mama and Kameeka when they each were babies. How will Kameeka ever get all these things done and get outside to beat her rival Jamara?
"Girl, don't you even think about it. You know today is Miz Adeline's birthday."
When Kameeka heads out to run an errand, she sees Jamara and just can't avoid stepping up to save her reputation. By the time she gets home, it's too late to make the birthday cake! I especially love the ending, as Miz Adeline lets Kameeka see how much she loved hula hooping when she was a kid.
"Neighborhood kids crowd around as Jamara and I hoop."
Godin's text has snap and is great fun to read aloud. Brantley-Newton's illustrations really appeal to my students, capturing the feel of our multicultural urban community.

Pair this fun book with a hula hoop set and maybe you'll inspire some intergenerational or neighborly contests of your own.

Illustrations copyright ©Vanessa Brantley-Newton, 2014, shared via Lee and Low site and Thelma Lynne Godin's site. The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher, Lee and Low Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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3. Visiting grandparents: three picture books to share (ages 3-8)

As the holidays approach, many children are excited about visiting grandparents. I wanted to share three different picture books that show different small moments as children spend time with their grandparents.

Hot Hot Roti for Dada-Ji
by F. Zia
illustrated by Ken Min
Lee and Low, 2011
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-8
Young Aneel’s grandfather Dada-ji has great fun telling how he got “the power of a tiger” when he was a boy by eating the best roti in town. Aneel is so excited that he races to the kitchen to make this Indian flatbread.

Kids love the way that Dad-ji exaggerates the story from his childhood. Zia's writes with verve and gusto. She is "a writer and an elementary school teacher who grew up in Hyderabad, India." As Aneel starts gathering ingredients to make his roti, the fun really begins. Kids can relate to how food brings people together and will love the way Aneel takes charge.
Max and the Tag-Along Moon
by Floyd Cooper
Philomel / Penguin, 2013
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-7
Saying goodbye can be particularly hard for young kids. When young Max must say goodbye to his grandpa, the young boy points to the full moon shining above. Grandpa promises him that “that ol’ moon will always shine for you...on and on!”

As Max drives home, he keeps watch of that same moon and is reassured by its presence. This quiet warm book glows softly with the love between African American grandfather and grandson. It's a wonderful read-aloud that helps talk about how the people we love stay with us in our hearts long after we have to say goodbye.
Nana in the City
by Lauren Castillo
Clarion / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 3-6
What do we do when our children are afraid? You'd never know it by looking at the cover, but this young boy is scared by all the noises and commotion in the bustling city. He's excited to see his Nana and her new apartment, but oh how the city noises are just too much.

I love how this wonderful Nana listens, understands and helps the young boy overcome his fears. She never dismisses his fears, but she shows him how he can be brave and she'll be right there with him. I also love how Castillo shows a grandmother who lives in the city and loves exploring. Below you can see how the little boy slowly changes his mind, with his Nana right by his side:
"But Nana was right. The city was not filled with scary things..."
Do you have a favorite book that reminds your children of times they spend with their grandparents? Or maybe after the holidays, you and your child could write a story together about a day they spent with their grandparents.

The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Lee & Low, Penguin and Clarion. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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4. Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California's Farallon Islands, by Katherine Roy (ages 7-11) -- absolutely terrific, gripping nonfiction!!

Did you know the world’s largest wild population of great white sharks lives just 30 miles from San Francisco? How about that white sharks are the world's largest predatory fish, growing up to 21 feet long? Sharks **fascinate** my students and Neighborhood Sharks, by Katherine Roy, is absolutely terrific. They can't get enough of this new book!
Neighborhood Sharks
Hunting the Great Whites of California's Farallon Islands
by Katherine Roy
David Macaulay Studio / Macmillan, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 7-11
*best new book*
Katherine Roy, as both illustrator and author, combines compelling paintings with informative text to explain how these predators are able to hunt down their perfect prey so effectively. She focuses on the shark’s streamlined body, warmed blood, excellent vision, endless teeth and projectile jaws--providing clear scientific information while hooking readers with dramatic, vibrant paintings.

What I loved best reading this with both 2nd graders and 5th graders is how different students can access the wide range of information she provides.  Younger students listened to some of the text, but really examined the illustrations and thought about them. They loved this drawing comparing the shark's body to an airplane (see below) -- and together we talked about different things that help sharks swim so quickly.
from Neighborhood Sharks, by Katherine Roy
As teachers, we call this visual literacy--helping students understand diagrams, gaining information from illustrations--an essential skill, especially for nonfiction. Illustrators talk about how they're layering the information, both in the visuals and the text. But really, the kids are just soaking up knowledge, fascinated by how sharks hunt, eat and grow.

In Neighborhood Sharks, Roy not only shares information about sharks, but she also helps kids think about the scientists who study the sharks. She spent four days at sea with them, observing them, learning about their work studying these powerful animals, making sure that all her facts were correct -- so she could really give readers the feeling that you are there swimming with the sharks.
Katherine Roy, out on the water with the Farallon shark team
Are you as fascinated by this as my students and I are? Check out Katherine Roy's blog -- I especially loved reading about her inspiration for adventure and seeing some of the drawings progress. I will be interviewing Katherine for Parents Press in January and can't wait to share more of our conversation. Until then, go find a copy of this book!

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

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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5. Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Tale, by Eric Kimmel (ages 5-9) -- a wonderful new holiday story

My students and I love sharing our favorite holiday stories, and this week we read a new Hanukkah story that's sure to become a favorite. I especially enjoyed our discussion afterward -- this story is rich with feeling and meaning, perfect for reading together.
Simon and the Bear
A Hanukkah Tale
by Eric Kimmel
illustrated by Matthew Trueman
Disney-Hyperion, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-9
Young Simon is bound for America, with just his rucksack, a bit of food his mother packed, and a lot of determination--like many who have left their homes in search of work and opportunity. He's lucky, getting the last ticket on a ship leaving for America.
Simon "managed to get the very last ticket for a ship bound for America."
But Simon's luck ends quickly when his ship strikes an iceberg--ooh, just like the Titanic, many of my students said. After generously giving up his place in a lifeboat, Simon leaps onto the iceberg. When a giant polar bear approaches, Simon shares his food and makes a new friend. Is it a Hanukkah miracle that brings a friendly polar bear to Simon, or is it his caring, generous nature?
"He crept over to the bear and snuggled against her fur."
My students loved the way Eric Kimmel crafts this story. They shared many ideas about how Simon found the strength to endure this hardship. All of them noticed his courage, but they also noticed Simon's empathy, thinking about the man to whom he gave his place on the lifeboat. We talked about how Simon thought about what the polar bear might want, sharing his food with the bear--at school, we talk about this as listening with our ears, eyes and heart.

Eric Kimmel is one of my favorite authors--it would be fascinating to compare Simon to Hershel from Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, a classic holiday story I love to read with students. Is Hershel brave and compassionate in the same way as Simon? If you like peering into how authors come up with their stories, check out Eric Kimmel's blog post he wrote just as he submitted Simon and the Bear to his editor.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Disney-Hyperion. All illustrations are copyright ©Matthew Trueman, 2014, and shared with permission of the publisher. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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6. Catch That Cookie! by Hallie Durand and David Small -- a fun twist on a classic tale (ages 4-8)

Every year, our kindergarten classes read different variations of the Gingerbread Man folktale. This year, we're adding in a new twist to our collection: Catch That Cookie! by Hallie Durand and David Small. Our students loved the humor, twists and turns of this take on one of their favorite stories.
Catch That Cookie!
by Hallie Durand
illustrations by David Small
Dial Books / Penguin, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
Marshall's class has been reading Gingerbread Man stories all week, and he's sure these stories are just made up. Those gingerbread men can't run away--they're just cookies, after all. But when his class opens the oven to take out their gingerbread men, they've disappeared!
"But when they looked in the oven... there was nothing inside!"
The gingerbread men leave behind clues for the students to follow, and my students loved the suspense that these twists added to the story. Each clue is crafted with a rhyme, so that kids can take part in figuring out where the gingerbread men have gone.
"Too bad you didn't catch us,
'Cause we taste like candy.
Now we're on vacation
On a beach that's _________."
"Sandy!" my students shouted. While the rest of his class runs off to follow the clues, Marshall notices small details that his classmates don't see. He spots a raisin that might be from his gingerbread man's eye, and later notices a silver ball that was from the gingerbread man's belt.

"He turned the pot over and ... felt something soft and small. A raisin!"
My students definitely liked the way this story was more of a mystery than the traditional gingerbread man story -- they talked about how the original story is more a fun chase story, and here Marshall has to figure out what's happening. They also loved the ending, as Marshall discovers where the cookies are hiding.

This story will work best if kids know the gingerbread man story. I started by looking at Eric Kimmel's The Gingerbread Man, and asking students to retell the story just from the pictures. For more versions, check out the Padlet that terrific librarian Margie Culver put together.

Add some extra fun with your own gingerbread party or scavenger hunt! I'll be giving a bundle of gingerbread man stories to my nephews, along with some cookie cutters of their own.

The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher, Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Group. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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7. #WeNeedDiverseBooks -- recommending books from a wide range of perspectives (ages 4-14)

#WeNeedDiverseBooksEarlier this year, several authors banded together to put out the cry: #WeNeedDiverseBooks. What started as a call for action quickly turned viral, drawing the support of librarians, teachers, booksellers and authors nationwide. This past weekend's KidLitCon, with its focus on diversity and speaking out, prompted me to share this presentation below.

Our community in Berkeley is incredibly diverse, and I constantly try to seek out books that represent a wide range of perspectives. I want my students to be able to see themselves in books, and I want them to be able to see into others' worlds.

Although the vast majority of children's books still represent the dominant white perspective, there are many books that share diverse points of view. Our responsibility, as parents and librarians, is to seek out and celebrate books that represent a wide range of perspectives. Below is my start at that -- a celebration of diverse books for children ages 4-14. Most are new, but some are also favorites that librarians in my district have recommended.


Please let me know if there are other new diverse titles we should recommend to kids, and I will update this presentation in a few weeks. I have read many, but not all of the books in this presentation. All come with a recommendation from a fellow book-lover that I respect.

Here are a few more titles that folks have already suggested that I include:



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

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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8. Scary stories for beginning readers (ages 5-8)

Kids get so excited about Halloween -- and I love tapping into that excitement in the library, especially if I can hook more kids into reading. Writing for beginning readers must be one of the most difficult tasks. Here are two books that are goofy-scary, funny but with enough creepiness to keep young kids reading.

illustrated by Michael Emberly
Little, Brown, 2007
ages 5-8
These stories, part of a favorite series with 1st and 2nd graders, are ideal for reading aloud. Each poem is meant to be read by two voices, alternating back and forth. Hoberman uses the spooky settings creating delightful fun and celebrating joy in reading.

Here's the beginning of "The Mummy" as two kids go exploring and discover a mummy. "Let's explore inside this tomb, / I'm afraid we'll meet our doom." I love the rhythm and rhyme of Hoberman's text, and Emberly's pictures reach just the right balance between goofy and creepy.
sample from Mary Ann Hoberman's website
Hoberman's poems focus on thirteen different Halloween mainstays, ranging from "The Skeleton" to "The Witch and the Broomstick." Seek out all the titles in this terrific series.
Monster School
The Spooky Sleepover
I Can Read! #2
by Dave Keane
Harper Collins, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-8
Norm is a nervous about his first sleepover--it's going to be at school, and it's his first time sleeping away from home. "I miss my bed already," worried Norm. Kids will relate to Norm's worries, but they'll laugh at all the word play in this story.

Norm's friends at school are all monsters, from Gary the ghost to Harry the werewolf who turns hairy. Keane does a great job creating funny interplay between the words and pictures. Below, you can see that Isaac, the purple monster in the blue PJs, is literally crying his eyes out -- and they're bouncing all around him. 2nd graders love this play on words, plus the silly gross-out factor.
sample from iTunes preview
Keane's Monster School series works well for kids who can read longer sentences on their own, but still want short, high-interest stories to keep them engaged.

Are there other monster or ghost stories that work well for your developing readers? Our superhero beginning readers are also in high demand right now, especially with kindergartners and first graders.

The review copy of Monster School was kindly sent by the publishers, HarperCollins Publishers. The review copy of You Read to Me, I'll Read to You 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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9. Counting the days 'till Halloween: two books to share (ages 3-8)

Young kids love Halloween, but some find scary costumes and stories too frightening. So I'm always on the lookout for books that are a little bit creepy, but are still playful and fun. Two new favorites have lots of kid appeal and throw in practice with counting that's just right for preschoolers and kindergartners.

Ten Orange Pumpkins
A Counting Book
by Stephen Savage
Dial / Penguin, 2013
Your local library
Amazon
ages 3-6
Ten pumpkins start the night neatly stacked outside a farmer's house, but they disappear one by one as they night progresses. Savage combines bold illustrations with rhythmic rhyming text, giving young readers just enough clues so they can figure out what happens to each pumpkin. I especially love his striking use of silhouettes--they are creepy and dramatic, yet also simple and straightforward.

Look how effectively Savage uses the page turn to hook young readers (see the first two pages below). Children will love counting the pumpkins and figuring out where the missing one went. Here's a great example of a book that has so many details in the illustrations that kids can add many layers to the story beyond the text--use this to talk with kids as you read, with prompts like "So what do you notice?" and "Oh, so what happened here?"
"Ten orange pumpkins,
fresh off the vine.
Tonight will be a spooky night."
"Yikes! There are 9."
from Ten Orange Pumpkins, by Stephen Savage
Another new favorite with our kindergarten teachers is Not Very Scary. They love this cumulative story not only for its counting practice, but also for its message. While we all might get a little bit scared at Halloween, it's really just all our friends having fun.
Not Very Scary
by Carol Brendler
illustrated by Greg Pizzoli
Farrar Straus Giroux / Macmillan, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
Melly, a cute litte monster, is excited to walk over to her cousin Malberta's house for a Halloween party. Sure it's a gloomy night, but Melly isn't scared--even when she sees "a coal-black cat with an itchy-twitchy tail." She tells herself how brave she is, but readers can tell that she's actually getting scared. Turn the page, and Melly sees "two skittish skeletons" dancing along after the cat.
from Not Very Scary, by Carol Brendler & Greg Pizzoli
Young children know just how Melly feels, getting more and more frightened as each ghoulish creature turns up. This makes the final resolution all the more enjoyable, as Melly realizes that they are all just Malberta's friends coming along to the Halloween party.

Brendler uses wonderfully descriptive language, full of alliteration (grimy goblins, spindly spiders) that makes reading it aloud a joy. Pizzoli's illustrations strike just the right balance, emphasizing the silly fun each creature brings, but never making them too scary. I had a great time reading about his illustration process on his blog and over at his interview at Seven Impossible Things.

The review copy of Not Very Scary was kindly sent by the publishers, Macmillan Books. The review copy of Ten Orange Pumpkins 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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10. The Monsterator, by Keith Graves -- and other fiendish delights (ages 5-9)

Do your children want to be something goulishly great on Halloween? Do monsters delight them? There's no doubt that The Monsterator, with its bold promise of 625 monsters inside, will captivate many young readers who dream of something "screamingly scary."
The Monsteratorby Keith GravesRoaring Brook, 2014
Your local libraryAmazonages 5-9
*best new book*
Young Master Edgar Dreadbury finds your standard Halloween costumes a terrible bore. "I wish I could be something screamingly scary. / Something fanged and foul and horribly hairy!" Graves draws readers in with rhyming text that is a delight to read aloud, but he really grabs readers when Edgar steps into The Monsterator. All of a sudden, Edgar is completely transformed "from his teeth to his toes."
The Monsterator, by Keith Graves
"When the machine finally quit,
Edgar crashed through the door.
He banged on his chests with his fists
and roared."
The Monsterator, by Keith Graves
I love how Graves strikes just the right balance between frightening and fun for first and second graders. But what they will love most of all is the surprise at the end, when they can "monsterate" young Edgar, by turning a series of flaps to create hundreds of different creatures.

If you like this, you might like some of these other monsterish favorite picture books:
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Macmillan Books. Illustrations of The Monsterator are copyright ©2014 Keith Graves, used with permission of the publisher. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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11. Firebird, by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers -- follow your dreams and soar (ages 6-10)

We want to teach our children to follow their dreams, to reach for the stars -- but we also want them to realize that it takes hard work, practice and perseverance to get there. Firebird is a beautiful, stirring new picture book by ballerina Misty Copeland that shares both of these messages, and more.
Firebird
Ballerina Misty Copeland Shows a Young Girl How to Dance Like the Firebird
by Misty Copeland
illustrated by Christopher Myers
G.P. Putnam's / Penguin, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 6-10
*best new book*
As you begin reading this picture book with children, you'll need to take on two voices, for Copeland creates a conversation between a young girl who dreams of dancing and herself as a professional ballerina. The girl looks up to Copeland, saying, "the space between you and me is longer than forever" -- how could I ever become as beautiful and graceful as you?
"you are the sky and clouds and air"
Firebird, by Misty Copeland & Christopher Myers
The real magic begins when Copeland turns to the young girl, reassuring her that she was once just as small, just as shy, that "you're just where I started." Through this poetic conversation, Copeland conveys that this young girl can become a professional dancer if she puts in the hours of work, sweat and practice.
"I was a dancer just like you
a dreaming shooting star of a girl
with work and worlds ahead"
Share this picture book with older students, perhaps 3rd and 4th graders, who can understand Copeland's poetic language and the interplay between the two characters. Encourage them to read this story more than once--it is one that really grew in my heart each time I read it.

Deepen their appreciation for Copeland's message by encouraging them to learn more about her as a professional dancer. Read her afterword, a note to the reader about why she wanted to write this story.
"My hopes are that people will feel empowered to be whatever they want to be... No matter what that dream is, you have the power to make it come true with hard work and dedication, despite what you look like or struggle with."
Students would find this ABC News interview very interesting:


Christopher Myers' artwork brings strength and grace to this story with dramatic lines and colors. The idea for this book was actually Chris's, as Misty told Jules Danielson in a recent Kirkus article. His mixed media collages contrast the bold colors of ballet with the young girl's grey concrete world, but they also juxtapose angular lines with the dancers' dynamic graceful movement.

I can't wait to hear what my students say about this. I think this is a book that they, too, will return to time and time again. The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Penguin Random House. Illustrations are copyright ©2014 Christopher Myers. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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13. Reading Levels: Using them to help kids get hooked on reading

Our Berkeley Unified teachers have just completed five days of conferences with parents, and I wanted to follow up with a librarian's perspective on recommending books for kids. Our teachers do a remarkable job individually assessing students' reading levels to gauge their progress, development and challenges. At each conference, they let parents know how their children are developing and what level they have reached. But what do parents do with this level?

Reading to stuffies happens every day in our library
Reading levels are only useful if they can help guide children toward books that are enjoyable, interesting and appropriate for a child at that point in their reading life. I do not label my books with reading levels, and I have compared different systems enough to know that they conflict much of the time. And yet, published reading levels are helpful as a starting place if you don't know a book.

Our teachers use Fountas & Pinnell levels, which take into account a book's vocabulary, sentence length and text structure. While classrooms have leveled libraries, how do parents help direct kids at home, the library or the bookstore? My best advice is to figure out what has worked well for your child, both in terms of interest and complexity, and build on that.

Ultimately, we need to ask our children to take charge in figuring out if a book is working for them. I always ask kids to open a book, read a little and see how it feels. But I know that kids need a starting place, a way to narrow the field so they can choose from a set of books that might work. That's where reading levels and recommended lists can help.

At this year's conferences, we shared recommended reading lists which used reading levels to help direct kids and parents. Feel free to download these or share them with teachers and families in your schools.
  • Kindergarten (very beginning to read, levels C-E)
  • 1st grade (beginning to read & early chapter books, levels D-M)
  • 2nd grade (early readers & chapter books, levels H-P)
  • 3rd grade (short chapter books & novels, easy nonfiction, levels K-P)
  • 4th grade (novels & high interest nonfiction, levels O-T)
  • 5th grade (longer novels & nonfiction, levels S-W)
You'll notice that the grade levels are not included on the reading lists. Many teachers wanted to be able to use these for kids based on their reading levels, not based on the student's grade.

Finally, we shared several brochures from the wonderful Jim Trelease. My favorite is Ten Facts Parents Should Know About Reading. As he writes,
"We humans are pleasure-seekers, doing things over and over if we like it. We go to favorite restaurants and order the food and beverages we like, not the stuff we hate. So if you want to ensure children visit "reading" more often, make sure they like it more than they hate it. How do we get them to like it that much? Read on."
Friends have fun reading together!
Many thanks go to all the students at Emerson for helping me test out so many books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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14. Honoring Our Veterans: Tuesday Tucks Me In, by Luis Carlos Montalván (ages 5-10)

As students and families celebrate Veterans Day, I always think about how to honor our veterans in a way that young students today can understand. My older students love reading historical fiction, but what about younger students? This week I am sharing a new book that introduces young students to the difficulties soldiers can face returning from war, and the loving help that service dogs can provide.
Tuesday Tucks Me In
The Loyal Bond between a Soldier and his Service Dog

by Luis Carlos Montalván
Roaring Brook Press / Macmillan, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-10
Former Army Captain Luis Carlos Montalván was wounded during his two tours in Iraq. Montalván suffered from a traumatic brain injury and also post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Recovery was difficult when he returned home, and he ended up withdrawing from friends and family.

In this picture book, golden retriever service dog Tuesday shows readers what his life is like helping Montalván through daily life. He provides companionship and encouragement. Tuesday can even sense when Montalván is about to have a panic attack and can help him get through it. "Every morning my friend Louis wakes up to this... "
"Rise and shine," I tell him with a lick. "The sun is up."
Children will really like the full color photographs that help them get a sense of Tuesday's life as he navigates the subway, sidewalks and life in the city. The narrative helps readers understand the support Tuesday provides and, even more importantly, helps them empathize with Luis.
"Luis has trouble with balance, and he used to struggle on the stairs. But now he grabs my handle and knows that I am there."
I especially liked the author's note at the end, where Montalván explains service dogs to young readers. "Tuesday is a service dog. Service dogs are trained to help people with disabilities live more independent and happy lives."

I absolutely agree with the Horn Book's assessment:
"Children, even if initially just drawn in by the adorable dog pictures, will come away with a much greater understanding of the lives of both a returning vet and a service dog.”
If students found this interesting and wanted to learn more, I would direct them to these books:
Helping Dogs
by Mary Ann Hoffman

Dogs On Duty: Soldiers' Best Friends on the Battlefield and Beyond

by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent

Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle
by Brian Dennis, Kirby Larson, Mary Nethery
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Macmillan Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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15. Emily's Blue Period, by Cathleen Daly (ages 4-9)

Are there ever times that you feel the world around you is getting just too mixed up? Whether it's countries at war or friends not speaking with one another, there are times that the world seems turned upside down. Emily's Blue Period, a favorite new picture book, captures one child's reaction to such a moment and how art helped her find her way through.

Emily's Blue Period
by Cathleen Daly
illustrations by Lisa Brown
Roaring Brook / Macmillan, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-9
*best new book*
Emily loves art and particularly the artwork of Pablo Picasso. She's fascinated by the way he used shapes to compose his paintings in unusual ways: "He liked to mix things up." Emily wants to create art using all sorts of things as well, but lately she's been feeling as if her life is just too jumbled.
Emily's Blue Period, Cathleen Daly & Lisa Brown, 2014
Emily's parents have recently separated and her "dad is no longer where he belongs. Suddenly, he lives in his own little cube." Emily uses her art to express her feelings, connecting to Picasso and his blue period.
Emily's Blue Period, Cathleen Daly & Lisa Brown, 2014
I love the way Emily wrestles with her emotions, recognizing she is sad and frustrated. When her teacher asks her to make a collage of her her home, she is flummoxed--she has two homes now. Which should she show? Cathleen Daly reveals Emily's journey, letting us quietly watch her rather than telling us everything she's thinking. Lisa Brown's soothing illustrations help readers connect to Emily and visualize a sense of Picasso's blue period. Brown uses grey-blues throughout, creating a subdued tone that is never dark.

I won't give away the ending, but Daly's conclusion and Brown's final illustration are sure to bring smiles. I feel like I've found a kindred spirit in Daly. Here are just a few of the things she wrote on a recent Nerdy Book Club post:
  • As a child, "I enjoyed the company of a book as much as the company of most people, and reading as much as I did I developed a rich inner world that allowed me to be, for the most part, with or without a book, happy in my own company. This active, dense inner world also fueled a font creative endeavors."
  • "I read somewhere that Ray Bradbury said that writers should read, read, read as much as possible – this feeds the imagination to the point of bursting, that it’s likely to come spilling out on the page this way. This was certainly was true for me a child. I spent hours hanging out in the local library reading and writing."
  • "My main hope for the book is that it give solace and inspiration to young readers who may or may not be going through difficulties of their own."
Yep, a kindred spirit indeed. Share this book with children you know who are contemplative, or who are wrestling with their own blue period.

By the way, San Francisco Bay Area teachers and librarians -- both Daly and Brown live in our area. I especially love some of the material Brown shared in a recent interview over at Seven Impossible Things about her school visits. Definitely check it out!

Images used by permission of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group. The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Macmillan Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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16. Back to School Fun: Silly and Sweet (ages 3-6)

Summer is ending and soon kids will head back to school. Some are excited for new adventures, but many will be sad to see summer over. Help your kids talk about the changes that are coming with two new books that take a silly and sweet look at the new school year. These are both perfect for little kids starting preschool or kindergarten.

Greenwillow / HarperCollins, 2014
ages 4-6
Lola is one cute little kitty, ready to pounce, play and explore. When she finds pink glasses, a stylish outfit and a backpack, she decides to join the rest of the kids on the school bus. "Hooray! Lola is going to school!" Lola has fun doing all sorts of activities at school -- writing, reading, painting, singing, and more. "Lola loved it all!" The story might be slight (dare I say fluffy like a kitty?), but it will help bring smiles to any little kid who's anxious about what happens at school. Lola's positive attitude is sure to rub off on them.
Monsters Love School
by Mike Austin
HarperCollins, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 3-6
Mike Austin's monsters bring even more silliness to the scene, while still helping kids who are feeling nervous about starting a new school year. Summer fun is ending and all the little monster head to school. Most are excited to see their friends-- “Oh Yeah! Monster School!!” But one little blue monster is worried: “School?! Gulp.”
Blue is sure that he already knows his “ABGs and 413s and XYDs,” so why does he need to go to school? Sure enough, once Blue gets to school he starts having fun. Just look at how great art class can be:
Austin’s playful monsters are sure to bring laughs, with their bright colors and googly eyes. Check out what Kirkus Reviews had to say about Monsters Love School:
"Austin has masterfully folded some valuable information about the first day of school into his funny tale, but the monsters are the big draw. Not the least bit scary, their simple shapes and accessories and scrawled style will likely have kids reaching for their own 'monster pencils, monster crayons, monster ink and brushes.'"
Looking for more Back to School book ideas? Check out this article in School Library Journal: Backpacks, Lunch Boxes, and Giggles Galore: Back-to-School Adventures, by Joy Fleishhacker.

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

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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17. Back to school: easing your kindergarten worries (ages 4-7)

Are you getting nervous about the beginning of the school year? Will your child be able to make the transition to a new school, new teacher, new friends? There's nothing like the nervous excitement of the first day of school. Some kids are raring to go, while others are tentatively clinging to their parents. Whatever the case, try out these two new favorites to add some humor as you read about the first day of school.

Planet Kindergarten
by Sue Ganz-Schmitt
illustrated by Shane Prigmore
Chronicle, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-7
“The countdown started. Dad and I checked the plans for my next big mission… I am ready to explore: Planet Kindergarten!”
Planet Kindergarten, click to enlarge
Starting school is certainly exciting, but it can also be nerve-wracking. One imaginative little kid knows it might be just like blasting off into outer space. There are strange routines, new crewmembers, and you might even get a bit homesick.

Bold colors and a retro-style amp up the humor in this fun twist on getting used to a new school. You can definitely tell that Shane Prigmore has an animator's background -- check out his blog to see some of the fun inspiration he used in developing the artwork for this.
Planet Kindergarten, click to enlarge
I just love the way Ganz-Schmitt captures the joyful chaos of kindergarten. Share this with any kindergarten teacher, and she/he will love the line, "Gravity works differently here. We have to try hard to stay in our seats. And our hands go up a lot."
Mom, It's My First Day of Kindergarten!
by Hyewon Yum
Farrar Straus Giroux / Macmillan, 2012
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-7
In a delightful turning of the tables, a five-year old boy can’t wait to start kindergarten and his mom is anxious about his going to a new school.
“Will you be okay in the big kids’ school? You’re still so little,” she frets.
“Mom, don’t worry. I’ll be fine, I am already five!” he declares as he dashes off to school. 
The boy is full of confidence -- I just love the way that Hyewon Yum shows this visually, with the kindergartner big and bold, and his mom small and blue. Until he peeks inside the classroom door ... and the roles reverse again.

Enjoy this video to get a sense of this delightful story and artwork:


I hope your little ones come home declaring, "Kindergarten is awesome!!!" The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher, Chronicle Books and 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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18. A Place Where Sunflowers Grow, by Amy Lee-Tai and Felicia Hoshino (ages 5-10)

It is crucial we find age-appropriate ways to share about the terrible persecution of Japanese Americans during World War II in the United States. And yet, how do you introduce this topic to children, especially kids in elementary school? A Place Where Sunflowers Grow is a wonderful picture book by Amy Lee Tai, whose grandmother was sent to the Topaz internment camp during the war.


A Place Where Sunflowers Grow
by Amy Lee-Tai
illustrated by Felicia Hoshino
Japanese translation by Marc Akio Lee
Children’s Book Press, 2006
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-10
Drawing upon her grandmother's story of internment at Topaz during World War II, Amy Lei-Tai finds a small piece of sunshine in young Mari’s story. Like thousands of other innocent American citizens, Mari and her family have been forced to leave their home simply because of their Japanese heritage. Mari loves art, but it's so difficult to find anything to draw in a place so hot and desolate.

“Flowers don’t grow easily in the desert,” laments young Mari during her first week at Topaz.
“It will take time, patience, and care,” her mother replies.
Eventually, with the encouragement of her family and her teacher Mrs. Hanamoto, Mari finds comfort in her weekly art class as she paints pictures that remind her of home.

I was really struck by how Lee-Tai’s delicate story brings this difficult time to a young audience. The story is written in both English and Japanese, and the lovely audiobook is also produced with both languages narrated a page at a time.

Pair this picture book with novels for middle grade students, giving them a way into the story. Picture books can introduce the setting and historical time, providing a visual grounding for students. Here are a few other books on the experiences of Japanese Americans during World War II that I recommend for elementary students:
The review came from our local public 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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19. You Are (Not) Small, by Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant (ages 4-8)

"Who's grown over the summer?" I asked my 2nd grade class today -- and 20 hands shot high into the air. They ARE bigger, and yet... they're still little kids, right? So are they big, or are they little? And what's that all really mean, anyway? Anna Kang's new picture book, You Are (Not) Small, helped us talk about this -- and then extrapolate to what it meant about other things in our lives.

You Are (Not) Small
by Anna Kang
illustrated by Christopher Weyant
Two Lions, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
A small purple creature walks up to a larger orange fuzzy one and the orange creature promptly declares, "You are small." Well, I wonder how that makes the little guy feel? He turns around and says, "I am not small. You are big."

It's not me -- it's you who's different. They each bring out a host of friends to show how they're like everyone else -- and it's the other guy who's different.
My students could easily relate to the argument that quickly escalated into a shouting match. When a giant stomped into the middle of the scene, forcing everyone to reevaluate who exactly was big and small, I could just see my students' perspective shifting.

I loved talking with 2nd graders about how they could relate to being big AND small at the same time. As 2nd graders, they are now the big kids out at recess with the kindergartners and 1st graders. They know how everything at school works. But if they walk upstairs, right away they feel small again peeking into the 5th graders' classroom.

Even better was the way I could encourage them to apply this to other areas, seeing how they might feel good about themselves doing one thing, but not so good doing something else. Duncan said he felt "big" when he played baseball, but not so big when he had to be catcher. We even applied that to ourselves as readers, and what it meant to choose a book that was "just right" for ourselves -- not worrying about other kids in the class.

Tonight, I shared with the teachers this excerpt from an interview with the author, Anna Kang:
Where do your ideas come from?

My childhood, observing my daughters and what they experience, characters I want to see come to life, a particular feeling or problem.
Christoper Weyant and Anna Kang
Where specifically did “You Are (Not) Small” come from?

I’ve been playing a version of the dialogue in the book in my head since I was a child. I’m considered “small” or “petite” here in the U.S. (I’m Korean American), and among other things, it’s extremely challenging to find clothes that fit. When I was nine years old, I spent the summer in Korea, and I remember shopping with my Aunt and discovering racks and racks of clothes that were exactly my size in every store we entered, as if the clothes were custom-made specifically for me. The clothes weren’t in a special “petite” section or in a younger, more “junior” section. They were just clothes. Regular, everyday clothes for a nine-year old girl. For the first time in my life, my size—in addition to my skin color, hair and eye color—was “normal” and unremarkable. I suddenly looked like everyone else in the world, including the people on TV, in movies, advertisements, and in books. As a child, this was an overwhelming experience. It made me feel incredibly safe and empowered, and it boosted my confidence and grounded me when I returned home at the end of the summer. I was not “other” or “different.” I was just “me.”

I eventually learned that how you saw yourself and others depended on your personal experience and your community, that perspective is subjective and not necessarily the entire truth.

So, years later, when I sat down to write a story for a children’s book, this idea naturally popped out.

source: Cracking the Cover
I look forward to talking with kids specifically about Anna's experience -- I think many will relate.

What a terrific way to begin the year -- recognizing that we all have strengths and weaknesses, that we are all growing and have changed over the summer, but we're all growing at our own pace.

Many thanks to friend Alyson Beecher for recommending this at her site Kid Lit Frenzy -- check out her interview with Anna and Christopher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Two Lions. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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20. In the Rainforest, by Kate Duke (Let's Read and Find Out Science, stage 2) (ages 5-9)

Many kids love learning about different regions of the world. In fact, one of the real highlights of the perennially popular Magic Treehouse series is that Jack and Annie can visit so many places just by wishing. So I'm thrilled that there's a new volume in the terrific series Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science.

In the Rainforest
Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science, stage 2
by Kate Duke
HarperCollins, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-9
Have you ever wanted to visit the tropical rainforest? Well, be sure to bring along your bug repellent, waterproof backpack and notebook. Duke draws kids right into her informative book by having a two kids join a guide as they explore a tropical rainforest. Speech bubbles keep the tone fun and casual, while the main text is more traditional informative nonfiction.
"Ready for a tour of a tropical rainforest? Come on--the trip starts here."
Readers learn about what a tropical rainforest is like, both in terms of its ecology as well as the animals and plants that live there. Throughout, Duke helps readers compare tropical rainforests to forests in temperate climates. For example, as you can see in the spread above, she illustrates that a tropical rainforest will typically get ten times as much rainfall as a temperate climate.

This book works well both as a read-aloud and as a book for young students to browse through themselves. The pictures, captions and dialog boxes are all very informative and easier to read because of their conversational tone. For example, in the picture below the young girl says, "Hey, my sneakers are still dry. I thought a rainforest would be like a swamp."
"The thick layer of leaves up above keeps a lot of the rain from getting down here, except during the rainiest months."
I wholeheartedly agree with the Kirkus review of In the Rainforest:
"Duke’s friendly cartoons effectively communicate the immense variety of plant and animal life found in rain forests and feature cutaway views and close-ups in several spreads."
My first and second graders at Emerson are going to love this book. Last year, we had a group of 2nd graders who formed a book club to learn all about rainforests together. They loved reading Afternoon on the Amazon (Magic Treehouse book #6) so much that they wanted to learn more about the Amazon rain forest. The teacher encouraged nonfiction book clubs so students could build their knowledge of different topics in a small group. It was a great success.

If you like this, I'd highly recommend another favorite nonfiction picture book: No Monkeys, No Chocolate, by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young. This book also uses colorful artwork with a cartoonish feel and a blend of conversational dialog and informational text. The authors take readers on a journey from cocoa pod, following the life cycle of the tree back to stems, roots and beans. Throughout, they weave in the concept of the interdependence of plants and animals.
The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, HarperCollins. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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21. Celebrating the wonderful RAIN in California: Rain, by Linda Ashman & Christian Robinson (ages 4-8)

I woke up to the sound of soft rain this morning and savored the small moment. It made me think of a lovely book that all our Berkeley school libraries have: Rain, by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Christian Robinson. I absolutely adore this book, especially for the way both author and illustrator notice small moments.
Rain
by Linda Ashman
illustrated by Christian Robinson
Houghton Mifflin, 2013
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
Rain tells the story of two very different people’s reaction to a rainy day. The illustrations are full of details that kids notice and can talk about. A happy little boy and a grumpy old man wake up to a rainy morning, and each immediately react to the prospect of putting on their rain gear. The old man says, “Nasty galoshes. Blasted overcoat.” The little guy, on the other hand, tells his mom, “It’s raining frogs and pollywogs!”
interior from Rain, by Linda Ashman & Christian Robinson
They each go their own way until they meet in a cafe. Kids will love noticing what happens when the little boy offers his cookie to the old man. Will the grumpy old man refuse, or will the young boy’s enthusiasm win the day?

I loved talking with students about how the author noticed small moment details in the dialog and how the artist noticed small moment details in his illustrations. Students are talking about "small moments" as they craft their own stories, as a way to flesh out details in creative writing. Our 2nd graders noticed so many details, from the emotions of other customers in the cafe, to the interactions between the boy and the shop keeper.
Christian Robinson at Emerson, May 2014
The illustrator Christian Robinson visited all Berkeley elementary schools last year, thanks to a grant from the Berkeley Public Schools Fund, and so many students will be able to remember the story and meeting the artist. He is absolutely delightful.

For a bit of fun, check out his website: theartoffun.com and notice how small moments can be captured in words as well as pictures. This image (from Robinson’s Fall 2014 Publisher’s Weekly cover) is not from the book, but it is a small moment that has me smiling this morning.

Christian Robinson at Emerson School, May 2014
The review copy comes 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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22. Leroy Ninker Saddles Up, by Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen (ages 5-9)

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

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

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


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

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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23. Spark, by Kallie George: bringing smiles & patience to beginning readers (ages 5-8)

Our second graders loved today's read-aloud: Spark, by Kallie George. And I adored their comments, connections and questions. If you're looking for a book to bring smiles and patience to a young reader, definitely look for this charming story.
Spark
by Kallie George
illustrated by Geneviève Côté
Simply Read Books, 2013
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-8
Spark wants to be able to breath fire like a big dragon, but he can't control his flame. His mama asks him to practice roasting marshmallows and he's just sure he can do it. Just look how cute he is:
"I can do it!" said Spark.
But every time he tries, "WHOOOOSH" out comes a huge flame.  He can’t control his fiery breath. Even practicing doesn’t help. I just love how his parents kept their cool (get it?!) and told him that he was still young. When he was older, he'd be able to control his flame.
"Whoosh! Out came a big flame."
We connected this to our reading. Sometimes I tell kids they aren't ready for a book yet. Maybe when they're in fourth grade, it will be just right for them. They know how hard it is to wait. And they knew how much it meant to Spark that he was patient and tried again.
Spark's birthday party
The culminating moment several months later, after Spark, when Spark lights his birthday candles is so full of joy that it brings a smile to everyone's face.  Here are some of our students' comments:
  • “It’s a really good book because it’s funny. I like the way Spark blows FIRE.”
  • “At the last part, how is he going to blow out the candle?”
  • “I like the way the ending lets us imagine what’s going to happen next.”
  • “I like how Spark kept trying. He was patient, and was able to blow them out in the end.”
We are excited to Skype with Kallie George soon. Our students want to know how she gets inspired, whether she keeps a writer's notebook, how she deals with getting frustrated when she's writing.

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

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

0 Comments on Spark, by Kallie George: bringing smiles & patience to beginning readers (ages 5-8) as of 1/1/1900
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24. The Haunted Library, by Dori Hillestad Butler -- new series for beginning readers (ages 6-9)

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

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

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

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

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

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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25. Ghosts and libraries -- a perfect mix! Interview with Dori Hillestad Butler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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