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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: ages 5-8, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. #FamiliesRead: Encouraging the Love of Reading

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 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? I love the National PTA's Family Reading Challenge -- check out the resources & ideas at ptareadingchallenge.org.

I love this video with Kwame Alexander and his family talking about about what they love about reading together as a family. Fills me with smiles hearing how much love and happiness reading together brings.


Across all age groups, children agree that their favorite books are the ones they pick for themselves. Not only that, they are also much more likely to finish books that they choose themselves.

from Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report 2015
Encourage a love of reading by taking your kids to the library or bookstore and telling them: “Read whatever you want to! As long as you choose it, that’s what is important to me.” Kids love being in control.

Kids want books that make them laugh when they’re choosing books--and this is the dominant factor for kids in elementary and middle school. Kids also report that they look for books that let them use their imagination, inspire them or teach them something new.

Parents sometimes wonder: should I encourage my child to read on his or her own, instead of reading aloud? Shouldn’t they practice themselves? Reading practice matters, but kids have to practice all day long in school. Reading together builds bonds and helps children remember the pleasure that books can bring.

Children enjoy listening to more complex, interesting stories than they can read independently. Typically, it isn’t until eighth grade that reading comprehension catches up to listening comprehension. Nearly half of kids said they liked listening to their parents read aloud because they could listen to books that might have been too hard to read on their own.

Reading aloud at home is like an advertisement for the pleasures of reading. Why take away these advertisements just because kids can read on their own? Shared reading time provides special time for families, especially as the chaos of life multiplies as kids juggle activities and homework. It can lead to fun family jokes that stem from funny moments in a story, and it can provide safe opportunities kids bring up difficult, confusing big issues they’re thinking about.

I hope you can carve out time to read together this summer. It will make a difference in your children's lives.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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2. Summer reading 2015: 2nd & 3rd graders -- #FamiliesRead

School is out and kids love the vacation time. But it's more important than ever for families to encourage kids to read. They need to keep reading in order to maintain all the skills they developed during the year. It's the perfect opportunity to talk with your kids about what types of books they like to read when they can choose their books.

Here are some of my favorite books to recommend for kids who have just finished 2nd and 3rd grade. Please note: Our schools use the Fountas & Pinnell reading levels to help indicate "just right books" for students. I like to band these levels together, to look at a group of similar books.

Beginning with Chapter Books (level K-L-M)
Graphic Novels We Love
Having Fun with Chapter Books (level N-O-P)
Funny Stories (level Q-R-S)
Stories that Touch Your Heart (level Q-R-S)
Exciting Adventure and Fantasy (level Q-R-S)
Fascinating Nonfiction
  • Baby Elephant in the Wild, by Caitlin O'Connell (library--Amazon)
  • Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, by Katheryn Russell-Brown (library--Amazon)
Do you like these? Print out the whole list to take to the library or bookstore! Share it with friends!

PDF for easy printing: 2nd & 3rd grade

View full lists here via SlideShare:




Check out all of the 2015 summer reading lists I developed for grades K through 5 on this page.

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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3. Courage to Be Yourself: 3 new favorite picture books (ages 3-9)

As kids enter school, their peer groups start having a strong influence over them--with that comes pressure to fit in. So that's why I love books that give the message that we want lots of different types of friends, that we all need the courage to be ourselves. Here are three new favorite picture books that sing that song.

Wild About Us
by Karen Beaumont
illustrated by Janet Stevens
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 3-7
Warty Warthog has warts, Rhino has wrinkly skin, and Crocodile sports a toothy grin--but they all love who they are. With snappy rhythm and rhymes that are a joy to read aloud, Beaumont celebrates what makes each animal unique.
"Elephant is confident that nothing is wrong.
He knows that his nose is supposed to be long."
Janet Stevens is one of my favorite illustrators of animals--I adore her Help Me, Mr. Mutt! Here, her animals are full of personality and pizzazz. Kids will love the cartoony appeal, but also connect to how each proudly declares how they love themselves just the way they are.
Tommy Can't Stop
by Tim Federle
illustrated by Mark Fearing
Disney Hyperion, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
Young Tommy is in perpetual motion, bouncing like a pogo-stick, hollering while he hurdles and clomping like an elephant. He's driving his family crazy ("'He's an animal,' his sister pouts to their parents.") but you can tell from the illustrations that this is a little guy who's just got to move. When his mom drags him to tap class, he's really not sure it's for him. But when the teacher begins bouncing, he's hooked!
"The tap teacher begins bouncing. (Wait! She twirls like... Tommy!)
'You're a ... pogo stick!' he whispers as he watches.
'I call this a hop'"
I love the way this book shows Tommy discovering a joyful, positive way to channel his energy. When the tap teacher kicks, he's amazed that she kicks like a bulldozer -- but she says, "I call this a brush! (Everyone brushes, but Tommy brushes boldest.)" Kids--quiet ones and rambunctious ones--will feel this joy coming through both the illustrations and the words, as Tommy discovers how being true to himself helps him be a star.
Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music
by Margarita Engle
illustrated by Rafael López
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 6-9
*best new book*
Cuba is an island full of wonderful music, but this beautiful picture book shows how hard one girl had to work to be true to her musical self. Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, who was of Chinese, African, and Cuban descent, dreamed of "pounding tall conga drums / tapping small bongó drums, and boom boom booming / with long loud sticks." But in 1930s Cuba, drumming was taboo for girls.
“But everyone / on the island of music / in the city of drumbeats /
believed that only boys / should play drums …”
Millo was not deterred, playing her drums every chance she can, even if it was in her own head. Finally, her father softened and brought a teacher to listen to Millo's drumming--a teacher who was so impressed that he allowed her father to have courage to break the social taboo. I just love how Millo's joy comes through in the illustrations. López captures a visual rhythm, the way that Engle does in her poetic text.
“When she walked under / wind-wavy palm trees / in a flower-bright park / she heard the whir of parrot wings ...
the dancing tap / of her own footsteps / and the comforting pat / of her own heartbeat.”
This beautiful, poetic picture book will inspire children today to follow their own dreams, even if society around them scorns them. To see more of these wonderful illustrations, head over to Seven Impossible Things; to learn more about Engle and Lopez's creative process, definitely read Julie Danielson's article in Kirkus: Beating the Drum for Women's Rights.

I hope you enjoy these new picture books. Whether it's humorous animals, bouncing little boys or girls who feel music thrumming in their souls, these stories can speak to kids, helping them have the courage to be themselves.

Illustrations ©2015 by Janet Stevens, Mark Fearing and Rafael López; used with permission from the publishers. The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and 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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4. I Don't Want to Be a Frog, by Dev Petty & Mike Boldt (ages 3-8)

There are times my kids seem dissatisfied with everything, but I'm also sure that there are times when all I say is NO. This hilarious book takes that situation and produces laughs in all the right places--the perfect medicine for crabby kids and peevish parents.
I Don't Want to Be a Frog
by Dev Petty
illustrated by Mike Boldt
Doubleday / Random House, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 3-8
*best new book*
Little frog is sure he doesn't want to be a frog. As he sits reading a book about cats, he decides that would be the perfect animal to be. "I want to be a cat," he declares to his father. Nope, his father says, you're a frog. Back and forth the dialog goes, in easy to read expressive short sentences--perfect for reading aloud together.
"I want to be a cat."
"You can't be a cat."
"Why not?"
"Because you're a frog."
"I don't like being a frog. It's too wet."
"Well, you can't be a cat."
Hey--little frog can hop! He should be a rabbit, he tells his father. "You can't be a rabbit," his father calmly replies. No long ears, right? "I don't like being a Frog. It's too slimy," little frog whines. Little frog isn't easily persuaded. And his father's wise words don't sink in at all.

Kids are loving Mike Boldt's illustrations, especially how expressive little frog is. They love knowing that the dad is right, but I think they're rooting for little frog too. And the conclusion leads to giggles from everyone who's read it in our library.

Along comes a hungry wolf who tells how much he likes to eat all those animals. But does he like to eat frogs? No, not one bit. They're much too wet, too slimy, too full of bugs. Ahh, little frog finally realizes that--you know what, being who you are can be a pretty good thing after all.

For more of a taste, check out this adorable trailer:

Illustrations ©2015 by Mike Boldt; used with permission from the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Random House. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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5. A Piece of Cake, by LeUyen Pham -- Birthday fun with friends (ages 3-8)

Hooray! Today is my birthday, and I want to share a slice of cake with every one of my friends. This cake below, from 1976, should be large enough for everyone to have a slice!

4th of July 1976 stars & stripes cake
A trip down memory lane! I can still remember the feeling of growing tall enough to look at the oven knobs straight on, instead of having to stand on tip toe.
For a birthday treat, I'd like to share a favorite book: A Piece of Cake, by LeUyen Pham. It will bring lots of smiles, as kids laugh at the unexpected twists at each page turn.
A Piece of Cake
by LeUyen Pham
Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 3-8
Kind little Mouse has made a birthday cake for his friend Little Bird. He sets off to deliver the cake, but meets other friends who ask for a piece. Pham sets up readers to expect that Mouse will gather the expected ingredients along the way: eggs, milk, honey. But with each page turn, Mouse's friends offer something completely unexpected in return.

A Piece of Cake was honored as a finalist in the Northern California Book Awards this year. I was honored to be part of the children's award committee. Here is part of their description of this delightful story:
Piece by piece, Mouse trades away the cake until he has none left, arriving at Little Bird’s house only with an odd assortment of things... As they walk back to Mouse’s house to make another cake, they find each friend surrounded by trouble. Once again, Pham expertly manages page turns to surprise readers with the solutions that Little Bird cleverly suggests. 
I adore the retro feel of Pham's artwork and the story is so much fun to read aloud. Little kids will love the patterned surprises, and older kids will have fun with the clever twists and enjoy the message about teamwork and creative thinking. I hope this web sampler from HarperCollins lets you glimpse part of this story--make sure to turn the pages to see how the story starts off:

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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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6. Summer reading 2015: Kindergarten & 1st graders -- #FamiliesRead

Summer is here. Kids are excited to have free time, but with that can come the eventual moans of: "I'm bored!" Head to the library and stock up on a pile of books. Here are some of my favorite books to recommend for kids just finishing kindergarten and 1st grade.

Each day this week, I'll be sharing a post to help families read over the summer. To begin with, I'll share my favorite recommendations. Later in the week, I'll share thoughts on creative ways to carve time for reading and make it a family affair.

Note: Our schools use the Fountas & Pinnell reading levels to help indicate "just right books" for students. I like to band these levels together, to look at a group of similar books.

Beginning to Read (level C-E-F)
When Tiny Was Tiny, by Cari Meister (library--Amazon)
You Are (Not) Small, by Anna Kang (library--Amazon)

Folktales and Trickster Tales
Can't Scare Me, by Ashley Bryan (library--Amazon)
Little Roja Riding Hood, by Susan Middleton Elya (library--Amazon)

Beginning to Read More (level F-G-H-I)
A Big Guy Took My Ball (Elephant & Piggie), by Mo Willems (library--Amazon)
The Watermelon Seed, by Greg Pizzolli (library--Amazon)

Developing Readers (level J-K)
Mercy Watson to the Rescue, by Kate DiCamillo (library - Amazon)
Princess in Black, by Shannon Hale (library - Amazon)

Beginning with Chapter Books (level L-M)
Boris for the Win, by Andrew Joyner (library - Amazon)
Ivy & Bean, by Annie Barrows (library - Amazon)

Exploring Animals All Around
Fly Guy Presents: Sharks, by Tedd Arnold (library--Amazon)
Puppies and Kittens (Scholastic Discover More), by Penelope Arlon (library--Amazon)

New Picture Books We're Loving
The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, by Dan Santat (library--Amazon)
Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Peña (library--Amazon

Do you like these? Print out the whole list to take to the library or bookstore! Share it with friends!

PDF for easy printing: Kindergarten & 1st grade

View full lists here via SlideShare:




Check out all of the 2015 summer reading lists I developed for grades K through 5 on this page.

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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7. Popcorn Astronauts and Other Biteable Rhymes, by Deborah Ruddell (ages 4-10)

It's fitting that National Poetry Month kicks off each year on April Fool's Day. Modern children's poetry has a strong tradition of delightful mischief and playful humor -- whether it's Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein or Jack Prelutsky. Share poetry for the sheer pleasure, but also share it because of its rich language, as it layers so many ideas in short spaces.
The Popcorn Astronauts and Other Biteable Rhymesby Deborah Ruddell
illustrated by Joan Rankin
Margaret K. McElderry Books / Simon & Schuster, 2015
Your local libraryAmazonages 4-10
My students (and teachers!) are going to love this assortment of delicious, mischievous, amusing poems all about food. The topic is immediately appealing and approachable, making it easy to hook kids. Some evoke delicious food or happy memories, like "The Cocoa Cabana" serving hot chocolate at the edge of a skating pond. Others spice it up with humor, like the smoothie surprise with "a whisper of pickle" and "the slime from a snail."

Ruddell mixes it up with different poetic forms, and every poem is rich with imagery that will help young students explore the power of similes and metaphors. Because the topics are so fun, these comparisons will get kids actively involved in creating their own figures of speech. Just thinking about guacamole as porridge for a troll makes me smile!
"Even though it's lumpy and it's avocado green,
like the porridge for an ogre or a troll,
nothing on the table makes my eyes light up
like a little guacamole in a bowl!"
The illustrations are equally delightful, helping young readers visualize the poetic imagery and adding their own humor in the process. In "Welcome to Watermelon Lake", Ruddell playfully imagines that a slice of watermelon is a giant lake to some little critters. Young children will love Rankin's illustrations that show just how silly this might be.
"It's icy cold, so our advice
is take a breath and don't think twice.
Just jump right in--you'll never sink--
and did we mention that it's PINK?"
My all-time favorite poem is "How a Poet Orders a Shake" -- both for the imagery and for the way students could come up with their own "how to" poems.
How a Poet Orders a Shake

"A frosty cup of moonlight, please,"
the poet murmurs, low.
"As mush as a mittenful
of slightly melted snow...

And softer than a summer cloud
and paler than a swan
and pearlier than polar bears,"
the poet rambles on...

"And let it be at least as sweet
as icing on a cake.
In other words,
my usual:
a small vanilla shake."

-- by Deborah Ruddell
Do you have a favorite line in this poem? An image that really sticks with you? If you imagine a vanilla shake, what does comparing it to a "frosty cup of moonlight" make you feel like?

I'm looking forward to sharing more favorite poetry books for children all month long as we celebrate National Poetry Month.
Illustrations ©2015 by Joan Rankin; used with permission from Simon & Schuster. The review copy was kindly sent by 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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8. Hypnotize a Tiger, by Calef Brown (ages 5-12)

I love sharing poetry that makes kids laugh, especially with puns and twists of phrases that make kids giggle. Even better, in my view, is poetry that makes kids think and laugh and then make their own puns. Calef Brown's new collection is full of delightful surprises, perfect for the punster in your life.
Hypnotize a Tiger
Poems About Just About Everything
by Calef Brown
Henry Holt / Macmillan, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-12
*best new book*
Calef Brown’s witty verse and illustrations leap and frolic from one topic to the next, full of wordplay, humor and rhymes. Whether he's riffing off of his "peeps" like Lazyhead "eating frozen raisin bread" while staring at the TV, or sharing "poems of a particular vehicular nature", Brown is at his best when he combines short witty verse with pen and ink drawings.

Rhyming word play is delightful and footnotes add to the humor, encouraging careful reading. Here's one of my favorites:
Lou Gnome

Look who came back home
to Hoboken--
it's Lou Gnome!
Like the G in his name,
Lou is silent.
Completely nonviolent.
He doesn't speak,
even when spoken to.
None of the Gnomes in Hoboken do.

footnote:
Those that are gnome-schooled
are required to recite the Pledge of the Wee-Gents,
sometimes at huge events.
Irreverent? Certainly! But for kids who think that using a G in the word gnome is completely nuts, this poems makes absolute sense. I also love all the ways that Brown plays with language, not only using obvious end-rhymes like home and gnome, but also substituting beginning sounds to imply rhymes in your head (don't you love gnome-schooled?!).

My students and I keep finding treasures to make us laugh. In "Roman Pets", Brown declares that "They even found a dog brush/ in a catacomb." Get it? Cat-a-comb? Dog-brush?!! The footnote reads: "A puppy at play/ on the Appian Way/ was happy to say/ he was not in Pompeii."

Many reviewers have called Brown's poems "nonsense verse", but I have to declare that they make the upmost sense! Just take a look at how he combines pigeons and frogs into "Pigeon Frogs":
"Pigeon Frogs!
Pigeon Frogs! ...
All day long
they hop and flutter.
Snatching crumbs
and catching flies
with bobbing heads
and bulging eyes."
If you were to combine the qualities of a pigeon and a frog, wouldn't you say you'd find "bobbing heads and bulging eyes"?!! I can't wait to use this poem with our 3rd graders and ask them to work together to make their own creative animals.

Illustrations ©2015 by Calef Brown; used with permission from Macmillan. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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9. Poetry in motion: Celebrating moving, grooving and jumping outside (ages 3-11)

I love sharing poems with kids that create a sense of motion and play through the way they twist words, create movement and bounce to their own rhythm. Newbery winning author Kwame Alexander called basketball "poetry in motion", and today I'd like to flip that metaphor around to celebrate two collections that celebrate sports with poetry in motion.

Good Sports
by Jack Prelutsky
illustrated by Chris Raschka
Knopf / Random House, 2007
Your local library
Amazon
Google Preview
ages 6-11
Prelutsky celebrates sports from baseball to soccer to gymnastics, gleefully swinging and catapulting through motion and emotions that will resonate with kids. They'll love his playful rhymes, and they will connect with the way these short untitled poems can get to the heart of how they feel.
"I'm at the foul line, and I bet
The ball will go right through the net.
I'm certain I will sink this shot,
For I've been practicing a lot.

I concentrate, then let it go...
I know it's good--I know, I know.
It makes an arc, I make a wish,
Then hear the soft, sweet sound of SWISH!"
Share these short poems with kids and ask what they notice -- do they like the rhythm and rhyming of the first two lines, or maybe the use of the "s" sounds (alliteration) in the last line, emphasizing the sound of SWISH of the basketball. Rashka's illustrations are loose and impressionistic, especially appealing to 3rd through 5th graders because they don't feel too young. I love how he incorporates diverse kids throughout--the player making the shot above has long wavy red hair, maybe a girl or maybe a boy.

For poems that celebrate all sorts of outdoor playing, definitely look for A Stick Is an Excellent Thing, with Marilyn Singer's playful poetry and LeUyen Pham's joyful illustrations.
A Stick is an Excellent Thing
Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play
by Marilyn Singer
illustrations by LeUyen Pham
Clarion / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012
Your local library
Amazon
ages 3-8
Kids will love the way these short poems celebrate all types of playing outside, whether it's balancing on the curb, running through a sprinkler, making stone soup with friends. Use these poems to make kids smile and also use them to show how poetry can create a freeze frame, its own small moment. Here's one that my students will definitely relate to:
Edges

I like to walk the edges--
   the curbs, the rims, the little ledges.
I am careful not to tilt,
  to stumble, lump or wilt.

I pay attention to my feet
  so that every step is neat.
I am dancing in the air
  but I never leave the street.
Pham's illustrations are full of bouncing, running, smiling kids, in both city and suburban scenes. Kids are playing in large and small groups--I love how she shows how much kids like to play together. Her kids are modern and multicultural, and full of smiles on every page. My older students will relate to Singer's poems, but the illustrations make this collection best suited for younger kids.

Both review copies were borrowed as ebooks from the San Francisco Public Library while I was on vacation. Hooray! I especially appreciate the way SFPL has ebook tutorials for first time users. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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10. A Poem in Your Pocket, by Margaret McNamara & G. Brian Karas (ages 4-10) -- delightful encouragement for all writers

Poetry encourages us to see the world through a different lens, slowing down to notice small details. But how do you encourage a child who's feeling absolutely stuck, unable to let go enough to trust their own "poet's eye"? This delightful new picture book offers a gentle lesson on how a special teacher and a visiting poet did just that.
A Poem in Your Pocket
by Margaret McNamara
illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Schwartz & Wade / Random House, 2015
Random House teaching guide
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-10
*best new book*
Everyone in Mr. Tiffin's class is excited when he announces that poet Emmy Crane will be visiting in April to celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day with them. All through April, Elinor and her class start reading poetry, learning about different types of figurative language and forms of poetry, and writing their own poems.
"Mr. Tiffin taught them about similes, and they tried them out.
'Robert is as tall as that really high building in the middle of town!' said Robert.
'Math is like a knot,' said Tara.
'One that we can untangle together,' said Mr. Tiffin."
When Elinor has trouble writing her own poems, Mr. Tiffin encourages her to keep trying. "Remember, poetry is a messy business," he tells her. But the more she works, the more frustrated she gets.

Many children will relate to Elinor's frustration--staring at an empty page can be overwhelming for any of us. Margaret McNamara develops this story in such a gentle way that she encourages all readers to try using their own "poet's eye."

When Elinor finally meets Emmy Crane, young Elinor is nearly frozen with fear. But the kind, gentle writer tells her "no poem is perfect... tell me what you were thinking about."

I adore this story, for its message that poetry begins in the heart, and for the way it shows how we all need to be kind and not judge our own attempts too harshly. Brian Karas's illustrations add gentle warmth throughout. I especially love the way he shows poet Emmy Crane as an African American woman, incorporating subtle affirmation of the diversity of our classrooms, students and authors.

Our school collaborates with local bookstore, Mrs. Dalloway's, to celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day. Our 4th graders are so excited that their original poems go out to the whole world, carried in people's pockets. Learn more from the Academy of American Poets:
"Every April, on Poem in Your Pocket Day, people throughout the United States celebrate by selecting a poem, carrying it with them, and sharing it with others throughout the day as schools, bookstores, libraries, parks, workplaces, and other venues ring loud with open readings of poems from pockets."
Read the starred review at Kirkus; and a terrific review at the blog Randomly Reading. Teachers, definitely check out this teaching guide. Illustrations ©2015 by G. Brian Karas; used with permission from Random House. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Random House. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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11. The Soda Bottle School: Creative problem solving led by kids & teachers (ages 7-10)

Our 3rd grade teachers are also focusing on persuasive writing this month, and they are asking kids to identify problems and suggest solutions. The challenge for kids is to explain how their solutions will work and persuade others that it's a good idea. We read The Soda Bottle School as an example of how kids and teachers in one community identified an important problem and led the way with a creative solution -- and the kids loved it.
The Soda Bottle School
by Seño Laura Kutner and Suzanne Slade
illustrated by Aileen Darragh
Tillbury House, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 7-10
The town of Granados has a problem: they don't have enough room in their school to teach all the kids. But they have another problem, too, that kids can relate to: there is too much trash all around their community. One day, teacher Seño Laura notices that a soda bottle is the same width as the beam of an unfinished school building. She has a crazy idea: what if they used empty soda bottles to create walls for a school? It could take care of two problems at once!

The whole community pulled together to support the teachers and children, gathering thousands of empty plastic bottles and stuffing them with trash to create “eco-ladrillos” (bricks). These bricks were stacked between the framing for the building, held in place by chicken wire fencing. A thin layer of concrete was slapped on top as a final layer.

Slade and Kutner draw young readers right into the story, helping them relate to the protagonist, young Fernando. My students especially liked the photographs and authors note included at the end of the story. I just found this news clip that would be another great way to share this story.

My students were interested and inspired to think of problems they would want to solve around our school. I especially liked this example because Kutner and Slade emphasize the importance of teamwork and thinking outside the box.

The review copy came from our school library collection. 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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12. For the birds: Poetry that celebrates our fine feather friends (ages 4-9)

Every spring, I love hearing birds chirping outside as we wake in the morning--a sure sign that daylight is coming earlier each day. As we enjoy our last week of National Poetry Month, I would like to share two new books that celebrate the beauty of birds in nature, prompting us to marvel at birds in nature.

Sweep Up the Sun
by Helen Frost
illustrated by Rick Lieder
Candlewick, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-9
Poet Helen Frost reunites with photographer Rick Lieder to explore the wonders of the natural world. I adored their previous collaboration, Step Gently Out, and this new book is equally as delightful. Frost's poem encourages young readers to watch birds in flight playing in the sky, learning to fly and trusting the sky to hold them aloft. But she also encourages children to do the same: 
"Spread your feathers,
sweep up the sun,
ride the wind and explore."
We can read this as a direct encouragement for children to take off and soar on their own. Lieder's amazing photography captures birds in mid-flight, freezing a moment in time. The final two pages provide brief information about each of the species photographed, ranging from house sparrows to Northern Cardinals.
The Sky Painter:
Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist
by Margarita Engle
illustrated by Aliona Bereghici
Two Lions, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 6-9
Margarita Engle captivated me with her biography of Louis Fuertes, the artist who is known as the "father of modern bird art" because of the way he painted birds in flight in their natural environments. Fuertes loved watching birds as a young boy. As he began his career, he realized that revered artists such as James Audubon painted birds they had shot and killed, so that they could study their anatomy in detail.Fuertes decided that he wanted to let birds live, so he developed the skills to paint them, quickly capturing their flight and grace:
"painting quickly, while wings
swoop
and race
across
wild
blue
sky,
so swift,
and so alive!"
Pair these two books together and talk with children about the power of art and the call of nature. Why did these artists decide to focus on birds? What drew them to capture their flight? What do they want their audiences to think about? How do the poets words capture the birds' flight in a different way?

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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13. Neon Aliens Ate My Homework and Other Poems, by Nick Cannon (ages 6-9)

What makes a great book for kids? I'd say it's a book that makes them want to read more, a book that makes them smile or wonder, a book that makes them think about it after they close the page. It's a book that inspires kids to create their own stories and feel the power of their own words. Neon Aliens Ate My Homework is a collection of poems from comedian, musician and actor Nick Cannon that did just that.
Neon Aliens Ate My Homework and Other Poems
by Nick Cannon
illustrated by Nick Cannon, Art Mobb, and more
Scholastic, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 6-9
*best new book*
Cannon shares a collection of poems that range from giggle-inducing to gross, thought-provoking to full of bravado, and this variety was very appealing to my students. They loved how one minute they were laughing about neon aliens eating up Nick's backpack to the next minute thinking about how they can believe in themselves and stand up to bullies who spread hatred. 

Throughout, Cannon shows kids the power of words -- the words they read, and the words they write or say themselves. He starts by honoring Shel Silverstein, still a favorite among my students. This lets us talk about the power of books, both their staying power (their kids might read these same books!) but also the escape that they can provide during difficult times.
"He changed my life with just his words.
The utmost respect is what he deserves.
He made me smile in my tough times,
He encouraged me to live life through my rhymes."
We were able to dig into some of his imagery and characterization, whether Cannon used it to inspire us ("SuperMom" below) or entertain us ("Pink Lunch Lady"). His poems resonated with my students. They understand how a mom can be "soft yet tough" and could see how his examples helped show this.
"She can multitask with lightning-fast hands,
And the brightest of lights shines wherever she stands.
She goes to work in the morning, conquers school at night.
She can read minds and knows how to break up a fight."
Today, my students especially responded to the poem "Haters." We talked about Cannon's message and the power of his words. We talked about what the imagery meant, how hate can melt away. These are all skills that the Common Core is asking students to do -- but here, we are taking a modern poem that speaks to their experience to show how meaningful it can be.
'Haters like to bully, but I will not waver.
Haters think they're tough, but I'm the one who's braver.
Haters are doubters, and I'm a believer.
Haters are cowards, and I'm an achiever.
One day when I'm older, living my dream,
I'll let that hate melt away, just like ice cream."
Seek out this book and the audio recording. You can hear Nick Cannon reading his poems, which conveys how heartfelt so many of these poems are. My experience is that 2nd and 3rd graders respond best to this collection, hitting the same sweet spot as Shel Silverstein.

Illustrations ©2015 by Nick Cannon, Art Mobb, and Morf; used with permission from Scholastic. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Scholastic. The audiobook review copy was borrowed from our local library as a downloadable audio through Hoopla. 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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14. Celebrating all types of families: 3 new picture books (ages 3-9)

Three new picture books celebrate all types of families with joy and love. Share these with preschoolers or kindergartners, especially as Mother's Day approaches--helping kids recognize that families take many shapes and forms.

Families, Families, Families
by Suzanne Lang
illustrated by Max Lang
Random House, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 3-6
This book is sure to bring giggles as you read it with young children. Lang shares a medley of silly cartoon animal families showing all kinds of nontraditional families.  Each cartoon portrait is framed, hanging on a wall -- the realistic elements adding to the humor.
"Some children have lots of siblings"
"Some children have none."
Gently rhyming lines accompany the family portraits: "Some children live with their grandparents/ and some live with an aunt./ Some children have many pets/ and some just have a plant." As the SLJ review clearly states, "The loud-and-clear message is that 'if you love each other, then you are a family.' And imagine the many children who will be reassured because they have found a portrait of a family they will recognize as their own." A delightful celebration of diversity, treated with loving humor.
My Family Tree and Me
by Dušan Petričić
Kids Can Press, 2015
Book trailer
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-9
Beginning with his great-great-grandparents on his father’s side, a young boy introduces his family, leading to a current family portrait at the book's center. This provides a wonderful way to help children really understand and visualize what a family tree means. The second-half traces his mother’s family, back to his great-great-grandparents on her side. A delightful celebration of multicultural, multigenerational family.
The back cover of My Family Tree and Me
I especially love how easily Petričić integrates diversity into this picture book. The young boy's family is biracial, and each side of his family tree celebrates different heritage. Careful readers will notice how family traits carry on from one generation to the next. Best of all, I think this will help children start wondering about their own extended families.
Stella Brings the Family
by Miriam B. Schiffer
illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown
Chronicle, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
When Stella’s teacher announces their class is going to have a celebration for Mother’s day, everyone is excited, everyone except for Stella. What should she do? She has two dads and no mom.
"We're going to have a celebration for Mother's Day"
"Stella would be the only one without a mother at the Mother's Day party."
Schiffer tells the story through Stella’s eyes, perfectly capturing a child’s perspective -- sharing her worries, her classmates’ questions and the solution that Stella and her family come up with. This helps kids connect to Stella, empathizing with how she feels. When the big day arrives, Stella brings her whole extended family and feels surrounded by love and happiness.

I hope you enjoy seeking out these books as you celebrate all kinds of families with children. Picture books are both mirrors of our own worlds, helping us see ourselves a little more clearly, and windows into other people's worlds.

Illustrations ©2015 by Max Lang and Holly Clifton-Brown; used with permission from the publishers. The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Random House, Kids Can Press and Chronicle 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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15. Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson and Sean Qualls (ages 5-9)

Children are drawn to books in part to see themselves reflected, but also to look into the lives of other people far away. I think truly wonderful books can help us do both. Emmanuel's Dream tells the inspiring story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, who was born in Ghana with one deformed leg. He faced life with courage and fortitude, and his story helps readers think about how we face life's challenges.
Emmanuel's Dream
The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah
by Laurie Ann Thompson
illustrated by Sean Qualls
Schwartz & Wade / Random House, p2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-9
*best new book*
From an early age, Emmanuel's mother encouraged him to go after what he wanted. Even though one of his legs was deformed, he hopped more than two miles each way, learned to play soccer, and even learned to ride a bike with his friends. In 2001, Emmanuel rode his bicycle four hundred miles across Ghana to spread his powerful message: disability is not inability.
"As Emmanuel grew, Mama Comfort told him he could have anything,
but he would have to get it for himself."
Laurie Ann Thompson
Today, I have the honor of starting off a blog tour celebrating the publication of Emmanuel's Dream with an interview with Laurie Ann Thompson.

Mary Ann: How did you first find out about this story?
Laurie: I first learned about Emmanuel’s inspiring story when he appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 2005 at the launch of Emmanuel’s Gift, a documentary about his life narrated by Oprah herself. On her show, Oprah said, “I think every parent should go take their children to see this movie because it will change the way your children think about what they can do and can be.” I agreed, but as a children’s book author I thought it would be even better if every parent could share Emmanuel’s story with their child through a book!

Mary Ann: Then how did you go about learning more about Emmanuel?
Laurie: First, I bought the movie and watched it over and over again. Then, I did research online and through library databases to find newspaper and magazine articles about Emmanuel and his activities. Finally, in 2010, I had the honor of meeting Emmanuel and interviewing him in person. After that meeting, I had 18 pages of typed, single-spaced notes to add to my research file! Since then, Emmanuel and I have kept in touch by email and phone, so he was able to answer all of my follow-up questions directly.
Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah and Laurie Ann Thompson in San Diego
Mary Ann: What was really interesting or surprising to you?
Laurie: What I love most about Emmanuel’s story is how thoughtful he was about what he was trying to accomplish. He’s an incredible athlete, yes, but he’s also very intelligent and observant, and his ride was more than just a physical pursuit. He specifically chose a sport, cycling, that most people think would require two legs. He hired a photographer to document his journey along the way. And he intentionally arranged meetings with key government officials and religious leaders all along his route so that his story would be featured in newspapers and magazines and on radio and television. This careful cultivation of the right kinds of media attention was a huge factor in his success.

Mary Ann: When you read this story with children, what do you find they really connect to in Emmanuel's story? What inspires you about children's reactions?
Laurie: Since it just came out, I actually haven’t had a chance to read it with very many children yet, but what attracted me to the story was the fact that Emmanuel was such an underdog. He wasn’t expected to do anything important with his life—he was expected to become a beggar. First, he ignored that expectation, and then he completely turned it on its head! The setting will certainly be unfamiliar to most readers in the United States, and many children won’t be able to relate to being disabled and but I think all of us, especially children, can relate to that feeling of being underappreciated, of someone else’s expectations for us coming in disappointingly, frustratingly low. I hope that after reading the book children will give themselves permission to follow their own dreams and live up to their own potentials, regardless of what others may tell them is possible or not. I think that’s the real power behind Emmanuel’s story, and what I most wanted to convey.

Thank you so much, Laurie, for taking the time to share your thoughts on this beautiful story. I absolutely agree -- I think that this story helps children look inside themselves to see how they can be courageous, how they can live up to their potentials no matter what others tell them.

I look forward to following all the stops on Laurie's blog tour.
Mon, Jan 12: Great Kid Books
Tues, Jan 13: 5 Minutes for Books
Wed, Jan 14: Unleashing Readers
Thurs, Jan 15: Sharpread
Fri, Jan 16: Cracking the Cover
Sat, Jan 17: Booking Mama
Mon, Jan 19: Once Upon a Story
Tues, Jan 20: Proseandkahn
Wed, Jan 21: Geo Librarian
Thurs, Jan 22: Nonfiction Detectives
Fri, Jan 23: The Fourth Musketeer
Mon, Jan 26: NC Teacher Stuff
Tues, Jan 27: Teach Mentor Texts
Laurie Ann Thompson is the author of Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something That Matters, a how-to guide for teens who want to change the world. An advocate for social justice, Laurie is dedicated to inspiring and empowering young readers. Emmanuel's Dream is her picture-book debut. Visit her at lauriethompson.com.

Illustration © 2015 by Sean Qualls from EMMANUEL'S DREAM: THE TRUE STORY OF EMMANUEL OFOSU YEBOAH by Laurie Ann Thompson; published by Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher Random House 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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16. 2015 Caldecott Awards: a terrific range & selection of books!!! (ages 4-14, yes really!!)

This year's Caldecott Committee broke boundaries by including a graphic novel for young teens among their seven (7!!) books awarded honors. This selection of picture books, meaning books told with and through pictures, serves a wide range of children -- from preschoolers who will adore Dan Santat's Beekle, to teens who are the perfect audience for Jillian and Mariko Tamaki's graphic novel This One Summer.

Before I get any further, if you're considering This One Summer for your child, please learn about it before you order it. I genuinely recommend this for kids who are 13 and 14, but not for elementary students. Skip down to the end if you're specifically looking for information about this book.

The 2015 Caldecott Award for the most distinguished American picture book goes to:

Dan Santat, the author and illustrator of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend. This delightful story has charmed our young students at Emerson, with Santat's special message about loneliness, imagination and finding your own special, true friend.

My students are huge fans of Dan Santat's and will be thrilled to see this picture book, which comes so much from Dan's heart, honored and celebrated. Dan truly captures so much of what children value in this world -- playfulness, fun and friendship with an incredible eye and vivid imagination. Perfect for preschoolers, but enjoyed by older kids as well (ages 3-9).

Six (!!) Caldecott Honor Awards were given:

Nana in the City, by Lauren Castillo, captures the relationship between a young boy and his grandmother, as she helps him overcome his fears by listening, understanding and helping him. I especially love how his nana never scolds him, but rather emotionally comes to where this little guy is. Another truly special book, perfect for kids ages 3-6.

The Noisy Paint Box, illustrated by Mary GrandPré and written by Barb Rosenstock, conveys the way abstract artist Vasily Kandinsky experienced colors as sounds and sounds as colors. It's fascinating--this picture book biography didn't appeal to me right away (I brought too many grown-up questions to it), but my 5th grader found it fascinating and the art captivating. Kandinsky listens as “swirling colors trill…like an orchestra tuning up,” and GrandPré shows him lifting his paintbrush much like a conductor. A fascinating intersection of art and music, for ages 6-10.


Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, illustrated by Jon Klassen and written by Mac Barnett, is another huge kid favorite at Emerson precisely because it makes kids laugh and wonder at the same time. Sam and Dave are indeed digging a whole, as you can see on the cover, and they are determined not to stop until they find "something spectacular." What I love best about it is the respect Klassen and Barnett have for kids who love to puzzle over things and think about questions that don't have easy answers, or necessarily ANY answers. They're totally comfortable with that uncertainty, something grownups often forget. Kids from 4 to 10 have loved this.

Viva Frida, by Yuyi Morales, made me gasp in wonder the very first time I saw it -- and it's had the same effect on children and adults alike. Just look at the colors on the cover -- but then open, and you enter the dreamlike world that Morales creates, combining handmade puppets and carefully crafted stage sets. Morales conveys a sense of an artists' world, and how one artist infuses another artists' dreams and spirit. While this isn't a biography at all, it is an incredible testament to the artistic spirit that appeals to the very young as well as older readers who can put it into more context (ages 3-12).

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, illustrated by Melissa Sweet and written by Jen Bryant. I adore this utterly splendid book that tells the life of Peter Roget and the creation of his thesaurus. Sweet uses playful illustrations to draw children into young Peter's life, showing them how he loved lists of words and discovered that words had power, especially when gathered together and organized in interesting ways. This is a book children will enjoy pouring over again and again, noticing more details each time. I particularly love showing kids (ages 6-10) the ways science, language and art intersect.

This One Summer, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki and written by Mariko Tamaki. This fantastic graphic novel eloquently captures young teens on the cusp of adolescence, as they spend the summer together. For the first time, the Caldecott Committee said, YES, the illustrations in a graphic novel is a true form of art, one that is vitally essential to the story. It is utterly ground-breaking and I am so happy.

This book speaks to young teens about the way friendships change as they enter the murky waters of adolescence. Rose is so happy to spend the summer once again with her friend Windy, but she rejects many of their past activities as too childish and yearns to mimic the older teens in this beach town. I like the way Kirkus sums it up: "The realistic dialogue and sensitive first-person narration convey Rose’s naïveté and confusion, and Windy’s comfort in her own skin contrasts with Rose’s uncertainty." Teen pregnancy, gossip and a parent's depression all wind their way through this story. I've found it speaks well to young teens, ages 13-15.

Please seek out and share these books with kids in your life. They are each truly special. Early review copies were kindly sent by the publishers Little, Brown, Random House, Candlewick, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Macmillan and Eerdmans. We have purchased additional copies for our school library and classrooms, and we will continue purchasing more for gifts. 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. 2015 Coretta Scott King Awards: celebrating African American culture and universal human values (ages 4-15)

Coretta Scott King Award
The Coretta Scott King Book Awards are a continued source of inspiration for me and the schools I serve. Each year, these awards are given to authors and illustrators for books that honor African American culture and universal human values. Today, I would like to share the winning books with you. As the award website states,
"The award commemorates the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and honors his wife, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood."
2015 CSK Illustrator Award
Firebird, illustrated by Christopher Myers and written by Misty Copeland. In this stirring, beautiful picture book, Copeland creates a conversation between a young girl who dreams of dancing and herself as a professional ballerina (my full review) Myers illustrations are full of vibrant, saturated colors and help children visualize a story as they listen to Copeland's poetic text.

I read Firebird today with 2nd graders -- Jeehyun said, "It's like it was showing the young girl's life cycle," as she grew up and followed her dreams. I smiled, as we thought back to Jeehyun in kindergarten and wondered what advice she would have to herself as she was just starting school. It was a magical moment to share.  Inspiring, for ages 6-10.

2015 CSK Illustrator Honor Awards:

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Joesphine Baker, illustrated by Christian Robinson and written by Patricia Hruby Powell. I adore this beautiful biography that Patricia Hruby Powell & Christian Robinson created celebrating Baker's life and work (see my full review).  Christian Robinson captures Josephine's movement and playfulness with his gorgeous acrylic illustrations. Savor this long picture book biography over several sittings -- and notice how the pictures and words play off each other. For ages 8-12.

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, illustrated by Frank Morrison and written by Katheryn Russell-Brown. As Kirkus writes, "Bewitched by the rhythms of jazz all around her in Depression-era Kansas City, little Melba Doretta Liston longs to make music in this fictional account of a little-known jazz great." Kids love the exaggerated illustrations that brim with humor, sass and verve--just like I imagine Melba's trombone playing did. A great picture book biography, for ages 4-8.

2015 CSK Author Award:
Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson, is a moving, evocative memoir in verse that paints a picture of what it was like to grow up black and female in the 1960s and 1970s (see my full review). This book was especially meaningful to several of my African American students, especially girls, who could relate to Jackie's experiences. This powerful book will now be decorated with four medals: the National Book Award, the Newbery Honor, the Coretta Scott King Award, and the Sibert Award for nonfiction. Excellent and outstanding in so many ways, best suited for ages 10-14.

2015 CSK Author Honor Awards:

The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander, was recognized for its portrayal of a close-knit African American family, loving and supportive but also rife with tension between the brothers. As you know, my students are **huge** fans of The Crossover. As I said to a friend when I first read it, I love how the characters' African American identity is an important part of the book, but not an issue in the story -- it's just part of who they are. Don't BOTH of those medals look fantastic on this cover? Fantastic for ages 9-14.

How I Discovered Poetry, by Marilyn Nelson, is memoir in verse that is based on Nelson's experiences growing up as a daughter of one of the first African-American career officers in the Air Force during the 1950s. Publisher's Weekly calls this "an intimate perspective on a tumultuous era and an homage to the power of language." To learn more, listen to this NPR interview with Nelson. I have not read this or shared it with students, so I'm not quite sure if it's best suited for ages 12 and up, or would be a good fit for our 5th graders.

How It Went Down, by Kekla Magoon, is a gripping novel for teens that is undeniably relevant to issues our society is grappling with around the country. As Publisher Weekly writes, Magoon "offers multiple, contradictory perspectives on the shooting of an African-American youth. No one disputes that 16-year-old Tariq Johnson was shot on the street by Jack Franklin, a white gang member, but the motives of both killer and victim remain fuzzy, as do the circumstances surrounding the shooting." While I have not read this, I am a big fan of Magoon's previous work and know this will be an intense and full of raw emotions, for ages 14 and up.

2015 John Steptoe Award for New Talent:
When I Was the Greatest, by Jason Reynolds. I have not read this, but friends are raving about this engaging story of urban teens Ali, Noodles and Needles. As the award committee writes, "In an authentic contemporary voice, Reynolds focuses on the importance of family, the acceptance of responsibility and the obligations of friendship and portrays a likeable teenager learning how to be a good man." Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Please seek out and share these books with kids in your life. They are each truly special. Early review copies were kindly sent by the publishers Penguin, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Lee & Low, and Chronicle Books. We have purchased additional copies for our school library and classrooms, and we will continue purchasing more for gifts. 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. 2015 Pura Belpré Awards: Celebrating the Latino cultural experience in children's books (ages 2-14)

The Pura Belpré Medal
Each year, I look to the Pura Belpré Awards with joy. These awards celebrate the Latino cultural experience in books for children. Year after year, this committee selects books that speak to my students, both affirming my students' experiences and providing a window into others' cultures. Each year, I discover new books through these awards and celebrate ones that are already favorites.

2015 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award

Viva Frida, by Yuyi Morales, was awarded both the Pura Belpré Award for Illustration and the Caldecott Honor Award. I adore this book and have shared it with teachers and families all fall. As the Belpré press release states, Morales "uses rich, vibrant color photographs and minimal evocative text to beautifully portray the unique imagination and creativity of an iconic Latina artist." The joy and inspiration Morales gets from Kahlo is palpable on every page. (ages 3-12)

2015 Illustrator Honor Awards

Little Roja Riding Hood, illustrated by Susan Guevara and written by Susan Middleton Elya. I can't wait to share this with students -- they love modern twists on favorite fairy tales. I haven't read it yet, but Kirkus Reviews calls it "a spirited interpretation" that blends "a whimsical fairy-tale land with contemporary Latino-American life." (ages 3-7)

Green Is a Chile Pepper: A Book of Colors, illustrated by John Parra and written by Roseanne Greenfield Thong. My kindergarteners loved this duo's Round is a Tortilla last year, with Parra's folk art and Thong's rich language. Green Is a Chile Pepper continues this pair's delightful concept books that are full of Hispanic cultural details woven into lively text and colorful illustrations. (ages 2-6)

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family's Fight for Desegregation, by Duncan Tonatiuh. Tonatiuh combines clear text and folk-inspired art to bring this important story to children. Sylvia Mendez and her family fought for their right to go to their local neighborhood school in Westminster, California, in a court case that set a precedent for Brown vs. the Board of Education. This evocative, accessible story is one of my absolute favorites of the year, and I'm so happy to see it honored here and by the Sibert Committee. (my full review) (ages 6-10)

2015 Pura Belpré Author Award
I Lived on Butterfly Hill, by Marjorie Agosín, illustrated by Lee White and translated by E.M. O'Connor. I just started reading this last week after the awards were announced, and I can already tell that several of my students will love it. Celeste’s carefree life in Valparaíso, Chile, is shattered when warships appear. As people disappear, Celeste’s parents go into hiding, and she is sent into exile. When she returns home, she works to reunite people she loves and to move her country forward. The award press release states, "Lyrically written by acclaimed poet, Marjorie Agosín, this Chilean story offers a refreshing perspective on resiliency." (ages 10-14)

2015 Author Honor Award

Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes, written by Juan Felipe Herrera, illustrated by Raúl Colón. This accessible volume contains 20 short biographies of Latino men and women who have shaped the United States. Each chapter is about 3 to 4 pages long, providing enough depth to hold the reader's interest and paint a picture of these noted figures' remarkable achievements. I especially love the range of people Herrera includes. An excellent book for schools and families. (ages 8-12)

Please seek out and share these excellent books. Early review copies were kindly sent by the publishers Penguin, Abrams, Macmillan, and Chronicle Books. We have purchased additional copies for our school library and classrooms, and we will continue purchasing more for gifts. 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. Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas, by Natasha Yim and Grace Zong (ages 4-8)

I'm so happy to share Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas this week -- our kindergartners and 1st graders are excited about Chinese New Years (which begins on Feb. 19th this year), and they'll also love the way Natasha Yim spins the Goldilocks story.
Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas
by Natasha Yim
illustrated by Grace Zong
Charlesbridge, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
One Chinese New Years, Goldy's mother asks her to visit their neighbors, the Chan family, to wish them "Kung Hei Fat Choi" and share special turnip cakes with Little Chan. "He never shares with me,' Goldy muttered," but mother reminds her that it is the right time to wash away old arguments or she'll have bad luck.

Goldy knocks on the Chan's door, but no one is home. She pushes open the door just to peek and tumbles in, spilling the cakes and making a mess. From there, students will have fun recognizing all of the Goldilocks elements: Goldy finds three bowls of congee (finishing the last), three chairs (breaking the third), and then three beds (falling asleep in Little Chan's futon that's "just right").
“Then she slurped some congee from the plastic bowl. ‘Mmm … just right!’
Before she knew it, she had eaten it all up.”
I especially love the way Natasha Yim and Grace Zong incorporate elements of both Chinese New Years and the Goldilocks tale. Kids will love spotting all the different references. But even more, I love the way Yim changes up the ending.

Goldy runs away embarrassed, but then she thinks about what she's done and goes back to help the Chan's put things back together. It's a moment that I appreciate -- we all make mistakes, but it's what we do afterward that really matters.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Charlesbridge 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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20. The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage, by Selina Alko & Sean Qualls (ages 4-9)

There are so many different ways into sharing The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage. The story centers around Richard and Mildred Loving, the interracial couple who challenged Virginia's laws forbidding interracial marriages and took their case all the way to the Supreme Court.

You might approach it as a story of two people who stand up and fight for what they think is right--a book about courage, civil rights and fighting for change. Or you might see it as a way to start talking about race with young children, and the struggles one family went through not so long ago. Whichever you choose, this picture book makes a wonderful jumping off point for talking with kids about things that really matter.
The Case for Loving:
The Fight for Interracial Marriage
by Selina Alko
illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
Arthur A. Levine / Scholastic, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-9
*best new book*
Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter fell in love in 1958, but it was against the law for them to get married in the state of Virginia--simply because they were different races. Although they were married legally in Washington, D.C., the local police arrested and jailed them when they returned to Virginia, charged with "unlawful cohabitation". In order to live together legally and safely, they had to leave their families and move to Washington, D.C.

By 1966, the Lovings decided that "the times were a-changing" and they wanted to return home to Virginia. They hired lawyers to fight for them, taking their case all of the way to the Supreme Court.
The lawyers read a message from Richard: "Tell the court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can't live with her in Virginia,"
The Supreme Court unanimously agreed that it was unconstitutional to make marriage a crime because of race, and the Lovings moved back to Virginia to live "happily (and legally!) ever after."

Selina Alko tells this story in a calm, straightforward way, helping children understand how different and difficult things were for interracial couples just 60 years ago. The illustrations show Richard and Mildred's love and strength, but the gentle tones and collaged hearts keep the spirit warm and positive. Alko and Qualls explain the special importance of this story: their journey as an interracial couple echoes the Lovings'. Their endnote adds weight and perspective.

I especially appreciate how this picture book lends a way into opening up an important topic with young children. It helps talk about something that has now changed--but we still wrestle and notice so  many of these issues around us. Here's an excerpt about the importance of opening up dialog about race with children aged 5-8 from The Leadership Council, a civil and human rights coalition:
Five-to eight-year-olds begin to place value judgements on similarities and differences. They often rank the things in their world from "best" to "worst." They like to win and hate to lose. They choose best friends. They get left out of games and clubs, and they exclude others-sometimes because of race, ethnicity, and religion.

When children begin school, their horizons expand and their understanding of the world deepens. We can no longer shelter them quite as effectively. Even for graduates of preschool or day care, attending elementary school means more independence in a less controlled environment. Children are exposed to a wider range of people and ideas. They also experience more bigotry!

Between five and eight, children are old enough to begin to think about social issues and young enough to remain flexible in their beliefs. By the fourth grade, children's racial attitudes start to grow more rigid. Our guidance is especially crucial during this impressionable, turbulent time.
Interesting food for thought, hmmm? To me, this underscores the importance of entering into these discussions with kids, asking what they notice, what they think -- prompting them to think about why and how they can keep their minds open.

For more excellent nonfiction picture books, check out the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge over at Kid Lit Frenzy. Today, Aly has a great selection of mini-reviews and links to other terrific blogs.

Illustrations from THE CASE FOR LOVING Written by Selina Alko. Illustrations © 2015 by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko. Used with permission from Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher Scholastic. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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21. Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson (ages 4-8)

Spending time together. A grandmother and her grandson. That love and friendship is what life's all about.


I love how picture books can capture a small moment--and help us hold onto the small moments in our own lives. Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson's wonderful picture book Last Stop on Market Street makes me smile every single time I read it--it's so filled with love, friendship and an appreciation for life, in such a real way.
Last Stop on Market Street
by Matt de la Peña
illustrated by Christian Robinson
G.P.Putnam's Sons / Penguin, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
*best new book*
When CJ and his grandmother finish church, they head to the bus stop together. CJ doesn't want to wait for the bus, stand in the rain, or go places after church. "Nana, how come we don't got a car?" Nana gently chides him, really just planting seeds for how she sees the world. "Boy, what do we need a car for? We got a bus that breathes fire and old Mr. Dennis, who always has a trick for you."
"Boy, what do we need a car for? We got a bus that breathes fire and old Mr. Dennis, who always has a trick for you."
You see, it's really how you look at the world, the magic you can see there, and the people you meet along the way. When CJ asks why a man on the bus can't see, Nana tells him, "Boy, what do you know about seeing? Some people watch the world with their ears."
"Some people watch the world with their ears."
CJ's grandmother helps him see beauty in his surroundings, whether it's the bus or the soup kitchen they head to every Sunday afternoon. As Nana said,
"Sometimes when you're surrounded by dirt, C.J., you're a better witness for what's beautiful."
Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson celebrate the relationship between CJ and his grandmother, and they help all of us see beauty in the small moments, where we never even thought to look. This is a book I look forward to sharing with a wide range of children. Young ones will feel the love between grandmother and grandson; older ones will see the messages that the authors are sharing.

I know my students will especially love the illustrations, with such a wonderful range of people that look so much like the people we see every day walking in our city. The rich, full colors infuse the landscape and city scenes with warmth, community and happiness.

Want to learn more? Check out:
I'm so happy to hear that this special book is now on the New York Times Bestseller list. Hooray! I've already purchased five copies to share with friends. Illustrations from LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET written by Matt de la Peña. Illustrations © 2015 by Christian Robinson. Used with permission from G.P. Putnam's Sons / Penguin. The review copy was kindly sent by 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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22. My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay -- by Cari Best and Vanessa Brantley-Newton (ages 5-9)

With our 3rd graders, we're spending a lot of time looking at how we understand characters' feelings through what authors write and illustrators draw. This helps students understand the layers of a story and connect to characters, but it also helps them develop empathy. Our kids loved reading a new book, My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay, and really connected to the story. It's truly a special book about perseverance, friendship and blindness.
My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay
by Cari Best
illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-9
Adults might first notice the cane that Zulay is holding, but kids first noticed the braille alphabet on the back of the book. After they all felt the back cover, we talked about why Zulay might need to use this alphabet, so everyone started with a little background knowledge. Zulay has a huge smile on her face as she comes to school, arm in arm with her three best friends.
"We link our arms and skip our legs and sing like the stereo till Ms. Perkins, the hall lady, tells us to stop. 'You have a new perfume!' I say, and she says back, 'Zulay doesn't miss a thing.'"
Zulay loves her teacher, writing on her Brailler and helping her friend figure out a math problem. But when Ms. Turner, an aide, comes to help her practice using her "fold-ing hold-ing cold-ing" white cane, Zulay is reluctant. She doesn't want to be left behind or different from everyone else.

We talked about what it means, not wanting to "stick out", and why she might feel like this. I shared how hard it was for me to have to get extra help with my multiplication facts in 3rd grade. Kids talked about the illustration below, and how Zulay was feeling as she struggled learning to use her cane outside. We looked at Zulay's expression and thought about how it would feel.
"Then we practice together in the big outside with no walls or desks or friends." 
Zulay's spirit shines as she decides that she wants to run in the Field Day race around the track. She practices and works hard, and--just like Zulay's friends--my students cheered when she ran the final race.
"'Run, Zulay, run!' my friends all shout, like I shouted for them."
My students could definitely relate to how hard Zulay worked, how worried and uncertain she felt when things were difficult, and how excited she was at the end. The only detail they were a little unclear about is whether Zulay ran with Ms. Turner, as you see above, or by herself as it shows her when she crosses the finish line.

There are very few picture books about showing contemporary kids who are blind, so it is especially refreshing to see one with such a positive character and inclusive message.

This week, kids will look at a big array of picture books finding examples of characters' expressions. We are excited to have a visit by Lisa Brown, picture book illustrator and author, who will talk with 3rd and 4th graders about the Art of the Picture Book. Lisa's characters are full of a wide range of expressions -- just take a look at her Tumblr, where she posts daily sketches.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Macmillan, and we have already purchased an additional copy for our school. 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. Juna's Jar, by Jane Bahk and Felicia Hoshino (ages 4-7) -- imagination and friendship soar

I adore picture books for the way they let us escape into our imagination, but they can also help us recognize our resilience (and our children's) as we face disappointment. Share Juna's Jar, a lovely new picture book by debut San Francisco author Jane Bahk, and talk with your children about how Juna's imagination helps her when she misses her friend Hector.
Juna's Jar
by Jane Bahk
illustrated by Felicia Hoshino
Lee & Low, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-7
Juna and Hector always loved collecting things together and putting them in Juna's kimchi jar, but Juna is at a loss when Hector moves away. It's especially sad that she hasn't had a chance to say goodbye.
"Juna loved to take the jar and go on adventures with her best friend, Hector."
Her big brother, Minho, helps cheer her up, getting her a fish. That night, Juna dreams of diving into the ocean, swimming with her new fish and looking for Hector. The next night, after her brother gives her a bean plan to fill the jar, she journeys into the rain forest. On the third night, Juna rides a cricket in her dreams, traveling far outside the city to Hector's new home. As she sees him sleeping, Juna is able to whisper goodbye.

Felicia Hoshino's gentle watercolor illustrations capture Juna's wistful emotions, full of longing but also the final promise of new friendship.

I love how friend Margie Myers-Culver sums it up in her review at Librarian's Quest:
Juna's Jar "asks readers to think about friendship, family and the potential of imagination. It's not about looking at life as a glass half full or not but what can happen when we fill the glass."
Jane Bahk won the 2010 Lee & Low New Voices Award for an unpublished author of color, with the manuscript for Juna's Jar. I look forward to more stories from her! I also want to honor and thank Lee & Low for this important award.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Lee & Low. 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. Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees, by Franck Prévot (ages 7-12)

Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work helping women throughout Africa planting trees to improve the environment and their quality of life. As we celebrate Women's History Month, I am excited to share this new picture book about her struggles and accomplishments with my students.
Wangari Maathai
The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees
by Franck Prévot
illustrated by Aurélia Fronty
Charlesbridge, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 7-12
*best new book*
Maathai's political activism shines through in this biography, in her determination to reverse environmental damage caused by large, colonial plantations and empower local villagers--especially women--to improve their local conditions. Prévot begins by introducing young readers to Maathai's legacy:
"It's almost as if Wangari Maathai is still alive, since the trees she planted still grow. Those who care about the earth as Wangari did can almost hear her speaking... Wangari encouraged many village women. She dug holes with them in the red soil--holes in which to plant hope for today and forests for tomorrow."
As Prévot tells Maathai's story, he emphasizes how her childhood and her education shaped Wangari, especially, in a time when very few African women went to school or learned to read.
"When Wangari planted a large-leafed ebony tree or an African tulip tree, she was reminded of her own roots."
This biography allows students to develop a deeper understanding of the political, economic and social structures Maathai stood up against. I love being able to share with students the value of reading more than one book on a subject, seeing how different authors draw out different details. I would start by reading Seeds of Change, by Jen Cullerton Johnson, and watching a short video. If you build background knowledge, students can then dig into statements such as this:
"The government officials who built their fortunes by razing forests try to stop Wangari. Who is this woman who confronts them with a confident voice in a country where women are supposed to listen and lower their eyes in men's presence?"
The illustrations are striking and stylized, lush and vibrant. I especially noticed how Fronty varies the rich, saturated background colors on each spread, adding to the emotions. Just look how bold and strong the red is below--and notice how it contrasts to the cool greens and blues above:
"Wangari believes confident women have an important role to play in their families, their villages, and on the entire African continent."
This is truly an outstanding picture book biography. Prévot finishes with a detailed timeline of Maathai's life, illustrated with several photographs. This background material is both easy to access, written in short chunks, but also detailed to give a rich picture of her struggles and achievements.
From the backmatter -- timeline, informaiton about Kenya today, the damage caused by deforestation
Illustrations ©2011 by Aurelia Fronty; originally published in France. Used with permission from Charlesbridge. The review copy was kindly sent by 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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25. Celebrating Women's History Month with Leontyne Price & Mahalia Jackson (ages 5-9)

We celebrate Women's History Month each year, reading picture book biographies, investigating women through online sources and talking about women in our community. I'm happy to share today two new picture book biographies of inspiring African American singers, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson and opera singer Leontyne Price.
Mahalia Jackson
Walking with Kings and Queens
by Nina Nolan
illustrated by John Holyfield
Amistad / HarperCollins, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-9
Nolan introduces young readers to Mahalia Jackson, putting her life, passion and achievements in context. Right from the beginning, readers understand that music meant everything to Mahalia. I just love this opening spread:
"People might say little Mahalia Jackson was born with nothing, but she had something all right. A voice that was bigger than she was."
Although she was surrounded by all types of music in New Orleans and Chicago, Mahalia found comfort singing in church--especially given the hard times she experienced as a child. Nolan especially emphasizes Jackson's determination to pursue her singing and stay true to herself and her passion for gospel.
"Mahalia sang for as many people as she could. She knew gospel lifted people up. And when you know something like that, you've got to tell it to the world."
This is an important addition to our collection of picture book biographies. Pair this with Andrea Davis Pinkney's Martin and Mahalia: His Words, Her Song.
Leontyne Price:
Voice of a Century
by Carole Boston Weatherford
illustrated by Raul Colón
Knopf / Random House, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-9
I adore the beauty and strength in this new biography of opera singer Leontyne Price. Weatherford clearly introduces Price's life, showing how difficult it was for her to pursue singing as a career. Leontyne's family supported her passion for music: "Their song of encouragement rose above the color line." But it was Marian Anderson, the African American opera singer who gave a famous performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939, who truly inspired Price.
"Singing along to her daddy James's records and listening to the Metropolitan Opera's Saturday-afternoon radio broadcasts...
Art songs and arias, shaping a brown girl's dreams."
Weatherford's language is poetic and beautiful, yet always simple enough for young students to understand.
"Leontyne was never more majestic than as Aida, playing the part she was born to sing... Standing on Marian's shoulders, Leontyne gave the crowd goose bumps. The song of her soul soared on the breath of her ancestors."
Raul Colón's soft watercolor illustrations capture Price's grace and grandeur, while still feeling personal. An inspiring combination of text and artwork that draws children to it right away.

Mahalia Jackson illustrations ©2015 by John Holyfield; used with permission from HarperCollins. Leontyne Price illustrations ©2015 by Raul Colón; used with permission from Random House. The review copies were kindly sent by 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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