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1. The Katie Morag Treasury / Books with a strong sense of location

Over the last couple of year’s I’ve read quite a lot about how children’s books with a very specific cultural setting are not favoured by publishers because it is hard to sell rights widely; publishers are keen for “universal” stories which translate (literally and figuratively) well across borders and languages.

Whilst I understand publishers’ drive to maximise sales, I think a great deal is lost if we ignore stories boldly and vividly set in specific and identifiable locations and cultures. Indeed, considering the current drive for increasing diversity in children’s books, I would argue that books which are culture specific have a vital role to play.

And of course, a great book will be “universal” whether or not it is set in a specific time, location or country; enduring stories speak to that which we share whatever our differences.

I have been a fan of Mairi Hedderwick’s books for as long as I can remember. She writes and illustrates rural Scottish island life in a magical way. She captures truths like poetry can in her watercolours of Hebridean life, whilst her stories are full of acute observations about family life that’s more or less the same wherever you are in the world, exploring issues such as sibling rivalry and intergenerational relationships.

katiemoragetreasuryThe Katie Morag Treasury by Mairi Hedderwick is a glorious book, bringing together a mix of the most popular previously published Katie Morag books and new stories and illustrations first heard and seen on episodes of the highly acclaimed BBC Katie Morag TV show. It really is a treasury, with a range of witty and poignant stories, illustrated in ink and watercolour in a way that invisibly and movingly marries romance and realism.

For kids listening to these stories Katie Morag’s tales act as mirrors; yes she may live in a community vastly unlike the one the young reader or listener lives in, but that only makes it more interesting and reassuring to read that Katie Morag has the same sort of worries, plays the same sorts of games and quarrels with her parents just like they do. Thoughtfulness is a consistent thread in all these stories, and Katie Morag herself is a terrific role model; full of strength and imagination she is not afraid to explore, to try new things, or to be kind.

katiemorag

This is a keeper of a book, one which works well both as a read-aloud, or for children who can read themselves. Indeed the lovely hardback binding makes this ideal for older readers who might not want to be seen reading picture books any more.

Last year when we were holiday in Scotland we collected a stash of shells and sea glass and re-reading these fabulous Katie Morag stories inspired us to get our jars of them out of our natural history museum, and play with them using a home-made light box.

lightbox2

I borrowed one of our large plastic boxes which we normally store lego in, lined it with white tissue paper, and then put a load of fairy lights inside it. With the fairy lights turned on, and all the other lights turned off and curtains drawn we entered something of a soothing world where the girls could then make patterns with the shells and sea glass, with soft light shining through.

seaglass

If you don’t have any sea glass, you could do this activity with florists’ glass (vase) pebbles instead, making light imbued mosaics.

seaglass2

Music which goes really well with Katie Morag stories (though maybe not with the light box activity as much of it will get you up and dancing) includes:

  • My favourite radio programme – available worldwide online – Travelling Folk. This is BBC Radio Scotland’s flagship folk programme and it’s full of treats each week.
  • Arrangements of songs like you’ve never heard before from Billy McIntyre and his All Star Ceilidh Band, who I’d love to hear live because they are just WAY out there…. Pop! goes the Ceilidh is a hysterical album with covers of lots of pop classics (eg Living on a Prayer, Robbie William’s Angels, Billy Idol’s White Wedding) redone with fiddle, accordion and more. It will put a crazy smile on your face.
  • Anything by Skippinish but especially Land below the Waves that always gives me goosebumps:

  • Other activities which you could try out alongside reading The Katie Morag Treasury include:

  • Creating a sand imprint roller (!) like we did when I reviewed audiobook versions of the Katie Morag stories.
  • Making stone soup, as per one of the six folk tales told at Grannie Island’s Ceilidh, and reproduced in The Katie Morag Treasury. If you’ve never made stone soup here’s a recipe to get you started.
  • Adapting a pair of shoes to make your own tap shoes; Katie Morag learns to tap dance but uses her wellies and a little bit of ingenuity. Here are some ways you can turn your regular shoes into tap shoes.
  • What are your favourite children’s books which have a very strong sense of location?

    Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of The Katie Morag Treasury by the publisher

    4 Comments on The Katie Morag Treasury / Books with a strong sense of location, last added: 11/13/2014
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    2. The Colour Thief x 2

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

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

    thecolourthief_frontcovers

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

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

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

    Click to see larger image

    Click to see larger image

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

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

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

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

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

    Click to see larger image.

    Click to see larger image.

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

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

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

    paintchips2

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

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

    paintchips1

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

    colourthief

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

    colourthiefartwork

    Whilst making our colour mosaic we listened to:

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

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

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

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

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

    thesnowyday

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

    bubbleandsqueakpair

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

    mydadtrio

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

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

    3 Comments on The Colour Thief x 2, last added: 10/15/2014
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    3. What makes you You? A Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize shortlistee

    royalsocietyprizebuttonEach year the Royal Society awards a prize to the best book that communicates science to young people with the aim of inspiring young people to read about science. In the run up to the announcement of the winner of The Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize in the middle of November, I’ll be reviewing the books which have made the shortlist, and trying out science experiments and investigating the world with M and J in ways which stem from the books in question.

    7277405-MFirst up is What makes you YOU? by Gill Arbuthnott , illustrated by Marc Mones.

    Have you ever thought how your genes could get you out of prison?

    Or what the consequences might be if a company owned and could make money out of one of your own genes?

    How would you know if you were a clone?

    Why might knowing something about junk DNA be important if you’re running an exclusive restaurant with slightly dodgy practices?

    Answers to these and many other intriguing questions are to be found in this accessible introduction to genetics, pitched at the 9-11 crowd. Arbuthnott does a great job of showing how relevant a knowledge of genetics is, whether in helping us to understand issues in the news (e.g. ‘Cancer gene test ‘would save lives’‘) or understanding why we are partly but not entirely like our parents. What makes you YOU? covers key scientists in the past history of genetics and crucial stages in its development as a science, including the race to discover what DNA looked like, the Human Genome Project, and Dolly the Sheep.

    wmyyinside

    Arbuthnott portrays the excitement and potential in genetic research very well, leaving young readers feeling that this is far from a dry science; there are many ethical issues which make the discussion of the facts seem more relevant and real to young readers. Whilst on the whole I felt the author did a good job of balancing concerns with opportunities, I was sorry that in the discussion about genetically modified plants no mention was made of businesses ability to control supply to food stock, by creating plants which don’t reproduce, leaving farmers dependent on buying new seed from the business.

    A timeline of discoveries, a very helpful list of resources for further study, a glossary and an index all make this a really useful book. Importantly, not only does the book contain interesting and exciting information, it also looks attractive and engaging. Lots of full bleed brightly coloured pages, and the use of cartoony characters make the book immediately approachable and funny – a world away from a dry dull school textbook.

    What makes you YOU? provides a clear and enjoyable introduction to understanding DNA and many of the issues surrounding genetic research, perfect not only for learning about this branch of science, but also for generating discussion.

    Extracting DNA is what the kids wanted to try after sharing What makes you YOU?. In the interest of scientific exploration we tried two different techniques to see which one we found easier and which gave the best results.

    Method 1: Extracting your own DNA

    What you’ll need:

    dna1

  • A tablespoon
  • Salt
  • A measuring jug
  • Water
  • Washing-up liquid
  • A small bowl
  • A teaspoon
  • A small clean cup
  • A tall and narrow jar (or a test tube)
  • Clingfilm or a stopper/lid
  • A stirrer eg a plastic straw
  • Rubbing alcohol (surgical spirit – in the UK you can buy this easily in a chemists such as Boots)
  • dna4

  • 1. Dissolve 1 tablespoon of salt in 250ml of water to create a salt solution.
  • 2. Dilute the washing-up liquid by mixing 1 tbsp of washing-up liquid with 3 tbsp of water in your small bowl. We’ll call this the soap solution.
  • 3. Swish 1 teaspoon of tap water around in your mouth vigorously for at least 30 seconds. Spit this into the small cup. We’ll call this spit water.
  • 4. Put 1/4 teaspoon of your salt solution into your tall jar/test tube.
  • 5. Pour your spit water from the cub into the tall tar/test tube.
  • 6. Add 1/4 teaspoon of your soap solution to the test tube.
  • 7. Cover the top of your tall jar/test tube either with clingfilm/a stopper/a lid and gently turn the jar almost upside down several times to mix everything together. Avoid making any bubbles.
  • 8. Take the covering off the jar and dribble 1 teaspoon of surgical spirit down the side of the tall jar/test tube. Watch for the surgical spirit forming a layer on top of the spitwater/salt solution/soap solution mix.
  • 9. You should now see a white stringy layer forming between the two layers – this is your DNA (and a few proteins, but mostly it’s your DNA)
  • 10. You can use the stirrer to pull out the white goop to get a closer look at your DNA.
  • dna5.jpg

    We learned this method for extracting DNA from Exploratopia by Pat Murphy, Ellen Macaulay and the staff of the Exploratorium. Unfortunately it’s out of print now, but it is definitely worth tracking down a copy if you are interested in doing experiments at home.

    Method 2: Extracting strawberry DNA

    This second method is detailed in What makes you YOU? and involves strawberries, fresh pineapple, warm water and ice as well as washing-up liquid and salt. It also calls for methylated spirits but we swapped this for surgical spirit, as that’s what we had to hand.

    dna2

    This method is a little more involved than the first method but is a all round sensory experience: There are lots of strong smells (from crushed strawberries and puréed pineapple, as well as the surgical spirit), colours make it visually very appealing (perhaps this is why methylated spirits are called for in the original recipe as the purple of the meths adds another dimension) and there is also lots to feel, from the strange sensation of squishing the strawberries by hand, through to the different temperatures of the warm water in which the DNA-extracting-mix gently cooks followed by the ice water in which it cools down.

    squishingstrawbs

    strawberrydnaprocess

    strawberrydnaresult

    Look! Strawberry DNA!

    strawberrydnagoop

    Both methods were fun to try. We liked the first method because the result was seeing globs of our very own DNA, but the second method was a much more stimulating process, appealing to all the senses. Indeed this DNA extraction recipe alone makes it worthwhile seeking out a copy of What makes you YOU?.

    Whilst extracting DNA we listened to:

  • GENEticS, a rap by Oort Kuiper
  • The DNA song

  • The Galaxy DNA song By Eric Idle and John Du Prez (a re-worked Monty Python song)

  • Other activities which might go well with reading What makes you YOU? include:

  • Checking out this list of children’s books I previously compiled on genetics and DNA – with something for everyone no matter what their age.
  • Listening to an interview with Gill Arbuthnott
  • Watching this animation which helps explain how Mendel’s pea plants helped us understand genetics
  • What do you and your family look for in science books to really hook you in? Do share some examples of science books which you’ve especially enjoyed over the years.

    Disclosure: I received a free review copy of What makes you YOU? from the Royal Society.

    0 Comments on What makes you You? A Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize shortlistee as of 10/8/2014 10:09:00 PM
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    4. Welcome to the family by Mary Hoffman & Ros Asquith

    welcometothefamilyFascinating and reassuring, thoughtful and funny, Welcome to the Family by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Ros Asquith is a very special book about all sorts of different families and the ways children end up in them. If ever a book was cut and bound with love, this is it.

    It’s the perfect book if you’re part of a family with step-parents, adopted siblings, or any sort of family which is not vanilla Mum, Dad and 2.4 kids, and you want your family to see families just like yours in between the pages of a book.

    It’s also the perfect book if you are part of a family with Mum, Dad and 2.4 kids and you want to help your kids understand that there’s not just one way of being a family, even if all families do have one very important thing in common: Love.

    All sorts of children (and parents) will find themselves in this book; they will see themselves and their family set-ups acknowledged and celebrated without judgement. And as is appropriate of any celebration there’s lots of joy, happiness and humour in both words and pictures. Reassurance that the child is loved and welcomed is the beating heart of this book.

    welcometothefamily

    A special cuddly teddy bear provides commentary at different points in the text, allowing children to feel ok if what they’re reading is new or surprising for them. Sibling rivalry, anxiety and the difficulties which can arise in any family are also mentioned; this remains a realistic, not a sugar-coated view of family life, and it’s all the more comforting for that.

    Whilst I adore this book more than I have found easy to say (I’ve drafted this review many times trying to find just mix of exuberance and professionalism), I think it worth pointing out that although all sorts of families are included, they are all core, nuclear families ie parents and children. No explicit mention is made of aunts and uncles, grandparents or cousins, and yet these people too are very important parts of many families.

    Sharing this book (or letting your child discover it for themselves) is an easy and enjoyable way to introduce your primary school aged kids to everything from IVF babies to the fact that some kids are brought up by two Dads. It’s honest, welcoming text is brilliantly brought to life by spirited illustrations. It’s unpatronising, unthreatening approach is a breath of fresh air. Simply put, this is an outstanding book, a book that fights evil and ignorance with joy, love and respect.

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

    Inspired by Welcome to the Family we made a set of family puppets.

    familypuppets

    We started by taking a load of photos of each other, with our faces showing different sorts of expressions. I cropped our heads out and resized them so they were only 1.5-2 cm tall, before printing them out.

    faces

    (Alternatively you could also go to a passport photo booth and get have fun there, coming home with strips of faces.)

    Next we drew bodies and clothing. I gave the kids pieces of paper between 10 and 15 cm long and encouraged them to draw their bodies/clothes to fill the space; if your printed head is about 2 cm big, you’ll need the bodies to be between 10 and 15 cm long if you want them to be approximately in proportion to the heads. The kids found the scale issue a little difficult to begin with, but it definitely helped to give them rectangles of paper approximately the right size, rather than big sheets of paper.

    We cut out the heads and bodies and stuck them onto wooden barbecue skewers using label stickers, but you could use tape.

    familypuppets2

    Now we were ready to act out all sorts of family dramas!

    familypuppets3

    Whilst making our family puppets we listened to:

  • Love Makes a Family by Two of a Kind. In some ways the perfect song to match with Welcome to the Family
  • I Have Two Moms by Bria & Chrissy. Not the best music you’ve ever heard, but still potentially a useful song, about a boy with two moms in a same sex relationship.
  • Two Moms by Tom Knight. This one’s actually about step families (lyrics here)
  • Family Time by Ziggy Marley

  • Other activities which could work well alongside reading Welcome to the Family include these:

  • Use the photos from your family puppets to make family cloth dolls – here’s some inspiration from mokru
  • Make a family peekaboo board, like this one from His4Homeschooling. I think this would be a lovely thing for an older sibling to make for their younger brother or sister.
  • Draw up a family tree. This post from Sun Scholasr has lots of different ideas.
  • What are your favourite books about families?

    Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of Welcome to the Family by the publisher.

    3 Comments on Welcome to the family by Mary Hoffman & Ros Asquith, last added: 10/2/2014
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    5. Tinkering with reading: books to inspire creativity in all the family

    One of the best days of our school summer holiday this year was spent taking things apart and weaving other things together.

    playlabimage

    Two friends of mine are the driving force behind setting up an alternative, creative play space in my home town, and I was honoured to be a part of the team involved in testing a prototype of their PLAYLAB. The longer term project is all about taking play seriously, providing a wide range of fun opportunities to grow and develop, through engineering, digital, drama, art, and tinkering-based activities, and for one day during the summer we took over an empty shop in the local mall and turned it into a hive full of transformers and loom bandits.

    Photo: Stuart Parker

    Photo: Stuart Parker

    We had a range of old machines to take apart with hand tools, to explore, rebuild and repurpose and a sweetie shop array of loom bands for weaving and creating.

    Image: Joyjit Sarker

    Image: Joyjit Sarker

    Image: Stuart Parker

    Image: Stuart Parker

    There were also books! Books on the theory of play and practical books to inspire kids and families. One of my roles was setting up this mini tinkering/play-themed library and today I thought I’d share some of them with you. Whilst these aren’t kids’ books per se, they are definitely family books – books to share and inspire kids and their grown ups to be creative.

    cooltools1Cool Tools: A Catalog of possibilities by Kevin Kelly is a bizarre but ultimately enticing and fascinating curation of reviews of stuff that enable you to do, create, and explore your world.

    At first I baulked at a book that essentially seemed to be a collection of themed adverts covering everything from shoes to spirituality, Velcro to vagabonding, joinery to geology; each reviews has a product photo, details of where to buy the product and the typical price of the item, followed by a review of the “tool” at hand.

    But as I browsed this book (although its size and format – larger than A4 and printed on thin glossy paper – make it slightly unwieldy, this is a great book for dipping in and out of) I got sucked in and ideas for all sorts of play and creativity started flowing.

    And that’s what this book sis really all about: Showing you some interesting, practical tools (both physical and digital) to enable you to see possibilities where perhaps you saw none before. It’s sparked lots of “what if?” conversations in our family, and amazed us with the range of innovative ideas out there.

    On the back cover of Cool Tools it states “This book was made with the young in mind. Give a copy to a kid you know.” M (at 9) has loved this books though some families may wish to know in advance that there is a small section on ‘Psychedelics’ including marijuana, and e-cigarettes. Given the format of this book, the page concerned can easily be removed and its presence should certainly not be a barrier to you opening this book up and exploring all the possibilities it offers you.

    art-of-tinkering-9781616286095_lgThe Art of Tinkering by Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich has one of the best front covers I’ve ever seen. It embodies what the book is about int he most perfect way possible: It is printed with conductive ink, allowing you to play/tinker/hack the book before you’ve even opened it.

    Where Cool Tools was about products to foster doing/playing/tinkering, The Art of Tinkering is about showcasing a wide range of artists mixing technology and art, taking apart and repurposing one thing to make something exciting and new. After each artist is introduced there’s a section on “how you can tinker” in a way similar to the artist in question. Some of the suggestions need rather more equipment than just a screwdriver, glue or paint, but the ideas are innovative and inspirational, ranging from time lapse art to playdoh circuits, animating stuffed toys to sculpting in cardboard, building your own stroboscope to making clothes out of unusual materials. Whilst the book doesn’t include step by step tutorials, it is packed with practical information, presented beautifully. Nearly every page turn has resulted in “Mum, can we try that?!”

    tinkerlabTinkerlab by Rachelle Doorley is a compendium of “55 playful experiments that encourage tinkering, curiosity and creative thinking”, born out of the US blog with the same name, Tinkerlab. Written specifically with the 0-6 year old crowd in mind, the projects in this book are simpler and easier to set up than in some of the other books mentioned here today, and many fall into the messy play category; you might not think of them as tinkering (for example collage painting and drawing games), and yet they do all involve experimenting, exploring, testing and playing, and in that sense they could be described as ‘tinkering’. “Design”, “Build”, “Concoct” and “Discover” form the main themes of each chapter packed with clear, recipe-like guidance for the themed activities. The book is beautifully produced with a coffee table book feel and the activities are contextualised with brief essays by various play and education professionals. It’s written very much with parents in mind; Doorley is keen to encourage us all at home to make space for mess and exploration, and this book helps make it feel possible, manageable and enjoyable.

    vol-40-cover-150x195Make: is a quarterly magazine made up of a mixture of opinion pieces, detailed tutorials and artist/project biographies and write-ups. I’d gift this mind-boggling magazine to teens (or adults) who love the idea of playing and creating with technology. The projects are aimed at those who embrace electronics and gadgets and range from the practical (eg a DIY blood pressure monitor or sleep timer) to the purely whimsical, (eg moving, fire breathing sculptures or coffee shop construction toys).

    Even though most of the projects in Make: are too complex for the stage me and my girls are at, we’ve oohed and ahhed our way through several issues of Make: and will be looking out for new issues.

    320x180_2_1_00140b413fb3If tinkering/hacking is something that interests you, do look out for this year’s series of Christmas Lectures from the Royal Institution. “Sparks will fly: How to hack your home” is the title for this year’s series of lectures aimed at curious kids and their families and in them Professor Danielle George will be exploring how the spark of your imagination and some twenty first century tinkering can change the world. They will be shown on BBC4 over the Christmas period, and in January 2015 on the Ri’s (free) science video channel: www.richannel.org.

    3 Comments on Tinkering with reading: books to inspire creativity in all the family, last added: 9/15/2014
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    6. Why hope still matters

    By Valerie Maholmes


    Someone asked me at a recent book talk why I chose to write about hope and children in poverty. They asked whether it was frivolous to write about such a topic at a time when children are experiencing the challenges associated with poverty and economic disadvantage at high rates. As I thought about that question, I began to reflect on the stories of people I know and families I’ve worked with who, despite the challenges they experienced, were managing their lives successfully. I also reflected on popular figures who shared stories in the media about the ways in which they overcame early adversity in their lives.

    As I reflected on these stories, it occurred to me that a common theme among these individuals was hope. I began to see the various ways in which hope is a highly influential and motivating force in their lives. This kind of hope is not passive—it is not merely wishing for a better life, but it is active. It involves thinking, planning, and acting on those thoughts and plans to achieve desired outcomes. It is the driving force that keeps us moving despite the adversity and allows us to adapt and to be resilient in the midst of these circumstances. In reflecting on these themes, I decided that I wanted to tell these stories and to link the stories with theoretical frameworks that help illuminate why I believe hope is so important. Most of the theories and ideas I discuss are well known to those of us who study children and families. However, it occurred to me that practitioners and policymakers may not be so familiar with these ideas and may find them useful in planning their work with children and families. My goal is to foster understandings of hope and resilience in practical terms so that together researchers, practitioners, and policymakers alike can help more children and families manage their circumstances and chart pathways toward well-being.

    I Hope You Dance. Photo by Lauren Hammond. (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr.

    I Hope You Dance. Photo by Lauren Hammond. CC BY 2.0 via sleepyjeanie Flickr.

    So when I think about a response to the question “Why focus on hope?” — I respond “Why not?” Why not focus on strengths rather than deficits? Why not focus our interventions, legislative activities, and funding priorities on processes that will motivate individuals to strive for the best outcomes for themselves and their children? In so doing, we can formulate an action agenda on behalf of children and families that first assumes they can and will succeed in rising above their circumstances.

    As I learned from the families I interviewed, success means different things to different families. For some, success is being able to keep their family together—have dinner together, talk with each other, and support each other. For other families, success means being able to be a good parent– to go to bed at night realizing that you’ve provided for your child emotionally, spiritually as well as materially, and that by doing so, your child might have an even better opportunity than you did to achieve success. These individuals are truly courageous. They have overcome many obstacles and are striving to continue along that path. There are countless other courageous individuals who may never have the opportunity to tell their stories or to have their experiences validated with concepts and theories I discuss from the psychological literature. I hope this volume will represent their lives too. I challenge those of us who work with children and families and who advocate for or legislate on their behalf, to have the courage to “ hope” and to allow that hope to be a motivating and unrelenting force in our efforts to foster resilience and well-being in these families.

    Dr. Valerie Maholmes has devoted her career to studying factors that affect child developmental outcomes. Low-income minority children have been a particular focus of her research, practical, and civic work. She has been a faculty member at the Yale Child Study Center in the Yale School of Medicine where she held the Irving B. Harris Assistant Professorship of Child Psychiatry, an endowed professorial chair. She is the author of Fostering Resilience and Well-Being in Children and Families in Poverty.

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    7. Waiting on Wednesday–The Language Inside by Holly Thompson

    Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

    Holly Thompson’s Orchards was one of my favorite reads in 2011.  I loved the book, and it got me hooked on novels in free verse; previously, I wouldn’t touch them with a 10 foot pole.  Her latest release, The Language Inside, will be in stores 2013.  I can hardly wait!

     

     

    A beautiful novel in verse that deals with post-tsunami Japan, Cambodian culture, and one girl’s search for identity and home.

    Emma Karas was raised in Japan; it’s the country she calls home. But when her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, Emma’s family moves to a town outside Lowell, Massachusetts, to stay with her grandmother while her mom undergoes treatment.

    Emma feels out of place in the United States, begins to have migraines, and longs to be back in Japan. At her grandmother’s urging, she volunteers in a long-term care center to help Zena, a patient with locked-in syndrome, write down her poems. There, Emma meets Samnang, another volunteer, who assists elderly Cambodian refugees. Weekly visits to the care center, Zena’s poems, dance, and noodle soup bring Emma and Samnang closer, until Emma must make a painful choice: stay in Massachusetts, or return early to Japan.

    What are you waiting on?

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    8. Liar & Spy, by Rebecca Stead

    After downsizing and moving to an apartment with his family, Georges (yes with an "s") and his dad are in the basement throwing out garbage when they see a sign posted on a door.  "Spy Club Meeting -- TODAY!".  Much to Georges' chagrin, his dad writes "What time?" on the sign, setting off a series of events that will occupy Georges' days for the next while.

    Georges himself, is a big of an awkward kid.  He puts up with the daily microbullying that his mom says aren't part of the big picture.  The big picture of life is kind of like the Seurat print they have in their living room.  If you look at it close up, it's just a bunch of dots, but back away to see the big picture and everything comes into focus.  Thinking about the big picture doesn't make school any easier, however.  The sarcastic clapping at his volleyball moves, the renaming him Gorgeous, the fact that his friend Jason came back from camp completely different -- these things all pepper Georges days.  Add onto this the fact that his nurse mom is always at the hospital, and his dad works plenty as well, and you get a sense of what Georges is going through.

    So when somebody answers on the Spy Club sign that there is a meeting at 1:30 and Georges' dad encourages him to go, nobody is more surprised than Georges to find a kid waiting in the basement room.  He first meets Candy, then Safer and their family from the 6th floor.  Safer says that he's a spy and that he's got his eye on one of the building's tenants.  He's creepy -- always wears black and is constantly hauling big suitcases in and out of the building.  Safer teaches Georges some of the art of being a spy, and before he knows it, he is in over his head.

    Rebecca Stead has written what could be called the perfect tween/middle grade novel.  She gets kids, and the situations the characters get into as well as their voices are spot on.  Each setting rings true, and the slow simmer and reveal are plotted precisely and perfectly.  Stead manages to pay close attention to detail without slowing the pace of the story.  There is a message in Liar & Spy about empathy and bullying and being an ally, but it doesn't feel the least bit didactic.  Liar & Spy has quickly risen into my top five for the year.

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    9. Classics Illustrated Deluxe #9: Scrooge: A Christmas Carol & A Remembrance of Mugby by Charles Dickens

    5 Stars Scrooge: A Christmas Carol & A Remembrance of Mugby Charles Dickens Papercutz 96 Pages   Ages: 8 and up   Scrooge is actually two books in one. In addition to the traditional Dickens classic  A Christmas Carol there is also another Charles Dickens classic, A Remembrance of Mugby. Chances are good you have not [...]

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    10. That Cat Can’t Stay by Thad Krasnesky

    Cat Writers' Association Muse Medallion Winner World's Best Litter-ary Award Winner Nebraska Golden Sower Award list 2012-13 Illinois Monarch K-3 Readers' Choice Award list 2012-13 NY State Charlotte Award list 2011-12 Delaware Diamond Award list 2011-12 Storytelling World Award Honor Title 2011 Bank Street Best Books for Children 2011 Wanda Gág Best Read Aloud Book Award 2011 Honor Book Society of School Librarians International Honor Book 2010 Smithsonian Notable Books for Children 2010 NSW Premier Reading Challenge Book (Australia) 1st grade Read-Aloud Choice, 25th Annual Read-Aloud Day, Bridgeport, CT

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    11. Review: The Space Between Us by Jessica Martinez

     

    Title:  The Space Between Us

    Author:  Jessica Martinez

    May Contain Spoilers

    From Amazon:

    From the author of Virtuosity, a novel about two sisters and the secrets they tell, the secrets they keep—and the secret that could tear them apart.

    Amelia is used to being upstaged by her charismatic younger sister, Charly. She doesn’t mind, mostly, that it always falls to her to cover for Charly’s crazy, impulsive antics. But one night, Charly’s thoughtlessness goes way too far, and she lands both sisters in serious trouble.

         Amelia’s not sure she can forgive Charly this time, and not sure she wants to . . . but forgiveness is beside the point. Because Charly is also hiding a terrible secret, and the truth just might tear them apart forever.


    Contains spoilers!

    Review:

    Oh. My. GOD!  That is the only way I know how to express myself after reading The Space Between Us.  The book was not what I was expecting.  At all.  From the first page, I couldn’t put it down.  I kept hoping the puppies would go to sleep so I could read without all of their little distractions (like trying to chew on my rugs, dragging boots around the house, and wrestling over the millions of toys they have to play with!).  This is an emotional read, and the drama is built up entirely around Amelia’s feelings for her youngest sister Charly.  There were plenty of times when I didn’t like Amelia, but I always understood her.  She is enraged that Charly has completely derailed her carefully planned out life, and she can’t find it in herself to forgive her.  But even as she can’t forgive her, she wishes that life would go back to normal, that she and Charly could once again share that easy relationship that they once had.  Her resentment keeps getting in the way, though, and just keeps pushing them further apart.

    Amelia has one goal in life – to go to Columbia.  Her entire school life so far has been dedicated to this goal.  She has exceled in her classes, studied her heart out, and always been the good girl.  Charly, on the other hand, is her exact opposite.  Fun loving, bubbly, outgoing, Charly thinks that life’s a game to be played all out.  Everyone loves her, and though she gets into a ton of trouble, her antics have been harmless.  Amelia is resigned that she will be bailing her out of one scrape after another, but with Charly’s unpredictable streak, at least life is never boring.  Until she starts hanging out with a bunch of losers, and she winds up pregnant.

    Now, not being overly religious and not living in a small town, I didn’t sympathize with Amelia and her grandmother’s reaction to Charly’s condition.  Not even having a pastor father, who is a distracted and distant caregiver at best, could excuse their behavior and how they treated Charly like a tramp.  She’s pregnant, not a criminal!  She’s scared, suddenly alienated from her own family, and has no one to confide in.  The girls’ stern grandmother has decided that they will keep Charly’s pregnancy a secret from everyone, including their father.  They will both be shipped of to their aunt’s house in Canada, where Charly will take online courses for the rest of the year, and Amelia will be enrolled in the local high school.  Really?!  Sending them off to a relative they don’t know and  have only met once, at their mother’s funeral when they were babies, is the answer to Charly’s problem?  I hated their grandmother, I hated their clueless father, and I even hated Amelia for part of the book.  Everyone in her immediate family turned their back on her when Charly needed them the most, and I had a hard time forgiving them. 

    Amelia is infuriated that she is being shipped off to the frozen north.  She wants nothing more than to finish out her senior year at her Florida high school, and then she’ll be free!  It’s off to Columbia for her!  Freedom from Charly and her shenanigans, freedom from gossip, freedom from always having to be the good girl.  Argh!  Amelia does not make a good impression on anyone once she gets to her aunt’s house, and she sees nothing wrong with her rotten behavior.  She takes her rage out on everyone.  I could understand how devastated she felt after her dreams shattered one by one, but come on!  You are supposed to be the mature one!  There were times that I was so frustrated with her that I did not like her.  But even then, I could still sympathize with her.  It is so hard to have your entire life shaken up like snow globe, so while I didn’t condone her actions, at least I understood them.

    There is a lot of emotion packed into this book.  While it’s told from Amelia’s POV, Charly’s terror and unhappiness are painfully evident.  She’s a sixteen year old kid who, after one careless decision, ends up ostracized by her family.  The only caring adult in her life is the aunt she doesn’t even know.  Bree immediately tries to make both girls feel at home, but Amelia is so resentful and suspicious of her motives that she can only give her a hard time.  Ugh! I kept waiting for her to attain some measure of maturity, and it was a long time in coming.  Almost too late, really.  Amelia made me so angry!  I haven’t been this worked up reading a book in a long time!

    When forgiveness does finally come, there is still an awkward strain between the sisters.  Amelia has fallen into a pattern of thinking that constantly blames her sister for everything, and dismisses her unfairly.  I think my only disappointment with the story is that I felt that some of the issues that had pushed them so far apart weren’t settled enough for my satisfaction.  That space that developed between Amelia and Charly, and even between Amelia and her father and grandmother, had grown so great that I am not convinced it could ever be bridged.

    Grade:  B+

    Review copy obtained from my local library

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    12. Interview with Lisa Ann Scott, Author of School of Charm

    [Manga Maniac Cafe]  Good morning, Lisa! Describe yourself in five words or less.

    [Lisa Ann Scott] Loyal, creative, introvert, risk-taker, responsible.

    [Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about School of Charm?

    [Lisa Ann Scott] It’s a universal story about the challenge of fitting in while still being yourself. 11-year-old tomboy, Chip, was her Daddy’s girl, but after he dies, she doesn’t know whose girl she is. When her family moves south to live with the grandma they’ve never met, they distract themselves from their grief by entering an upcoming beauty pageant. Only, Chip’s not a pageant girl. But she finds an unusual school where she secretly trains for the pageant, hoping to show her family she belongs, too. It’s a tale filled with heart, hope, and wisps of real life magic.

    [Manga Maniac Cafe]  Can you share your favorite scene?

    [Lisa Ann Scott] I love the scene where the girls at the charm school find the beginnings of a friendship while playing in the mucky pond. It always feels like summer when I re-read that scene.

    [Manga Maniac Cafe] What gave you the most trouble with the story?

    [Lisa Ann Scott] Making Grandma less mean. (Which is hard to believe because even now, she’s still a challenging character to like.)

    [Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s one thing you won’t leave home without?

    [Lisa Ann Scott] My smartphone (Mostly so I always have a book handy to read. Love the kindle app!)

    [Manga Maniac Cafe] Name three things on your desk right now.

    [Lisa Ann Scott] A glass of Teavana strawberry cream iced tea, a hair clip (that I annoyingly take in and out all day,) a betta fish in a small tank (my cat stares at him constantly.)

    [Manga Maniac Cafe] If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would you be?

    [Lisa Ann Scott] My ten-year-old daughter (so I could possibly discover a way to understand and diffuse the constant drama.)

    [Manga Maniac Cafe] What are some books that you enjoyed recently?

    [Lisa Ann Scott] I’ve been reading and loving ARCs from fellow Class of 2k14 debut children’s authors: Alienated by Melissa Landers, The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holzcer, Bird by Crystal Chan. All of them are wonderful.

    [Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

    [Lisa Ann Scott] LisaAnnScott.com or Lisa Ann Scott, children’s author on facebook, LisaAnnScottMG on Twitter

    About the book

    At the School of Charm, everyone has a wish to whisper. With an enchanting small-town setting, lively storytelling, and a hint of magic, this debut novel is perfect for fans of Ingrid Law, Clare Vanderpool, and Rebecca Stead.

    Eleven-year-old Chip has always been her daddy’s girl, so when he dies she pins her hopes on winning a beauty pageant to show her family of southern belles that she still belongs. But she’d rather be covered in mud than makeup! Can a rough-and-tumble girl ever become a beauty queen? A universal story about finding your place in the world, School of Charm explores themes of loss, family, and friendship.

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    13. Interview with Varsha Barjaj, Author of Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood

    [Manga Maniac Cafe] Good morning, Varsha!  Describe yourself in five words or less.

    [Varsha Barjaj] I am hard working, idealistic, optimistic, loyal and driven!

    [Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood?

    [Varsha Barjaj] What thirteen-year-old Abby wants most is to meet her father. She just never imagined he would be a huge film star–in Bollywood! Now she’s traveling to Mumbai to get to know her famous father. Abby is overwhelmed by the culture clash, the pressures of being the daughter of India’s most famous celebrity, and the burden of keeping her identity a secret. But as she learns to navigate her new surroundings, she just might discover where she really belongs.

    [Manga Maniac Cafe]  Can you share your favorite scene?

    [Varsha Barjaj] My favorite scene is the one in which Abby and Shaan take a rickshaw ride to the beach in Mumbai. I loved writing the details of the rickshaw ride.

    [Manga Maniac Cafe] What gave you the most trouble with the story?

    [Varsha Barjaj] Striking the balance between the fun, playful aspect of the story and the deeper issues of cultural identity, belonging within a family and being in a city with vast disparities between the rich and the poor.

    [Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s one thing you won’t leave home without?

    [Varsha Barjaj] My comb

    [Manga Maniac Cafe] Name three things on your desk right now.

    [Varsha Barjaj] A picture of my family, A Don Quixote card holder, and a sunshine yellow “I Love Mom” mug made by my daughter.  

    [Manga Maniac Cafe] If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would you be?

    [Varsha Barjaj] Michelle Obama. I love her charm, her look and her intelligence.

    [Manga Maniac Cafe] What are some books that you enjoyed recently?

    [Varsha Barjaj] I just finished re-reading Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck and it blew me away. I also read the ARC for School of Charm by Lisa Ann Scott and was charmed.

    [Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

    [Varsha Barjaj] Readers can connect through my website or on twitter (@varshabajaj

    Thank you for this opportunity to “talk” to you and your readers.

    [Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!

    About the book:

    What thirteen-year-old Abby wants most is to meet her father. She just never imagined he would be a huge film star—in Bollywood! Now she’s traveling to Mumbai to get to know her famous father. Abby is overwhelmed by the culture clash, the pressures of being the daughter of India’s most famous celebrity, and the burden of keeping her identity a secret. But as she learns to navigate her new surroundings, she just might discover where she really belongs.

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    14. Pottytime for Chickies, Bedtime for Chickies

    Books: Pottytime for Chickies and Bedtime for Chickies
    Author: Janee Trasler
    Pages: 24 each
    Age Range: 2-4 (padded board books)

    Pottytime for Chickies and Bedtime for Chickies, both by Janee Trasler, are part of a new series of padded board books focused on issues of interest to toddlers and early preschoolers (upcoming titles discuss the arrival of a new chick, and the development of table manners). Both books feature three little round chicks, apparently parented by three farm animals (Pig, Cow, and Sheep). The parent figures all look male to me, though this isn't completely, which makes for a nice, subtle message about varied types of families. 

    In Pottytime for Chickies, the chicks are, as you might suspect, learning how to use the toilet. They have their own ideas about what the potty is for, however, and when left to their own devices they do things like swim in the potty (ick!), and use the toilet paper like a trapeze. Each time, one of the parents returns, passes out hugs or kisses, and tries to get them onto the right track. So, for example, we have:

    "Pottytime, Chickies.
    Just two things.

    First wipe your tail feathers,
    then wash your wings.

    Goodbye, Sheep.
    Shut the door.
    We know what the potty's for."

    Followed by jumping off the back of the potty onto a pile of towels, followed by hugs and gentle redirection from Sheep. And in the space of a few short pages, the chicks figure out what to do. So, no, not the most realistic potty training book that parents can add to their arsenals. But it is pretty fun! My already potty-trained daughter pealed with laughter over the chicks in the potty. 

    Bedtime for Chickies tackles another common issue - the ways that kids will delay going to bed. Even as the adults are settling into their own beds, the chick are thirsty, have to go potty, and need a story, to the increasing chagrin of the three tired adults. Eventually, each chick ends up falling asleep in the lap of a similarly sleeping grown up animal (a more realistic ending than the first book). 

    One thing I liked about Bedtime for Chickies was the way the author teased kids, by making them think that a rhyme was coming when it wasn't. Like this:

    It's bedtime for chickies.
    It's bedtime for sheep.
    It's bedtime for pig and cow.
    Let's all go to ..."

    My four-year-old immediately chimed in with "sleep." But in face, on the next page the text is:

    "cheep, cheep, cheep.
    We can't sleep.
    We have to go potty."

    The disruption in the text mirrors that disruption in the actual bedtime process. Nice.

    Trasler's illustrations aren't realistic, of course, but the three round chicks are cute and kid-friendly, and the adult animals are quirky (and wear clothes). The adults come across as more nurturing in the potty book, vs. just exhausted in the bedtime book (both of which seem appropriate to me). The colors are soothing - not to bright, and the energy of the chicks is apparent on nearly every page. 

    I think this is a nice addition to the ranks of toddler-focused board books. These take a very light tone, and focus more on the universal humor of things kids do than on "teaching" a certain behavior. And I do love that the adult caregivers are apparently male and of different species than the kids. Not only does this make the book more visually interesting, it quietly tosses stereotypes aside (an usual thing in the board book world). Recommended new baby gifts or first through third birthdays. I look forward to seeing the other books in this fun new series.  

    Publisher: Harper (@HarperChildrens
    Publication Date: January 28, 2014
    Source of Book: Review copies from the publisher

    FTC Required Disclosure:

    This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

    © 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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    15. Oh, the Places You’ll Go

    bookCoverShannon Bowers’ son Alex loves Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go.

    Shannon gets teary-eyed when they read it together. Someday Alex will grow up, go to college and live out his dreams. Alex gets teary-eyed when Shannon reads too many of the pages. He’s five now. That’s his job.

    Recently, Alex and his classmates, students from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, all picked out brand-new books from First Book to take home. They chose stories about history, princesses and sharks. Their excitement was overflowing; many of them had no books at home.

    Shannon Bowers family 2014Books have always been an important part of Shannon’s life. Her parents read to her as a child, and she and her husband Paul entered parenthood sharing the belief that education creates opportunities. They have always made an effort to fill their home with books.

    Since Alex was born, Shannon and Paul have made reading as a family part of their nightly routine. Alex picks out a book; they all pile into his bed and share the story together. These days, Alex really likes to read to one-year-old Michael. He gets frustrated if mom or dad interrupts.

    Shannon hopes reading will help take Alex and Michael all the places they want to go – in their imaginations and in life. She hopes financial issues won’t stand in their way. She hopes the same can be true for all kids.

    “Our kids, they’re five years old,” she said. “None of them are thinking about [the future] right now. But we are. We think about that kind of thing… I want all of these kids to know if they make good enough grades, and they do what they need to do, then it’s there. They can do whatever they want.”

    Together we can prepare kids for brighter future. Please consider making a gift to First Book today.

    The post Oh, the Places You’ll Go appeared first on First Book Blog.

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    16. Review: Don’t Call Me Baby by Gwendolyn Heasley

     

    May Contain Spoilers

    Review:

    This is the third novel of Gwen Heasley’s that I’ve read.  I enjoyed it, too, with just a few caveats.  The first being that I felt Don’t Call Me Baby is written for a younger a audience than her previous works, but then again, maybe that’s because Imogen isn’t from the same privileged background that Corinne is from.  Imogen doesn’t have Corinne’s sense of entitlement, or her abrasive personality.  Definitely a plus!  The other reservation, and this is by no means negative – I am a blogger, so I could see both sides of Imogen’s conundrum, as well as her mother’s.  This made it easier for me to sympathize with both of them, but if you have no interest in blogging, some aspects of the story might bore you.

    Imogen is excited to start 9th grade, and at 15, she is determined to finally take back her privacy.  Her mom is a popular mommy blogger, and Imogen, AKA Babylicious, is the star of the blog.  Ever since she was born, she has been the featured topic of the blog.  Her mom shares every aspect of her life with her readers, and Imogen is tired of it.  She’s teased at school, she has no secrets, and she doesn’t appreciate the way her mom spins every coming of age moment for the entertainment of her blog fans.  Her mother’s happiness is measured in website clicks, and Imogen wants it to end.  Pronto.  Because her mom is so caught up in her blogging and growing her stats, there is an ever growing distance between them.  Is her mom genuinely interested in her troubles, or is she going to make them the topic of her next blog post?

    At least she has her BFF to lean on.  Sage’s mom is also a blogger.  Her blog is about healthy lifestyles and begin vegan, so Sage isn’t allowed to eat foods the rest of us take for granted.  Her mom constantly tries out new recipes, feeds them to Sage, and blogs about the experience.  Sage hates it.  If it wasn’t for her beloved piano, she would go nuts.  Instead, she’s forced to sneak off to the mall for binges in the food court. 

    When the girls are given an assignment in English class to write a blog, they are resistant at first.  Then they realize that it’s the perfect way to get back at their moms.  They will tell them how they really feel about having their privacy stolen from them, in a public place, and hope to shame their moms into immediately stop posting about them.  What they didn’t count on was the backlash from their moms, which threatens both their friendship and their relationships with their mothers.

    Don’t Call Me Baby is really about a young woman trying to take back her voice.  Her mom is very enthusiastic about her blog and about engaging with her readers, and she doesn’t stop to think that she’s invading her daughter’s privacy.  Because of the popularity of the blog, Imogen just wants to fade into the background.  She doesn’t like being the center of attention.  She hates it.  That’s what she’s trying to put a stop to.  She just wants to be a normal teenager, with normal teenage problems, without her mom’s blog subscribers being involved in every major life decision involving her upbringing.  I would have balked at that, too!

    There are times when Imogen’s protest goes a little too far.  I was seriously concerned that she was going to make a major, major mistake near the end of the book.  Because both Imogen and her mom have become deaf to each other’s words, she does make a few missteps in an attempt to make her mom understand her feelings.  She has lost the ability to have a meaningful conversation with her mom, and it takes a touching moment in a public place for her to finally understand that her mom has reasons for acting the way she does.  Imogen grew up so much after her mother’s revelation, and I liked her so much better for it.

    I enjoyed the secondary characters, too, especially Imogen’s grandmother.  I also liked Imogen’s resolve to disconnect for a while, so she can regain her perspective on life.  In today’s connected world, everyone seems more interested in doing anything other than talking, which led to most of her conflict.  She also had a major falling out with Sage, because Imogen realized that their tactics were not working, and she didn’t want to aggravate her mom just for the sake of aggravating her. She knew when to call it quits and launch another plan of attack.  Sage was just so angry at her mother, and by extension, at Imogen, that she keep getting more and more stubborn with her protest.

    Don’t Call Me Baby is an enjoyable read.  Though it’s character based, it moves along at a fast clip, and I had a hard time putting it down.  I kept worrying about what Imogen was going to do to get her mother’s attention, and it was nerve-wracking at times!  If you liked Gwen’s previous books, you’ll like this one, and if you enjoy books about conflict resolution, this will work for you, too.

    Grade:  B

    Review copy provided by publisher

    From Amazon:

    Perfect for fans of Jennifer E. Smith and Huntley Fitzpatrick, Don’t Call Me Baby is a sharply observed and charming story about mothers and daughters, best friends and first crushes, and our online selves and the truth you can only see in real life.

    All her life, Imogene has been known as the girl on that blog.

    Imogene’s mother has been writing an incredibly embarrassing, and incredibly popular, blog about her since before she was born. The thing is, Imogene is fifteen now, and her mother is still blogging about her. In gruesome detail. When a mandatory school project compels Imogene to start her own blog, Imogene is reluctant to expose even more of her life online . . . until she realizes that the project is the opportunity she’s been waiting for to define herself for the first time.

    The post Review: Don’t Call Me Baby by Gwendolyn Heasley appeared first on Manga Maniac Cafe.

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    17. Cuddling up to Nightbear by Rebecca Patterson

    nightbearcoverThere are lots of recipes for great picture books but Rebecca Patterson has certainly worked out one of the best set of ingredients. She takes a good dose of humour, a non-patronising, reassuring, sincere child’s-eye view of the world and adds in highly observant illustrations and a sprinkling of drama. She did it with the Roald Dahl Funny Prize winning My Big Shouting Day!, the brilliantly perceptive My Busy Being Bella Day, and has pulled it off once more with her latest book, Nightbear.

    An old bear has arrived at a new home; the book opens with us following him from the factory where he was made, to his first (and unappreciative) home, to a charity shop where he is eventually bought by a young girl out shopping with her mum. The bear is thrilled to have been chosen, but how will he fit in, when he discovers that the girl already has lots of teddy bears with very important roles in her life?

    A heartwarming, delightful story not just about having a great teddy bear to hug, but also about the importance of having someone listen to your stories, and the reassurance that comes from being ‘picked’, about the everyday, real worries a young child can have (from nightmares, to being ill in the night), and most of all about the enormous fun to be had with imaginative play, Nightbear is a perfect picture book.

    patterson

    Starting with the gorgeous, dark sparkly cover, this book is so much fun to look at as well as to listen to. Patterson draws with a delightful, fluid simplicity; lots of smooth curves abound – as if echoing the cuddliness of the bears, and the warmth of the family. Some of the tiny details in the illustrations are like poems; they ring true in an uncluttered, authentic way that makes you see them anew, for example the way the mother holds the hand of the child when they’re browsing in the charity shop, or the manner in which the father holds the hair of the child whilst she is being sick.

    A book every nursery and infant school should have, a book every charity shop should use to make a brilliant, eye catching window display, a book every family with young children will enjoy, Nightbear is an ideal book to cuddle up with.

    Feeling sad at the thought of all those unloved teddy bears leading lonely lives on charity shop shelves we armed ourselves with 50ps and went off with a mission to each rescue and bring one home.

    teddy1

    This one (above) looked pretty comfy.

    teddy4

    This one looked rather resigned to its fate.

    teddy3

    These two had fallen over and were asleep when we saw them.

    teddy2

    This one was too expensive.

    But eventually we each found a teddy that we loved, came home, and celebrated by dressing them up (as happens in Nightbear). I’m rather jealous of the bustle and headgear newly named ‘Treacle’ got to wear:

    teddy5

    Little ‘Buttercup’ got a pretty nifty hat:

    teddy6

    But ‘Candy’ stole the show with her badges and slides…

    teddy7

    Whilst dressing our teddies we listened to:

  • Stompy the Bear by Caspar Babypants
  • Freddy Bear, The Teddy Bear by Ralph’s World
  • Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear by Elvis Presley

  • Other fun activities to get up to alongside reading Nightbear include:

  • Making a patchwork blanket. Even the youngest kids can have fun making a paper collage out of coloured squares, whilst older kids could paint fabric in blocks of colour (thinned down acrylic paint is great for this if you don’t want to get dedicated fabric paint).
  • Having a Teddy Bears’ Picnic! A blanket, some bears, some biscuits… oh and a good book or two and you’re all set!
  • Ready Baggy Brown by Mick Inkpen for another great view of a teddy bear factory line
  • Enjoying these pictures of really old teddies and wondering what sort of lives they’ve led
  • Have you a favourite teddy bear? Or a teddy bear who is assigned a special job?

    Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher.

    4 Comments on Cuddling up to Nightbear by Rebecca Patterson, last added: 5/22/2014
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    18. Made by Raffi by Craig Pomranz & Margaret Chamberlain & other knitting picture books

    Indulge me: Have a quick brainstorm about picture books you know for young kids which explore what it feels like to be different?

    [Go on! Play the game!]
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .

    Of those you’ve come up with, how many are about emotions rather than physical characteristics?

    How many of them feature humans rather than animals?

    How many of them have a boy lead character rather than a girl?

    [I came up with very few, and even then I needed help from the ever resourceful and generous Letterbox Library. Between us we came up with Oliver by Birgitta Sif, Eliot Jones, Midnight Superhero by Anne Cottringer and Alex T Smith, Weslandia by Paul Fleischman and Kevin Hawkes but that was pretty much it.]

    raffifrontcoverSo when Made by Raffi written by Craig Pomranz, illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain (@madgiemadge) appeared in my hands for the first time I sat up and noticed; it’s about a boy who feels he doesn’t quite fit in, for instead of football, his passion is knitting and sewing.

    Although he’s a curious and generous kid, he feels sidelined at school. Unlike most of his classmates, he doesn’t like noise and rough play. But thanks to a supportive teacher he discovers a new passion – making his own clothes. When it is time for the school play could this new skill help him gain the respect of his peers? Without giving the game away, the ending is upbeat, but also authentic. This isn’t a sugar-coated story. (For the really interesting background to the story, take a look at this article).

    This book deserves to be in every school and read in every family for a whole plethora of reasons. It’s bold, tackling gender issues that many adults might skirt around: I love Pomranz daring to use the word “girly“, and it certainly helped us talk about how being a girl interested in ‘boys’ things’ is often more accepted by society than a boy interested in ‘girls’ things’. It’s big hearted; not just the warm, loving family Raffi is part of, but also his supportive school. It shows all sorts of children playing together, with different skin colours and different physical abilities, as well as different interests. It’s a joyously inclusive book, which tackles big themes gently and playfully.

    raffiinside

    Margaret Chamberlain’s illustrations are delightful. She uses colour very cleverly to portray moods and to mirror how much more interesting – indeed colourful – the world is for a diverse range of characters; wouldn’t the world be a dull grey place if we all liked only the same things?

    A book about loneliness, respect, difference, and learning to trust your instincts even when it means you don’t follow the crowd, Made by Raffi is a vital, delightful and unusual book I urge you to share.

    M and J were recently shown how to knit by their Grandma, and reading Made by Raffi offered the ideal opportunity to practice their recently acquired skills. (Here are some Youtube tutorials we found helpful to refresh our memories of what Granny had taught us: Casting on, knit stitch, casting off.

    knitting2

    knitting1

    Having a ball of wool with lots of different colours on it was an effective tool in motivating the kids; each child would knit one or two colours and then hand the needles and ball over to the other. It gave them easy targets to aim for, and I’m sure this is partly why they completed a long scarf far more quickly than I was expecting.

    completedscarf

    Whilst knitting we’ve been listening to:

  • Lots of songs by Raffi (an Egyptian-born Canadian singer-songwriter who creates great kid-friendly music), – here’s a whole playlist on youtube.
  • The Knitting Song by Bill Oddie
  • Knitting by Arthur Askey. Massively old fashioned but a great rumble through all sorts of stitches and garments.

  • Other activities which would go well with reading Made by Raffi include:

  • Learning to finger knit. Here’s the youtube video we used to learn how to fingerknit.
  • Letting the kids embellish their own clothing. I found this the easiest/most satisfying way to let the kids have a go at making something themselves – they chose buttons they liked and sewed them onto a couple of pieces of clothing. Simple sewing but with a relatively big (and ‘real’) result.
  • Making a cloak as described in the story. Alternatively, if you can find a department store selling off curtain samples (eg in John Lewis or House of Fraser), you can pick up pretty much prepared cloaks – all you need to do is add something (eg a large hook and eye) so you can have the cloak safely stay on your shoulders as you zoom around wearing it.
  • If in a school or a library setting, making a display with images of clothes designed by men (Galliano, Versace, Gaultier for example, cut out from glossy magazines) and as the centre pieces place Made by Raffi and The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams. Whilst not for primary school kids, I’d also encourage you to read Boys Don’t Knit by T.S.Easton, a hilarious take on a teenage boy who loves to knit. Ben Fletcher and Raffi would definitely like to meet each other!

  • Other picture /illustrated books which feature knitting include:

  • Socks for supper by Jack Kent
  • Knitting Nell by Julie Jersild Roth
  • Mr. Nick’s knitting by Margaret Wild and Dee Huxley
  • Shall I knit you a hat? : a Christmas yarn by Kate Klise and M Sarah Klise
  • Derek, the knitting dinosaur by Mary Blackwood and Kerry Argent
  • Annie Hoot and the knitting extravaganza by Holly Clifton-Brown
  • Mrs. McDockerty’s knitting by Ruth Martinez and Catherine O’Neill
  • Noodle’s knitting by Sheryl Webster and Caroline Pedler
  • The knitting of Elizabeth Amelia by Patricia Lee Gauch and Barbara Lavallee
  • Knitty Kitty by David Elliott and Christopher Denise
  • The truly terribly horrible sweater that Grandma knit by Debbie Macomber, Mary Lou Carney and Vincent Nguyen
  • Carrie measures up! by Linda Williams Aber and Joy Allen
  • knittingpicbooks1

  • Pa Jinglebob, the fastest knitter in the West by Mary Arrigan and Korky Paul
  • Pa Jinglebob and the Grabble Gang by Mary Arrigan and Korky Paul
  • The best little knitter in the West by Sermsah Bin Saad and Samantha Cook
  • The three billy goats Fluff by Rachael Mortimer and Liz Pichon
  • The long red scarf by Nette Hilton and Margaret Power
  • It’s gone, Jac! by Rob Lewis
  • A winter’s yarn by Kathleen Cook Waldron and Deborah Turney Zagwyn
  • Love from Woolly : a lift-the-flap book of woolly gifts by Nina Michaels and Nicola Smee
  • Pelle’s New Suit by Elsa Beskow
  • Milo Armadillo by Jan Fearnley
  • knittingpicbooks2

    If you like the sound of Made by Raffi and are anywhere near Edinburgh in August, don’t miss the chance to meet author Craig Pomranz talking about his book as part of the Edinburgh Book Festival.

    Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from the publishers.

    3 Comments on Made by Raffi by Craig Pomranz & Margaret Chamberlain & other knitting picture books, last added: 7/2/2014
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    19. Big Sisters Are the Best by Fran Manushkin

     4 stars Bringing a new baby into the home is a time of s miles and smells, hugs and kisses. Author Fran Manushkin celebrates this special milestone with a sweet story that shows that there is plenty of love for everyone, big sister and all. This cute little story can help an older sibling understand [...]

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    20. Henry Helps with the Baby by Beth Bracken

     5 Stars Henry helps take care of Penny, his infant sister.  He likes to get the things she needs.  If Penny’s diaper needs changed, Henry gets a clean diaper.  He finds Penny’s hat when everyone goes on a walk.  At bath time, Henry shares his bath toys, and when Penny is hungry, Henry shares mom. [...]

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    21. Hooked by Catherine Greenman




    Thea has been her own care-giver, since mom is flighty and dad seems Aspergers-esque. At the prestigious high school she meets a mesmerizing young man and falls immediately in love with him, Will. Hooked. He is a girl’s dream come true, even keeping their romance hot after he leaves for Columbia. During one love-making session, they do not use protection and Thea becomes pregnant. She tells everyone that she is aborting the baby, but leaves the procedure table, never to return. Both set of parents give them money to begin their lives together with Ian, the baby to which Thea is eternally hooked. Columbia is a must in this arrangement, and Thea worries their relationship into confrontations. Will has been traumatized since Ian’s birth, and when Thea accidentally burns Ian, Will explodes with a demand the adoption of Ian so their lives can go forward. That night Thea packs up to live with her father, the fellow I feel has AS. There are bumps, but things work out. Thea crochets adult replicas of her childhood bikini, and despite her father’s negativity, she persists in her hooked hobby becoming a money-maker. And Dad uses his mathematical skills to admit the market, and help with production. Will? They talk weekly, and there is room for more in their relationship. This is an powerful novel about the fears of a teen mom coming into being a parent, her fears, concern for her baby’s safety, and the epiphanies she has about parenthood, particularly about her parents. Will and Thea’s sex scenes are a bit too much for younger readers. But this would be excellent for a teen parenting class’s novel.

    ENDERS' Rating: ****
    Catherine's Website

    0 Comments on Hooked by Catherine Greenman as of 3/6/2012 2:22:00 PM
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    22. I’m Not Tired Yet! by Marianne Richmond

    A to Z Challenge Day 9:  I  5 stars I’m Not Tired Yet! has six-year-old Ralphie inventing every excuse to delay his bedtme.  His perceptive mom, however, sees his stalling as her invitation to engage Ralphie in a silly series of kisses, hugs, pinches, and pokes—all inspired by his favorite animals and each leaving the [...]

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    23. My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer, by Jennifer Gennari

    June has been content living with her mother on the shores of Lake Champlain, spending her time baking and selling sweets at the Stillwater Marina, and swimming with her friend Luke. This summer she is dreaming of what pie she is going to enter in the Champlain Valley Fair.  It seems pretty ideal, yes? 

    It is pretty ideal except for Eva.  Eva has just moved in with June and her mom.  It's not like June didn't know that her mom was gay, but having Eva living with them is making June uncomfortable.  After all, June and MJ have always had a rhythm, and Eva just doesn't fit.  Now that Vermont's civil union law has  passed, Eva and MJ are even talking about getting married!

    But not everyone in their town is happy with the idea of civil unions.  In fact, someone even had the nerve to put a "Take Back Vermont" sign on their front lawn.  June isn't even sure what that means, but she doesn't stick around to find out.  After Eva tears up the sign, June takes off with Luke to see the secret blueberry bushes that he found up by the jumping cliff. June can't wait to come back the next week to pick some for her pies.  Before she and Luke leave, however, June's friend Tina's brother Sam and some of his friends show up.  Sam calls June a "lezzie" for being too scared to jump off the cliff, and June starts to wonder if Sam put up the sign on her lawn.  And does Tina feel the same way her brother does?

    Soon the "Take Back Vermont" campaign starts to take off in town.  Folks stop coming into the marina, and June starts to worry about her mom.  But there are others who are willing to stick up for June, Eva and MJ, and June starts to realize that she needs to stick up for her family as well.

    Overall this is a coming of age story that easily could have turned into a didactic piece about marriage equity.  Gennari has managed to balance the discussion with June's struggles with friendships, her blossoming crush on Luke as well as the everyday growing pains that families go through.  I am always on the look out for LGBT books to put in our collection, and honestly ones that fit the tween audience are hard to come by.  My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer fits nicely into not only the LGBT collection, but into tween summer reads as well.

    0 Comments on My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer, by Jennifer Gennari as of 1/1/1900
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    24. The Stray Dog: From a True Story by Reiko Sassa by Marc Simont

    5 Stars The Stray Dog Marc Simont HarperCollins Children's Books 978-0-0644-3669-4 No. Pgs. 32 ….. Ages 4 and up ……………….. Inside Jacket: When a little dog appears at a family picnic, the girl and boy play with him all afternoon, and they name him Willy.  At day’s end they say good-bye. But the dog has won their [...]

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    25. Interview with Patricia Dunn, Author of Rebels By Accident

    Patricia Dunn is the author of Rebels By Accident, a young adult coming of age tale that takes place in Egypt during the revolution that recently swept through the country.  Patricia dropped by the virtual offices to chat about her book.

    [Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

    [Patricia Dunn] I am the tangential queen. When I tell a story I take you around the world to bring you right back to where we started only with some new discovery, hopefully.
    [Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about Rebels by Accident?

    [Patricia Dunn]  It’s the journey of an Egyptian-American teen who in our post 9-11 world is very disconnected from her culture, and how she finally figures out what it means to be Egyptian and American. It’s also a love story. Not just the girl meets boy story, but a story that also includes falling in love with a place and a people, and friends and family. And let’s not forget that it’s about Revolution on the outside and on the inside.

    [Manga Maniac Cafe] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

    [Patricia Dunn] It didn’t start off as a choice. I was in a writing class with Cassandra Medley, at Sarah Lawrence College, she’s an amazing teacher and playwright. Through a series of writing prompts, the voice of Mariam started to come through. Someone once said it was like I channeled her. And I must have, because I’d never have consciously written in the voice of a teenager. Teens are tough. But whenever I tried to go back to a more adult narrator Mariam kept fighting her way through and winning. When I finally accepted Mariam as my narrator, I let her tell her story, and there were many variations. After the recent Egyptian revolution, I knew that was part of her story and so with the help of a wonderful editor, and my then publisher Evelyn Fazio, and with the help of my best friend and agent, this version emerged. And like any story I write, revision, revision, and revision, and trial and error, lots of it. The more I worked on this book, the more I learned about my characters and the more the story revealed itself.

    [Manga Maniac Cafe] What kind of research did you conduct for this project?

    [Patricia Dunn] I’ve been to Egypt many times, so I could visualize a lot of the places I was writing about. But to get the events and the feel for a lot of the scenes at Tahrir square, I spent hours looking at YouTube videos and reading posts on Facebook and Twitter, and asking everyone I knew who was there or who had family there at the time. I also had many readers looking over the book and helping with fact checking. When it came to some of the Arabic translations, I made sure that these were checked and rechecked. I really tried to make sure that the transliteration was true to the way things are said in Egypt as opposed to other Arabic speaking countries. For example, in Egypt a “th” sound is used in a lot of words whereas it’s not used in other Arabic speaking countries. Oh, and I also talked to as many teenagers as I could to get a sense of what felt believable. I was constantly reading sections to my son and asking, "Does this sound like something a teen would say?" Or would your friends do this? Or would they do that? Then there was all the research around social media. It was amazing to me how the youth in Egypt were not only using Facebook to share news about fashion or friends but they were using Facebook to organize, to change the world.

    [Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Mariam?

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