Monday, September 26, 2016

The Inquisitor's Tale, by Adam Gidwitz -- serious fun, terrific storytelling (ages 9-14)

In a recent interview in The Horn Book, Adam Gidwitz talks about his teaching days as being filled with "serious fun" -- I love that concept. Yes, kids love having fun, laughing, sharing silly or gross stories. They also love to dig into serious topics and want us adults to ask for their opinions.

Gidwitz has legions of fans for his exciting, engrossing retellings of Grimm's tales. In his newest book, he tackles medieval life, religious intolerance and the power of deep loyal friendship--all with a healthy dose of fun, adventure and brilliant storytelling.
We begin our tale at a travelers' inn, hearing about three children fleeing for their lives from Louis, the powerful king of France (for history buffs, this is Louis IX, commonly known as Saint Louis). Each child is ostracized, isolated in their own way, until fate brings them together. Jeanne's neighbors worry that her seizures and visions mean that she's possessed by witchcraft. When her dog Gwenforte, who saved her life as a baby, comes back to life, Jeanne escapes into the forest.

illuminations by Hatem Aly
Jeanne meets up with William, a young African oblate (a monk-in-training), and Jacob, a Jewish boy whose village was burned to the ground by an antisemitic mob. Each child is wary and full of fear at first, but they grow to trust each other.

In the High Middle Ages, life was defined by class and religion--completely different from today. And yet, was it? It was a time full of intense distrust of "the other," people who belong to a different religion or social group. And at the same time, a time marked by rapid social changes, spurred by urban centers, economic development and trade across boundaries.

What will draw children to this story? They will love Gidwitz's storytelling as William battles the fiends in the forest, or Jacob cures the farting dragon by realizing stinky cheese is setting his farts on fire. They will love the way Gwenforte the greyhound is loyal to the children, guiding and protecting them.

Young readers will also connect emotionally to Jeanne, William and Jacob--feeling often as they do, that no one understands them except for their loyal friends. Hatem Aly's illustrations provide both humorous relief and concrete grounding for this complex story.
A portion of the famous Unicorn Tapestries depicting a hound on the hunt. This dog partly inspired Gwenforte the Greyhound, the holy dog.
Just as importantly, children will be drawn into this story where young heroes decide to take a stand for what's right, fighting against ignorance and intolerance, proclaiming that collaboration and friendship is not only possible across social groups but thrives among different social groups. Society is still struggling with these very issues today.

One early reader told me, "I'm loving this story because it's full of so many different people. Most stories I read have characters who are all the same. Here, everyone is different and that's so interesting."

Serious fun. Brilliant storytelling. Fascinating history. And an opportunity to wrestle with important social and religious issues. Friends, this is definitely a must-read, must-share story.

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

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Reading Without Walls: Encouraging kids to expand their horizons through comics, science & technology (ages 8-12)

My students love graphic novels, and I love the way they engage kids in reading and thinking about stories. This year, two graphic novel series are particularly expanding the way I see graphic novels, incorporating science & technology in this visual storytelling format: Secret Coders and Science Comics. Both of these encourage kids to learn about scientific concepts, through a medium that they love.
Paths & Portals
Secret Coders, Book 2
by Gene Luen Yang & Mike Holmes
First Second, 2016
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-12
In Secret Coders, readers follow a team of kids who use coding, team work and perseverance to solve mysteries at their school, Stately Academy. Hopper, Eni and and Josh discover that the custodian Mr. Bee is actually a genius who used to run a secret, underground school hidden below Stately Academy. Through trial and error, they figure out how computer programming works to make repetitive jobs easier, create interesting artwork and even trap villains.

Kids in our library love the logic puzzles that coding encourages them to figure out, and they're going to love working with Hopper and her friends to solve these puzzles too. Yang's visual storytelling provides the perfect hook for understanding the logical structure of coding.
Science Comics
Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean

by Maris Wicks
First Second, 2016
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-12
Each volume of Science Comics balances complex topics with humorous cartoon characters, engaging kids and helping them understand the scientific concepts. In Coral Reefs, a bright yellow little fish eagerly introduces readers to his home, explaining everything from how coral grows to the diverse ecosystem that reefs support.

Coral reefs are home to an incredible variety of species, and Wicks clearly introduces readers to a huge range. She also explains why this diversity is so crucial to protect from pollution, habitat loss and global warming. Yet the humorous asides and cartoon illustrations help keep the tone light and friendly, never didactic. Definitely a series that will get kids wanting to learn more.
Please join me today, celebrating the Reading Without Walls Blog Tour. Gene Yang put forward the challenge to teachers, librarians, parents and kids to expand their world by reading something different -- different from their usual reading choices, with different characters or about different topics. 
READING WITHOUT WALLS BLOG TOUR 
August 31: Colby at Sharp Read
September 1: 
Jess at Reading Nook Reviews
September 2: 
Samantha at Forest of Words and Pages
September 5: 
Jennifer at YA Book Nerd
September 6: 
Maria at Maria's Mélange
September 7: 
Gigi at Late Bloomer's Book Blog
September 8: 
Jen at Starry Eyed Revue
September 9: 
Cheyenne at The Hollow Cupboards
September 12: 
Anya at On Starships and Dragonwings
September 13: 
April at Good Books and Good Wine
September 14: 
Cindy at Charting by the Stars
September 15: 
Erica at The Book Cellar
September 16: 
Sandie at Teen Lit Rocks
September 19:
 Asheley at Into the Hall of Books
September 20:
 Daphne at Gone Pecan
September 21
Mary Ann at Great Kids Books
September 22:
 Kathy at The Brain Lair
September 23:
 Michelle & Leslie at Undeniably (Book) Nerdy
September 26
Laurie at Reader Girls
September 27:
 Margie at Librarian's Quest
September 28
Victoria at Art, Books, & Coffee
September 29
Cee at The Novel Hermit
September 30:
 Amanda at Forever Young Adult
The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, First Second / Macmillan. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Making new friends -- picture books for the new school year (ages 4-8)

Do you remember the song, "Make new friends, but keep the old. Some are silver, and others are gold." As our kids settle into a new school year, let's help them think about how important it is to make new friends, being kind and inclusive. Here are some new picture books all about making new friends.

Be a Friend, by Salina Yoon: This adorable friendship book follows Dennis, a little boy who only communicates through miming. One day at school, he kicks an imaginary ball and--to his surprise-- his classmate Joy catches it! A delightful story about finding a kindred spirit and discovering a new friend.

Big Friends, by Linda Sarah, illustrated by Benji Davies: Best friends Birt and Etho love playing pretend with cardboard boxes every day--racing, battling pirates, constructing forts. When another boy joins them, Birt retreats home sulking, until Etho and his new friend use their imagination to create an invitation Birt can’t resist.

Flora and the Peacocks, by Molly Idle: Flora dances with two elegant, proud peacocks in this wordless picture book--navigating the friendship between three. When one peacock starts dancing with Flora, the other feels left out--sound familiar? Molly Idle’s expressive illustrations depict a full range of emotions, letting children tell the story in their own words.

My Friend Maggie, by Hannah E. Harrison: Paula and Maggie are best friends, but when this duo (a beaver and an elephant) encounter a bully at school who teases Maggie because of her large size, their friendship is put to the test. At first, Paula gives in to peer pressure and shuns Maggie; but in the end, she realizes that a true and loyal friend is the best sort you can have.

There are many many friendship picture books that are wonderful to read with kids. Do you have any favorites?

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

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Ghosts, by Raina Telgemeier -- poignant messages about family, courage & facing fears (ages 8-12)

When Raina Telgemeier recently held a reading at the Berkeley Public Library, over 500 young fans turned out to see their favorite cartoonist. My students are super-excited that Raina's newest book Ghosts hits the shelves today! Bay Area settings play a prominent role in many of her graphic novels, especially here. To celebrate, I'd like to share my review of Ghosts and a short interview I did with Raina.
Ghosts
by Raina Telgemeier
Scholastic, 2016
book trailer
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-12
*best new book*
When Cat and her family move to a foggy, windy Northern Californian town, she worries that the town’s obsessions with ghosts portends something dangerous and harmful. Cat's little sister Maya has an incurable lung disease cystic fibrosis, she is insatiably curious about ghosts and loves the town's coming celebration of Day of the Dead.

Will Maya be soothed by the town's cool, misty weather or do the ghosts threaten to take her away from Cat? As the story develops, Cat discovers more about the town’s celebration of the Day of the Dead and her own Latino heritage. I especially love the way Raina layers poignant, important messages about family, courage and facing fears.

You create such a relatable character in Cat. I'm curious what part of “Ghosts” draws on your own experiences, and what is creating a new character and story?

Raina: Cat shares my anxiety. I have a lot of fears and phobias, from things that go bump in the night to much deeper issues within myself. Some of these, I worked through on the page, but otherwise Cat and her surroundings are fictional. Her little sister, Maya, who has cystic fibrosis, is in part inspired by my young cousin who became terminally ill when she was 12. Sabina was an incredible, spirited, unstoppable kid, and Maya definitely shares some of her light.

I love how you capture the Northern California coastal setting. What town and experiences influenced this?

Raina: Bahía de la Luna isn’t a real place, but it was inspired by a mash-up of Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz, Moss Beach, Monterey, and Morro Bay. And a little Santa Ana for good measure, even though that’s in Orange County. I grew up in San Francisco, but my family loved exploring the oceanside towns all over the Bay Area.

My students are particularly interested in the way Maya copes with cystic fibrosis. What inspired you to make this part of the story?

Raina: Cystic fibrosis is a disease that directly affects a person’s ability to breathe, and breathing is a huge theme in the story: ghosts don’t breathe, so Maya feels like she can relate to them. And Cat’s anxiety means that she sometimes forgets to stop and breathe deeply, herself.

Thank you so much, Raina, for taking the time to share with us about Northern California and your wonderful story.  I love this video where Raina shares both the Northern California settings of Ghosts and a little bit about the story.


If you want to read more about Raina Telgemeier and Ghosts, check out these links:
The review copies were 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.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Towers Falling, by Jewell Parker Rhodes: The power of sharing, remembering, and building community (ages 9-12)

As we remember and reflect on the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, it's important to recognize that this is history--not memories--for our 4th and 5th graders. How do we share this history with our children? How do we share its impact on our lives and our world? Jewell Parker Rhodes wrestles with these issues in a compelling, heartfelt way in her novel Towers Falling.
Towers Falling
by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Little Brown, 2016
Google Books preview
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
Dèja's father is having nightmares again, groaning and tossing in his sleep. Their family has just moved into a homeless shelter and Dèja will start fifth grade in one more new school. Her father is ill and her mother's waitressing job barely pays for their food.

Dèja starts her new school, the Brooklyn Collective Elementary, defensive and ready to push back on anyone who gives her a hard time, squinting her "don't you make fun of me" face. Although she's defensive and guarded, her teacher is supportive and Dèja's welcomed by students, making two friends. When her fifth-grade begins studying the events of September 11th, Dèja's confused--she's never heard of the events and she's frustrated that everyone else seems to know more than she does.

Towers Falling focuses on Dèja's journey learning about the effects of September 11th, both on a personal level and a broader historical level. Her teacher starts by asking the class to talk about home and community, seeing how they are connected by slowly expanding concentric circles. Dèja's new friends Ben and Sabeen are by her side as she uncovers answers to difficult questions. Mary Ann Cappiello writes in her review in School Library Journal's blog The Classroom Bookshelf:
With a diverse cast of characters, she (Jewell Parker Rhodes) brings contemporary New York City to life, reveals the struggles of millions of Americans who comprise the working urban poor, and pays homage to the first responders and survivors who still battle deteriorating health and PTSD. Dèja recognizes that “America is my history. My story. Not just ‘Homeless Dèja.’ I don’t know how yet — but the towers falling is my history, too” (p. 128).
By drawing readers into Dèja's journey, Jewell Parker Rhodes shows how history not only is made of past events, but it also forms the fabric of our lives and communities today. More than that, she shows readers how understanding each other and caring for one another helps us become more resilient to the challenges life presents us.

Resources to explore Towers Falling and 9/11 further:
As I reflect on this story, I'm reminded of the study in the journal Science that showed how reading literary fiction helps people be empathetic and understand other's emotions. Young readers will be drawn into Dèja's compelling story--understanding her feelings about home, family, friendship and how history can impact us all.

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

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Ferocious Fluffity, by Erica S. Perl and Henry Cole (ages 4-8) -- uproariously funny (cautionary) tale

Just look at this cute little hamster on the cover--but wait, the title says it's ferocious?!? Yes, my friends, things are not always as they seem. And you better listen when your teacher says to be careful...
Ferocious Fluffity: A mighty bite-y class pet
by Erica S. Perl
illustrated by Henry Cole
Abrams, 2016
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
Right from the get-go, readers will know that Erica Perl wants them to question whether Fluffity is indeed as cute as her name suggests. And her subtitle, "a mighty bite-y class pet" gives a clue about the way she plays with rhymes. The cover only hints how uproariously funny this story is--just wait till Fluffity gets loose.

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

Illustrations copyright © Henry Cole, 2016, shared with permission of the publisher. The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher, Abrams Books for Young Readers. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books