Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Wish, by Barbara O'Connor -- keeping hope alive in difficult times (ages 9-12)

Children face difficult times throughout their lives -- fighting with good friends, losing an animal you love, conflict at home, struggles with schoolwork. Figuring out how to keep hope alive in the face of these difficulties is a crucial part of growing up.

Charlie faces a heap of trouble in Barbara O'Connor's book Wish, but each and every day she makes a wish. Through her stubborn, fiery personality (or maybe despite it?), she keeps hope that her life will get better. This was a perfect book to read at the end of this turbulent year -- I hope you find hope in its pages.
by Barbara O'Connor
Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan, 2016
*read an excerpt*
Your local library
ages 9-12
Eleven-year-old Charlie Reese is sent to live with an aunt and uncle she's never met before when her family falls apart. Her father is in jail, and her mother won't get out of bed, so Charlie must stay with Aunt Bertha and Uncle Gus until her mother can get her "feet on the ground" again. Charlie feels forgotten, dumped in a small town far away from everything that she knows, while her sister gets to live with her best friend.

Charlie struggles with her "fiery red temper," with her anger, with her worries. Young readers will relate to these feelings--worrying that her mama won't get better, or feeling angry that everyone is ignoring her.
"What was I doing there on that porch with these people I didn't even know? I felt like I'd been tossed out on the side of the road like a sack of unwanted kittens."
Every day, Charlie makes a wish--she has a whole list of all the different ways to make a wish, "like seeing a white horse or blowing a dandelion." She never tells anyone what her wish is, but readers quickly realize it's to live with her family, to go home. But what do you do when your wish doesn't come true?

Things start to turn around when Charlie befriends a stray dog she names Wishbone.
"I knew what it felt like to be a stray, not having a home where somebody wanted you. And he was a fighter. Like me. That dog and I had a lot in common. I was suddenly overwhelmed with love for that skinny dog."
O'Connor skillfully develops this story, showing Charlie's struggle in her new home, the way she's so stubbornly focusing on what she doesn't have that she doesn't see the goodness of her new home. Instead of becoming sappy, this story resonates with poignant vulnerability and the power of friendship.

I especially love the way that Aunt Bertha focuses on Charlie's positive side, instead of quickly criticizing her. Her childhood stories give Charlie a sense of history and a sense that things will be okay, even if they're difficult now. Aunt Bertha reminds me of some of these lessons about helping students develop hope from the Greater Good Science Center -- especially telling stories of success, and keeping things light and positive:
"Helping our students cultivate hope might be one of the most important things we do for them. Not only will it help them get more A’s in the short-run; it’ll give them the confidence and creativity to reach their long-term goals in school and in life."
I want to send special thanks to Kirby Larson for recommending this book to me--she's so right that it quickly became one of my favorites this year. Share this with children who have loved reading realistic stories like RJ Palacio's Wonder or Lynda Mullaly Hunt's Fish in a Tree. The review copy came from my public library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Sharing Christmas traditions: Nutcracker, Santa and more (ages 4-9)

If you celebrate Christmas, are there special books that you read each year? Our family reads The Night Before Christmas every year, snuggling in bed together--and yes, our teens still clamber in our bed to share this tradition. Three new picture books make a delightful way to share Christmas traditions.
The Nutcracker
illustrated by Niroot Puttapipat
adapted by Kate Davies
Candlewick, 2016
Your local library / Amazon
ages 6-9
The original Nutcracker story and the ballet that developed from it are skillfully retold in this picture book, but it's the illustrations that will draw readers back to it again and again. Puttapipat sets black cut-paper silhouette figures against jewel-toned scenes, creating a sense the formal ballet and the intimate, magical story. The longer text makes this more suited for older children.
"They traveled by swan over gold-flecked oceans and silver-edged cities. Clara held her breath, her eyes wide. As she gazed at the twinkling lights far below, snowflakes pirouetted past."
The climax, as Clara and her prince enter the Sugar Plum Fairy's castle, reveals itself as the majestic ball unfolds in a double-page pop-up construction. For a fuller look at this beautiful book, read the review at What to Read to Your Kids. Head over to Fuse 8 to see a terrific range of Nutcracker stories.
The Christmas Boot
by Lisa Wheeler
illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
Dial / Penguin Random House, 2016
book trailer
Your local library / Amazon
ages 4-7
Elderly Hannah Greyweather sets out one winter day to collect firewood, when she discovers a solitary boot in the snow. When she tries it on, the boot immediately changes shape to fit her foot--it's the first sign that magic has touched this boot. "'Such a magnificent find,' she said to the left boot. 'Who could have lost such a treasure as you?'" The next morning, the boot's mate appears by her bed and Hannah goes out to do her chores, her feet wonderfully warm.
"Her arms were nearly full when, just past the spruce grove,  she spotted something. In the snow, deepest black upon purest white, lay a boot."
As the days progress, Hannah discovers more gifts magically appear. Young readers will gasp and smile with knowing pleasure when a visitor knocks on Hannah's door, wearing "a red hat, a red suit...and one black boot." Although the text never names this visitor as Santa Claus, young readers will enjoy seeing how he works his magic--asking Hannah whether there's anything he can give her. Jerry Pinkney's watercolor illustrations bring warmth, gentle humor and holiday spirit to this touching story.
Walk This World at Christmastime
by Debbie Powell
Big Picture Press / Candlewick, 2016
Your local library / Amazon
ages 5-9
"In France, place a Yule log in the fire,
and burn it to bring good luck."
Readers take a tour of the world and see Christmas celebrations from fireworks, Las Posadas and piñatas in Mexico, Bolivia and Brazil to Yule logs, hidden toys in candied cakes and Three Kings Day in Spain, France, Italy and Greece. Each detailed double-page spread focuses on countries in a region with overlapping traditions. Readers are invited to lift little flaps, numbered in the tradition of an advent calendar, to reveal images and small facts.

The tour starts in America, travels south to Central and South America, and then travels to Africa, Europe and the Middle East. The tour ends with Asia and then Australia, New Zealand and Samoa. The final spread shows a world map, asking young readers to trace their journey. I especially love how this creates a worldview that is not just centered on European traditions.

Illustrations © Niroot Puttapipat, 2016; © Jerry Pinkney, 2016; and © Debbie Powell, 2016. The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers for review. 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, December 15, 2016

Real Cowboys, by Kate Hoefler & Jonathan Bean -- an evocative look at working on the range (ages 4--9)

Reading picture books with children brings me so much pleasure. I love it when they really get the big ideas--the surprising, unexpected ideas that authors and illustrators layer in their books--even when they haven't yet developed sophisticated language to describe these ideas.

In Real Cowboys, Kate Hoefler and Jonathan Bean ask young readers to reconsider the stereotype of a macho cowboy. It's an evocative look at working on the range, a picture book I find myself thinking about over and over again.
Real Cowboys
by Kate Hoefler
illustrated by Jonathan Bean
HMH, 2016
Your local library
ages 4-9
Right from the cover, my students could tell that this cowboy was concerned and worried about the animal he was holding. They noticed the cowboy's expression and the way he was holding the calf, with his arms wrapped around it--and they could imagine a story behind this picture.

Hoefler's text flows gently as we start to read the book. Real cowboys, she tells readers, are quiet, thoughtful, gentle, and careful. They stay with their cattle on long rides, through day and night. While the text encompasses all cowboys, Bean's illustrations help young readers see a more distinct story, following a specific cowboy, his herd and his team through their work.
"Real cowboys are gentle. They know all of the songs that keep cattle calm, moving out of storms, along dirt roads and narrow canyons."
Bean uses color to show the passing of time, from day to night as well as changing weather and seasons. The striking color palette creates a sense of pacing as each page changes. Students also noticed that time passes slowly sometimes, as cowboys stay with their herds through tough times.
"They're on cattle drives for hours, or days, or weeks, but they don't mind. Real cowboys are patient."
My students loved the layered effect of Bean's stencil artwork. They noticed how you saw perhaps the same cowboy moving across the page above, slouching over more and more as he makes his way across the page. They liked looking for different shapes in the shadows. I'm looking forward to showing them some photographs when he was creating this work, over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

My 3rd graders were not quite able to put into words how this picture book challenges the stereotypes of cowboys, but they definitely got the message that Hoefler and Bean want us to think as cowboys as caring, thoughtful and patient--and not just rushing around on horseback, chasing cattle. Even more importantly, they could make connections to how they want to act in their own lives, how they want to treat others and care for animals. As we ended the story, a quiet hush fell over the room. It was a beautiful moment.

If you want to read more about this evocative picture book, I suggest heading over to:
Illustrations © Jonathan Bean, 2016. The review copy was purchased for our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, December 12, 2016

Power of Art to Inspire & Heal: Radiant Child, by Javaka Steptoe (ages 6-10)

I firmly believe that picture books give children their first experience seeing and thinking about art. Radiant Child, by Javaka Steptoe, is an amazing new picture book about the life of Jean-Michel Basquiat. I especially love the way that Steptoe shows children how art has the power to inspire and heal. At the same time, he shows a revolutionary artist celebrating his neighborhood, infusing it with vibrant, colorful art.
Radiant Child:
The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat
by Javaka Steptoe
Little, Brown, 2016
Your local library
ages 6-10
*best new book*
Start with a careful look at the cover and see what details you notice. A flag from Puerto Rico on one side. Do you see the flag from Haiti on the other? We see several stars. The initials JMB. Do you notice the word "radiant", with the lines shining out from the R?  Look closely and see the pieces of the painting put together, like shingles on the side of a building.

Javaka Steptoe introduces children to Jean-Michel Basquiat, a modern American artist who was "known for his charisma, energy, and bold, captivating art." Steptoe focuses on Basquiat's childhood and entry into the art world, helping young readers see in themselves the potential for becoming professional artists. As a young child, Jean-Michel drew with passion and focus, drawing "from morning until night with a serious face amid a storm of papers".
“In his house you can tell a serious ARTIST dwells. As he sits at a table with pencils scattered everywhere, Jean-Michel draws from morning until night with a serious face amid a storm of papers. He refuses to sleep until he has created a masterpiece.”
Steptoe's style, using found objects and painting with vivid, striking colors, captures the expressive feeling of Basquiat's work and incorporates many of symbols and motifs that Basquiat used in his own work. My students particularly responded to the idea that Basquiat drew outside the lines. As Steptoe writes,
"His drawings are not neat or clean, nor does he color inside the lines. They are sloppy, ugly, and sometimes weird, but somehow still BEAUTIFUL."
Jean-Michel's mother encouraged him to create art from a young age, lying on the floor to draw alongside him. Jean-Michel was badly hurt in a car accident as a young boy, and art helped him heal. But when his mother suffered from mental illness and had to leave the family home, Jean-Michel was heart-broken. One of my students commented that Steptoe pieced together his paintings from scraps of wood the same way that Basquiat tried to piece together his life using art. Oh-wow-oh-wow, what a powerful idea.
My students noticed that the neighborhoods Steptoe painted resembled their own neighborhoods, with a "messy patchwork" of houses and apartments, filled with cars and people and shops. They found Steptoe's vibrant illustrations interesting and engaging, but they also responded to his message. Steptoe finishes this picture book with an inspiring author's note. He writes,
"Basquiat's success seemed to me to begin an era of inclusion and diversity in fine arts where there had been little to none. This meant as a young African American artist coming up that my chances of having my voice heard and achieving mainstream success were majorly expanded...I wanted to help young people connect with his art the way that I had."
This is a fascinating picture book, one that I've found myself going back to again and again. I'm excited to share it with our art teacher at school, hear what conversations she has with her students, and see the artwork they create after looking more closely at Basquiat's paintings. A striking and thoughtful look at a unique artist.

Illustrations © Javaka Steptoe 2016. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Little Brown, and we have purchased multiple copies for our library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, December 4, 2016

We Are Growing! by Laurie Keller: a new favorite for growing readers (ages 5-7)

What makes kids want to read? Books that are fun to read! Over 70% of kids (in the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report) say that they want books that "make them laugh." This is especially true for kids just beginning to read. A new favorite is Laurie Keller's We Are Growing!, part of the new Elephant & Piggie Like Reading! series. Our 1st graders love-love-love Elephant & Piggie books, and they are excited to meet these new friends.
We Are Growing!
by Laurie Keller
Elephant & Piggie Like Reading series
Disney-Hyperion, 2016
Your local library
ages 5-7
*best new book*
With over-the-top emotions, several blades of grass share their excitement as they grow taller and taller. "Bam! Whee! Zap!" exclaim the shoots of grass as they sprout up. Readers will giggle as they watch these goofy leaves grow. With kid-appropriate enthusiasm, they brag about what makes them special.
"You are growing TALL."
"I am the TALLEST!"
"He is the tallest."
Each blade discovers their own special feature. "I am the CURLIEST!... I am the SILLIEST!" Keller hooks kids with her cartoon illustrations, and she supports new readers by having simple large words and illustrations that help give clues for more challenging words. Just look at the way she breaks up the words into short speech bubbles:
"I just grew. All by myself. Cool, huh?"
"I know, I know. I made it look EASY."
I also love how Keller taps into the way kids are amazed at their own growth process. Just talk to a 1st grader when they loose a tooth -- it's so exciting, because it shows they're growing and their body is changing. Even when the lawn mower chops them down to size, the grass blades grow again. She also taps into kids' competitive spirit, but shows that everyone has a different feature that makes them special. Adults might find this corny, but kids love it.

My early test readers loved this so much that they read it over and over together, memorizing each page. The ending makes my heart glow, as Elephant and Piggie read this book together and declare:
"This book is the FUNNIEST!"
"I love to read."
Me, too."
If you like the Elephant & Piggie series, you'll love this new addition. Definitely also check out Dan Santat's The Cookie Fiasco, another new entry in Elephant & Piggie Like to Read! With Mo Willems' clear editorial guidance, this series is continuing his standout tradition of easy readers that bring on the giggles and make kids want to read.

Illustrations © Laurie Keller 2016. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Disney-Hyperion. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Sound of Silence, by Katrina Goldsaito & Julia Kuo -- finding silence within and around us (ages 5-10)

One sign of a wonderful book is that it draws us back into its pages again and again. In The Sound of Silence, Katrina Goldsaito and Julia Kuo help readers think about how we hear silence, how we actively seek out still moments in our world and within ourselves. It's a perfect book for the chaos of today's world.
Young Yoshio walks through the the busy streets of modern Tokyo on his way to school, wearing bright yellow rain boots and carrying a yellow umbrella. As he makes his way through the bustling city, he hears a symphony of urban sounds around him: “raindrops pattering on his umbrella,” “boots squishing and squashing through the puddles.”
“Yoshio listened to the sound of his boots squishing and squashing through the puddles, and the tiny raindrops pattering on his umbrella. The sound of his giddy giggles made him giggle more.”
When Yoshio comes upon an elderly koto player, the sounds delight him. “The notes were twangy and twinkling; they tickled Yoshio’s ears!” He asks her, “Do you have a favorite sound?” Her reply surprises him. To her, the most beautiful sound is ma, the sound of silence.
“‘The most beautiful sound,’ the koto player said, ‘is the sound of ma, of silence.’ ‘Silence?’ Yoshio asked. But the koto player just smiled a mysterious smile and went back to playing.”
Yoshio begins listening for silence, trying hard to hear it at school and at home. But whenever he listens really carefully, he always hears noises all around him. When he finally stops trying to listen (and gets lost reading a book), Yoshio hears the silence that the koto player was describing.
Goldsaito and Kuo work together beautifully--combining lyrical descriptions with detailed illustrations to help readers think about where we can find silence in our busy lives. My students noticed how well the illustrations help them think about the author's message. They could relate to the importance of finding quiet moments in between sounds and within themselves.
“Suddenly, in the middle of a page, he heard it. No sounds of footsteps, no people chattering, no radios, no bamboo, no kotos being tuned. In that short moment, Yoshio couldn’t even hear the sound of his own breath. Everything felt still inside him.”
One student said that Kuo used the bright yellow of Yoshio's book to help readers focus hard on him, just the way Yoshio was trying to focus on the sound. When Yoshio gets lost in his book, the color around him fades away.

Definitely explore the site WeDokiDoki that Katrina and Julia developed to go along with the book. "Doki doki is the sound your heart makes when you see someone or something you love." This site collects sounds and matches them with snippets of the story, music and simple illustrated GIFs.
From the WeDokiDoki site: "Tsuru Tsuru. Yoshio listened as everyone at the table slurped their noodles. The louder the slurp, the more delicious the noodle."
If you're looking for a respite from the cacophony that surrounds us so much of the time, seek out this book. Talk with your children about how they find that stillness within themselves, how they notice moments of peace around them. This is a book I've been returning to each week, finding new details and new moments each time I share it with a child. A true delight.

Want to read more? Check out:

Illustrations © Julia Kuo 2016. The review copy was 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

Monday, November 28, 2016

Eric Dinerstein: Interview about What Elephants Know, Nepal & environmental activism

My students are responding What Elephants Know, by Eric Dinerstein, as an adventure story, a call to action and a window to a different part of our world. They talk about how this transports them into the jungles of Nepal. I feel so fortunate to have been able to spend time talking by phone with Eric Dinerstein, learning more about his work as a scientist and his time living in Nepal.
Eric Dinerstein is Director of Biodiversity and Wildlife Solutions at RESOLVE. For much of the last 25 years, Eric was Chief Scientist at the World Wildlife Fund. Beginning in 1975, he conducted pioneering studies of tigers in Nepal and led conservation programs for large mammals such as greater one-horned rhinoceros and Asiatic elephants.

Mary Ann: First off, please help us--how do you pronounce your last name?

Eric: Dinerstein is like dinner-steen.

Mary Ann: How did you first come to know the region of Nepal where What Elephants Know takes place?

Eric: My introduction to what is called Bardia was in 1975 when I joined the Peace Corps and was sent to Nepal. I knew so little about Nepal. All I thought of was mountain climbing in the high Himalayas. I found out that the Bardia district was in the lowlands of Nepal, with hot steamy jungles. They say that humidity was invented here, in this monsoon environment.
map of Bardia district of Nepal
Before 1960, this hot, steamy lowland area was overrun with mosquitoes that caused malaria. So it was avoided by most people except the Tharu, who were immune to the deadly disease because they had lived there for generations. As treatments for malaria improved, people from other regions began to move into this area because it was a fertile jungle and they could make it into farmland.

This novel takes place in 1975, as the first signs of development were occurring. As people settled this region, conflicts with wildlife increased. Wild animals’ habitat disappeared as farming spread. Poachers further threatened wild animal populations.

Mary Ann: What inspired you to focus on a young boy who wanted to be an elephant driver?

Eric: When I first lived in Nepal in the Peace Corps, we didn’t have elephants. All of our research was done on foot. When I came back with the Smithsonian to study in Chitwan National Park, we used elephants for our research. There was a government elephant center near us, and an elephant breeding center. I spent five years in the company of drivers. As I started to think about the story, I wondered if I could create a character who could be attuned to the natural world. It helped learning so much living around elephant stables. I wanted to infuse my book with that, but also to make it universal--how you find your way in the world.
elephant driver in Nepal (source: Pixabay)
Mary Ann: What do you want kids to know about elephants today?

Eric: I am noticing a quiet revolution in the West, against elephant captivity and keeping animals isolated in zoos. Elephants are social animals. Moving elephants to sanctuaries and out of zoos is the right thing to do. Elephants should not be kept isolated. Elephant camps in Asia are different because they are kept in larger, social groups. In Hindu countries, elephants are tremendously important so they are treated kindly and with great respect. As a subba-sahib once told me,
“Don’t ever mistake these elephants as domesticated. They’re still wild. They’re just so gentle and accepting that they let us ride them.”
Mary Ann: What advice do you have for kids who want to make a difference with wildlife conservation?

Eric: The poaching crisis for elephants, rhinos and other large animals is significant. Kids need to learn about this, but the pictures are really gruesome. Local nature clubs can make adults aware of their concern--writing letters to press adults to do more. Three crucial steps can help young people take action:
#1: Awareness -- learn all you can about animals you care about.
#2: Connect -- reach out to nature clubs across the world.
#3: Advocate -- together, call for change
Mary Ann: Thank you so much for taking the time. I hope you continue to inspire young readers with your stories.

Special thanks to Armin Arethna and Emma Coleman, children's librarians at the Berkeley Public Library, for their help interviewing Eric.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Highly Illustrated Fiction: Supporting Developing Readers -- presentation at #NCTE16

Many of my students are drawn to books with lots of illustrations. I've often wondered how these books appeal to readers, especially those who are developing their reading skills. They certainly love the humor conveyed in pictures, but I think it's more.

Illustrations support our developing readers, giving them a moment to rest during the hard work of reading. They provide support as readers build a picture in their mind. A mentor of mine compared illustrations to a rock you can land on as you make your way across a stream. No wonder elementary school kids seek them out!

I'm excited to lead a conversation with four authors & illustrators at this week's annual convention of the National Council of Teacher of English. We'll talk about their craft as writers and illustrators, focusing on the way they use a combination of illustrations and text to tell their stories. I hope you can join us.
Abby Hanlon writes and illustrates the Dory Fantasmagory series. I absolutely adore Dory's energy and spirt. Abby fills her pages with childlike drawings that help convey they story and Dory's imagination.

Nick Bruel fills Bad Kitty with snarky humor that gets my students laughing and asking for more. What more could I want in a book? With swift pacing, lots of visual humor and high energy, Bad Kitty stories are a big hit in our library.

Maggie Stiefvater and Jackson Pearce tap into kids' love of animals and magic to bring us the character of Pip Bartlett who can talk to magical animals like unicorns, Fuzzles, Griffins and more. I love the way that Pip uses her knowledge and imagination to save her town from impending disaster.

Here is a booklist with recommendations for students who like lots of illustrations to help bring stories alive. These are not graphic novels, but rather hybrids that combine text and illustration.
click for printable PDF version
I really see illustrated fiction as appealing to students along a continuum, from early chapter books through much longer fiction. I hope you find some books here to engage your readers. Come join us for the conversation!

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Berkeley's Mock Newbery Book Clubs -- bringing 500+ readers together!!!

This year for the first time, every elementary school in Berkeley Unified School District is launching a Mock Newbery Book Club. The American Library Association awards the Newbery Award each year to the most distinguished children's book written by an American author. Kids know this award and have been so excited to add their voices, taking part in mock elections.
We thought many 4th and 5th graders would be interested, especially after the success of Emerson’s Mock Newbery Book Club these past couple of years — but we had no way of predicting the enthusiasm that burst forth at the schools. Over 500 students have joined the book clubs across the district, enthusiastically reading and sharing the best new books of the year.
Library staff, literacy coaches, and teachers are all working together to host book clubs--each site has two leaders who support each other. Children's librarians from Berkeley Public Library are coming to support several of our schools. Our goals are:
  • Honor students’ voices and their choices about reading, developing their thoughtful engagement and discussion of books;
  • Develop students’ identity as readers who enjoy sharing books with friends; and,
  • Harness kids’ enthusiasm so they could help create “book buzz” about brand new books
Earlier this month, we announced our final nomination list. Students helped us narrow down a potential list of 17 books, down to a manageable list of ten nominations. We welcome all 4th and 5th graders to come share books they've been reading. In order to vote in January, we ask that students read at least 5 nominated books.
As we've told our students, there are many many outstanding books written each year. These are the ones we are coming together to discuss--but if there's another great book, please share it with us. We want to know what you're loving!

If you want to know more about the process for hosting a Mock Newbery book club, please see two articles I wrote this summer with my public library friend and collaborator Armin Arethna:
I want to give special thanks to Berkeley Unified's library director, Becca Todd, for her amazing coordination of this effort and cheerful rallying of all the leaders. I also want to give special thanks to the donors of our Berkeley Public Schools Fund grant, the local PTAs and many publishers for helping provide books for our eager students. We could not have reached the number of readers without their support.

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, November 15, 2016

What Elephants Know, by Eric Dinerstein -- an adventure, a call to action, a window to our world (ages 9-12)

Fourth & fifth grade students across Berkeley are telling me that What Elephants Know is the best book they've read all year. They feel like they're right alongside Nandu as he rides his elephant Devi Kali into the jungle of Nepal. Kids are responding to this as an adventure story, a call to action and a window to a different part of our world.
What Elephants Know
by Eric Dinerstein
Disney-Hyperion, 2016
Audiobook narrated by Kirby Heyborne
Recorded Books, 2016
Your local library
ages 9-12
*best new book*
Nandu dreams of becoming a mahout, or elephant trainer. Orphaned as a baby, Nandu has been raised by Subba-sahib, the head of the king's elephant stable in the southernmost part of Nepal. As the story opens, King Birenda comes to their stable for his yearly tiger hunt. Nandu joins the hunt determined to make his father proud; but when he realizes that the king will shoot a mother tiger with young cubs, Nandu interferes.

Perhaps because his royal hunt was ruined, the king decides to shut down the elephant stables. And so Subba-sahib sends Nandu away to boarding school to better prepare for the changing future. Nandu is devastated without the support of home, especially his elephant Devi Kali and his best friend Rita. This is even harder as he faces taunting and discrimination from other students.

Readers are drawn into this world, identifying with Nandu as he struggles to save the elephant stables and home he loves. Dinerstein, the former chief scientist for the World Wildlife Fund, lived near the national parks of Bardia and Chitwan in Nepal for many years studying tiger populations. He brings an intimate knowledge of this region to this story. Yet the story does not come across as didactic or informational; Dinerstein successfully keeps the focus on Nandu's coming of age and discovery of his own power.

My students relate to Nandu's experiences of prejudice and his determination to help animals, both threatened wild species and an ill-treated elephant. Baba, a Buddhist holy man, helps give Nandu perspective:
"A question I sometimes ask myself: ‘When to act on what you see and when to accept what you see around you? I do not know the answer to this question. What I do know, Nandu, is that you had the courage to act.’" (p. 175)
My students and I did not have any prior knowledge about this area, and so I prepared this short slideshow to help show them where the story takes place. I hope you like it.

I especially love the audiobook for What Elephants Know. As Audiofile Magazine writes in their review:
Narrator Kirby Heyborne immerses himself in the character of Nandu...(His) earnest voice and brisk pace deposit listeners into the midst of each episode. He exudes Nandu's respect for Subba-sahib and the elephants. When needed, he punches out Nandu's thoughts--be it indignation at schoolyard bullies, warning cries to a tigress, or enthusiasm over mutual interests with his teacher.
Nandu's story has stayed with me, drawing me to learn more about this part of the world. As I wrote to several friends when I recommended this book, I wish I could buy a copy for every fourth & fifth grade classroom. Please seek out this special book.

Many thanks to Eric Dinerstein for helping me make sure the images accurately portrayed Nandu's world. And special thanks to my reading friend Armin Arethna for sharing her love of this book. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Disney-Hyperion. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Choose Kindness. Teach Empathy. Listen Actively.

I've spent much of the past week stunned and saddened by the presidential election, but I've also been reflecting on what we can do to make a difference. What messages are we sending to children about the way we behave? How do we treat each other? And what role do books and stories play in this process?

Stories help us see into the lives of other people, as well as into our own lives. New research shows that reading fiction improves empathy. We connect to characters; we feel their pain and delight in their joy. Sharing stories brings us closer together, in classroom communities and at home. It's more than stories, though--it's the conversations that stories can start.

Choose Kindness. We can actively shape the conversations by choosing books that focus on kindness. In my experience, though, kids don't like stories which are just supposed to teach a lesson. They want stories that grab their attention, help them see the world in a new way.

RJ Palacio's book Wonder remains one of my students' favorite books, especially as an audiobook (see my full review).  Auggie feels like an ordinary kid, but he knows that others don't see him that way. Readers are able to see life from a completely different perspective, and kids can see the impact of choices that they make.

Teach Empathy. Through conversations we have about stories, we are able to talk with children about what it means to understand someone else's feelings. We must then bring the conversations into their own lives, asking children to think about when they've noticed someone else thinking about another person's feelings.

Flocabulary has a terrific song & video my 4th grade students have been loving: Building Empathy. We are starting each library session singing this chorus:
I got empathy, I got empathy,
If you need a friend, you can count on me.
I put myself in other people's shoes,
To understand their thoughts and their moods.
Young children think best in concrete examples. Stories like The Sandwich Swap help young children think about examples in their own lives. Ask children about when they've seen other kids making a difference? For more picture books to share and start a conversation, I highly recommend this list put together by the Association for Library Services to Children:
ALSC booklist: Unity. Kindness. Peace.
Listen Actively. Children want to be listened to. Heck, all of us want to be listened to. But how can we listen to each other if we're all clamoring to be heard?

It's imperative that we listen to each other, especially to folks who have a different point of view, a different life experience. My biggest concern with society today is that we are isolated in different bubbles. We work hard to listen, but we are only listening to friends who share our opinions.

Active listening is the most important tool we can use at home, at school, in our political discourse. The Center for the Greater Good, based in Berkeley, describes active listening as expressing "active interest in what the other person has to say and make him or her feel heard." It is their number one advice in how to cultivate empathy.

Thank you, friends and readers, for your support and for sharing stories with children. Your work makes a difference.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Honoring #VeteransDay with Good Night Captain Mama / Buenas Noches Capitán Mamá, by Graciela Tiscareño-Sato (ages 4-8)

As we get ready to celebrate Veterans Day, I wonder about how we can make this meaningful for young children. In my community, I want to honor families who have a family member serving in the Armed Forces. I highly recommend Good Night Captain Mama / Buenas Noches Capitán Mamá, by Graciela Tiscareno-Sato--a bilingual story that provides an important view of women and mothers serving in the military.
Good Night Captain Mama / Buenas Noches Capitán Mamá
by Graciela Tiscareño-Sato
illustrated by Linda Lens
Gracefully Global, 2013
Your local library
ages 4-8
When young Marco asks his mother why she is wearing a uniform as he is going to bed, she explains that it is her flight suit. As she puts him to bed, Mama tells Marco about her job as an aircraft navigator and what each patch on her uniform represents.
"What's this?" he asked, pointing to a square shape on her shoulders. "That's my rank. I am a Captain," Mama told him. "You're a Captain? Like the captain of a ship?" asked the little boy. "Yes, something like that sweetheart," she said with a smile.
The conversation keeps the information grounded in a child's perspective, and the gentle tone emphasizes the mother's love for her son. The patches show different aspects of serving in the Air Force, providing an effective frame for the story. As the story wraps up, Marco wears his mother's patch to bed, thinking of her and her team.
Graciela and crew on wing of KC-135R
Graciela & her son
Graciela Tiscareño-Sato based this story on her personal experience flying in the Air Force and her young son's curiosity about her uniform. I love that young readers are able to see a mother serving as a captain in the military, especially honoring a Latina flight navigator. This brings a personal, immediate connection to our celebration of Veterans Day.

I'm looking forward to reading Graciela's new book, Captain Mama's Surprise / La Sorpresa de Capitán Mamá. In this story, Marco visits his mother's KC-135 aerial refueling tanker on a field trip with his second grade class.

Here are a few other stories you might want to share this week as you honor Veterans Day:
Many thanks to Graciela Tiscareño-Sato for sending me a review copy. 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, October 30, 2016

Also an Octopus, by Maggie Tokuda-Hall -- building a story from a little bit of nothing (ages 4-8)

What does it take to build a story? Do you need a magic formula, or can anyone do it? In Also an Octopus, Maggie Tokuda-Hall encourages young storytellers, showing them that every story begins with "just a little bit of nothing."
Also an Octopus
by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
illustrated by Benji Davies
Candlewick, 2016
Google Books preview
Your local library
ages 4-8
Every story must start with a main character, and so we have an octopus--a ukulele-playing octopus wearing a cute knit cap. "But in order for it to be a story, and not just an octopus, that octopus needs to want something." Here, our octopus wants a rocket ship, "a totally awesome shining purple spaceship capable of intergalactic travel." But don't be fooled--you can't just go down to your local store and buy one; you have to make one.
"I'm not really qualified to build a spaceship...But it does smell like waffles! So that's nice."
With whimsy and delight, Tokuda-Hall shows young readers the writing process, introducing introducing story elements key to successful conflict and resolution. Her energetic language and playful premise are matched by Davies' bright digital artwork. Just look at the octopus trying to build a purple spaceship out of "soda cans and glue and umbrellas and glitter and waffles"! Talk about a recipe that's going to bring laughter from the storytime crowd.

Young writers will see how a character's desire and the obstacles it faces are key to keeping a story moving. What makes this story stand out is how the narrator's instructions are blended with silly examples and punchy humor. Just look at the rocket scientists who come along to join the octopus's band.
"Rocket scientists who don't just build rocket ships--they also play the saxophone, tambourine, trumpet and lute!"
Kids will love the goofy humor, vibrant illustrations and silly twists that keep the story moving quickly. But the real joy is the way the story ends by encouraging young storytellers to jump right in and try it for themselves.
"So what happens next?
That's up to you.
When one story ends, it's just making room for another story to begin."
A perfect invitation for kids to tell their own stories, this will make a delightful read-aloud at home, in the library or at school.

Illustrations copyright © Benji Davies, 2016, shared with permission of the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Candlewick Press. 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, October 26, 2016

Berkeley kids are clapping for Kekla!! Terrific author visit for 4th & 5th graders

High in the Berkeley hills, kids clapped like crazy for author Kekla Magoon today as she shared her Robyn Hoodlum fantasies--Shadows of Sherwood and Rebellion of Thieves--exciting, modern twists on classic Robin Hood adventures. Fourth and fifth graders wanted to know all about her writing process. They left not only eager to read her books, but also seeing themselves in her stories and as writers.
Kekla Magoon visits Berkeley's Cragmont Elementary School
People always want to know where her ideas come from, Kekla told students, and that isn't an easy thing to answer because sometimes they come when she's just walking down the street. "My ideas come from my experiences--things I know well, like my feelings, my life. But they also come from my questions. What would it be like to live in a different time, in a different place, as a different person?" What if are two powerful words.

Shadows of Sherwood began with these sort of questions: What if Robin Hood was a girl? A teen? Living in a modern city? What if she was biracial? "I loved the way Robin Hood is always looking out for everyone in his community and helping other people," Kekla told students. But I wanted to think about these stories I loved as a kid with a modern twist.

Robin Hood movies clearly are still popular with kids today -- the crowd loved it when Kekla showed images from different Robin Hood movies, and they instantly recognized the Disney version especially. Students also responded to the deeper ideas Kekla talked about.

"Robin Hood is essentially a social justice story about equality and giving people opportunity." Our students connected to the issues of civil rights, and some were surprised to learn that kids played an important role in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Fourth and fifth graders definitely think concretely, but they're ready to start considering bigger issues in the world.

"Did you get help writing your stories?" one student asked. "Yes! Definitely!" Kekla told the crowd. But there are different types of writing she does. Some writing is personal, just for herself--in a journal, or ideas she's trying out. Other writing is specifically for others to read, and so she has to think about if it communicates her ideas to other people. That's when she shares it with friends and her editor, so she can see if it's communicating the story and the ideas the way she wants it to.

Kekla ended the visit talking about rain, which becomes a symbol in the Robyn Hoodlum stories. A single raindrop doesn't affect you very much, but when a whole lot of raindrops fall it creates a big impact. That's what happens with social movements and protests, she told us. "Your part may seem small, but when you add all your voices together, they add up and can create a real impact."
Rebellion of Thieves, the second Robyn Hoodlum adventure, was published last week. I can't wait to hear how our students respond to both of these stories. Many of last year's fifth graders loved Shadows of Sherwood--they loved the exciting adventure and could connect to Robyn being such a gutsy girl. It's going to be terrific seeing a new group of 4th and 5th graders share in this excitement.

Many thanks to Kekla Magoon for taking the time to visit our students and share about her writing. Special thanks to her publisher Bloomsbury and our local bookstore Mrs. Dalloway's for making this visit possible. And extra special thanks to my colleagues J. Stewart, the Cragmont Librarian, and Becca Todd, our terrific district library director, who pulled off this visit with energy and enthusiasm! The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Bloomsbury. 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

Monday, October 24, 2016

Halloween books for beginning readers: goofy, sweet, scary fun! (ages 4-7)

Halloween is an exciting time -- candy, costumes, parades! Here are five books to share with kids just beginning to read that build on the Halloween fun. They have short sentences, lots of picture support and predictable stories -- all elements that help new readers build confidence.
Boo, Katie Woo!, by Fran Manushkin -- Katie Woo stories are full of situations that kids can relate to. In this story, Katie is disappointed that her monster costume does not frighten anyone--and has to figure out how to have fun even though she's disappointed. Our 2nd grader readers love the Katie Woo books in chapter book form, like Katie Woo Celebrates.

Dragon's Halloween, by Dav Pilkey--Silly, endearing Dragon goes to the pumpkin patch wanting to make scary jack-o'-lanterns, but how's he going to do that with the six little pumpkins that are left? Dragon also has fun going to a costume party and taking a walk in the spooky woods, with three different short chapters.

Henry and Mudge Under the Yellow Moon, by Cynthia Rylant--Henry and his giant dog Mudge are favorites of our beginning readers. Halloween's scary stories can be frightening, but Henry is reassured with his best friend Mudge at his side.

Monster Parade, by Shana Corey--Simple rhymes make reading aloud fun and help new readers predict what's coming next. "Monsters munching, / monsters crunching, / monsters chomping, / monsters stomping!" The neighborhood children put on their costumes, march in a Halloween parade and head out for some trick-or-treating.

You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: very short scary tales to read together, by Mary Ann Hoberman--I love sharing these short rhyming stories that are designed to be read aloud by two voices. They're great for parents to read with new readers, taking turns with each stanza. These goofy-scary stories use spooky settings and plenty of monsters to express the joys of reading.

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

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Full of Beans: Building students' knowledge of a story's setting, helping show the movie in our minds (ages 9-12)

The images that you form in your mind--I describe it as a "movie in my mind"--are key to developing students' understanding of a story. This personal movie also hooks them into the excitement of a story. I put together a short presentation to help my students visualize Jennifer Holm's delightful story Full of Beans, as part of our Mock Newbery Book Club project (see my full review here).
When a story takes place in a different time or place, it's especially important to help kids get a sense of the setting of the book. Historical fiction can bring alive distant time periods, but we also need to remember that kids may not have the same frame of reference that adult readers do. While the Great Depression conjures many images for me, I doubt that it does for many of my 4th and 5th graders.

Sharing this slideshow helped right away! It made kids interested -- we started talking about why the streets might have been full of garbage, and what it would be like if the city didn't have enough money to pay garbage collectors. We talked about rum runners and what they were, why they had to smuggle rum into Florida.

It also helped students visualize the story right from the beginning. That afternoon, Kalia came to me to tell me how she understood why the streets in Key West were full of garbage. Right on page 8 (see this passage in Google Books), it describes the houses as "weathered gray wooden houses, set close together." Holm describes them as "decrepit"--a word that might be challenging for Kalia.
Because we looked at these pictures before reading, Kalia was able to get a sense of the story right from the beginning. Isn't that terrific?! Now, difficult vocabulary isn't a stumbling block, but instead she's building her own vocabulary.

Here are two short articles all about building movies in our minds as we read:

How do you help your kids make these movies in their mind? What do you find helps? I'm excited to get my students working together to make slideshows like this -- helping share the movies in our minds about the books we love.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, October 10, 2016

Latina girl power! Chapter books with Latina characters (ages 6-9)

Latino students are the fastest growing group in American schools. I was particularly struck last week by a new report highlighting this (see this NPR article), and how much it matches my own experiences as a teacher and community member. The report by The National Council of La Raza finds that Latino students are making significant gains, increasing high school graduation rate, but that challenges remain--especially with reading.

How can books help change this? Latino students need Latino role models, especially in the stories they read. This is especially important for girls. We must provide stories that include and share their voices. So today, I'd like to share five chapter books full of Latina girl power.
These new short chapter books feature strong, lively Latina girls. They are energetic and fun, with a modern sensibility. These girls solve problems, tackle challenges and embrace the love that their family and friends bring them. Most of all, they bring joy to our students, making reading a joyful, meaningful experience.

Chews Your Destiny: The Gumazing Gum Girl, by Rhode Montijo -- When Gabby Gomez realizes that a piece of special gum gives her stretch-tastic superpowers, she’s thrilled, discovering all sorts of ways to help out those in need.

Big News: Emma on the Air, by Ida Siegal -- Emma Perez dreams big and bold. She wants to be FAMOUS! When she sees an investigative reporter on the TV news, she knows that this is just the career for her.

Juana and Lucas, by Juana Medina -- Juana is an energetic, opinionated Colombian girl, who loves drawing, reading comic books and playing fútbol. but learning English is muy hard. Readers will enjoy Juana's high-spirits, zest for life and sense of humor, even as she struggles with one disaster after another.

Lola Levine Is Not Mean, by Monica Brown -- Lola's personality shines through in this series opener, as she apologizes to a classmate after fouling her in a soccer match. Although some kids tease her, calling her Mean Lola Levine, she shows them that she can be a Soccer Queen. Her bicultural family--Jewish, Peruvian--is an important source of humor and delightful inspiration.

My Family Adventure: Sofia Martinez, by Jacquline Jules -- Seven-year-old Sofia likes to stand out in her family. She does all sorts of things to get noticed -- from wearing a huge hair bow to making her grandmother a piñata for her birthday. This early chapter book is full of charm and kid appeal.

I must say that I have had a much harder time gathering a collection of books with young Latino boys as the central characters. I'd love any recommendations you might be able to share.

Many thanks to these publishers for kindly sending review copies: Disney-Hyperion, Scholastic, Candlewick, Little Brown, and Capstone. 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, October 6, 2016

I Want a Monster! by Elise Gravel -- monster crafts & stories (ages 3-8)

I love how books can inspire kids' creativity--whether it's informal play (creating forts and reenacting favorite books), doing crafts inspired by a story, or making a Halloween costume based on a favorite book. It's especially fun when an author includes direct encouragement for kids to try making a character at home.

My kids loved making monsters when they were young -- big, scary monsters and goofy, silly ones. Elise Gravel's newest book would have delighted them and led to even more monster creations.
I Want a Monster!
by Elise Gravel
Harper Collins, 2016
Your local library
ages 3-8
Winnie wants a monster for her very own, so she does what any kid would do--she begs her papa: "Please, please, pretty please?" At first, her father is quite reasonable and wants to know exactly who's going to take care of this monster. But he quickly gives in, falling in love with a cute monster himself.
"Papa has a crush on this little guy. Isn't he adorable?"
Elise Gravel combines bright illustrations and expressive, energetic characters with lots of dialog bubbles to really draw young readers right into the story. Young readers will love chiming in, adding sound effects or interjections. Best of all are the monsters--which one will your family want?!?
"They have hundreds of species" at the Monsterium
Winnie ends the story by asking readers, "Would you like to adopt a monster?" After you draw a monster, of course you'll need to name it, describe it and decide just what it likes to eat. Here are some delightful monsters that Carrie Gelson's class drew--read all about their inspiration at Carrie's blog There's a Book for That.
If you're looking for more crafts inspired by stories, definitely check out Betsy Bird's post in the Horn Book Family Reading Blog. And here's a monster that my daughter made 10 years ago in her first sewing class. I wonder if the cat thinks it's a friend or foe...
The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, HarperCollins. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, October 3, 2016

When the Sea Turned to Silver, by Grace Lin: lyrical, magical storytelling (ages 9-12)

"I never wish for you to be anyone except yourself," Amah said, looking into Pinmei's eyes. "I know that when it is time for you to do something, you will do it."
Young Pinmei often feels frozen by fear, caught in the moment when she is so afraid that she cannot act. Yet her grandmother (Amah in Chinese) has the utmost faith in her, knowing Pinmei will step forward, bravely taking action when she needs to.

Grace Lin's magical, lyrical new novel When the Sea Turned to Silver captivates and enchants readers, as Lin draws us into Pinmei's adventure. This companion to Lin's award winning book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a perfect read aloud for families.
When the Sea Turned to Silver
by Grace Lin
Little Brown, 2016
Your local library
ages 9-12
*best new book*
As the novel opens, young Pinmei lives high on Never-Ending Mountain with Amah, a famed storyteller. Winter has a firm grip on the mountain, and their rice is running low. Suddenly, Amah tells Pinmei to hide and soldiers burst into their home. Pinmei watches in horror as the Tiger Emperor and his soldiers sieze her grandmother, taking her captive.
"The soldiers growled in unison, the sound swelling into a snarl. And then, in a swift, brutal motion, like a monstrous snake swallowing its prey, the men swept Amah into the blackness of the night." 
Throughout the story, Lin's descriptions enchant the reader, drawing us deeply into Pinmei's ancient Chinese world. Her story is full of figurative language, yet the exciting action and drama keeps readers focused on what will happen next.

Pinmei's trusted friend Yishan pulls her to safety, and together they set out on a quest to find the Luminous Stone that Lights the Night, the one treasure that the emperor has said will set Amah free. As they travel, they encounter kind strangers who help them, in exchange for hearing Pinmei tell her grandmother's stories. Lin's beautiful, full color illustrations highlight key moments in the story.
Pinmei and Yishan spy on the emperor
Pinmei's stories, based on ancient Chinese folklore, intersperse the main narrative and weave into the main action as well. As Kirkus states, "Elements and characters from these folk tales feature in Pinmei’s own quest as she encounters such evocatively named figures as Nuwa’s Tear, the Paper of Answers, the Starry River, the Ginseng Boy, the Red Stone, the Iron Rod, the Green Tiger, the Black Tortoise, and the Sea King."

Short chapters and dramatic action will hook young readers, while those familiar with Lin's previous stories will revel in the recurring themes and motifs. This is a companion to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Night; unlike traditional series, these stories can be read in any order.

The recognition is just starting to accumulate for this masterful story: nominated the 2016 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, starred reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, Publisher's Weekly and Booklist. I am looking forward to hearing our students' thoughts as they start reading and responding to this magical story.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Little Brown, and we have bought multiple copies for our school libraries and classrooms. 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