Friday, November 17, 2017

thinking about the movie WONDER & the portrayal of disability

I have not seen the movie adaptation of Wonder yet (release date is Friday 11/17), but I know that many many of our students will see this movie and talk about it. Reading the book continues to be a powerful experience for many kids (read here about our experience). I am looking forward to seeing the movie, but I want to think carefully about the way it portrays disability.

Here are a few resources you might be interested in reading:
The crux of the question that critics are raising is the choice surrounding the visual portrayal Auggie's disability, which author Palacio never specifically described in the book. What is the impact of the choices made? Does the portrayal accurately represent the experience of disabled people? Or does it soften the experience to make it more palatable for mainstream audiences?

In particular, critics are question the choice to use makeup to change actor Jacob Tremblay's appearance to represent Auggie's disability. Betsy Bird contrasts this with the decision made by the directors of Wonderstruck to cast Millicent Simmonds, a child actor who is deaf.

Does using makeup portray Auggie's disability as a costume that one can put on and take off? In my own viewing of the trailer, the movie does not match my imagination as I read the book; I had imagined Auggie's face as looking more impacted by his disability. But I'm not sure that matters.

Regardless, I truly believe these are important questions to ask our children as they watch and talk about the movie and the book.

An excellent resource to follow is Disability in Kid Lit. This blog "is dedicated to discussing the portrayal of disability in middle grade and young adult literature... from the disabled perspective." Their most recent review looks at the portrayal of autism in A Boy Called Bat, a book that many students throughout Berkeley are reading as part of our Mock Newbery Book Clubs.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

#Road2Reading suggestions for beginning readers & chapter books (ages 6-9)

Our panel discussion at AASL was fascinating. As Fran Manushkin noted, series provide her with friends for life as a young reader. She loved the Betsy, Tacy and Tib stories:
"Because there was more than one book about Betsy, Tacy and Tib, they became my friends! I got to know so much about them, and I could revisit these stories whenever I needed the comfort of an alternate family. I was mastering reading and I was finding a great source of continuity and comfort.

To me, this is the glory of series books for beginning readers: as the boys and girls build reading confidence, these new readers also find a new collection of friends, and these friends keep them reading. Reading confidence an a bunch of new friends: this is a double whammy of joy!"
I especially loved the range of ideas that panelists and the audience suggested for books to share with beginning readers. Below I have embedded the Padlet that we created during this session. Feel free to add other suggestions if you'd like.
Made with Padlet
If you want to keep exploring books for beginning readers, definitely check out these resources:
©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Reading on my own! Beginning reader series @AASL17 (ages 6-9)

Today I’m moderating a panel: Reading On My Own! Beginning Reader Series. We will talk with Megan McDonald (Judy Moody), Fran Manushkin (Katie Woo), Dori Butler (Kayla & King) and Richard Haynes (Slingshot & Burp) about writing for kids who are just beginning their reading journeys.
These authors sparkling with humor and wit, and they create books that are accessible and supportive for new readers. For these readers, a series helps create a comfortable, predictable story environment, but these authors' fresh, funny stories keep readers coming back wanting to read more.

Please add to this padlet (padlet.com/greatkidbooks/aasl17) and share ideas on terrific books to share with developing readers. Our readers at this stage need to read such a volume of books, that we need to help our developing readers find more to read. I like to think of them as book friends.

Follow along the tweets to hear all about the conversation: #AASL17 #Road2Reading.


©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

#AASL17: School librarians leading, teaching and learning together

This week, school librarians from across the US are coming to Phoenix for the National Conference of the Association of American School Librarians. As conference co-chair, I've worked over the past two years with an amazing committee and staff to help plan this event that brings together the leaders in our profession.

I'm excited to see friends, to meet new librarians, and stretch my thinking about how we can meet the needs of students and teachers. I also want to encourage librarians who aren't able to come to join the #NOTATAASL conversation -- see all about it on Joyce Valenza's blog The Neverending Search.

This is the only nationwide conference that focus specifically on our unique roles as teachers and librarians. As a school librarian, I have one foot firmly in the world of books and literacy development, and the other foot in the world of technology and information. This conference helps me think more deeply about both worlds.

As a co-chair of AASL’s National Conference, I’ve tried to ensure that our programs meet the diverse needs of our members as they support students and teachers across the nation. Whether you’re interested in diversity and equity issues, technology and digital literacy, or research and inquiry, I hope the conference will help you think more deeply about your practice.

On Saturday, I’m moderating a panel: Reading On My Own! Beginning Reader Series. We will talk with Megan McDonald (Judy Moody), Fran Manushkin (Katie Woo), Dori Butler (Kayla & King) and Richard Haynes (Slingshot & Burp) about writing for kids who are just beginning their reading journeys. These authors sparkling with humor and wit, and they create books that are accessible and supportive for new readers. For these readers, a series helps create a comfortable, predictable story environment, but these authors' fresh, funny stories keep readers coming back wanting to read more.

Here are some more sessions I'm especially excited about:
If you're coming to conference, I hope to be able to say hi and learn more about your school library. If you aren't able to come, please reach out on Twitter using the hashtag #AASL17 and #NOTATAASL.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, November 6, 2017

The People Shall Continue, by Simon J. Ortiz -- powerful poetic celebration of the struggles of Native Americans (ages 9-12)

In honor of Native American Heritage Month, I am especially looking forward to sharing The People Shall Continue with our students. This powerful poetic tribute celebrates the struggles of Indigenous peoples in America. Simon J. Ortiz is a writer of the Acoma Pueblo tribe and originally published this picture book in 1977; Lee & Low has recently republished it in both English and Spanish.
The People Shall Continue / El Pueblo seguirá
by Simon J. Ortiz
illustrated by Sharol Graves
Children's Book Press / Lee & Low, reprint 2017
Amazon / Local libraryTeachers guide
ages 9-12
Ortiz uses the rhythms of traditional oral storytelling to share the history of Indigenous peoples of North America. He begins with Creation: "Many, many years ago, all things came to be." As the People were born, they came to live across the land. The leaders, healers and hunters all had special roles serving and caring for the People.
"The teachers and the elders of the People
all taught this important knowledge:
'The Earth is the source of all life.'"
Throughout, Ortiz recognizes that life has always been hard. This struggle is part of life, essential and yet not romanticized. Elders told the People: "We should not ever take anything for granted. / In order for our life to continue, / we must struggle very hard for it."

But soon, their lands were invaded by strange men seeking treasures, slaves and domination. In the South, the Spanish "caused destruction among the People." In the East, the English, French, and Dutch arrived, teaching about “a God whom all should obey” and taking over fertile land for their own crops. Ortiz powerfully recounts resistance from many tribes, from the Pueblo to the Shawnee. "Warriors who resisted and fought / to keep the American colonial power from taking their lands."

Ortiz shows how the People persisted and continue to keep their culture alive. They told their children, “You are Shawnee. You are Lakota. You are Pima. You Acoma. . . . You are all these Nations of the People.” Beliefs and customs formed the bedrock of the People's culture, as they reached out and found solidarity with other oppressed people.

In a new author's note, Ortiz reflects how this story is still relevant today, specifically connecting it to the Standing Rock tribal community of Sioux peoples in North Dakota and the struggle to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.

This remarkable picture book balances hard truths with hopeful celebration. With his poetic voice, Ortiz recognizes the struggle and oppression, yet assures readers that by standing together and sharing our humanity, we can ensure that the People will continue.
“A healing introduction, respectful reflection, profound and poetic celebration of the drumbeat, the heartbeat of Native Nations–past, present and future.” — Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee), New York Times bestselling author
The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Lee & Low. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, October 8, 2017

You Bring the Distant Near, by Mitali Perkins -- a shining intergenerational story of immigration and identity (ages 12-16)

Like Mitali Perkins' family, my own family's story spans continents and generations. This weekend, my father is at a ceremony honoring the oldest Jewish cemetery in Moravia, near his family's home in the Czech Republic. I know too well the gains and losses that come with immigration. You Bring the Distant Near, Mitali Perkins' outstanding new book, speaks to me deeply. This story spans three generations of Bengali women as they immigrate to America and create a home here.
You Bring the Distant Near
by Mitali Perkins
Farrar Straus Giroux / Macmillan, 2017
Amazon / public library / Google Books preview
ages 12-16
*best new book*
Inspired by her own experiences immigrating as a young teen in the 1970s, Mitali Perkins weaves together an intergenerational story of Ranee Das, her teenage daughters Sonia and Tara, and then later their own daughters. When Sonia and Tara move to New York as teenagers, they must navigate the possibilities that new opportunities might bring while they are acutely aware of the cultural expectations of their Bengali parents.

It's the small moments of these women's lives that make this book resonate so deeply with me. Recently, I heard Mitali speak about her story and these small moments came rushing back to me. Out of context, it's hard to capture them, but added all together, they give you a full sense of characters whose story arcs will stay with me for a long time.

The Horn Book asked Mitali what she hopes the Das family’s story shows today’s readers about family, love, culture, and country? Mitali answered:
"America inevitably “brings the distant near” because apart from members of the Native Nations, all of us originated in faraway places. Sadly, proximity within the United States doesn’t automatically generate friendship. But if we choose to cross borders that may at first bring discomfort and open our hearts to those who seem like strangers, I believe that we can be transformed and united as individuals, families, communities, and even as a country.

The title of this novel comes from a poem/prayer written by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore. My sister recited it in both English and Bangla during my California wedding (to a “foreign” boy!) at the request of our grandfather in Calcutta, India. It translates like this: “You have made me known to friends whom I knew not. You have given me seats in homes not my own. You have brought the distant near and made a brother of the stranger…When one knows You, then there is no alien, and no door is shut.” I hope and pray that despite an unhealed past full of atrocities and deep divisions in the present, God can and will make “the distant near” and a “brother of the stranger” in America’s future."
This novel shines with strong sisterhood, humor and meaningful reflections on family, culture and identity. I came away from this story thinking more deeply about what connects us all, how our lives can bring us close to people in our communities, and how we must reach across borders to see each other as humans.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Macmillan, and I have already purchased many additional copies for friends and family. 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.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Scary books for beginning readers: #Road2Reading Challenge (ages 6-8)

As kids work hard at beginning to read, they can get frustrated that simple books seem too young for their tastes. As Halloween approaches, try sharing these scary books with 2nd graders. They'll like the combination of creepy moments, simple sentences and ghoulish humor. This group of books is especially good for 2nd graders at the beginning of the year (often reading at levels I-J-K).
Eek! Stories to Make You Shriek
by Jane O'Connor, illustrations by Brian Karas
Penguin, 1992
Amazon / public library / Goodreads / level K
Kids wrestle with spooky situations in three short, slightly scary stories about Halloween night, a possessed doll, and a haunted photograph. Short, simple sentences keep new readers engaged. "It was dark now. The trees made spooky shadows on the street. Ted hoped Danny would come soon." Karas' illustrations enhance the spooky mood.
In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories
by Alvin Schwartz,  illustrations by Victor Rivas
HarperCollins, 2017 (reillustrated version)
Amazon / public library / Goodreads / level J
New illustrations by Victor Rivas reinvigorate this classic easy reader with cartoonish, creepy kids, ghosts and ghouls. Schwartz begins his book writing, "Most of us like scary stories because we like feeling scared. When there is no real danger, feeling scared is fun." He uses repetition, suspense and sudden revelations to great effect. Rivas' illustrations amp up the fright with creepy cartoon characters in the style of Tim Burton and Edward Gorey.
Scary, Scary Halloween
by Eve Bunting, illustrations by Jan Brett
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1986
Amazon / public library / Goodreads / level J
As sinister green eyes look through the darkness, a narrator begins: "I peer outside, there's something there / That makes me shiver, spikes my hair. / It must be Halloween." Bunting's rhymes are full of repetition, making them read almost like a chant. This classic picture book is delightfully scary to read aloud, and perfect for beginning readers to tackle on their own. "Little ones, stay safe inside! / It's best to stay at home and hide / On hallowed Halloween."
Secret of the Summer School Zombies
by Scott Nickel, illustrations by Matt Luxich
Stone Arch / Capstone, 2008
Amazon / public library / Goodreads / level J
With over-the-top imagination and action, these graphic novels appeal to kids who love funny, frightful stories. When Trevor and his friends realize that their summer school teachers have all turned into zombies, it's up to the three friends to save the day. Also try Monster in the Outfield and Attack of the Mutant Lunch Lady, two other monster-themed graphic novels for beginning readers.
There's a Nightmare in My Closet
by Mercer Mayer
Dial / Penguin, 1968
Amazon / public library / Goodreads / level I
A friend just wrote to me about the power of monster spray for her son. Childhood nightmares are real, and kids know this. "There used to be a nightmare in my closet. / Before going to sleep, / I always closed the closet door." In this classic picture book, Mayer turns the tables and has the child scare the monster as it comes out of the closet. Absolutely brilliant! All told with one short sentence on each page, with illustrations that respect the power of kids and their imaginations.

Please check out other posts in the #Road2Reading Challenge, hosted by my friends Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy and Michele Knott at Mrs. Knott's Book Nook. As they say, every journey has a beginning and it's important to celebrate & support readers at the start of their reading journey.

The review copy of In a Dark, Dark Room was kindly sent by the publisher, HarperCollins, and the other review copies came from my public and school libraries. 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.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, October 1, 2017

A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars, by Seth Fishman & Isabel Greenberg (ages 6-9)--and more crazy awesome enormous numbers!

How do you help kids gain a sense of what numbers really mean? At first, you help them count all the things around them. But what happens when you're trying to help them understand bigger numbers? And then how do you move onto truly enormous numbers? Seth Fishman makes number sense and estimating so much fun with his terrific picture book A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars.
A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars
by Seth Fishman
illustrated by Isabel Greenberg
Greenwillow / HarperCollins, 2017
Amazon / Public library
ages 6-9
Fishman helps kids get a sense of just how crazy awesome enormous numbers can be. He begins with the sun, explaining that it's just one star among "(maybe) 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars." And he even helps readers know how to say this outrageously large number, putting the words "a hundred billion trillion" down in the corner.

As he tours the universe and our world, looking at different huge numbers, he serves up a smorgasbord of examples. There are 7,500,000,000 people on Earth and 10 quadrillion ants. "The strange thing is that seven billion five hundred million humans weigh about the same as ten quadrillion ants." (OMG!!!) And 420 million kids or dogs lined up head to toe would circle the Earth about 10 times (that's 240,000 miles).

He keeps bringing examples back to kids, with a particular focus on the kid audience. Terrific, diverse kids and families fill the illustrations. Definitely read the author's note aloud to kids -- it talks about how Fishman estimated these numbers and why estimates are so important. Have fun watching this trailer:


Here are a few other math books I enjoy sharing that give kids a sense of enormous numbers:

How Many Jelly Beans?, by Andrea Menotti and Yancey Labat (Chronicle, 2012). My students love this candy-focused counting book that starts off small and ends with a giant fold-out to help them visualize a million jelly beans. I mean, how many kids can relate to the question, "Can you really have too many jelly beans?"

How Much Is a Million?, by David M. Schwartz and Steven Kellogg (Collins, 1985). Marvelossissimo the Mathematical Magician helps kids get a sense of big numbers. "If one million kids climbed onto one another's shoulders, they would be...farther up than airplanes can fly." While human tower with a billion kids "would stand up past the moon." A classic in school and classroom libraries everywhere.

Millions, Billions and Trillions: Understanding Big Numbers, by David Adler and Edward Miller (Holiday House, 2013). Adler builds up a systematic, gradual sense of how to visualize big numbers by using concrete examples kids can relate to. To imagine what a million might look like, kids are asked to pour 1/4 cup of sugar onto black construction paper to see "about one million granules." He helps kids imagine one billion by starting with looking at how many hairs are on a typical human's head: one hundred thousand. If you looked at ten thousand people's heads, you would see about one billion hairs!

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.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Wonderling, by Mira Bartók -- building a fantasy world, a guest post (ages 8-12)

Mira Bartók's new children's book The Wonderling completely enraptured me, drawing me into this fantasy adventure with its classic Hero's Journey. Arthur is a true hero, one who grows and changes, discovering as much about himself as he does about the world around him. I am excited to share this with readers across Berkeley as part of our Mock Newbery Book Clubs.
The Wonderling
by Mira Bartók
Candlewick, 2017
Google Books preview
Amazon / audiobook / public library
ages 8-12
*best new book*
Lonely, shy, scared. The orphaned groundling Number 13 doesn’t have a name until he finds a friend in Trinket, a small wingless bird with a big heart. Full of stories, Trinket decides that Arthur is the perfect name for his friend--brave King Arthur. Can they escape evil Miss Carbunkle’s orphanage? Will they find their families? This delightful fantasy would be wonderful to read aloud as a family, or escape into its adventure by yourself.

Today, Mira Bartók is visiting Great Kid Books to tell us a little about building her fantasy world. As I read The Wonderling, I was especially intrigued by Arthur's world and his journey. I wondered how Mira created Arthur's world, especially if she used a map to help lay out his journey.

Mira Bartók: Creating the World of The Wonderling

When I began building the world of The Wonderling, my first task was to create the terrible orphanage where Arthur/Number 13 finds himself at the opening of the book. I knew it had to be surrounded by a great wall, and that it was impossible to see over that wall into the world beyond. But I wasn’t quite sure what the building looked like. I looked at dozens of old photographs of 19th century orphanages, but none of them seemed quite right. Then one day, while searching online, I found a wonderful old engraving of a building in the shape of a giant cross, surrounded by a wall. It looked to me like a monastery and I knew when I saw it that it was perfect. I imagined Miss Carbunkle’s Home to have been many things over time—poorhouse, asylum, and ultimately a home for unclaimed creatures—but its origins were holy.
the engraving that inspired Miss Carbunkle's Home
I borrowed elements of the engraving and roughly sketched out a map of Miss Carbunkle’s Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures so I could understand how the characters moved through the space.
a detail from one very, very rough sketch of Miss Carbunkle's Home
As the story progressed, and it was clear that Arthur and Trinket needed to venture out into the world, I had to envision a larger universe. I took several large pieces of paper, taped them together, and mapped out Arthur and Trinket’s journey after they escape the Home. After that, I waited until I was completely finished with the book in order to fully understand how to physically map out my fantasy world. As I was racing toward the finish line, and made my final map for The Wonderling, I spent hours searching for beautiful maps to inspire me. I poured over giant map books in rare book rooms in libraries. I visited archives, like the magical Map Room at the Boston Public Library where I got to see the original maps for The Hobbit and other famous fantasy books, and I spent lots of time studying maps in antiquarian shops in London and New York. I also looked at piles of classic children’s books to see how those worlds were portrayed, books like Wind in the Willows and the Chronicles of Narnia, and more.

It was hard to decide which part of my fantasy world I wanted to depict in one map—the vertical layers of the world, depicting Lumentown with Gloomintown below? Or map out the city of Lumentown, and show Arthur’s journey within the city? In the end, I chose to simply map out a landscape—the Home, Pinecone’s house, the Wild Wood, Lumentown, and the surrounded environs—so that readers could follow Arthur’s journey from start to finish.
final map for The Wonderling
There are more journeys in store for Arthur and Trinket, so as long as they continue to venture out into the world, I’ll be here to draw wherever they choose to go!
-----
Thank you so very much, Mira, for sharing a little bit about your journey as Arthur's story came to life for you. I am so happy to hear that there are more adventures in store for Arthur and Trinket! I am excited to share this with students throughout Berkeley as part of our Mock Newbery Book Clubs, and I can't wait to hear some of their thoughts reading this story.

THE WONDERLING. Copyright © 2017 by Mira Bartok. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Candlewick. 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.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, September 24, 2017

2018 Berkeley Mock Newbery Book Clubs (ages 9-11)

Across Berkeley, students and teachers are joining this year's Berkeley Mock Newbery Book Clubs. Every elementary school has invited kids to come to the library, eat lunch and talk about the best books published this year. Our goals are to spread the love of reading and to get students' input about what they think makes a truly distinguished book.
In order to focus our discussions and create a sense of community, our librarians develop a list of 10 books for students to read and consider. We focus on middle grade novels for our students in 4th and 5th grade, so that they can compare within a general type of book. The actual Newbery Committee has a much larger scope, considering picture books, nonfiction titles, novels and poetry books for children up through age 14.

As we are launching our book clubs, we are excited to announce nine of our ten nominations for the 2018 Berkeley Mock Newbery. Have you read any of these books yet? Do you have a suggestion for our tenth nomination? We need your input!
2018 Berkeley Mock Newbery Nominations:

Amina's Voice, by Hena Khan
A Boy Called Bat, by Elana K. Arnold
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, by Rita Williams-Garcia
The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora, by Pablo Cartaya
The First Rule of Punk, by Celia C. Perez
The Harlem Charade, by Natasha Tarpley
Patina, by Jason Reynolds
Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate
The Wonderling, by Mira Bartok
We developed this slideshow to introduce the books to students and teachers.



The Newbery Award is given every year to an American author. The award specifically states that any type of literature may receive this award, as long as it is created specifically for children ages 0-14. The 2018 Newbery Award will be announced on February 12, 2018. As a "mock" award committee, our students will meet all fall and early winter to discuss and share their opinions -- we will vote the week of February 5th, and then tune in to see which book actually wins!

Please do let us know in the comments if you have suggestions for our 10th nomination. Remember that it must be published in 2017, written by an American author, and (for our purposes) be appropriate for 4th and 5th graders.

Many review copies have been kindly sent by the publishers, including Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Penguin, Macmillan, Candlewick and 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.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Warcross, by Marie Lu (ages 12 & up)

Are your teens looking for fantasy books with a high dose of adventure and adrenaline? In her newest book, Warcross, Marie Lu combines fast-action video game battles with intriguing underworld mysteries in a perfect series-opener. "Absolutely immersive. Cannot put this down," is what I wrote to myself as I zoomed through this.
Warcross
by Marie Lu
G.P. Putnam's Sons / Penguin, 2017
Amazon / Public library
Google Books preview
ages 12 and up
*best new book*
Emika Chen has lived on her own in New York for six years, making money as a bounty hunter, surviving on ramen, and trying to avoid trouble. Facing a debt of $3,450, she hacks into the universally popular video game Warcross, an immersive virtual reality game that's played real-time by millions of people worldwide. When Emi uses a Warcross bug to glitch into the championship games, she's suddenly exposed in front of millions. Instead of getting into trouble, she's invited to meet Hideo Tanaka, the game's creator, who's picked her for a top-secret job.

The setting swiftly moves to futuristic Tokyo, as Emika is asked to join this year's Warcross championship tournament as a spy for Tanaka. As she uncovers a sinister plot and gets close to Hideo, Emi must choose whom to trust. Lu balances mystery, action and suspense, pulling readers through and leaving them wanting more.

This short book trailer will give you a great sense of the opening setup:


Marie Lu portrays the immersive video game world so well precisely because of her experience in the video game industry. After graduating from USC, Lu dove into the video game industry as an artist. As Wired wrote,
"Creating the immersive digital realm was a dream job for Lu, who infuses the Warcross universe with all the futuristic capabilities she longed for as a player. 'I approached the writing process like a game studio with an infinite budget,' she says. Though the book takes inspiration from the insularity of Silicon Valley, Lu’s virtual world is low on bros—it features a ­rainbow-haired, ­Chinese American hacker-­heroine, as well as disabled and gay characters."
I devoured Marie Lu's Legend series, but I went into Warcross with little knowledge of video game worlds. I loved Emika's character, her courage but also her insecurity.

The review copy was 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.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, September 18, 2017

Fault Lines in the Constitution, by Cynthia Levinson & Sanford Levinson (ages 12-18)

This week, we’re celebrating Constitution Day: officially celebrated on Sunday, September 17 and this year observed today on September 18th. This day commemorates the signing of the Constitution on September 17, 1787. I am honored to share a guest post by Cynthia Levinson, author of the outstanding new book Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws that Affect Us Today.
Fault Lines in the Constitution: 
The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws that Affect Us Today
by Cynthia Levinson and Sanford Levinson
Peachtree, 2017
Amazon / public library
ages 12-18
*best new book*
Guest post from Cynthia Levinson:

This year is the 230th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution. What do your children know about this usually revered document? They probably learn that it set up the three branches of our democratic form of government, that it contains "checks and balances,” and that it ensures certain rights, such as freedom of speech. But, do they also learn to analyze the Constitution, to look at the parts that don’t work very well?

Our new book Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws that Affect Us Today does just that for readers ten and up. As an award-winning writer for young readers, I wanted to bring these issues to today's teens, and I worked with my husband, a renowned legal scholar, to create a compelling and readable book for young readers. We show how the compromises and conflicts that the Framers dealt with in 1787 lead to issues we struggle with today.

For instance, those checks and balances. The need for bills to be approved by both the House of Representatives and the Senate and then overcome a possible presidential veto can make it hard—sometimes impossible—for Congress to pass laws the country needs. Furthermore, because every state, regardless of its size, elects two senators, less than half the US population these days holds 80 percent of the seats in the Senate while a little more than half are represented by only 20 senators. We even show how this imbalance leads to the excess of corn syrup in the food we buy! In addition, we explain in accessible language how we ended up with the Electoral College and tussles over voting rights.
We don’t leave readers completely discouraged, though. Fault Lines gives examples of how state constitutions and those in other countries do things differently, often better, and how we can do so, too. In the end, we give our Constitution a grade, based on the stirring goals laid out the Preamble, and ask students to do the same. To keep the book updated, we post a blog twice a month at www.faultlinesintheconstitution.

Thank you so much, Cynthia! This is indeed a terrific book for teens. You present a compelling case for examining the strengths and weaknesses of the Constitution, engaging readers in this debate with persuasive examples. I particularly appreciate the layout and design. Read the introduction here in this excerpt. The Fault Lines blog is a terrific resource -- just look at these recent posts:
Educators will want to also check out these resources recommended by the Library of Congress:
The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Peachtree. 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.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Reading about wild weather & learning about hurricanes (ages 5-16)

The weather this fall has certainly been wild. Two major hurricanes have ravaged communities in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean. Build on students' interest by sharing a range of books that explore the causes of extreme weather and the way scientists work to predict and understand the weather.
Younger children:

Hurricanes (Smithsonian Little Explorer), by Martha E.H. Rustad -- a good introduction with accessible text, short sentences, dramatic photographs and clear diagrams. Ages 6-10. Reading level, 2nd grade.

Fly Guy Presents: Weather, by Tedd Arnold -- blending humor and information, this book captures kids' attention. The text is definitely more complex than the Fly Guy stories, making it good to read aloud to young Fly Guy fans. Clear information, excellent diagrams and labels. Ages 5-10. Reading level, 3rd grade.

Hurricane Watch, by Melissa Stewart -- this picture book focuses on how scientists track storms and what you can do to keep yourself safe if one is coming. Engaging, clear information, with expressive illustrations. Ages 5-9. Reading level, 3rd grade.

Older children & teens:

Extreme Weather (A True Book), by Ann Squire -- Focusing on key questions like what makes a tornado deadly and how a storm surge is created, this book explores how scientists study weather. Longer paragraphs will help children learn more in depth about these topics, without overwhelming them. Ages 8-12. Reading level, 4th grade.


Eye of the Storm: NASA, Drones, and the Race to Crack the Hurricane Code (Scientists in the Field), by Amy Cherrix -- dramatic writing pulls students into wanting to know more about cyclones, their deadly power and the scientists that are studying them. Beginning with a look at Hurricane Sandy, which lulled many New Yorkers into thinking it posed insignificant risk because it was a Category 1 hurricane, Cherrix keeps the focus squarely on the people who are affected by and who study these powerful storms. Try reading short sections aloud to pique students' interest. Ages 9-17. Reading level, 8th grade.

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans, by Don Brown -- this comic book delivers a powerful look at the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina, helping students understand the flooding, distress, anger, pain and death that followed in its aftermath. The visual depiction of the devastation and the inadequate government response are captured in a powerful way, and not sensationalized. Ages 10-17. Reading level, 6th grade.

Read more about choosing nonfiction for developing readers in the article I wrote with Alyson Beecher:
"Beyond Reading Levels: Choosing Nonfiction for Developing Readers," by Mary Ann Scheuer and Alyson Beecher, School Library Journal (August 28, 2017)
Many kids and adults prefer reading nonfiction, especially books that help them understand the world around us. It's important to build children's knowledge gradually, seeking out books that increase in complexity. This helps students build their reading muscles, digging into more complex books without getting totally overwhelmed.

Many teachers tell students to find “just right books” -- but how do you know what a book's reading level is? Open it up and read a few paragraphs or pages. I tell my students that the only way they can tell if a book is right for them is to read a little bit of it. Look at the vocabulary and sentences. Look at the design and layout. Ask your child what they think about it. This is much more important than knowing the specific level.

The review copies came from our school and public libraries. 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.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Facing our fears: picture books give us courage to keep trying (ages 3-8)

Fear is a powerful force, in our lives and in our children's. How do we help young kids face their fears and keep moving forward? There is no one easy answer, but several picture books help acknowledge the power that fear has and different ways to overcome it. Today, I'd like to share four with different approaches for young kids.
Sam, the Most Scaredy-Cat Kid in the Whole World
A Leonardo, the Terrible Monster companion
by Mo Willems
Disney-Hyperion, 2017
Amazon / Public library
ages 3-6
One day Sam makes a terrifying discovery. You might think that it's Frankenthaler the monster, but actually it's another little kid Kerry! You see, Sam is the most scaredy-cat kid in the whole world. But guess what? Kerry is also terrified of Sam! What are their monsters going to do?

Sometimes, kids need to discover that they can just carry on and deal with their fears. Sam & Kerry's monsters just leave them to "figure it out," and guess what? These two kids discover that they have more in common then they do to fear, especially as they fall into giggles when they play a trick on their monsters. A fun companion to Mo Willems' Leonardo, the Terrible Monster.
I (Don't) Like Snakes
by Nicola Davies
illustrated by Luciano Lozano
Candlewick, 2015
Amazon / Public library
ages 4-8
A young girl can't believe it, but her family really likes snakes. When she says, "I really, really, REALLY don't like snakes!" they are amazed--setting the stage for the young protagonist to explain just why she can't stand these slithering, scaly creatures with flicky tongues.

There are times that facts and knowledge help us overcome our fears. Each time this young girl tells her family why she doesn't like snakes, they tell her a little more about these amazing creatures. "Snakes HAVE to slither," said my mom. "They don't have legs, so they bend like an S and use their ribs and scales to grip. It's the only way they can move." Davies then provides more information about different types of motions: concertina slithering, serpentine slithering and caterpillar crawling.

This skillful blend of humor and information models a terrific way of overcoming our fears by learning more about them.
I Am (Not) Scared
by Anna Kang
illustrated by Christopher Weyant
Two Lions, 2017
Amazon / Public library
ages 3-6
I'm not sure about you, but I scream like crazy on roller coasters. I get terrified when I zoom along in those tiny cars. And yet I leave the ride with an incredible rush. How do you explain this blend of fear and adrenaline? And can we extend this to other fears?

 In this delightful picture book, two bears share their fears of hairy spiders, hot lava and fried ants. But what's really on their mind is the roller coaster (with a snake!) right in front of them: The Loop of Doom. With simple, bold text and exaggerated cartoon characters, Kang and Weyant deliver the message that these friends can face their fears together, and that a little fear can be a whole lot of fun.
The Thing Lou Couldn't Do
by Ashley Spires
Kids Can, 2017
Amazon / Public library
ages 3-7
Sometimes, we are convinced that everyone else can do something and there is just no way we can do it. My youngest is absolutely sure that she cannot ride a bike. Lou loves adventure, but she is terrified of heights. When her friends decide to build their pirate ship up in a tree, Lou isn't sure she can climb it.
"Lou tells them that her arm is sore. And anyway, the cat needs a walk... There are so many reasons not to try."
After deliberating and avoiding it for a few pages, Lou decides that it's time for her "to climb aboard." She struggles and groans and is sure "she must be nearly there," but when readers turn the page they discover that she's just climbed a tiny bit.

I love this ending, with its message of trying new things and persevering. Even though she didn't climb very far, it's that she can't do it yet. "She'll be back. Maybe even tomorrow. After all, Lou loves an adventure."

The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Disney-Hyperion, Candlewick, Two Lions and Kids Can 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.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Patina (Track #2), by Jason Reynolds --

Last year, Berkeley students chose Jason Reynolds' Ghost as the best new book of the year in our Mock Newbery program. They loved how Ghost struggled to make good choices and find his own way, and how quickly they were drawn into his world. Today, Reynolds publishes Patina, the second in his Track series, looking at the story of Patina (Patty) Jones, the new girl on the Defenders racing team.

I cannot wait to share Patina's story with kids. Reynolds' writing explodes during race scenes. And Patty's character is richly drawn. She carries such a load, so much responsibility, taking care of her little sister, caring for her mom, navigating a school scene that isn't comfortable or rooted in her own culture. She's vulnerable and strong at the same time.
Patina (Track #2)
by Jason Reynolds
Atheneum / Simon & Schuster, 2017
Amazon / Your local library
ages 9-14
*best new book*
Patty cannot stand losing. In the opening chapter, she's fuming that she has come in 2nd place in the Defenders' most recent race. Seeing Patty pull away and fume inside, Coach assigns her to the 4x800 relay team. Instead of just focusing on herself, Patty must figure out how to partner with three other girls, literally running in step with them.

Meanwhile, Patty has to juggle being responsible for her little sister, feeling out of place at her private school, and taking care of her mom who’s “got the sugar” (diabetes). Like Ghost, Patty must deal with a heavy load. She has lost so much in her life and tries to handle everything by herself. She deserves to just be a kid, but she has to shoulder so much responsibility.

Reynolds creates a strong, compelling cast of characters, authentically capturing a young girl's voice. While this novel does not have the same tension or suspense as Ghost, I loved the track and teamwork elements of this story, as the teammates learned to be in step with one another.

In the United States, it's been a tumultuous August, with the violent conflict in Charlottesville and a pounding hurricane in Texas. This weekend, Berkeley and San Francisco were the site of further protests. In the midst of this turmoil, I wonder about the impact on our children and how we can best respond.

We need to recognize the impact of trauma; however, I also feel strongly one of the best things we can do is to keep operating with a focus on love, compassion and respect. Our libraries and books can provide a refuge, a safe place during chaotic times--a chance for our students to regroup, reflect, and find sustenance.

Sharing books like Patina help kids see that they are not alone. I am deeply appreciative of all the work that teachers, librarians and parents do to create a safe space for our children. And I am especially grateful to Jason Reynolds for sharing Patina's story with us.

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

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Excited for the Eclipse? Resources to share with kids (ages 5-9)

Are you excited about the total solar eclipse that will occur next Monday? On August 21, 2017, all of North America will be able to see the eclipse, either a total solar eclipse or a partial one. Families, teachers, and librarians are using this event to ignite interest in science and astronomy. Take some time before the event to talk with kids near you about how the earth rotates around the sun, the moon spins around the earth and what happens during an eclipse.

While several website also explain about eclipses, I have found that they are quite wordy and complex. The best resource I've found for younger students is a print book, Eclipses by Martha E.H. Rustad, available in paperback or library binding. The advantage of a print book is that students can return to it on their own, thinking more about what happened during the eclipse.
Eclipses
by Martha E.H. Rustad
Capstone, 2017
Google Books preview
Amazon / Your local library
ages 4-9
Rustad clearly explains in short, simple sentences what happens during a solar and a lunar eclipse. This would be good to read aloud with young children (ages 4-7), or have for 2nd graders to read independently.
"The moon and Earth move in paths called orbits. Earth orbits the sun. The moon orbits Earth. Sometimes these paths line up. Then an eclipse happens."
Bold photos and a good diagram help create interest and explain the concepts. A glossary, recommended further reading and an index are included at the end.

Combine digital and print resources with physical hands-on models to help students develop an understanding of the solar system and envision what's happening during an eclipse.

These two videos are good starting places. This video from SciShowKids is short and geared to younger kids, but you'll need to explain that it was created for the eclipse that happened in Europe in 2015.


This next video, from Vox, is longer and more detailed, and so it's better for older children.

I also really liked the web resources from both NASA (eclipse2017.nasa.gov) and from the Google/UCBerkeley project Eclipse Megamovie 2017. In particular, check out the eclipse simulator where you can enter your location and see the simulation of what the eclipse will look like in your area.
Screenshot from eclipse simulator
I hope you enjoy experiencing the eclipse with children, and together you can talk about some of the wonders of astronomy. I especially liked the way John Panagos, a teacher in Oakland at Burckhalter Elementary, said it in this article in EdSource:
“The eclipse will help students appreciate the beauty of space — feel that joy and sense of wonder, ask questions and create their own journey of understanding the universe and their place in it."
The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Capstone 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.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Standing strong together -- using books to connect us.

I am deeply saddened by the violence that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend. It anguishes me that people in our country are filled with hatred, resort to violence to assert their views, and openly carry military weapons.

As I struggle with these feelings, I recall the words of Javaka Steptoe as he accepted the 2017 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for his masterful picture book Radiant Child. Javaka reflected on how our country and our communities are changing and the opportunities this presents.
"Today that block on Monroe Street looks different than when my father lived there. The faces are not all black. In fact, spaces all around the country are becoming more diverse. The landscape of America is not the same as it was, and we are at an impasse. Do we hold on to what we were? Or do we become what we can be? ...

"Against all odds, we have made something of this place, and if we can respect one another’s truths, if we can see outside of ourselves, we can be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. Representing all aspects of our society is not about fulfilling the selfish desires of a small special-interest group. It is about supplying power to the people of America."
Stories have the power to connect us, helping us "see outside of ourselves," as Javaka said. Reading about other people helps us respect each other's journeys and experiences.

As parents, librarians and teachers, we must actively choose to share with our children books that help them see outside of their own communities. And we must also help all of our children be able to see books that reflect their own experiences. As Kwame Alexander wrote on Twitter this week,
"Resist/Speak up. Teach yr kids same. The mind of an adult begins in the imagination of a child. Peace."
And so I focus on books that help us see each other more fully, that foster the imagination, that make kids want to read more. Because this is how I can help actively make the world a better place.

Thank you to all of the artists and authors who help me in this journey, who share their stories to help us all connect. Thank you to all of the teachers and librarians, parents and friends who help me discover more books to share. And especially, thank you to all of the students who share their stories, their reading lives with me. You all give so much of yourselves.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Grandma's Tiny House, by JaNay Brown-Wood -- a counting book that rises above the rest (ages 3-6)

Counting books are a dime a dozen, but Grandma's Tiny House rises above the rest of this crowded field. Teachers and families will appreciate this loving African American family, the story and rhymes that bring this beyond your typical counting book.
Grandma's Tiny House
by JaNay Brown-Wood
illustrated by Priscilla Burris
Charlesbridge, 2017
Amazon / Your local library
ages 3-6
A grandmother welcomes her family, friends, and neighbors into her home for a wonderful feast, and everyone brings food to share. Cheerful rhymes mark the arrival of different guests. "THREE neighbors knock on the brown wooden door, with FOUR pots of hot greens and ham hocks galore." As more folks arrive, the house quickly fills. Where is everyone going to go? Aunties, cousins, grandkids -- it's quite a houseful.

This counting story is firmly set in an African American home with specific details, a joyful community and lots of love. Many families and teachers are looking for diverse stories just like this, where race and ethnicity is a part of the story because it's just part of the family's life -- not a point of conflict. This is a counting book with lots of feeling and smiles to go around.

Enjoy this trailer to get more of a feel for this joyful story:


If you're interested in more math books, check out the Mathical Prize for children's books. "The Mathical Book Prize is an annual award for fiction and nonfiction books that inspire children of all ages to see math in the world around them." Thanks to friend and fellow blogger Betsy Bird for bringing this award to my attention! This prize is organized by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI), in partnership with the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM).

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

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, August 7, 2017

Pets on the Loose! series by Victoria Jamieson -- terrific pair of graphic novels for young readers (ages 6-10)

Have you ever imagined what your pets get up to while you're away? Victoria Jamieson takes this notion and gives it a fresh spin, imagining a trio of classroom pets and their antics when the kids go home for the day. Pets on the Loose! is a terrific series for kids moving into longer stories, whether you're reading it aloud together or kids are gobbling it up on their own.
The Great Pet Escape
Pets on the Loose!
volume 1
by Victoria Jamieson
Henry Holt / Macmillan, 2016
Google Books preview
Amazon / Your local library
ages 6-10
George Washington, or "GW" for short, plays the part of a a sweet, innocent classroom hamster, but the second graders at Daisy P. Flugelhorn Elementary School don't know that he's an experienced con man. Having been locked up in 2nd grade for three months, he's determined to escape and reunite with his pals Barry the rabbit and Biter the guinea pig.
"Prison can't stop me. I am now building my greatest invention ever... the Hairy Houdini Escape-O-Matic."
As soon as GW escapes and frees his pals, they run into their biggest problem: Harriet the mouse. With her minion mice and Lucinda, the 5th grade pet snake, Harriet is planning to cause chaos in the school by preparing "the most vile, disgusting lunch they've EVER seen."

Kids will crack up at the thought of mice running havoc in the cafeteria, adding chocolate chips and pickles to the casserole, making soup with ketchup, relish and mustard. The food fight finale will certainly bring giggles a plenty, and kids will relish (ha!) how the friends support one another.

I love the pacing and goofy humor in this graphic novel. GW is cute but mischievous, a good friend but also pretty self-centered. Readers new to longer graphic novels will appreciate that each panel only has one or two short sentences, and that the whole story is captured in eleven short chapters.

Kids will be eager to read the sequel, The Great Art Caper:
The Great Art Caper
Pets on the Loose!
 volume 2
by Victoria Jamieson
Henry Holt / Macmillan, 2017
Google Books preview
Amazon / Your local library
ages 6-10
GW the hamster continue his adventures with his friends, this time saving the students’ art show from sabotage by Harriet the mouse. As the story opens, the pets have settled into a nice routine in each of their classrooms. They want to go to the art room to make a card for GW's friend Carina, but it's on the 2nd floor -- the domain of Harriet and her minions. How are they going to make it all the way there?

Harriet and her minions are plotting to steal Carina’s picture from the art show, wrecking havoc on the school once again. Worst of all, they going to frame GW and his friends so that they will be sent away to St. Bart’s Obedience School for Unruly Pets.

Jamieson continues her series with her terrific blend of humor and pacing, filling this with slapstick humor and an underlying message of friendship. You'll get a nice sense through this Google Books preview:

One of my favorite experiences as a mom was reading aloud a graphic novel to my daughter when she was in 3rd grade. We snuggled up together, each reading different characters' parts aloud. This series would make a great comic book to read aloud with 1st, 2nd or 3rd graders who are ready to listen and read along with a longer story.

The review copies came from our public library, checked out through Axis 360 ebooks. 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.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Dominic, by William Steig -- adventure, heart and humor for family listening (ages 6-9)

Are you setting off on an adventure this summer? Try listening to Dominic, by William Steig, and you'll find a story full of adventure, heart and humor--perfect for family listening.
Dominicby William Steig
narrated by Peter Thomas
Listening Library, 2009
Amazon / Your local library
ages 6-9
Dominic is a dog in search of his fortune. He leaves his home, taking only his hat and his piccolo, and along the way he meets many animals, developing new friends as he goes. My children were captivated by Dominic's story, as he bumbles his way along, searching for - well, he doesn't quite know what. Dominic learns about the world and himself as he makes new friends and outwits the notorious Doomsday gang.

Originally published in 1972, this timeless story has a folktale feel, full of charm, heart and a bit of magic. One of the interesting things I found myself wondering is what made Dominic so determined to defeat the Doomsday gang. Was he getting revenge for the way they had tricked him, or was he trying to make his world a safer place for his friends?

The length of this story makes is a good choice for a broad age range. While 3rd graders and older will get the most out of this rich story, young children enjoy it as well. William Steig wrote many of my favorite classic picture books: Sylvester and the Magic PebbleDr. DeSoto, and The Amazing Bone. His language is rich and imaginative, perfect for family listening.

The review copy came from our 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.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books