Monday, May 25, 2015

Fish in a Tree, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt: a powerful favorite of 2015 (ages 9-12)

Many of my students turn to books to sink into someone's world, to understand someone else's struggles and gain perspectives on their own lives. Fish in a Tree has been a favorite at Emerson all spring precisely because of this. Lynda Mullaly Hunt draws readers into Ally's world and helps them understand how hard school is for her. My students keep recommending this to one another, especially to friends who like stories that really reach your heart.
Fish in a Tree
by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Nancy Paulsen / Penguin, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
*best new book*
Ally Nickerson knows how to survive a day at school, but each day is an ordeal. In 6th grade and at her seventh school, Ally does everything she can to cover up the fact that reading and writing are nearly impossible for her. "I wonder what it would be like to be able to relax at school and not have to worry every second of every minute." Her teachers and her principal say that it's up to her, but Ally knows that it isn't. She just feels broken -- except when she's drawing in her Sketchbook of Impossible Things.

When Ally's teacher goes out on maternity leave, a new young teacher takes her place. For the first time, a teacher really sees Ally for who she is, for what her real strengths are as well as her profound struggles. He helps diagnose her dyslexia and starts giving her extra reading support after school. At the same time, Ally starts developing friendships with two other kids who also don't fit the typical mold. These friendships and her new reading skills help Ally believe in herself and her own gifts.

My students would absolutely agree with this starred review from Booklist:
"Filled with a delightful range of quirky characters and told with tons of heart, the story also explores themes of family, friendship, and courage in its many forms. And while a girl with dyslexia may be the center of the book, it has something to offer for a wide-ranging audience, making this an excellent class read-aloud. A hopeful and meaningful choice for those who struggle academically, this is as unique as its heroine."
Share this book trailer with kids to give them a feel for the story, and then head over to the Mr. Schu's blog Watch.Connect.Read for Lynda's wonderful essay about how she approaches her writing, starting with character and what she sees in her head.

When the literacy coaches at Berkeley Unified School District asked me to recommend a book that lends itself to talking about multiple perspectives, I recommended Fish in a Tree. They loved how you could pause to think about the story from the principal's point of view, Ally's mother's, or her brother Travis's perspective. Teachers will want to check out this educator's guide for more ideas.

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Emerson Book Club Recommendations: Great summer reading plans! (ages 9-12)

Emerson's fantastic book club met today for our Summer Reading Celebration and 45 kids came to the library to have lunch together, swap book recommendations and share their love for reading. We had such a fun time!

Our book club welcomes all 4th and 5th graders. All spring, we've been talking about books we've been reading and encouraging friends to read the books we've liked. We will hold our Mock Newbery Club again next fall, so we've been paying special attention to the books published in 2015. Here are the titles our students have recommended so far for consideration:
All the Answers, by Kate Messner
Blackbird Fly, by Erin Entrada Kelly
Blue Birds, by Caroline Starr Rose
The Detective's Assistant, by Katherine Hannigan
Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Fish in a Tree, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Gone Crazy in Alabama, by Rita Williams-Garcia
Honey, by Sarah Weeks
Listen, Slowly, by Thanhha Lai
My Secret Guide to Paris, by Lisa Schroeder
Neon Aliens Ate My Homework, by Nick Cannon
Nightbird, by Alice Hoffman
The Penderwicks in Spring, by Jeanne Birdsall
Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Animals, by Maggie Stiefvater and Jackson Pearce
Tiger Boy, by Mitali Perkins
The War that Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Wish Girl, by Nikki Loftin
It was so much fun hearing kids share about why they'd recommend a book to friends. The books that are getting the most love right now are definitely The Detective's Assistant, Echo, Fish in a Tree, and Gone Crazy in Alabama.

After sharing book recommendations, we took some time to write our own "to be read" lists. These lists help us look forward to the next book we want to read. It's a habit I want to instill in all my students. And so it was great to take a minute to write down our ideas and ask friends for recommendations.
We finished our celebration by taking "shelfies" -- pictures with our favorite books and with the books we want to read. It was a terrific celebration of our love of reading. Many thanks to Melissa Guerrette for her inspiring article on the Nerdy Book Club blog all about shelfies. I'm sure our sheflie celebration with get many many of our students talking about books they want to read.

Many thanks to all of the publishers who support our book club by sending us advanced copies. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, May 17, 2015

I Don't Want to Be a Frog, by Dev Petty & Mike Boldt (ages 3-8)

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

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

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

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

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Tiger Boy, by Mitali Perkins -- a fantastic read-aloud (ages 8-11)

As parents, we want our children to enjoy reading, so that they want to read more. The single most important thing you can do to help ensure this? Read aloud. Find stories that you can share together. Find books that linger with you, that make you both wonder about the world.

Tiger Boy, by Mitali Perkins, is perfect for a family read-aloud--the 4th graders at Malcolm X School in Berkeley are giving it huge thumbs up and I heartily agree. If you have an animal-lover, or you're looking for a book set in India or Bangladesh, or you're looking for a book with a courageous kid who stands up for what's right -- definitely seek out Tiger Boy.
Tiger Boy
by Mitali Perkins
Charlesbridge, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-11
When a tiger cub escapes from a reserve in the Sundarbans, a delta region straddling the India-Bengladesh border, many of the residents on a nearby island try to find it. Some are worried that its mother will set out looking for it, possibly hurting or killing people in the process. Others have been hired by a wealthy man to capture it for trade on the black market.

Neel is determined to help with the search--protecting the tiger cub is as important to him and he isn't afraid to stand up to greedy Gupta or his hired men. Neel's parents want him to focus on his studies and prepare for his exams. While Neel loves learning and languages, he finds math frustrating and confusing. And how can he concentrate knowing that the tiger cub needs his help?
Mitali Perkins draws in readers, as they feel how much Neel wants to use his special knowledge of his island to help find the tiger. As the CCBC review so clearly puts it,
"The sense of urgency that propels Neel and Rupa’s hunt for the cub creates the perfect amount of tension in an engaging story wonderfully grounded in Neel’s point of view and his experiences in his family and community. Their effort to save the cub helps Neel understand how furthering his education is one means of helping protect the place he lives."
I especially love how Perkins balances the relationship between Neel and his sister Rupta. Perkins both respects the traditional role that women have in this Bengali village, but she also shows Rupta playing an active role.
I have found that my students are not picking this up on their own, even when I recommend it. That's why I think it would make a terrific read-aloud. Parents (or teachers) can encourage kids to give something a try that might be different from the usual books they read. It would make a great book to read this summer or in the fall--see if it leads kids to wanting to learn more about protecting the tigers in the Sunderbans.

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, May 10, 2015

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

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

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

Illustrations ©2015 by Janet Stevens, Mark Fearing and Rafael López; used with permission from the publishers. The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Disney Hyperion. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Celebrating all types of families: 3 new picture books (ages 3-9)

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

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

Illustrations ©2015 by Max Lang and Holly Clifton-Brown; used with permission from the publishers. The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Random House, Kids Can Press and Chronicle Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books