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