Monday, October 20, 2014

Creepy short stories: mysteries & thrillers for ages 10-13

I have never liked horror movies. Never. Ever. But I know that scary, frightening stories have a real appeal for many people. So how do I recommend them for my students? It's a challenge -- especially gauging that right balance between spine-tingling-fright and oh-no-way-too-frightening-for-10-year-olds.

Here are four short-story collections I am recommending to students. Please be warned: if they are too scary, stop reading. That's what I've done in many cases.
Cabinet of Curiosities
36 Tales Brief and Sinister
by Stefan Bachmann, Claire Legrand, Katherine Catmull and Emma Trevayne
HarperCollins, 2014
Podcast + Website
Your local library
Amazon
ages 10-13
Four "curators"--Bachmann, Legrand, Catmull and Trevayne--have gathered together ominous tales, organizing them into different themes ranging from tricks to cake, luck to travel. There are ghost stories, monster stories and bizarre stories. Some have direct villains, while others set a creepy tone without letting you exactly see what's menacing the main character.

The curators have a terrific website Enter the Cabinet with many tales, both ones from the cabinet and others freshly added. My current favorite is The Door Downstairs, with a courageous heroine, eerie setting, and psychological themes. For extra creepy fun, check out the podcasts the curators recorded. Katherine Catmull's recording of "Dark Valentine" is enough to haunt my dreams tonight.

Here are some other favorite collections of frightening stories:
Guys Read: Thriller
edited by Jon Scieszka
Walden Pond / Harper Collins, 2011
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
Jon Scieszka's collection has great kid appeal, with contributions from 10 different superb authors. I loved Matt de la Peña's story "Believing in Brooklyn" about a wish-making-machine, with its creepy coincidences and touching ending. What would you wish for if you could have anything you wanted? If you like this, check out all the Guys Reads collections.
On the Day I Died
Stories from the grave
by Candace Fleming
Schwartz & Wade Books, 2012
Your local library
Amazon
ages 11-14
Fleming begins this collection with a version of "The Vanishing Hitchhiker." In her version, the young teen who picks up the hitchhiker is told to take her shoes to the graveyard where she's buried--and he discovers a crowd of ghosts, all wanting to tell him how they died. Fleming sets her story in White Cemetery, an actual graveyard outside Chicago, and each story takes place during a different time period. She deftly weaves in many pieces of historical details, but these never overwhelm the stories.

I found these stories more frightening--certainly too frightening for 4th graders, and probably more suitable for 6th graders. All of the stories center on how a teenager died, and that aspect really got to me. I haven't shared this collection with students yet, so I can't gauge kids' reactions.
Haunted Houses:
Are You Scared Yet?
by Robert San Souci
Henry Holt, 2010
Your local library
Amazon
ages 10-13
The spider story in this collection, "Webs," scared me so much that I couldn't finish reading this collection. As soon as I say that, kids start clamoring for this collection. Here's what I wrote when I originally read this collection:
In one story, a boy’s family is vacationing in a house that is taken over by spiders. Now, these aren’t your typical garden spiders. They are spiders who want revenge for the damages done to their forest and homes. Danny starts to get worried when he finds the rabbit cage filled with spider webs, and then realizes that the bundles in the corner are the dead rabbits encased in spider webs. The story proceeds to even creepier, as Danny discovers more ways the spiders have wrecked damage on previous owners of the house. Needless to say, every time I walk into a spider’s web now, I jump even higher.
The stories in these collections are NOT for everyone, but I know that many of my students clamor for frightening stories. Do you have any favorite short story collections that you hand your 4th, 5th and 6th graders? How do you judge what's too scary?

The review copy of The Cabinet of Curiosities was kindly sent by the publishers, Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins. The review copy of the other collections came from our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Counting the days 'till Halloween: two books to share (ages 3-8)

Young kids love Halloween, but some find scary costumes and stories too frightening. So I'm always on the lookout for books that are a little bit creepy, but are still playful and fun. Two new favorites have lots of kid appeal and throw in practice with counting that's just right for preschoolers and kindergartners.
Ten Orange Pumpkins
A Counting Book
by Stephen Savage
Dial / Penguin, 2013
Your local library
Amazon
ages 3-6
Ten pumpkins start the night neatly stacked outside a farmer's house, but they disappear one by one as they night progresses. Savage combines bold illustrations with rhythmic rhyming text, giving young readers just enough clues so they can figure out what happens to each pumpkin. I especially love his striking use of silhouettes--they are creepy and dramatic, yet also simple and straightforward.

Look how effectively Savage uses the page turn to hook young readers (see the first two pages below). Children will love counting the pumpkins and figuring out where the missing one went. Here's a great example of a book that has so many details in the illustrations that kids can add many layers to the story beyond the text--use this to talk with kids as you read, with prompts like "So what do you notice?" and "Oh, so what happened here?"
"Ten orange pumpkins,
fresh off the vine.
Tonight will be a spooky night."
"Yikes! There are 9."
from Ten Orange Pumpkins, by Stephen Savage
Another new favorite with our kindergarten teachers is Not Very Scary. They love this cumulative story not only for its counting practice, but also for its message. While we all might get a little bit scared at Halloween, it's really just all our friends having fun.
Not Very Scary
by Carol Brendler
illustrated by Greg Pizzoli
Farrar Straus Giroux / Macmillan, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
Melly, a cute litte monster, is excited to walk over to her cousin Malberta's house for a Halloween party. Sure it's a gloomy night, but Melly isn't scared--even when she sees "a coal-black cat with an itchy-twitchy tail." She tells herself how brave she is, but readers can tell that she's actually getting scared. Turn the page, and Melly sees "two skittish skeletons" dancing along after the cat.
from Not Very Scary, by Carol Brendler & Greg Pizzoli
Young children know just how Melly feels, getting more and more frightened as each ghoulish creature turns up. This makes the final resolution all the more enjoyable, as Melly realizes that they are all just Malberta's friends coming along to the Halloween party.

Brendler uses wonderfully descriptive language, full of alliteration (grimy goblins, spindly spiders) that makes reading it aloud a joy. Pizzoli's illustrations strike just the right balance, emphasizing the silly fun each creature brings, but never making them too scary. I had a great time reading about his illustration process on his blog and over at his interview at Seven Impossible Things.

The review copy of Not Very Scary was kindly sent by the publishers, Macmillan Books. The review copy of Ten Orange Pumpkins came from our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Scary stories for beginning readers (ages 5-8)

Kids get so excited about Halloween -- and I love tapping into that excitement in the library, especially if I can hook more kids into reading. Writing for beginning readers must be one of the most difficult tasks. Here are two books that are goofy-scary, funny but with enough creepiness to keep young kids reading.
illustrated by Michael Emberly
Little, Brown, 2007
ages 5-8
These stories, part of a favorite series with 1st and 2nd graders, are ideal for reading aloud. Each poem is meant to be read by two voices, alternating back and forth. Hoberman uses the spooky settings creating delightful fun and celebrating joy in reading.

Here's the beginning of "The Mummy" as two kids go exploring and discover a mummy. "Let's explore inside this tomb, / I'm afraid we'll meet our doom." I love the rhythm and rhyme of Hoberman's text, and Emberly's pictures reach just the right balance between goofy and creepy.
sample from Mary Ann Hoberman's website
Hoberman's poems focus on thirteen different Halloween mainstays, ranging from "The Skeleton" to "The Witch and the Broomstick." Seek out all the titles in this terrific series.
Monster School
The Spooky Sleepover
I Can Read! #2
by Dave Keane
Harper Collins, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-8
Norm is a nervous about his first sleepover--it's going to be at school, and it's his first time sleeping away from home. "I miss my bed already," worried Norm. Kids will relate to Norm's worries, but they'll laugh at all the word play in this story.

Norm's friends at school are all monsters, from Gary the ghost to Harry the werewolf who turns hairy. Keane does a great job creating funny interplay between the words and pictures. Below, you can see that Isaac, the purple monster in the blue PJs, is literally crying his eyes out -- and they're bouncing all around him. 2nd graders love this play on words, plus the silly gross-out factor.
sample from iTunes preview
Keane's Monster School series works well for kids who can read longer sentences on their own, but still want short, high-interest stories to keep them engaged.

Are there other monster or ghost stories that work well for your developing readers? Our superhero beginning readers are also in high demand right now, especially with kindergartners and first graders.

The review copy of Monster School was kindly sent by the publishers, HarperCollins Publishers. The review copy of You Read to Me, I'll Read to You came from our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, October 12, 2014

#WeNeedDiverseBooks -- recommending books from a wide range of perspectives (ages 4-14)

#WeNeedDiverseBooksEarlier this year, several authors banded together to put out the cry: #WeNeedDiverseBooks. What started as a call for action quickly turned viral, drawing the support of librarians, teachers, booksellers and authors nationwide. This past weekend's KidLitCon, with its focus on diversity and speaking out, prompted me to share this presentation below.

Our community in Berkeley is incredibly diverse, and I constantly try to seek out books that represent a wide range of perspectives. I want my students to be able to see themselves in books, and I want them to be able to see into others' worlds.

Although the vast majority of children's books still represent the dominant white perspective, there are many books that share diverse points of view. Our responsibility, as parents and librarians, is to seek out and celebrate books that represent a wide range of perspectives. Below is my start at that -- a celebration of diverse books for children ages 4-14. Most are new, but some are also favorites that librarians in my district have recommended.


Please let me know if there are other new diverse titles we should recommend to kids, and I will update this presentation in a few weeks. I have read many, but not all of the books in this presentation. All come with a recommendation from a fellow book-lover that I respect.

Here are a few more titles that folks have already suggested that I include:










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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Storyline Online: a great resource spreading the joy of reading (ages 3-8)

I love reading stories aloud to children, but as a busy mom I know there are times my kids want to listen to a story when I just have too many other things to do. This even happens in the library! At Emerson, we have loved showing kids how they can listen to stories on the computer through Storyline Online. While this doesn't replace reading stories with our kids, it's a wonderful resource to know about.
Storyline Online
http://www.storylineonline.net/
free website & videos
produced by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation
ages 3-8
Storyline Online is easy for young kids to use -- just click on a book cover, and then click the play button. Our students are really enjoying listening to these stories, and we've been really pleased with the quality. What we love about it:
  • terrific actors that bring warmth, joy and feeling to these stories
  • fantastic selection of stories, both old and new
  • nice balance between the actor reading aloud and views of the picture book illustrations
  • easy to use site -- kids can navigate it by themselves
  • engages children in a rich story experience, but satisfies their yearning for screen time
Here's one of our favorite stories: The Library Lion, by Michelle Knudson, read aloud by Mindy Sterling.

Come check out our redesigned Berkeley Public School Libraries websites. Anyone can access them, making resources easily available from home or school. Storyline Online is just one of the many resources available through our websites. Here's what Emerson Library's website looks like:
Emerson Library website
Let us know what you think of these resources. We'd love to know resources your kids enjoy using at home. I want to say special thanks to colleagues at BUSD DigiTech's team, especially Becca Todd District Library Coordinator, for helping marshal such a terrific collection of digital resources for elementary children.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Mending our hearts: how do we teach kids to be kind to one another, guest post by Julie Sternberg

My heart is feeling very full right now, and I hope you'll join me reading this special guest post. Julie Sternberg recently asked me to help celebrate her new book, Friendship Over: The Top-Secret Diary of Celie Valentine. I said yes right away, since my students love love love Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie. But I decided on a spin -- I wanted to hear a little more from Julie about her thoughts on friendship and how we can help kids be good friends.
Friendship Over
The Top-Secret Diary of Celie Valentine
by Julie Sternberg
illustrated by Johanna Wright
Boyds Mills, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-11
Berkeley elementary schools have just adopted the Toolbox Project social-emotional learning curriculum. As our districts' announcement stated, Toolbox "teaches critical social competencies necessary for academic and life success such as: resiliency, self-management, and responsible decision-making skills." But really, it teaches us how to be good friends, how to create a community together.

I shared the Toolbox Project with Julie and asked her which tools helped her character, Celie. You see, Celie has trouble with her friends -- troubles that I just know my students will relate to. I was very touched by Julie's reply:
Mending our hearts, by Julie Sternberg

I wish I could go back in time and give this toolbox to my fourth-grade teacher to use with our class. She struggled and struggled to help us resolve conflicts and manage our emotions. She didn’t have difficulty because she was inexperienced or untalented—far from it. Our class just somehow tended to bring out the worst in each other.

Our teacher led several discussions on kindness and respect, but they made little difference. Then a boy grabbed a girl in an extremely sensitive, private area. We all found it horrifying. After that, our teacher took an unusual step. She cut the biggest heart I’ve ever seen out of butcher paper. Then she split that heart into two jagged pieces. She taped one on the far left side of one of our classroom walls, and the other on the far right. When she’d finished taping, she told us that the heart of our class had been broken. Only by being very kind to each other could we mend it.

From that time on, at the end of every school day, she’d give an official assessment of our behavior. If we’d been kind to each other, she’d move the pieces of broken heart closer together. If not, she’d inch them farther apart. When the heart was finally whole again, we had a party with lots of candy.
Julie Sternberg
Part of me loves this broken-heart strategy. When my daughters have long and needless fights, I consider cutting an enormous heart in two and taping the pieces far from each other in our apartment. But I know the strategy is flawed. Because I don’t remember how my classmates and I managed to be kind enough to each other to mend our collective heart. I just remember succeeding, and getting candy.

Instead I now see that I should tape up in my apartment the Twelve Tools for Learning, so we can all practice the skills that would help us manage our emotions and prevent conflicts from escalating. I particularly love the “Quiet/Safe Place” tool. I love the idea of saying, in the heat of a senseless battle, “Let’s all three go find a ‘place of rest and peace where we can gather ourselves.’” It seems so much nicer than shouting, “BOTH OF YOU GO TO YOUR ROOMS! NOW!” Which I might have done once or twice, or a hundred times, in the past.
Celie Valentine

It would have been interesting to use the Twelve Tools before I wrote FRIENDSHIP OVER, the first book in the series THE TOP-SECRET DIARY OF CELIE VALENTINE. Celie has all kinds of difficulty managing her emotions, and I would love to have her try the tools. The “Garbage Can Tool” might be my favorite for her: “I let the little things go—Put it in the garbage can and walk on by.” This would NOT be easy for Celie (though it would certainly be helpful). And it would be so much fun to write the scenes in which she tries, and fails at first, and ultimately succeeds.

It’s something I’ll keep pondering. Because there are Celie sequels to come!
I know my students are really going to enjoy reading Celie. She struggles with how to be a friend, how to be true to her own feelings but respectful of others. I wonder if Celie uses drawing and writing in her diary as a way to find a "quiet/safe place" -- somewhere she can go in her mind to sort through her feelings, calm down, and remove herself from conflict.

Please enjoy sharing Friendship Over: The Top-Secret Diary of Celie Valentine with kids who like realistic fiction. As the starred review from Kirkus says, "This satisfying slice-of-life story about the permutations of friendship and family resonates."

About the author:
Julie Sternberg is the author of the best-selling Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie and its sequels, Like Bug Juice on a Burger and Like Carrot Juice on a Cupcake. Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie is a Gryphon Award winner and a Texas Bluebonnet Award finalist; Like Bug Juice on a Burger is a Gryphon Honor Book, a Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Awards Nominee, and an Illinois Monarch Award Finalist. Formerly a public interest lawyer, Julie is a graduate of the New School's MFA program in Creative Writing, with a concentration in writing for children. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York. For more information about her life and work and to download free activity materials based on her books, visit her website: juliesternberg.com.

Check out the other stops on Julie’s blog tour!
Mon, Sept 29: Mother Daughter Book Club
Tues, Sept 30: 5 Minutes for Mom
Wed, Oct 1: Sharpread
Thurs, Oct 2: KidLit Frenzy
Fri, Oct 3: The Hiding Spot
Sat, Oct 4: Booking Mama
Mon, Oct 6: Ms. Yingling Reads
Tues, Oct 7: GreenBeanTeenQueen
Wed, Oct 8: Great Kid Books
Thurs, Oct 9: Teach Mentor Texts
Fri, Oct 10: Unleashing Readers
Sat, Oct 11: Bermuda Onion
Illustrations copyright © 2014 b Johanna Wright, used with permission of the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Boyds Mills 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books