Sunday, September 14, 2014

Andrea Davis Pinkney to visit Berkeley students: Friday, September 19th

One of my great joys is connecting students with authors who inspire them. The moment I first read Andrea Davis Pinkney's Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America, her voice filled me with hope and song. I knew I wanted to share that same voice with students in Berkeley. And so I'm thrilled that she will be visiting this week, speaking at an elementary school, a middle school, and with families at a fireside chat.
A lot of work goes into arranging an author visit like this, but most important is getting the students excited about meeting her. I want to give students a sense of the author's work and what she's like as a person before they meet her. We're sharing this presentation throughout Berkeley schools:


I especially like sharing resources from TeachingBooks.net with my students -- listening to how authors pronounce their name, hearing their voice, and watching videos. My students really liked the variety of images I was able to share -- from pictures of Andrea with her family to illustrations from her books.

It's a busy week here in Berkeley, as we get ready to host several author visits -- Andrea Davis Pinkney, Rita Williams Garcia and Jacqueline Briggs Martin. They're all in town for the ALSC Institute. We feel incredibly lucky to be able to connect these inspiring authors with our students.

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

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

In the Rainforest, by Kate Duke (Let's Read and Find Out Science, stage 2) (ages 5-9)

Many kids love learning about different regions of the world. In fact, one of the real highlights of the perennially popular Magic Treehouse series is that Jack and Annie can visit so many places just by wishing. So I'm thrilled that there's a new volume in the terrific series Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science.
In the Rainforest
Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science, stage 2
by Kate Duke
HarperCollins, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-9
Have you ever wanted to visit the tropical rainforest? Well, be sure to bring along your bug repellent, waterproof backpack and notebook. Duke draws kids right into her informative book by having a two kids join a guide as they explore a tropical rainforest. Speech bubbles keep the tone fun and casual, while the main text is more traditional informative nonfiction.
"Ready for a tour of a tropical rainforest? Come on--the trip starts here."
Readers learn about what a tropical rainforest is like, both in terms of its ecology as well as the animals and plants that live there. Throughout, Duke helps readers compare tropical rainforests to forests in temperate climates. For example, as you can see in the spread above, she illustrates that a tropical rainforest will typically get ten times as much rainfall as a temperate climate.

This book works well both as a read-aloud and as a book for young students to browse through themselves. The pictures, captions and dialog boxes are all very informative and easier to read because of their conversational tone. For example, in the picture below the young girl says, "Hey, my sneakers are still dry. I thought a rainforest would be like a swamp."
"The thick layer of leaves up above keeps a lot of the rain from getting down here, except during the rainiest months."
I wholeheartedly agree with the Kirkus review of In the Rainforest:
"Duke’s friendly cartoons effectively communicate the immense variety of plant and animal life found in rain forests and feature cutaway views and close-ups in several spreads."
My first and second graders at Emerson are going to love this book. Last year, we had a group of 2nd graders who formed a book club to learn all about rainforests together. They loved reading Afternoon on the Amazon (Magic Treehouse book #6) so much that they wanted to learn more about the Amazon rain forest. The teacher encouraged nonfiction book clubs so students could build their knowledge of different topics in a small group. It was a great success.

If you like this, I'd highly recommend another favorite nonfiction picture book: No Monkeys, No Chocolate, by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young. This book also uses colorful artwork with a cartoonish feel and a blend of conversational dialog and informational text. The authors take readers on a journey from cocoa pod, following the life cycle of the tree back to stems, roots and beans. Throughout, they weave in the concept of the interdependence of plants and animals.
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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, September 7, 2014

365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne's Book of Precepts, by R.J. Palacio (ages 8-13)

"Maybe it was exactly what I needed to hear at that particular moment in my life..."
-- Mr. Browne, in 365 Days of Wonder
Last week was exhausting, both at home and at school. So I welcomed a quiet, quiet weekend to recharge. I found myself paging through a book I bought for a teacher friend of mine, R.J. Palacio's new book 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne's Book of Precepts. It was indeed, just what I needed at that moment. I could turn the pages, finding nuggets that stayed with me, settled in my heart and sent ripples out into my tired soul. I know my students and my teachers will love turning to this again and again.
365 Days of Wonder:
Mr. Browne's Book of Precepts
by R.J. Palacio
Knopf / Random House, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
preview on Google Books
ages 8-13
Wonder is a book that swept through my school, passed from child to child, in 2012. Palacio tells the story of a young boy starting middle school, after being homeschooled for six years. Auggie has severe facial deformities, and we read about his journey from several points of view -- connecting not only with his character, but thinking about how we would act if we were sitting next to him in class.
"This is a book that is truly reaching kids, speaking to them, making them think - think about friendship, about bullies and about what it means to be kind." (read full review here)
In this new book, we hear directly from Auggie's teacher, Mr. Browne. Throughout Wonder, Mr. Browne shared precepts, or "words to live by," as he explains to his students. At the beginning of each month, he would share a new precept and students would write a reflection about the precept at the end of the month.
precept from 365 Days of Wonder
In this collection, Mr. Browne shares 365 precepts -- gatherings of quotes by philosophers, song writers, politicians, fictional characters, and students across the nation.
precept from 365 Days of Wonder
contributed by Cole, from Regina, Sask. Candada
Ms. Palacio has heard from hundreds of students about #thewonderofwonder and the impact her novel has had on them. In a wonderful move, she asked her fans to send her their own precepts, written in their own handwriting. And so intermingling quotes from Aristotle and Goethe are sayings and drawings submitted by real kids.
precepts from 365 Days of Wonder
contributed by John, from West Windsor, NY
And so I want to begin the week carrying this special book in my heart. I want to remember the power of a smile to connect me to other people. I want to choose kindness, even in the smallest moments. And I want to see my students each as individuals with a host of stories inside each one of them. But I also want to talk about these ideas with my students -- to be explicit.
e-card from choosekind.tumblr.com
This book was just what I needed to recharge. Thank you, Ms. Palacio, for keeping Mr. Browne's ideas alive in your heart and sharing them with the world.

I purchased the review copy at my local, wonderful bookstore: Mrs. Dalloway's. 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, September 3, 2014

You Are (Not) Small, by Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant (ages 4-8)

"Who's grown over the summer?" I asked my 2nd grade class today -- and 20 hands shot high into the air. They ARE bigger, and yet... they're still little kids, right? So are they big, or are they little? And what's that all really mean, anyway? Anna Kang's new picture book, You Are (Not) Small, helped us talk about this -- and then extrapolate to what it meant about other things in our lives.
You Are (Not) Small
by Anna Kang
illustrated by Christopher Weyant
Two Lions, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
A small purple creature walks up to a larger orange fuzzy one and the orange creature promptly declares, "You are small." Well, I wonder how that makes the little guy feel? He turns around and says, "I am not small. You are big."

It's not me -- it's you who's different. They each bring out a host of friends to show how they're like everyone else -- and it's the other guy who's different.
My students could easily relate to the argument that quickly escalated into a shouting match. When a giant stomped into the middle of the scene, forcing everyone to reevaluate who exactly was big and small, I could just see my students' perspective shifting.

I loved talking with 2nd graders about how they could relate to being big AND small at the same time. As 2nd graders, they are now the big kids out at recess with the kindergartners and 1st graders. They know how everything at school works. But if they walk upstairs, right away they feel small again peeking into the 5th graders' classroom.

Even better was the way I could encourage them to apply this to other areas, seeing how they might feel good about themselves doing one thing, but not so good doing something else. Duncan said he felt "big" when he played baseball, but not so big when he had to be catcher. We even applied that to ourselves as readers, and what it meant to choose a book that was "just right" for ourselves -- not worrying about other kids in the class.

Tonight, I shared with the teachers this excerpt from an interview with the author, Anna Kang:
Where do your ideas come from?

My childhood, observing my daughters and what they experience, characters I want to see come to life, a particular feeling or problem.
Christoper Weyant and Anna Kang
Where specifically did “You Are (Not) Small” come from?

I’ve been playing a version of the dialogue in the book in my head since I was a child. I’m considered “small” or “petite” here in the U.S. (I’m Korean American), and among other things, it’s extremely challenging to find clothes that fit. When I was nine years old, I spent the summer in Korea, and I remember shopping with my Aunt and discovering racks and racks of clothes that were exactly my size in every store we entered, as if the clothes were custom-made specifically for me. The clothes weren’t in a special “petite” section or in a younger, more “junior” section. They were just clothes. Regular, everyday clothes for a nine-year old girl. For the first time in my life, my size—in addition to my skin color, hair and eye color—was “normal” and unremarkable. I suddenly looked like everyone else in the world, including the people on TV, in movies, advertisements, and in books. As a child, this was an overwhelming experience. It made me feel incredibly safe and empowered, and it boosted my confidence and grounded me when I returned home at the end of the summer. I was not “other” or “different.” I was just “me.”

I eventually learned that how you saw yourself and others depended on your personal experience and your community, that perspective is subjective and not necessarily the entire truth.

So, years later, when I sat down to write a story for a children’s book, this idea naturally popped out.

source: Cracking the Cover
I look forward to talking with kids specifically about Anna's experience -- I think many will relate.

What a terrific way to begin the year -- recognizing that we all have strengths and weaknesses, that we are all growing and have changed over the summer, but we're all growing at our own pace.

Many thanks to friend Alyson Beecher for recommending this at her site Kid Lit Frenzy -- check out her interview with Anna and Christopher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Two Lions. 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, August 31, 2014

Percy Jackson's Greek Gods, by Rick Riordan -- pure read-aloud fun (ages 9-14)

This week we began reading aloud Percy Jackson's Greek Gods with our 10-year-old. It is so much fun, I just have to share it -- even though we're barely a fraction into it. While I usually only share here books I've read in their entirety, I wanted to capture some of the laugh-out-loud moments we've been having. I also want to encourage you to keep reading aloud with your kids, even when they're reading proficiently on their own. That time together is pure gold -- treasure it and store up as much as you can.
Percy Jackson's Greek Gods
by Rick Riordan
illustrated by John Rocco
Disney Hyperion, 2014
Google Books preview
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9 - 14
Right from the introduction, it's clear that this is no ordinary retelling of the classic Greek myths. Percy is on top form, combining good natured humor and sarcastic wit:
"I hope I'm getting extra credit for this," Percy Jackson starts. "A publisher in New York asked me to write down what I know about the Greek gods, and I was like, 'Can we do this anonymously? Because I don't need the Olympians mad at me again.'"
While we haven't read the rest of the Percy Jackson novels together, my daughter knows plenty about them from her friends. She's curious about the Greek gods, but it's really Percy's voice that captured her attention.

Percy starts from the very beginning of time, with Chaos ("a gloomy, soupy mist with all the matter in the cosmos just drifting around"), Gaea the Earth Mother, and Ouranos the sky. Riordan packs a huge amount of detail into his tales, and we are finding it hard to keep track of all the names. So far, we've watched Kronos overthrow his father Ouranos, with the help of his four brothers Koios, Iapetus, Krios and Hyperion. And now Kronos is terrified that his father's curse will come true, and he will be destroyed by his own children. But the main characters are familiar to me, so I can help keep us on track.
"Without a word, (Ouranos) wrapped them in chains and tossed them into Tartarus like bags of recycling."

Want to have a taste of Percy's irreverent tone? Just read this chapter that begins the section on the Olympians and you'll see why this book has my 10 year old giggling each night:
"Why is Zeus always first?
Seriously, every book about the Greek gods has to start with this guy. Are we doing reverse alphabetical order? I know he's the king of Olympus and all--but trust me, this dude's ego does not need to get any bigger.
You know what? Forget him.
We're going to talk about the gods in the order they were born, women first. Take a backseat Zeus. We're starting with Hestia."
I just love the way Riordan infuses his retellings with plenty of modern attitudes. "Maybe you'll feel better about your own relatives, knowing that the first family in creation was also the first dysfunctional family." But he also doesn't skimp on the details, foreign names and intricate family trees. That's why this is working so terrifically as a read-aloud.

John Rocco's illustrations are magnificent. As Kirkus Reviews states, they "smoke and writhe on the page as if hit by lightning." Head over to John's blog to read more about his artwork and see sketches of some of the interior art as he is developing it.

An index, list of illustrations and suggestions for further reading are included in the back matter. My one complaint at this point is I wish there was a family tree and/or list of all the characters with a pronunciation guide. In the meantime, I think I will print out either this basic family tree from Encyclopedia Mythica.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Disney Hyperion 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

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Dash, by Kirby Larson -- heartfelt story about World War II from a kid's point of view (ages 9-12)

Even as a child, I loved the way historical fiction whisked me away to live in another time and place. These novels helped me understand what it might have been like to live through difficult times in history. But they also gave me strength and courage to face my own difficulties. In Dash, by Kirby Larson, Mitsi Kashino and her family are forced to leave their home during World War II simply because they are Japanese American.
Dash
by Kirby Larson
Scholastic, 2014
Google Books preview
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
*best new book*
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor has meant that everything has changed for Mitsi. Her best friends are avoiding her, she's getting mean notes in her desk at school, and everyone is looking at her strangely. At least she has her sweet dog Dash to keep her company. When Mitsi's best friends don't even send her Valentine's Day cards,
"Loneliness wrapped around her like a snake. She never, ever dreamed that her friends would desert her like this. How was she going to make it through the rest of the year? The rest of her life?"
Young readers will be able to empathize with Mitsi, especially with the way she finds comfort in art and in her dog. When her family receives the order to move to Camp Harmony and leave Dash behind, Mitsi is devastated. Larson builds the story carefully, first helping readers connect to Mitsi and then showing them how she felt torn from everything she knew. The story is infused with heart and feeling, but it never gets bogged down. I loved the period details, from the game "Hinky Pinky" or the slang Mitsi and her friends use ("I'm busted flat. Can't help.").

Through all of the loneliness and hardship, Mitsi holds onto her dream of being reunited with Dash. She receives letters from Dash, who is staying with a kind friend Mrs. Bowker, and finds solace in being able to write him back. As the Kirkus starred review states,
"Larson makes this terrible event in American history personal with the story of one girl and her beloved pet...This emotionally satisfying and thought-provoking book will have readers pulling for Mitsi and Dash."
For an in-depth review, head over to Librarian's Quest and her post: "Not Ever Again". I so agree with Margie when she writes, "Our hearts are bound to Mitsi as she struggles to understand, as she develops skills to adjust and survive and writes letters to Dash (Mrs. Bowker) and receives messages in return."  I'm certainly looking forward to sharing this with students and seeing how they relate to Mitsi. If you liked this, you'll also certainly like Duke, also by Kirby Larson. Check out what our students had to say about Duke in last year's Mock Newbery discussions.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Scholastic 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