Sunday, March 1, 2015

Juna's Jar, by Jane Bahk and Felicia Hoshino (ages 4-7) -- imagination and friendship soar

I adore picture books for the way they let us escape into our imagination, but they can also help us recognize our resilience (and our children's) as we face disappointment. Share Juna's Jar, a lovely new picture book by debut San Francisco author Jane Bahk, and talk with your children about how Juna's imagination helps her when she misses her friend Hector.
Juna's Jar
by Jane Bahk
illustrated by Felicia Hoshino
Lee & Low, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-7
Juna and Hector always loved collecting things together and putting them in Juna's kimchi jar, but Juna is at a loss when Hector moves away. It's especially sad that she hasn't had a chance to say goodbye.
"Juna loved to take the jar and go on adventures with her best friend, Hector."
Her big brother, Minho, helps cheer her up, getting her a fish. That night, Juna dreams of diving into the ocean, swimming with her new fish and looking for Hector. The next night, after her brother gives her a bean plan to fill the jar, she journeys into the rain forest. On the third night, Juna rides a cricket in her dreams, traveling far outside the city to Hector's new home. As she sees him sleeping, Juna is able to whisper goodbye.

Felicia Hoshino's gentle watercolor illustrations capture Juna's wistful emotions, full of longing but also the final promise of new friendship.

I love how friend Margie Myers-Culver sums it up in her review at Librarian's Quest:
Juna's Jar "asks readers to think about friendship, family and the potential of imagination. It's not about looking at life as a glass half full or not but what can happen when we fill the glass."
Jane Bahk won the 2010 Lee & Low New Voices Award for an unpublished author of color, with the manuscript for Juna's Jar. I look forward to more stories from her! I also want to honor and thank Lee & Low for this important award.

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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay -- by Cari Best and Vanessa Brantley-Newton (ages 5-9)

With our 3rd graders, we're spending a lot of time looking at how we understand characters' feelings through what authors write and illustrators draw. This helps students understand the layers of a story and connect to characters, but it also helps them develop empathy. Our kids loved reading a new book, My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay, and really connected to the story. It's truly a special book about perseverance, friendship and blindness.
My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay
by Cari Best
illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 5-9
Adults might first notice the cane that Zulay is holding, but kids first noticed the braille alphabet on the back of the book. After they all felt the back cover, we talked about why Zulay might need to use this alphabet, so everyone started with a little background knowledge. Zulay has a huge smile on her face as she comes to school, arm in arm with her three best friends.
"We link our arms and skip our legs and sing like the stereo till Ms. Perkins, the hall lady, tells us to stop. 'You have a new perfume!' I say, and she says back, 'Zulay doesn't miss a thing.'"
Zulay loves her teacher, writing on her Brailler and helping her friend figure out a math problem. But when Ms. Turner, an aide, comes to help her practice using her "fold-ing hold-ing cold-ing" white cane, Zulay is reluctant. She doesn't want to be left behind or different from everyone else.

We talked about what it means, not wanting to "stick out", and why she might feel like this. I shared how hard it was for me to have to get extra help with my multiplication facts in 3rd grade. Kids talked about the illustration below, and how Zulay was feeling as she struggled learning to use her cane outside. We looked at Zulay's expression and thought about how it would feel.
"Then we practice together in the big outside with no walls or desks or friends." 
Zulay's spirit shines as she decides that she wants to run in the Field Day race around the track. She practices and works hard, and--just like Zulay's friends--my students cheered when she ran the final race.
"'Run, Zulay, run!' my friends all shout, like I shouted for them."
My students could definitely relate to how hard Zulay worked, how worried and uncertain she felt when things were difficult, and how excited she was at the end. The only detail they were a little unclear about is whether Zulay ran with Ms. Turner, as you see above, or by herself as it shows her when she crosses the finish line.

There are very few picture books about showing contemporary kids who are blind, so it is especially refreshing to see one with such a positive character and inclusive message.

This week, kids will look at a big array of picture books finding examples of characters' expressions. We are excited to have a visit by Lisa Brown, picture book illustrator and author, who will talk with 3rd and 4th graders about the Art of the Picture Book. Lisa's characters are full of a wide range of expressions -- just take a look at her Tumblr, where she posts daily sketches.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Macmillan, and we have already purchased an additional copy for our school. 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, February 22, 2015

Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson (ages 4-8)

Spending time together. A grandmother and her grandson. That love and friendship is what life's all about.

I love how picture books can capture a small moment--and help us hold onto the small moments in our own lives. Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson's wonderful picture book Last Stop on Market Street makes me smile every single time I read it--it's so filled with love, friendship and an appreciation for life, in such a real way.
Last Stop on Market Street
by Matt de la Peña
illustrated by Christian Robinson
G.P.Putnam's Sons / Penguin, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
*best new book*
When CJ and his grandmother finish church, they head to the bus stop together. CJ doesn't want to wait for the bus, stand in the rain, or go places after church. "Nana, how come we don't got a car?" Nana gently chides him, really just planting seeds for how she sees the world. "Boy, what do we need a car for? We got a bus that breathes fire and old Mr. Dennis, who always has a trick for you."
"Boy, what do we need a car for? We got a bus that breathes fire and old Mr. Dennis, who always has a trick for you."
You see, it's really how you look at the world, the magic you can see there, and the people you meet along the way. When CJ asks why a man on the bus can't see, Nana tells him, "Boy, what do you know about seeing? Some people watch the world with their ears."
"Some people watch the world with their ears."
CJ's grandmother helps him see beauty in his surroundings, whether it's the bus or the soup kitchen they head to every Sunday afternoon. As Nana said,
"Sometimes when you're surrounded by dirt, C.J., you're a better witness for what's beautiful."
Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson celebrate the relationship between CJ and his grandmother, and they help all of us see beauty in the small moments, where we never even thought to look. This is a book I look forward to sharing with a wide range of children. Young ones will feel the love between grandmother and grandson; older ones will see the messages that the authors are sharing.

I know my students will especially love the illustrations, with such a wonderful range of people that look so much like the people we see every day walking in our city. The rich, full colors infuse the landscape and city scenes with warmth, community and happiness.

Want to learn more? Check out:
I'm so happy to hear that this special book is now on the New York Times Bestseller list. Hooray! I've already purchased five copies to share with friends. Illustrations from LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET written by Matt de la Peña. Illustrations © 2015 by Christian Robinson. Used with permission from G.P. Putnam's Sons / Penguin. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher. 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, February 18, 2015

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage, by Selina Alko & Sean Qualls (ages 4-9)

There are so many different ways into sharing The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage. The story centers around Richard and Mildred Loving, the interracial couple who challenged Virginia's laws forbidding interracial marriages and took their case all the way to the Supreme Court.

You might approach it as a story of two people who stand up and fight for what they think is right--a book about courage, civil rights and fighting for change. Or you might see it as a way to start talking about race with young children, and the struggles one family went through not so long ago. Whichever you choose, this picture book makes a wonderful jumping off point for talking with kids about things that really matter.
The Case for Loving:
The Fight for Interracial Marriage
by Selina Alko
illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
Arthur A. Levine / Scholastic, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-9
*best new book*
Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter fell in love in 1958, but it was against the law for them to get married in the state of Virginia--simply because they were different races. Although they were married legally in Washington, D.C., the local police arrested and jailed them when they returned to Virginia, charged with "unlawful cohabitation". In order to live together legally and safely, they had to leave their families and move to Washington, D.C.

By 1966, the Lovings decided that "the times were a-changing" and they wanted to return home to Virginia. They hired lawyers to fight for them, taking their case all of the way to the Supreme Court.
The lawyers read a message from Richard: "Tell the court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can't live with her in Virginia,"
The Supreme Court unanimously agreed that it was unconstitutional to make marriage a crime because of race, and the Lovings moved back to Virginia to live "happily (and legally!) ever after."

Selina Alko tells this story in a calm, straightforward way, helping children understand how different and difficult things were for interracial couples just 60 years ago. The illustrations show Richard and Mildred's love and strength, but the gentle tones and collaged hearts keep the spirit warm and positive. Alko and Qualls explain the special importance of this story: their journey as an interracial couple echoes the Lovings'. Their endnote adds weight and perspective.

I especially appreciate how this picture book lends a way into opening up an important topic with young children. It helps talk about something that has now changed--but we still wrestle and notice so  many of these issues around us. Here's an excerpt about the importance of opening up dialog about race with children aged 5-8 from The Leadership Council, a civil and human rights coalition:
Five-to eight-year-olds begin to place value judgements on similarities and differences. They often rank the things in their world from "best" to "worst." They like to win and hate to lose. They choose best friends. They get left out of games and clubs, and they exclude others-sometimes because of race, ethnicity, and religion.

When children begin school, their horizons expand and their understanding of the world deepens. We can no longer shelter them quite as effectively. Even for graduates of preschool or day care, attending elementary school means more independence in a less controlled environment. Children are exposed to a wider range of people and ideas. They also experience more bigotry!

Between five and eight, children are old enough to begin to think about social issues and young enough to remain flexible in their beliefs. By the fourth grade, children's racial attitudes start to grow more rigid. Our guidance is especially crucial during this impressionable, turbulent time.
Interesting food for thought, hmmm? To me, this underscores the importance of entering into these discussions with kids, asking what they notice, what they think -- prompting them to think about why and how they can keep their minds open.

For more excellent nonfiction picture books, check out the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge over at Kid Lit Frenzy. Today, Aly has a great selection of mini-reviews and links to other terrific blogs.

Illustrations from THE CASE FOR LOVING Written by Selina Alko. Illustrations © 2015 by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko. Used with permission from Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, February 16, 2015

Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas, by Natasha Yim and Grace Zong (ages 4-8)

I'm so happy to share Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas this week -- our kindergartners and 1st graders are excited about Chinese New Years (which begins on Feb. 19th this year), and they'll also love the way Natasha Yim spins the Goldilocks story.
Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas
by Natasha Yim
illustrated by Grace Zong
Charlesbridge, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
One Chinese New Years, Goldy's mother asks her to visit their neighbors, the Chan family, to wish them "Kung Hei Fat Choi" and share special turnip cakes with Little Chan. "He never shares with me,' Goldy muttered," but mother reminds her that it is the right time to wash away old arguments or she'll have bad luck.

Goldy knocks on the Chan's door, but no one is home. She pushes open the door just to peek and tumbles in, spilling the cakes and making a mess. From there, students will have fun recognizing all of the Goldilocks elements: Goldy finds three bowls of congee (finishing the last), three chairs (breaking the third), and then three beds (falling asleep in Little Chan's futon that's "just right").
“Then she slurped some congee from the plastic bowl. ‘Mmm … just right!’
Before she knew it, she had eaten it all up.”
I especially love the way Natasha Yim and Grace Zong incorporate elements of both Chinese New Years and the Goldilocks tale. Kids will love spotting all the different references. But even more, I love the way Yim changes up the ending.

Goldy runs away embarrassed, but then she thinks about what she's done and goes back to help the Chan's put things back together. It's a moment that I appreciate -- we all make mistakes, but it's what we do afterward that really matters.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, February 8, 2015

2015 Pura Belpré Awards: Celebrating the Latino cultural experience in children's books (ages 2-14)

The Pura Belpré Medal
Each year, I look to the Pura Belpré Awards with joy. These awards celebrate the Latino cultural experience in books for children. Year after year, this committee selects books that speak to my students, both affirming my students' experiences and providing a window into others' cultures. Each year, I discover new books through these awards and celebrate ones that are already favorites.

2015 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award

Viva Frida, by Yuyi Morales, was awarded both the Pura Belpré Award for Illustration and the Caldecott Honor Award. I adore this book and have shared it with teachers and families all fall. As the Belpré press release states, Morales "uses rich, vibrant color photographs and minimal evocative text to beautifully portray the unique imagination and creativity of an iconic Latina artist." The joy and inspiration Morales gets from Kahlo is palpable on every page. (ages 3-12)

2015 Illustrator Honor Awards

Little Roja Riding Hood, illustrated by Susan Guevara and written by Susan Middleton Elya. I can't wait to share this with students -- they love modern twists on favorite fairy tales. I haven't read it yet, but Kirkus Reviews calls it "a spirited interpretation" that blends "a whimsical fairy-tale land with contemporary Latino-American life." (ages 3-7)

Green Is a Chile Pepper: A Book of Colors, illustrated by John Parra and written by Roseanne Greenfield Thong. My kindergarteners loved this duo's Round is a Tortilla last year, with Parra's folk art and Thong's rich language. Green Is a Chile Pepper continues this pair's delightful concept books that are full of Hispanic cultural details woven into lively text and colorful illustrations. (ages 2-6)

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family's Fight for Desegregation, by Duncan Tonatiuh. Tonatiuh combines clear text and folk-inspired art to bring this important story to children. Sylvia Mendez and her family fought for their right to go to their local neighborhood school in Westminster, California, in a court case that set a precedent for Brown vs. the Board of Education. This evocative, accessible story is one of my absolute favorites of the year, and I'm so happy to see it honored here and by the Sibert Committee. (my full review) (ages 6-10)

2015 Pura Belpré Author Award
I Lived on Butterfly Hill, by Marjorie Agosín, illustrated by Lee White and translated by E.M. O'Connor. I just started reading this last week after the awards were announced, and I can already tell that several of my students will love it. Celeste’s carefree life in Valparaíso, Chile, is shattered when warships appear. As people disappear, Celeste’s parents go into hiding, and she is sent into exile. When she returns home, she works to reunite people she loves and to move her country forward. The award press release states, "Lyrically written by acclaimed poet, Marjorie Agosín, this Chilean story offers a refreshing perspective on resiliency." (ages 10-14)

2015 Author Honor Award

Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes, written by Juan Felipe Herrera, illustrated by Raúl Colón. This accessible volume contains 20 short biographies of Latino men and women who have shaped the United States. Each chapter is about 3 to 4 pages long, providing enough depth to hold the reader's interest and paint a picture of these noted figures' remarkable achievements. I especially love the range of people Herrera includes. An excellent book for schools and families. (ages 8-12)

Please seek out and share these excellent books. Early review copies were kindly sent by the publishers Penguin, Abrams, Macmillan, and Chronicle Books. We have purchased additional copies for our school library and classrooms, and we will continue purchasing more for gifts. 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