Sunday, May 1, 2016

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard, by Jonathan Auxier--layered, exciting fantasy (ages 9-12)

Occasionally I read a story that makes me yearn to reach back through time and hand it to the 11 year old me that loved nothing more than hiding out behind the couch lost a favorite book. Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard has me thinking about just what I liked reading when I was a kid. I loved reading fantasies that took me to far off worlds, showed me protagonists who battled great forces of evil, and triumphed using both brains and courage. I also loved fantasies that made me think just a little more deeply about our own world.
Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard
by Jonathan Auxier
Abrams, 2016
Your local library
ages 9-12
*best new book*
Sophie is a girl after my own heart--a steadfast friend, willing to stand up for what she believes in. Above all else, she loves books and the stories they hold. Sophie works as a bookmender in her father's shop, caring for old books, helping to make sure they can share their stories with more of the town's citizens. But the town is turning on Sophie and her father: the Inquisitor is leading a movement to banish all nonsense from their town, and calling for all citizens to bring their storybooks to the great Pyre to be burned. Sophie is thrust into the role of protecting the magical Book of Who when Peter Nimble rescues her from arrest by Inquisitor Prigg and presents her with this amazing book.

Sophie's mother died protecting the Book of Who, and now Sophie must protect it from Inquisitor Prigg's prying grasp. She is joined by Peter and his trusty companion Sir Tode, as they uncover the mystery of the books of the Four Questions: Who, What, Where and When. While this new book is definitely a companion to Auxier's Peter Nimble and His Fantasic Eyes (my review here), Sophie Quire stands alone very well--Auxier tells her own story, and Peter plays a supporting role.

Children who love escaping into an adventure will definitely enjoy this--think of fans of Adam Gidwitz's Grimm series, or Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series. I especially love how Auxier's characters are layered and developed, letting these characters live on in my mind. Good is tainted by hubris, greed or fear. Evil has roots in old wounds and competition. You have to understand someone's backstory to see where they're coming from. Even stories themselves can come alive in the hands of the right reader.

Jonathan's visit to our school was one of the best visits ever. If you have the opportunity to Skype with him or to have him talk with your students, definitely jump at it. In the meantime, enjoy reading the first few chapters of Sophie Quire (via Google Books):

I want to end by sharing a bit of an interview Auxier did over at Word Spelunking with Aeicha. If you enjoy this, definitely read the whole interview.
What three words best describe your book, Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard?
Auxier: Mysterious, wonder-filled, bookish

Can you give us your best one sentence pitch to convince young readers, especially reluctant readers, to give Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard?
Auxier: Sophie Quire is a swashbuckling adventure about a girl who must hunt down and protect a set of mysterious books that can answer any question asked of them. I was a reluctant reader growing up, and wrote Sophie because it’s the book I wish someone had given me when I was that age. Also, it has a ton of monsters in it.

Favorite chapter?
Auxier: My favorite chapter might be “Highway Robbery” in which Sophie finds herself being kidnapped in a carriage on a moonlit road—only to have a highwayman show up and kidnap her again. Needless to say, things do not turn out as planned for said highwayman!
The review copies was kindly sent by the publisher, Abrams. 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.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Friday, April 29, 2016

Lee Wardlaw: Interview series with California poets for young people

I'm so happy to welcome the utterly delightful Lee Wardlaw to talk about poetry, pets and her creative process. Even better, we are celebrating National Hairball Awareness Day (April 29th) and National Adopt a Shelter Pet Day (April 30th)! So snuggle up with your favorite furry friend and let's check in with Lee.

Lee Wardlaw claims her first spoken word was ‘kitty’. Since then, she's shared her life with more than two-dozen cats and published more than two-dozen, award-winning books for young readers. Lee has won many awards, including the Lee Bennet Hopkins Poetry Award and the Myra Cohn Livingston Award for Poetry, both for the delightful picture book Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku.

The newly released companion title, Won Ton and Chopstick, is a 2015 NCTE Notable Poetry Book and a BookSource Scout Award Winner for Children's Poetry. Lee lives in Santa Barbara, CA, with her family, which includes two dog-disdaining cats. Welcome, Lee!

1. How do you get into a place or mindset for writing your poetry? Do you have any habits you could share with young writers?

I've found that a long walk works best to get me started. After I've been walking for a few minutes, my mind slips into a trance, and I just let images and words and sensorial experiences bubble up from my subconscious. (Some of the best dialogue between characters in my novels starts out that way, too!) I'll walk for an hour or more, and when I get home I don't even remember the roads I took or the homes I passed. I just have a gush of ideas that need to be drained into the closest notebook. Often, I get the first line and the last line of a poem that way, which is helpful because I never start writing the actual poem until I know where I'm going with it.

If a walk isn't convenient, I curl up in a chair with a notebook and a cat, and brainstorm. (I also brainstorm in restaurants, or in my car, or wherever I am when I have a few free minutes.) Sometimes, the brainstorms are random scribbles; other times, I actually begin with specific categories, and play off those. Here's a picture of one of the brainstorms I did for my newest book Won Ton and Chopstick: A Cat and Dog Tale Told in Haiku. I'm always been a cat person, so I don't know much of dogs. In this storm session, I wrote down everything I could think of about dogs to get an idea of what the puppy in the story would be like, and what kinds of puppy-isms might contribute to the plot.
Lee's brainstorming for Won Ton and Chopstick
This second photo shows another storm session I had on a placemat when out for a casual dinner with my husband and son. (Yes, my family is used to me 'disappearing' from conversations to jot stuff down. It's my middle-aged version of a teenager staring at his cell phone.)
Lee's dinner brainstorming
2. I love sharing descriptive words with kids is there a word that's been on your mind lately that's particularly delicious?

It depends on the mood I'm in! If I'm feeling silly, I delight in words such as 'weasel' or 'cumberbund'. I also like words that when you see them written, you're not quite sure how to pronounce them, like Phoebe or calliope. (I love the word calliope! Say it out loud: cah-LIE-oh-pee. Listen to the sounds…feel how your mouth purses and stretches!) I enjoy making up words, too, when I can't find one that exactly fits what I'm trying to say. Not long after my husband and I got married (33 years this summer), I came up with the word 'miffled' to describe how I felt whenever he'd come home late for dinner without calling first. 'Miffled' was a combination of 'miffed' and 'ruffled'. (I now see that 'miffled' is in the Urban Dictionary as being a combo of 'miffed' and 'baffled'.) In my middle grade novel 101 Ways to Bug Your Teacher, I use the word 'goose-blisters' to describe a particularly scary and shaming moment - - and how that moment feels physically to my protagonist.

3. What are three books of poetry you'd like to see in every child's home, for them to dip into whenever they want?

I love-love-love All the Small Poems and 14 More by Valerie Worth. Worth is a master at writing succinct, simple poems about common, ordinary objects - - a key, a coat hanger, a thread of string - - and exalting them to extraordinary things.

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein is, of course, a MUST for its silly wit and wisdom and poems that everyone can relate to!

Last, I think every household should have a good book of nursery rhymes. One of my favorites is My Very First Mother Goose, edited by Iona Opie (the noted folklorist) and endearingly illustrated by Rosemary Wells. (I'm a huge Wells fan. I love the sweet exuberance of her bunnies, and kittens, and bears.)

4. Is there a poem you have memorized that you can share a snippet with us? Maybe it's something you say to yourself when you need encouragement or just when you want to delight in the power of words.

My memory isn't what it used to be, but I can still recite by heart "Three Cheers for Pooh" by A.A. Milne, a poem I've loved since age 3 or 4. It never fails to make me giggle. I can also recite "The Walrus and the Carpenter" and "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll. The first stanza of "Jabberwocky" appeared in a magazine in 1855, and was titled "Stanza of Anglo-Saxon Poetry". Later, Carroll expanded it, turning it into a story poem. Here's that first stanza:
'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
I love the word play in this poem, especially since so many of the words Carroll invented are now in our dictionary - - words such as "chortle", "burble" and "galumph". How frabjous is that?!

Thank you so much, Lee! Thank you so much for sharing your love of poetry with children and families. I love this video of you reading Won Ton and have to share it with readers.

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.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Cat poems: short poetry for picky kitties (ages 4-10)

Growing up, I regularly confided in my cat Tippy Toes--he always listened patiently, reassured me with his rhythmic purring and never told anyone else my secrets. These three poetry books capture the personality of cats and bundle them up in short, evocative bursts that can entice even picky children.
In a series of short poems, a cat tells the tale of his adoption from an animal shelter. The cat's personality comes alive, both with Wardlaw's humor and her sly observations. I love these set of poems from the opening in the shelter:
The Shelter

Nice place they got here.
Bed. Bowl. Blankie. Just like home!
Or so I've been told.

Gypsy on my left.
Pumpkin, my right. Together,
we are all alone.

Visiting hours!
Yawn. I pretend not to care.
Yet--I sneak a peek.

Poet Lee Wardlaw (whom I'm interviewing on Friday!) explains that she uses senryu, a form of Japanese poetry similar to haiku. Both typically have three unrhymed lines with a controlled number of syllables (5-7-5). Whereas haiku captures the essence of a moment in nature, senryu focuses on the foibles of human nature in a humorous way.

My students love they way that Wardlaw tells a story through her poems, and also the way she captures this cat's finicky, picky personality. I had fun watching Wardlaw read aloud the beginning in this video preview. They are delighted when I show them the sequel: Won Ton and Chopstick: A Cat and Dog Tale Told in Haiku.
The Maine Coon's Haiku and Other Poems for Cat Lovers
by Michael J. Rosen
illustrated by Lee White
Candlewick, 2015
Your local library
ages 7-10
Cat lovers who ponder the personalities of different cats will enjoy Rosen's haiku. I'd recommend this for children in grades 2-5 because these short poems are more reflective and not driven by a story. Each poem spotlights a different breed of cats; the brevity and poignancy capturing the feline essence. Here are two of my favorites:
Turkish Angora
whooshing down the hall:
Angora, then her all-white
dust devil of hair

on the windowsill's
balance beam, the cat pirouettes
as the kibble pings
Rosen’s phrases capture the cats' frisky, quirky movements with delightful imagery. In turn sweet, spirited, and humorous—these short poems fill me with smiles, just like their subjects.
A Curious Collection of Cats
by Betsy Franco
illustrated by Michael Wertz
Tricycle, 2009
Your local library
ages 6-10
This collection of concrete poems is just so much fun. Concrete poems visually arrange words to create the meaning through the images. These cats are bursting with personality as they fight, pounce, stretch and perch.
The visual interplay between words and images brings alive the poetry in a new way for many students. As the School Library Journal wrote in its review, "The poems are so embedded within the illustrations that it is hard to imagine them without the artwork; they are virtually inseparable. In a print of a cat licking its neck, its exceptionally long tongue is created out of words."

The review copies came from our school library; Candlewick and Macmillan kindly sent review 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.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, April 24, 2016

F. Isabel Campoy: Interview series with California poets for young people

Happy Monday! We are so lucky, as a community of parents and educators, that so many artists share their visions of a better world with our children through their words and illustrations. Today, I would like to continue my series of interviews featuring California poets--please welcome F. Isabel Campoy.

Isabel Campoy is the author of many children’s books, both in English and in Spanish. She is an educator specialized in the area of literacy and language acquisition, who also has published both academic articles and teaching guides. For young children, Pio Peep! and Muu Moo! are wonderful collections of traditional Spanish nursery rhymes and songs, in both Spanish and English. Older children, especially in grades 5-8, especially respond to Yes! We Are Latinos, with its nuanced, personal poems showing a range of distinctive Latino cultures.

Campoy's newest book is utterly delightful: Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood. I absolutely agree with this starred review from Kirkus: "An inspiring and wistful message wrapped up in a subtle, thoughtful narrative and lively, beautiful art: simply superb."

She infuses all of her work with a sense of her loving, smiling outlook celebrating both what makes each of us unique and what brings us together. It is a true pleasure to share her poetic advice here.
F. Isabel Campoy
1. How do you get into a place or mindset for writing your poetry? Do you have any habits you could share with young writers?

I write poetry as a way to recognize people, landscapes, feelings, objects as beautiful elements in our universe. I think we are extraordinarily lucky to be alive, and poetry allows me to spend time with all that I love and admire. Each poem expands my horizon.

If I write about the sea, my heart travels to its shore and I invite my readers to come close, hear, smell, feel the ocean. If write about an object, I make it visible to the readers. If I write about a feeling, I embrace those who have ever felt the way I do.

I would answer your question saying that my mindset is getting as close as I can to my humanity, my very humble, loving, inner self. There, sometimes I think, I ask myself questions (not always serious questions, like: “Do cats laugh?”), or I simply share my observations (like: What is my dog thinking when he hides a bone in the garden?). Some other times I write about the injustices of racism , (as in my two line poem: What color do blue eyes see the sea?/ How do brown eyes see it?).
Poetry is my way of being.

To young poets I would simply say: LOOK! Look around and admire, question, reflect.

2. I love sharing descriptive words with kids. Is there a word that’s been on your mind lately that’s particularly delicious?




3. What are three books of poetry you’d like to see in every child’s home, for them to dip into whenever they want?

I could mention a thousand. I think children should have in their library a good anthology of folklore, where they can remember the songs and poems of their childhood. And then… the world. I think it is important that children read poems from writers of all cultures, all experiences. Voices that will bring to them a broader perspective of life. And as they grow, they should add books that appeal to their age and gender. But… here are some I like:

Where The Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein
A Pocketful of Poems, by Nikki Grimes
Been to Yesterdays, by Lee Bennet Hopkins
Animal Poems of the Iguazu/ Animalario del Iguazú, by Francisco X Alarcón

4. Is there a poem that you have memorized that you can share a snippet with us? Maybe it’s something you say to yourself when you need encouragement or just when you want to delight in the power of words.

I begin my poetry workshops reciting a poem by Eloise Greenfield that has become my great companion. There, in very simple language and with very possible metaphors, Eloise teaches a lesson of identity, of pride, of faith, of perseverance, that serves always as a reminder of how important it is to know oneself, and embrace who you are. This is the poem:

--Eloise Greenfield

When I’m by myself
And I close my eyes
I’m a twin
I’m a dimple in a chin
I’m a room full of toys
I’m a squeaky noise
I’m a gospel song
I’m a gong
I’m a leaf turning red
I’m a loaf of brown bread
I’m a whatever I want to be
An anything I care to be
And when I open my eyes
What I care to be
Is me.

Thank you Mary Ann for bringing me to your students.

Oh, Isabel, thank YOU for taking the time to share your inspiring words with us. I can't wait to share your newest book, Maybe Something Beautiful, with students throughout Berkeley. Friends, this would make the most perfect gift for teachers next week during Teacher Appreciation Day.

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.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Friday, April 22, 2016

Celebrating Earth Day with Poetry (ages 5-10)

Many poets find great joy in celebrating the Earth and it's many creatures. A wonderful way to honor Earth Day on April 22nd is to share a selection of poetry with your children. I'm especially happy to share three poems today, both new and old.
When Green Becomes Tomatoes
by Julie Fogliano
illustrated by Julie Morstad
Roaring Brook / Macmillan, 2016
Your local library
ages 7-10
*best new book*
Fogliano celebrates the gentle movement of the seasons with this beautiful collection of free verse poems. I love how she captures the wonder and joy children feel as they watch crocuses peek out “just like / a tiny blue hello” or flowers “lean / and bend toward the light” on a spring day.
"lilac sniffing
is what to do
with a nose
when it is may
and there are lilacs
to be sniffed"
Julie Morstad's artwork complements Fogliano's poetry, highlighting the delicate beauty of earth throughout the seasons. Children will notice that many of the poems are written as a journal from the girl on the cover, although she is never named and this isn't a journal with a story. Other pictures feature different children, perhaps her friends or perhaps other narrators.

Here is a poem perfect for Earth Day:
june 10

i don't know much about flowers
i don't know their names
or how they like to grow
in sun or shade
in morning or night
i don't know where they began
or how they traveled
by boat or by bird
and whether or not the rain makes them shiver or bloom
but i know how they lean
and bend toward the light
wide open as if singing
their voices (silent but everywhere)
fill up the daytime
a song much more than purple
and beyond every red
a song that makes me stop and listen
and forget
and not care at all
that i don't know much
about flowers.
-- by Julie Fogliano, When Green Becomes Tomatoes
This is a collection that I will enjoy dipping into time and time again, savoring phrases and images. It is definitely my favorite new poetry collection this year.

I'd also like to share a collection of poems I checked out to a family today. Francisco Alarcón celebrates the seasons in four collections of bilingual poems that have great kid appeal.
Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems
Jitomates Risueños y otros poemas de primavera
by Francisco Alarcón
illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez
Children's Book Press, 1997
Your local library
ages 5-8
Alarcón shares short, accessible poems, creating snapshots of children's daily lives. They are full of warmth, family love and laughter--as you would expect from the delightful title. Maya Christina Gonzalez's exuberant illustrations help draw children to this book, setting the joyful tone right from the start.

I'm so happy this bilingual collection continues to appeal to children and families. The poem "Morning Sun" makes me smile, and reminds me that there is joy all around us.
Morning Sun

warming up
my bed
in the morning

the Sun
calls me
through the window

"wake up
get up
come on out"
--by Francisco Alarcón
"Morning Sun"
Finally, I'd like to share a poem "Earth Day" by Jane Yolen that is reprinted on the Poetry Foundation website.

The Poetry Foundation website is a treasure trove of information. The foundation "is an independent literary organization committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. It exists to discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience."

Earth Day
by Jane Yolen

I am the Earth
And the Earth is me.
Each blade of grass,
Each honey tree,
Each bit of mud,
And stick and stone
Is blood and muscle,
Skin and bone.

And just as I
Need every bit
Of me to make
My body fit,
So Earth needs
Grass and stone and tree
And things that grow here

That’s why we
Celebrate this day.
That’s why across
The world we say:
As long as life,
As dear, as free,
I am the Earth
And the Earth is me.
I hope you enjoy sharing a few poems on Earth Day.

Julie Fogliano, "june 10" from When Green Becomes Tomatoes. Copyright © 2016 by Julie Fogliano. Illustration copyright © 2016 by Julie Morstad. Reprinted by permission of Macmillan. Francisco Alarcón, "Morning Sun" from Laughing Tomatoes. Copyright © 1997 by Francisco Alarcón. Illustration copyright © 1997 by Maya Cristina Gonzalez. Shared with permission from Lee and LowBooks. Jane Yolen, "Earth Day" from The Three Bears Holiday Rhyme Book. Copyright © 1995 by Jane Yolen. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

The review copy of When Green Becomes Tomatoes was kindly sent by the publisher, Macmillan. 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.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Nikki Grimes: Interview series with California poets for young people

I am honored to share today's interview with Nikki Grimes, one of my favorite authors. I am continuing my series interviewing California poets for young people--last week, I interviewed Jorge Argueta; in the works are interviews with Isabel Campoy and Lee Wardlaw. They each bring such wonderful gifts to our children.

Nikki Grimes has received many accolades for her writing, including the 2016 Virginia Hamilton Literary Award, the NAACP Image Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, and many more. I've seen time and again how she inspires my students, connecting with them on a very personal level. At Reading Rockets, this introduction shows how her personal experiences helped shape her connections to reading and writing:
Nikki Grimes was born in Harlem, but grew up in many different parts of New York. As a foster child from a broken home, she moved from place to place, always saying goodbye to new friends. Reading and writing became her survival tools. When she had no one else to talk to, Grimes wrote poems and stories about the things that were bothering her. As an avid reader, she checked out library books by day and read at night by flashlight.
1. How do you get into a place or mindset for writing your poetry? Do you have any habits you could share with young writers?
I pick up three or four books by favorite authors, written for the age group I'm writing that particular book for, and I'll lose myself in them for a day or so. This gets my pistons firing. I think something similar might work for any writer. After all, it's often the writing of authors that spur us to write ourselves.

2. I love sharing descriptive words with kids is there a word that's been on your mind lately that's particularly delicious?
No single word comes to mind, but a new phrase popped into my head recently, which I love and just used in a keynote speech I gave this week: the architecture of dreams! The phrase feels so good on my tongue.

3. What are three books of poetry you'd like to see in every child's home, for them to dip into whenever they want?
Three is an impossibly short list of books, but I'll give you three of my favorites:Water Music by Jane Yolen; Come With Me by Naomi Shihab Nye; and Neighborhood Odesby Gary Soto. But they also need to have books by Langston Hughes, Joyce Sidman, Janet Wong, Paul Janezcko, Jack Prelutsky, Lucille Clifton—like I said, impossible!

4. Is there a poem you have memorized that you can share a snippet with us? Maybe it's something you say to yourself when you need encouragement or just when you want to delight in the power of words.
Sorry. I don't memorize poems, not even my own.

Oh, I love that Nikki is giving us all permission NOT to memorize poems. I know that many people take great joy from reciting poetry, from having the words live permanently in their memory---but I have always struggled with this and felt very anxious about memorizing poems. How lovely to know that one of my favorite poets chooses to simply read and enjoy poetry without stressing about memorizing it.

I will hold the phrase architecture of dreams in my heart. I believe that the poetry, the books we share with our children help lay the foundations upon which they can build their own personal dreams. Nikki, I do hope you can share this speech (or a few parts of it) online.

If you want to read more interviews with Nikki Grimes, I highly recommend these:
Many thanks to Lee and Low Books for helping arrange this interview. And special thanks to Nikki for taking the time to answer these questions on a busy, celebratory weekend.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books