Sunday, October 8, 2017

You Bring the Distant Near, by Mitali Perkins -- a shining intergenerational story of immigration and identity (ages 12-16)

Like Mitali Perkins' family, my own family's story spans continents and generations. This weekend, my father is at a ceremony honoring the oldest Jewish cemetery in Moravia, near his family's home in the Czech Republic. I know too well the gains and losses that come with immigration. You Bring the Distant Near, Mitali Perkins' outstanding new book, speaks to me deeply. This story spans three generations of Bengali women as they immigrate to America and create a home here.
You Bring the Distant Near
by Mitali Perkins
Farrar Straus Giroux / Macmillan, 2017
Amazon / public library / Google Books preview
ages 12-16
*best new book*
Inspired by her own experiences immigrating as a young teen in the 1970s, Mitali Perkins weaves together an intergenerational story of Ranee Das, her teenage daughters Sonia and Tara, and then later their own daughters. When Sonia and Tara move to New York as teenagers, they must navigate the possibilities that new opportunities might bring while they are acutely aware of the cultural expectations of their Bengali parents.

It's the small moments of these women's lives that make this book resonate so deeply with me. Recently, I heard Mitali speak about her story and these small moments came rushing back to me. Out of context, it's hard to capture them, but added all together, they give you a full sense of characters whose story arcs will stay with me for a long time.

The Horn Book asked Mitali what she hopes the Das family’s story shows today’s readers about family, love, culture, and country? Mitali answered:
"America inevitably “brings the distant near” because apart from members of the Native Nations, all of us originated in faraway places. Sadly, proximity within the United States doesn’t automatically generate friendship. But if we choose to cross borders that may at first bring discomfort and open our hearts to those who seem like strangers, I believe that we can be transformed and united as individuals, families, communities, and even as a country.

The title of this novel comes from a poem/prayer written by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore. My sister recited it in both English and Bangla during my California wedding (to a “foreign” boy!) at the request of our grandfather in Calcutta, India. It translates like this: “You have made me known to friends whom I knew not. You have given me seats in homes not my own. You have brought the distant near and made a brother of the stranger…When one knows You, then there is no alien, and no door is shut.” I hope and pray that despite an unhealed past full of atrocities and deep divisions in the present, God can and will make “the distant near” and a “brother of the stranger” in America’s future."
This novel shines with strong sisterhood, humor and meaningful reflections on family, culture and identity. I came away from this story thinking more deeply about what connects us all, how our lives can bring us close to people in our communities, and how we must reach across borders to see each other as humans.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Macmillan, and I have already purchased many additional copies for friends and family. 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, October 4, 2017

Scary books for beginning readers: #Road2Reading Challenge (ages 6-8)

As kids work hard at beginning to read, they can get frustrated that simple books seem too young for their tastes. As Halloween approaches, try sharing these scary books with 2nd graders. They'll like the combination of creepy moments, simple sentences and ghoulish humor. This group of books is especially good for 2nd graders at the beginning of the year (often reading at levels I-J-K).
Eek! Stories to Make You Shriek
by Jane O'Connor, illustrations by Brian Karas
Penguin, 1992
Amazon / public library / Goodreads / level K
Kids wrestle with spooky situations in three short, slightly scary stories about Halloween night, a possessed doll, and a haunted photograph. Short, simple sentences keep new readers engaged. "It was dark now. The trees made spooky shadows on the street. Ted hoped Danny would come soon." Karas' illustrations enhance the spooky mood.
In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories
by Alvin Schwartz,  illustrations by Victor Rivas
HarperCollins, 2017 (reillustrated version)
Amazon / public library / Goodreads / level J
New illustrations by Victor Rivas reinvigorate this classic easy reader with cartoonish, creepy kids, ghosts and ghouls. Schwartz begins his book writing, "Most of us like scary stories because we like feeling scared. When there is no real danger, feeling scared is fun." He uses repetition, suspense and sudden revelations to great effect. Rivas' illustrations amp up the fright with creepy cartoon characters in the style of Tim Burton and Edward Gorey.
Scary, Scary Halloween
by Eve Bunting, illustrations by Jan Brett
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1986
Amazon / public library / Goodreads / level J
As sinister green eyes look through the darkness, a narrator begins: "I peer outside, there's something there / That makes me shiver, spikes my hair. / It must be Halloween." Bunting's rhymes are full of repetition, making them read almost like a chant. This classic picture book is delightfully scary to read aloud, and perfect for beginning readers to tackle on their own. "Little ones, stay safe inside! / It's best to stay at home and hide / On hallowed Halloween."
Secret of the Summer School Zombies
by Scott Nickel, illustrations by Matt Luxich
Stone Arch / Capstone, 2008
Amazon / public library / Goodreads / level J
With over-the-top imagination and action, these graphic novels appeal to kids who love funny, frightful stories. When Trevor and his friends realize that their summer school teachers have all turned into zombies, it's up to the three friends to save the day. Also try Monster in the Outfield and Attack of the Mutant Lunch Lady, two other monster-themed graphic novels for beginning readers.
There's a Nightmare in My Closet
by Mercer Mayer
Dial / Penguin, 1968
Amazon / public library / Goodreads / level I
A friend just wrote to me about the power of monster spray for her son. Childhood nightmares are real, and kids know this. "There used to be a nightmare in my closet. / Before going to sleep, / I always closed the closet door." In this classic picture book, Mayer turns the tables and has the child scare the monster as it comes out of the closet. Absolutely brilliant! All told with one short sentence on each page, with illustrations that respect the power of kids and their imaginations.

Please check out other posts in the #Road2Reading Challenge, hosted by my friends Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy and Michele Knott at Mrs. Knott's Book Nook. As they say, every journey has a beginning and it's important to celebrate & support readers at the start of their reading journey.

The review copy of In a Dark, Dark Room was kindly sent by the publisher, HarperCollins, and the other review copies came from my public and school 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

Sunday, October 1, 2017

A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars, by Seth Fishman & Isabel Greenberg (ages 6-9)--and more crazy awesome enormous numbers!

How do you help kids gain a sense of what numbers really mean? At first, you help them count all the things around them. But what happens when you're trying to help them understand bigger numbers? And then how do you move onto truly enormous numbers? Seth Fishman makes number sense and estimating so much fun with his terrific picture book A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars.
A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars
by Seth Fishman
illustrated by Isabel Greenberg
Greenwillow / HarperCollins, 2017
Amazon / Public library
ages 6-9
Fishman helps kids get a sense of just how crazy awesome enormous numbers can be. He begins with the sun, explaining that it's just one star among "(maybe) 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars." And he even helps readers know how to say this outrageously large number, putting the words "a hundred billion trillion" down in the corner.

As he tours the universe and our world, looking at different huge numbers, he serves up a smorgasbord of examples. There are 7,500,000,000 people on Earth and 10 quadrillion ants. "The strange thing is that seven billion five hundred million humans weigh about the same as ten quadrillion ants." (OMG!!!) And 420 million kids or dogs lined up head to toe would circle the Earth about 10 times (that's 240,000 miles).

He keeps bringing examples back to kids, with a particular focus on the kid audience. Terrific, diverse kids and families fill the illustrations. Definitely read the author's note aloud to kids -- it talks about how Fishman estimated these numbers and why estimates are so important. Have fun watching this trailer:

Here are a few other math books I enjoy sharing that give kids a sense of enormous numbers:

How Many Jelly Beans?, by Andrea Menotti and Yancey Labat (Chronicle, 2012). My students love this candy-focused counting book that starts off small and ends with a giant fold-out to help them visualize a million jelly beans. I mean, how many kids can relate to the question, "Can you really have too many jelly beans?"

How Much Is a Million?, by David M. Schwartz and Steven Kellogg (Collins, 1985). Marvelossissimo the Mathematical Magician helps kids get a sense of big numbers. "If one million kids climbed onto one another's shoulders, they would be...farther up than airplanes can fly." While human tower with a billion kids "would stand up past the moon." A classic in school and classroom libraries everywhere.

Millions, Billions and Trillions: Understanding Big Numbers, by David Adler and Edward Miller (Holiday House, 2013). Adler builds up a systematic, gradual sense of how to visualize big numbers by using concrete examples kids can relate to. To imagine what a million might look like, kids are asked to pour 1/4 cup of sugar onto black construction paper to see "about one million granules." He helps kids imagine one billion by starting with looking at how many hairs are on a typical human's head: one hundred thousand. If you looked at ten thousand people's heads, you would see about one billion hairs!

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.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Wonderling, by Mira Bartók -- building a fantasy world, a guest post (ages 8-12)

Mira Bartók's new children's book The Wonderling completely enraptured me, drawing me into this fantasy adventure with its classic Hero's Journey. Arthur is a true hero, one who grows and changes, discovering as much about himself as he does about the world around him. I am excited to share this with readers across Berkeley as part of our Mock Newbery Book Clubs.
The Wonderling
by Mira Bartók
Candlewick, 2017
Google Books preview
Amazon / audiobook / public library
ages 8-12
*best new book*
Lonely, shy, scared. The orphaned groundling Number 13 doesn’t have a name until he finds a friend in Trinket, a small wingless bird with a big heart. Full of stories, Trinket decides that Arthur is the perfect name for his friend--brave King Arthur. Can they escape evil Miss Carbunkle’s orphanage? Will they find their families? This delightful fantasy would be wonderful to read aloud as a family, or escape into its adventure by yourself.

Today, Mira Bartók is visiting Great Kid Books to tell us a little about building her fantasy world. As I read The Wonderling, I was especially intrigued by Arthur's world and his journey. I wondered how Mira created Arthur's world, especially if she used a map to help lay out his journey.

Mira Bartók: Creating the World of The Wonderling

When I began building the world of The Wonderling, my first task was to create the terrible orphanage where Arthur/Number 13 finds himself at the opening of the book. I knew it had to be surrounded by a great wall, and that it was impossible to see over that wall into the world beyond. But I wasn’t quite sure what the building looked like. I looked at dozens of old photographs of 19th century orphanages, but none of them seemed quite right. Then one day, while searching online, I found a wonderful old engraving of a building in the shape of a giant cross, surrounded by a wall. It looked to me like a monastery and I knew when I saw it that it was perfect. I imagined Miss Carbunkle’s Home to have been many things over time—poorhouse, asylum, and ultimately a home for unclaimed creatures—but its origins were holy.
the engraving that inspired Miss Carbunkle's Home
I borrowed elements of the engraving and roughly sketched out a map of Miss Carbunkle’s Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures so I could understand how the characters moved through the space.
a detail from one very, very rough sketch of Miss Carbunkle's Home
As the story progressed, and it was clear that Arthur and Trinket needed to venture out into the world, I had to envision a larger universe. I took several large pieces of paper, taped them together, and mapped out Arthur and Trinket’s journey after they escape the Home. After that, I waited until I was completely finished with the book in order to fully understand how to physically map out my fantasy world. As I was racing toward the finish line, and made my final map for The Wonderling, I spent hours searching for beautiful maps to inspire me. I poured over giant map books in rare book rooms in libraries. I visited archives, like the magical Map Room at the Boston Public Library where I got to see the original maps for The Hobbit and other famous fantasy books, and I spent lots of time studying maps in antiquarian shops in London and New York. I also looked at piles of classic children’s books to see how those worlds were portrayed, books like Wind in the Willows and the Chronicles of Narnia, and more.

It was hard to decide which part of my fantasy world I wanted to depict in one map—the vertical layers of the world, depicting Lumentown with Gloomintown below? Or map out the city of Lumentown, and show Arthur’s journey within the city? In the end, I chose to simply map out a landscape—the Home, Pinecone’s house, the Wild Wood, Lumentown, and the surrounded environs—so that readers could follow Arthur’s journey from start to finish.
final map for The Wonderling
There are more journeys in store for Arthur and Trinket, so as long as they continue to venture out into the world, I’ll be here to draw wherever they choose to go!
Thank you so very much, Mira, for sharing a little bit about your journey as Arthur's story came to life for you. I am so happy to hear that there are more adventures in store for Arthur and Trinket! I am excited to share this with students throughout Berkeley as part of our Mock Newbery Book Clubs, and I can't wait to hear some of their thoughts reading this story.

THE WONDERLING. Copyright © 2017 by Mira Bartok. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Candlewick. 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

Sunday, September 24, 2017

2018 Berkeley Mock Newbery Book Clubs (ages 9-11)

Across Berkeley, students and teachers are joining this year's Berkeley Mock Newbery Book Clubs. Every elementary school has invited kids to come to the library, eat lunch and talk about the best books published this year. Our goals are to spread the love of reading and to get students' input about what they think makes a truly distinguished book.
In order to focus our discussions and create a sense of community, our librarians develop a list of 10 books for students to read and consider. We focus on middle grade novels for our students in 4th and 5th grade, so that they can compare within a general type of book. The actual Newbery Committee has a much larger scope, considering picture books, nonfiction titles, novels and poetry books for children up through age 14.

As we are launching our book clubs, we are excited to announce nine of our ten nominations for the 2018 Berkeley Mock Newbery. Have you read any of these books yet? Do you have a suggestion for our tenth nomination? We need your input!
2018 Berkeley Mock Newbery Nominations:

Amina's Voice, by Hena Khan
A Boy Called Bat, by Elana K. Arnold
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, by Rita Williams-Garcia
The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora, by Pablo Cartaya
The First Rule of Punk, by Celia C. Perez
The Harlem Charade, by Natasha Tarpley
Patina, by Jason Reynolds
Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate
The Wonderling, by Mira Bartok
We developed this slideshow to introduce the books to students and teachers.

The Newbery Award is given every year to an American author. The award specifically states that any type of literature may receive this award, as long as it is created specifically for children ages 0-14. The 2018 Newbery Award will be announced on February 12, 2018. As a "mock" award committee, our students will meet all fall and early winter to discuss and share their opinions -- we will vote the week of February 5th, and then tune in to see which book actually wins!

Please do let us know in the comments if you have suggestions for our 10th nomination. Remember that it must be published in 2017, written by an American author, and (for our purposes) be appropriate for 4th and 5th graders.

Many review copies have been kindly sent by the publishers, including Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Penguin, Macmillan, Candlewick and 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.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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.
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