Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Amina's Voice & read-alikes: connecting readers with more books (ages 9-12)

Many of our students really enjoyed reading Amina's Voice, by Hena Khan, as part of our Mock Newbery Book Clubs. They connected with the way Amina learns to cope with her nerves, finds the courage to perform, and deals with the pressures of sixth grade.
Amina's Voice
by Hena Khan
Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster, 2017
Amazon / your local library / Google Books preview
ages 9-12
As Amina starts sixth grade, she struggles with friendship and family issues. At school, her best friend Soojin is befriending another girl, Emily. Soojin is also talking about becoming an American citizen and taking a second, more American name. Amina just wants things to stay the same with Soojin.

At home, Amina loves to sing; true to her parents' nickname (geeta, 'song' in Urdu), she has a beautiful voice. Amina avoids the spotlight, and prefers to sing by herself. When her uncle Thaya Jaan, who is visiting from Pakistan, tells her parents that her singing and piano playing are un-Islamic, she feels undermined and unsure of herself just as she's trying to get up the courage to perform at a school concert.

Students of many backgrounds really responded to this story. Here are some of their comments:
  • "It totally hooked me and stayed with me."
  • "I liked the beginning how she felt nervous and scared, and then she overcame this."
  • "It was intense when their mosque burnt down."
  • "I could relate to having arguments with a friend."
Berkeley librarians worked together to recommend "read-alikes" for students who enjoyed Amina's Voice.
If you liked Amina's Voice for the way Amina found her own voice, you might try:
If you liked Amina's Voice for the way it portrayed a Pakistani family in America, you might try:
In looking for read-alikes, we tried to think of a "hook" to give a student a connection to another book. We also looked for books that would appeal to students at a similar emotional level and reading level. This is not an exact match, but rather a general guide to help us. We also looked for books that many of our libraries have and books that are still in print.

Many thanks to all of the librarians in Berkeley (both at BUSD school libraries and Berkeley Public Library) who are helping us create these read alike lists. Please let us know if you have any other books to add to these suggestions!

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.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Wrinkle in Time: the movie, the novel & the graphic novel (ages 9-14)

In her Newbery medal-winning classic, A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L'Engle created Meg Murray, an angsty, angry, passionate, heroic young girl on a quest to save her father and vanquish evil from the universe.

Does Ava DuVernay's film adaptation capture the story and L'Engle's characters? Most certainly yes. I can also certainly say that the movie is best seen alongside reading both the original novel and the recent graphic novel adaptation. Yes, see this movie AND read the book.

A Wrinkle in Time is a visual splendor. DuVernay catapults us into the fantastical otherworlds of Uriel, Ixchel and Camazotz. Even more than that, she gives us a Meg we can easily identify with, a young teen struggling with bullying at school, a missing father and a world that doesn't seem to recognize her gifts. As A.O. Scott wrote in The New York Times,
"It is the first $100 million movie directed by an African-American woman, and the diversity of its cast is both a welcome innovation and the declaration of a new norm."
I especially appreciate the way Meg is an introverted, brainy heroine who struggles to control her emotions. I am grateful for the additional layers that DuVernay added with Meg's biracial identity. She is a young teen many girls today can relate to.
Storm Reid as Meg Murray, in A Wrinkle in Time
Meg is called on a classic hero's quest, and through her journey she battles her insecurities, claims her purpose and discovers hope for the world. Storm Reid plays her with a perfect balance of straightforward every-girl and brainy teenage heroine. She is rightfully frustrated at the injustices around her, and she discovers that the answers lay in both her heart and her critical problem-solving.

The Mrs. W's were imaginatively realized in the movie. Although they were not what I had imagined when I first read this story, they came alive on the screen as fully realized characters. I must say that Oprah's Mrs. What captured the inner voice of wisdom and guidance much more than the original text or even the audiobook, in which her language came across as hissing or stuttering.

While the movie captures the emotional development and visual tone of the story, its rushed ending left me thinking back to the book. I missed Aunt Beast's careful tending to Meg, helping her discover the light and hope in the world. I wondered how Calvin reunited with Meg.

I hope those questions will lead children back to reading or rereading the books, both Madeline L'Engle's original A Wrinkle in Time and Hope Larson's graphic novel adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time.
In the end, I so appreciate the way Ava DuVernay embraced and captured this imaginative, passionate heroine. Meg wrestles with the existence of good and evil, she embraces love and hope, she claims her identity as a geeky girl who can figure out how to solve problems much bigger than herself. As Madeline L'Engle said in her Newbery Medal acceptance speech in 1963,
"We have the vocation of keeping alive Mr. Melcher's (the founder of the Newbery award) excitement in leading young people into an expanding imagination. Because of the very nature of the world as it is today our children receive in school a heavy load of scientific and analytic subjects, so it is in their reading for fun, for pleasure, that they must be guided into creativity."
Yes, that is just it. Books help young readers discover expanding worlds. Stories lead to stories, ideas create more ideas. I can't wait to hear what others think of this movie and whether it will bring them back to reading the stories.

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.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer by Carole Boston Weatherford and Ekua Holmes (ages 10-14)

As we celebrate Black History Month, we must honor those who struggled, raising their voices to call for change. Fannie Lou Hamer was an iconic Civil Rights leader who led voting drives throughout the South and co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Carole Boston Weatherford chronicles Hamer's life and struggles in the powerful picture book Voice of Freedom. This is an essential book to share--not an easy one to read, but an essential one to share with older children.
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement
by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes, narrated by Janina Edwards
Candlewick, 2015 // Dreamscape Media, 2017
2016 Caldecott Honor award, 2016 Robert F. Sibert Honor award and the 2016 John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award Winner
ages 10-14
Reading Voice of Freedom is like walking beside Fannie Lou Hamer on her hard journey. Even as a child in Mississippi, the daughter of sharecroppers who could barely make enough money to feed their family, Fannie Lou Hamer was keenly aware that the system around her was unjust:
"Black people work so hard, and we ain't got nothin'
to show for it,
I told anyone who would listen.
Sharecropping was just slavery by a gentler name."
"I was just six when I dragged
my first bag down a row of cotton."
We learn that Fannie Lou's hardships continued, and see her political awareness evolve when voting-rights activists came to Mississippi. Weatherford directly addresses harsh elements of life Hamer experienced under Jim Crow laws, such as her forced sterilization under a Mississippi law.

Conversational, free-verse text lends itself to animated adaptation. Janina Edward's narration embodies Hamer's powerful voice with depth and resonance. I watched this through my public library's Hoopla platform, and look forward to sharing this with my students.

Hamer's fierce determination to fight for equal rights survived and thrived, and this power shines through majestically in Weatherford's rich poetic text. Throughout her life, Hamer refused to give up hope. She faced many brutal hardships, which Weatherford describes with candor. This is not an easy book to read, but one that we must share with older children.

Ekua Holmes won the 2017 Caldecott Honor Award for her stunning, majestic illustrations. Multimedia collages capture Hamer's strength and struggles using both abstract and realistic elements.

Reading this book filled me with anger at the violence and bigotry that Fannie Lou Hamer faced, but it also inspired me to keep raising my voice, adding it to the persistent call for change.

Illustrations copyright ©2017 Ekua Holmes, shared by permission of the publisher. The review copy came from my public library, accessed through Hoopla Digital. 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.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, February 19, 2018

Before She Was Harriet, by Lesa Cline-Ransome -- poetic, powerful, beautiful (ages 7-10)

"The story of Harriet Tubman has always been one that has infused me with pride." -- Lesa Cline-Ransome, interview on TeachingBooks
Before she was Harriet Tubman, she was a young girl with the courage and determination to fight against injustices. This powerful, poetic picture book takes readers back in time to look at Tubman's many contributions fighting for freedom.
Before She Was Harriet
by Lesa Cline-Ransome
illustrated by James E. Ransome
winner of the 2018 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award
Holiday House, 2017
Amazon / Your local library
ages 7-10
*best new book*
Harriet Tubman is an iconic figure in American history as a courageous leader on the Underground Railroad, helping enslaved people escape to freedom. With lyrical free verse text, Lesa Cline-Ransome looks back on Harriet's long life.
"Before she was an old woman,
she was a suffragist
a voice for women
who had none"
With each page turn, readers are taken further back in Tubman's life. During the Civil War, she was a spy for the Union and a nurse for wounded soldiers. Before all of this, she was a little girl who learned from her father to read the woods, "readying for the day/ she would leave behind slavery." Lesa Cline-Ransome's writing is poetic, focusing in on key moments to help bring readers in close to see Tubman's humanity, her dedication to helping others, her perseverance.

Striking, luminous illustrations highlight Tubman's determination and courage, providing visual context for her long life. James E. Ransome was awarded the 2018 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award for this magnificent book.
"Before she was a suffragist
she was General Tubman..."
Share this picture book with children who have already learned about Harriet Tubman. Help them see her more fully and appreciate her humanity, drive and hope. I especially appreciated these resources:
Illustrations copyright ©2017 James E. Ransome, shared by permission of the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Holiday House. 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.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

2018 Newbery and Beyond: Highlights for 4th & 5th graders

The Newbery Medal has been compared to the Oscars of children's literature, and that's an apt comparison. It brings a boost in popularity, a promise of longevity and a bump in sales. Yesterday, the American Library Association announced not only the winner of the 2018 Newbery Medal, but also a heap of other awards for children and young adults.

Here are my recommendations of awards that are particularly good for 4th & 5th graders.
Hello Universe, by Erin Entrada Kelly: winner of the 2018 Newbery Medal. The lives of four middle schoolers collide when one of them plays a horrible prank.  This sensitive story will appeal to 4th and 5th graders who like realistic fiction that lets you get to know characters, tugging on your heart-strings and imagining how you would respond in difficult situations. I'm looking forward to rereading this friendship story and hearing my students' thoughts.

Crown: Ode to the Fresh Cut, by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James: winner of the 2018 Newbery honor, Caldecott honor and Coretta Scott King author and illustrator honor awards. Wow!!! Look at those awards! This dynamic picture book celebrates the power of a fresh haircut, the way it makes you feel and the transformation that comes with it. The strong voice is a joy to read, and would make an excellent mentor text for memoir, poetry and and small moment details. Inspiring, gorgeous and empowering -- a must-read.

Lucky Broken Girl, by Ruth Behar: winner of the 2018 Pura Belpré Award. Based on her memories growing up as a young Cuban immigrant in Queens, Behar shares with readers her difficult first few years in this country. At first, she struggles to learn English and acclimate herself to a new school and new community. Just when things are improving, she is terribly hurt in car accident and must spend the next eight months in a full body cast. While Behar never shies away from her anger or fears, she ultimately finds hope and healing.

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora, by Pablo Cartaya: winner of the 2018 Pura Belpré honor award. Cartaya delightfully portrays this Cuban-American family and neighborhood as Arturo develops his first crush and recognizes the power of his words when a shady land developer threatens to put up flashy high rise condos and tear down his family's restaurant.

The First Rule of Punk, by Celia C. Pérez: winner of the 2018 Pura Belpré honor award. This fun, fresh story was a favorite of many Berkeley students. María Luisa wears Chuck Taylors, listens to punk rock, makes zines, and goes by the nickname Malú. She’s devastated when she has to move to Chicago and has to navigate finding new friends, balancing her Mexican culture with her punk rock identity.

Grand Canyon, by Jason Chin: winner of the 2018 Caldecott honor. Detailed illustrations show young readers what it would be like to hike down into the canyon and convey the geologic history of the canyon's formation. Stunning, informative and captivating.

Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators that Saved an Ecosystem, by Patricia Newman: winner of the 2018 Sibert honor award. I have not yet read this yet and am definitely looking forward to it. Newman describes marine biologist Brent Hughes and his work investigating the impact of sea otters on the ecosystem of Elkhorn Slough, near Monterey, CA. A fascinating look at the scientific process in action.

Not So Different: What You Really Want to Ask about Having a Disability, by Shane Burkaw: winner of the 2018 Sibert honor award. With candid humor and accessible descriptions, Shane Burcaw explains how spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) has affected his body and invites questions readers might have. Engaging, informative and important.

Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess, by Shari Green: winner of the 2018 Schneider Family Book Award for Middle Grade. I am looking forward to reading this novel in verse about a deaf sixth grader as she deals with changes life is throwing her way: her mother is remarrying, they are going to move to her step-father's house, and she is going to have to change schools.

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets, by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Ekua Holmes: winner of the 2018 Coretta Scott King honor award for illustration. In this dynamic collection, Alexander and fellow poets Chris Colderley and Marjorie Wentworth share original poems that dance and spin with poets they admire, inviting readers join the celebration. Ekua Holmes' illustrations are magnificent, capturing and extending the rich themes and imagery of the poetry.

With many thanks to the publishers who 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.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, February 8, 2018

2018 Berkeley Mock Newbery Book Clubs -- our results are in!!!

For the second year, every elementary school in Berkeley Unified School District held a Mock Newbery Book Club to read and discuss the best new books of the year. Our 4th & 5th graders have wrapped up their final voting meetings and the results are in!

The American Library Association awards the Newbery Award each year to the most distinguished children's book written by an American author. Kids know this award and have been so excited to add their voices, taking part in mock elections.
Across the district, over 300 4th and 5th grade students read and discussed the best new books published in 2017. Library staff, literacy coaches, and teachers are worked together to host book clubs. Children's librarians from Berkeley Public Library are coming to support several of our schools. The enthusiasm was contagious!

In order to vote in February, we asked students to read at least 5 of the nominated books. This gave students voice and choice to read based on their preferences:
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
The War I Finally Won, by Kimberley Brubaker-Bradley
Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate
The Wonderling, by Mira Bartok
Our readers chose The War I Finally Won, by Kimberley Brubaker-Bradley, to honor with the Berkeley Mock Newbery Award. Students talked about how vividly the author described Ada's emotions. "I liked the main character because she was stubborn and daring on the outside, but on the inside she's a different person." They talked about how scared she was climbing the church steeple, and how she overcame her fear through sheer determination. "Ada was so complex," another student said.

Students also noticed how secondary characters were well developed in The War I Finally Won. One student remarked that Susan (Ada's adoptive mother) could connect to the children because she had also lost someone she loved. Other students really liked how well the author wove historical setting into the story, helping them learn about World War II without telling them specific facts.

Our students chose three honor books: The Harlem CharadeWishtree and The Wonderling. It's fascinating that these choices span across a wide range of genres.

Many loved the mystery and intricate plot in The Harlem Charade. One student said, "It was really thought-provoking. It made me keep wondering and asking questions about what was happening, how they would solve the mystery." Other students noticed how it was written from different characters' perspectives, making it especially interesting to read. Many remarked about the action-driven plot, an important quality they look for in books.

Wishtree appealed to students who like more sensitive stories. A 5th grader said, "Even though it's for a younger audience, I liked the way it was about animals as well as human." Another student said, "I liked how the tree was important to the animals and the people; it rooted their community."  Students noticed that the pacing was effective, with suspenseful elements introduced as chapters ended, making them want to keep reading.

The Wonderling especially appealed to our fantasy readers. Students liked how it was about groundlings, creatures that were part animal and part human. This captured their imaginations, and the characters were fully developed. Many commented on how they related to Arthur, feeling alone and left out at times.  They liked how he started off not really knowing where he belonged, and ending up with a family and friends. The secondary characters generated quite a bit of discussion in some groups, with special love for Trinket. Even the villain, Miss Carbunkle, was complex with her own backstory that created empathy in some of our readers. Davey Reed, one of our terrific librarians, noted,
"The Wonderling was a book that kids may have tried early in the year -- it had appeal, but was a little long and hard to get into. But once their friends liked it, they were willing to give it another shot. All it takes is 2-3 kids to start talking about it."
I love how Mr. Reed describes this social side of reading, because that's what the Mock Newbery Book Clubs really help foster. The create community among our readers by honoring their voices and encouraging them to spread the love of reading. Library staff, literacy coaches, and teachers are all working together to host book clubs. Children's librarians from Berkeley Public Library are coming to support several of our schools.
The Newbery Committee is meeting this weekend in Denver, as part of the American Library Association's Midwinter Conference. The 2018 Youth Media Award announcements will take place on Monday, Feb. 12, at 8 a.m. MT from the Colorado Convention Center. Fans can follow 2018 results in real-time via live webcast at , or follow hashtag #alayma.

I am so grateful for the support from all of my colleagues in Berkeley. Together, we are making a huge difference in kids' lives. Many many many thanks.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books