Saturday, February 28, 2009

Puppy Love: nonfiction books for young dog lovers

Kids love pets, so what better way to hook them on reading than give them books about dogs! It will certainly be puppy love. These are two nonfiction books that younger children will love - either to read aloud to children ages 4 - 6, or for 2nd and 3rd graders to read by themselves.
A home for Dixie : the true story of a rescued puppy
by Emma Jackson, photographs by Bob Carey
New York: Collins, 2008.
ages 4 - 8
This is a sweet picture book, perfect for the kid who dreams about getting a dog of their own. A Home for Dixie begins with a little puppy arriving at a dog shelter. Emma's family decides that it is time to get a dog, and they visit a local dog shelter. They decide that this little puppy is just right for them. A very touching part of the story shows Dixie's adjustment to her new home, and how Emma and Dixie grow to love each other. It's written by a high school girl about her real life experience with her dog, and the pictures are of the real dog with her family. I think kids will enjoy the real-life feeling of this book. Perfect for 1st and 2nd graders.
How to talk to your dog
by Jean Craighorn George
HarperCollins, 2003
ages 4 - 8
Have you ever wondered about how animals talk to each other? What about if they're talking to you? How to Talk to Your Dog shows kids that it's not all in the bark. Dogs don't just talk with barks and growls - they whimper, sniff, wag their tail, twist their ears, and touch noses. This humorous and informative book will let kids look into the world of dogs by helping them understand their canine friend's feelings. The author does a wonderful job of describing different ways dogs show their feelings. And the illustrations combine expressive cartoons of dogs with photographs of the author interacting and talking with the dogs. Clearly, both of these women have been around dogs their whole lives. Here's a sample:
"There is also the joyous hello. When you return home, your dog greets you bounding, tail wagging, body swishing, and with his head lowered in deference to you. He might lick you to seal the welcome. You don't have to lick back. That will please him, but he will love you even if you don't. A hug or head pat is your 'joyous hello' to your dog."
Find A Home for Dixie at the Oakland Public Library and the Berkeley Public Library.
Find How to Talk to your Dog
at the Oakland Public Library and the Berkeley Public Library.

This review is written by Mary Ann Scheuer for Great Kid Books. Copyright 2009, all rights reserved.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Giggles Galore: Mo Willems' Elephant and Piggie series

I had the best moment yesterday: a room full of preschoolers fell into giggles as they were listening to the story I Am Invited to a Party!. Children love to laugh and they do so in such an infectious way - soon the whole room was bursting into laughter. The Elephant and Piggie series hooks this love, and reels the kids in with simple text and hilarious range of emotions shown in the two characters.
I am invited to a party! by Mo Willems.
New York : Hyperion Books for Children, c2007.
ages 4 - 6
I Am Invited to a Party tells the story of Piggie's utter joy at receiving an invitation to a party, and then her apprehension when she isn't sure what she should wear to her party. Her best friend Gerald the elephant comes to the rescue, expertly advising her that parties are fancy affairs. But they are also swim parties. And costume parties, too! Kids will love the way that Elephant and Piggie dance, shouting "Party! Party!" They will relate to the emotions that Piggie goes through. And they will laugh, and laugh and laugh. All the time, learning to read - hooray!

Are you ready to play outside? by Mo Willems.
New York : Hyperion Books for Children, c2008.
ages 4 - 6

Are You Ready to Play Outside? is the newest Elephant and Piggie book and it is also hilarious. The two friends are so excited about playing outside together - they are going to do EVERYTHING! Run, jump, skip! But then it starts raining and Piggie is irate - "HOW CAN ANYONE PLAY OUTSIDE WITH ALL THIS RAIN!?!" Kids will relate to the huge range of emotions that the two friends go through, and laugh out loud at the ups and downs. This book won the 2009 Geisel Award (in honor of Dr. Seuss) for the book that best engages and helps beginning readers. The American Library Association wrote, "Willems has created a masterpiece for beginning readers that is simply told through the use of dialogue, which melds perfectly with uncluttered pink and grey cartoon-style illustrations. Aside from the friendship theme that appears throughout Willems’ work, he continues to create astonishing emotional depth using the simplest of facial expressions on his characters."

Find all of Mo Willem's books at the Oakland Public Library or the Berkeley Public Library. But these books are worth buying if you have a young reader. My guess is you and your child will read them over and over and over.... so head over to Amazon or your local bookstore.

Finally, for the grownups - take a look at Mo's video on You Tube where he explains how he gets to know the characters in his stories.

This review is covered under Creative License with attribution. Copywrite 2009 Mary Ann Scheuer.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Mountain climbing adventure: Peak, by Roland Smith

Imagine climbing the tallest mountain in the world. At the age of 15. Gasping for oxygen, wondering if you can take one more step. Peak, by Roland Smith, is a great adventure story that is perfect for the kid who wants to read a realistic story. When I finished this book, I was convinced that it was a true story. It is fiction, but definitely realistic and exciting.
Peak, by Roland Smith
Orlando: Harcourt, Inc., c2007.
also on audio from Recorded Books
ages 12 and up
Fourteen-year-old Peak Marcello is a natural-born climber. After he is caught climbing the Woolworth Building in New York, he escapes a jail sentence by going to live with his famous mountaineer father. Peak soon learns that his father hopes that Peak will become the youngest person ever to climb Mt. Everest.

Smith includes plenty of mountaineering details (particularly creepy is his description of the frozen corpses that litter the mountain). But he also explores other issues, such as coming to terms with his father's selfishness.

The audio version was clear and compelling - a great book to listen to with kids ages 10 and up. Available at the Oakland Public Library, the Berkeley Public Library and

I'm excited to read Smith's recent novel, Elephant Run - set in Burma during World War II.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Year of the Dog, a novel by Grace Lin

Children love reading about the ordinary lives of other children. It gives them a chance to recognize themselves in what they read, as well as to connect with other kids. When Grace Lin was a little girl, she loved the everyday stories like "B" is for Betsy - but she never could see herself in these stories. When she asked her librarian for stories about Chinese children, all she was given were Chinese fables like Seven Chinese Brothers. So when she grew up, she decided to write her own story about growing up as a Chinese American: The Year of the Dog.
The Year of the Dog, by Grace Lin
New York : Little, Brown, 2006
ages 8 - 12 (great read aloud for younger kids)
The Year of the Dog is a nice story for 3rd or 4th graders about a young girl's experience growing up as one of the only Chinese-Americans in her school. As the story developed, I really grew to like Pacey. I loved getting a sense of her family life and her friendship with Melody. There are many points where any kid might relate to Pacey's struggles - with the science fair, with a crush on a boy at school. But this story also gives the reader a feeling for Pacey's Chinese-American traditions and how she struggles to accept and understand her identity.

The dramatic tension in the story grows as Pacey tells about her feeling awkward at school being Chinese - she worries about being in the school play of Wizard of Oz, that everyone would think it was odd to have a Chinese munchkin. But she also feels awful when other Chinese girls teased her for not speaking Chinese or Taiwanese.

This would make a great read-aloud for kids in 1st or 2nd grade, or a nice independent read for 3rd or 4th graders. It would appeal to any kid who likes a realistic story, especially kids who might be interested in Pacey's Chinese-American identity.

Find it at the Berkeley Public Library or the Oakland Public Library. If you like this book, you might try the sequel: The Year of the Rat.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story

Seven Miles to Freedom:
The Robert Smalls Story

written by Janet Halfmann, illustrated by Duane Smith
New York, Lee and Low Books: 2008
ages 8 - 12

Stories of how real people reacted to overwhelming odds have always inspired us. Picture book biographies have an amazing power to pull children into history and show them how people have acted with courage and dignity to reach their goals. This is a powerful story of Robert Smalls, a slave from Beaufort, South Carolina, who escaped to the Union lines, won his freedom and eventually became a United States Congressman.

Robert Smalls was born in 1839 in South Carolina. Growing up a slave, Robert dreamed of being able to gain his freedom. After his first child was born in 1858, he was able to make a deal to buy his wife's and daughter's freedom for eight hundred dollars. Although he was still a slave, this would enable his family to stay together.

But soon war exploded throughout the country, and Charleston was on the front lines. Robert became a deckhand on a steamship that hauled army supplies for the Confederate army. His knowledge of the Charleston Harbor and surrounding rivers impressed the ship's officers, and Robert was promoted to wheelman. In this position, he learned the secret whistles for passing the Confederate forts protecting Charleston.

In 1861, the Union navy captured Port Royal, just south of Charleston. Only seven miles of waterway lay between Robert and the chance of freedom in Union territory. One night when the officers were on shore, Robert steered his ship, with his family and crewmates aboard, past the many Confederate forts, directly toward the Union blockade.

This is a compelling, dramatic story that will have kids and adults riveted. It made me wonder why I had never learned of this amazing man and his unshakable courage and amazing leadership. The paintings for this book match the compelling nature of the story, and completely drew me in. They are bright and vibrant, and help bring the story to life.

Find it at the Berkeley Public Library or at the publishers Lee and Low Books.

I am very grateful to the author and Lee & Low Books for sending me a copy to review. They have a wonderful selection of children's books, especially addressing a wide variety of cultures and histories.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Punk Farm: the animals let loose & get wild

Punk Farm, by Jarrett Krosoczka.
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.
ages 4 - 7

When the farmer is away, the animals will PARTY! Night falls, and the barn becomes the stage for the best animal rock band. Old MacDonald had a farm, and boy did they get down and dirty. OK, not quite dirty, but loud. The illustrations are great, and I can just imagine parents who themselves loved to rock out when they were young playing up all the silly voices and antics.

This will appeal to all little kids (and their folks!) who dream of being a rock star. Definitely recommended for little rockers out there.

The author has developed a fun website, complete with punk music: You can also watch a preview to get a sense of the story: Punk Farm Preview.

The book is available at Amazon, the Berkeley Public Library and the Oakland Public Library. While you're at it, check out the sequel: Punk Farm on Tour.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Inkheart: our movie-book club

Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke
New York : Scholastic, 2003.
Random House/Listening Library, p2003.
ages 9 - 12
Berkeley Public Library or Oakland Public Library

We just had our first movie-book club at school with this book. The kids loved the book, and are ready to start (or have already started on) the sequel. The overall plot was filled with action and suspense; it appealed to boys and girls. Meggie's father has a special talent for reading characters right out of books, but it turns out to be a double-edged sword as he reads out a nasty villain. The adventure is good, and the heroine is plucky. The beginning is a little slow to get into, but once Meggie, Mo and Elinor are captured by Capricorn, we were all hooked. But be warned: it's quite a long book (over 500 pages).

"Oh, the book is soooo much better than the movie! They changed so much!" Words to make a book-lover smile! The kids were disappointed that the movie changed the plot around so much. Many, many aspects of the plot were changed. I felt that in the movie you didn't get to know and care about the characters the same way as in the book. But I did like the visual details of Dustfinger breathing fire. It was especially interesting how the movie didn't leave the same room for a sequel, the way the book does.
Check out the movie trailer

The audio version of Inkheart is fantastic. It totally hooked our 4th graders. In fact, several of them listened to all 13 hours of the story in one week! Here's a taste of the audio version of Inkheart:

The audio of Inkspell, the second in the series, is narrated by Brendan Fraser, the star of the movie. In fact, Cornelia Funke told Brendan Fraser that he was the inspiration for Mo. Want to taste the audio version of Inkspell?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Who Am I? silly animal books for young readers

Little Skink's Tail, by Janet Halfmann
Sylvan Dell Publishing, 2007
ages 3 - 6

The Hippo-NOT-amus, by Tony Payne
Orchard Books, 2004
ages 3 - 7

I love picture books that are silly, but also ask kids and grownups to think about deeper things. Here are two picture books that show animals trying on different tails, horns, ears - but really, they're asking, "Who Am I?" What sort of animal - or kid - do I want to be? Both books are definitely silly and had my kids giggling aloud.

Little Skink's Tail
shows how a skink (a type of lizard) can snap off its tail when it's threatened by a hungry crow. "Wiggle, waggle, wiggle, went the tail, wriggling wildly through the fallen leaves." The crow then chases the bright blue tail, letting the little skink run to safety. But what is the skink to do, without its beautiful tail? Maybe she should grow a squirrel's tail? But it's too bushy? What about an owl's tail? A lizard with feathers? No! Sure enough, by the end, her own skink tail had grown back and she can go back to sunning on the rock. It's a simple book, but will engage young listeners and readers (ages 3 - 6). Find it here: Amazon.

Portly, the young hippo in The Hippo-NOT-amus, was tired of eating boring grass and wading in water all day. He decided to search throughout the land for what kind of animal he would really like to be. He meets a rhino and decides that horns would be just the perfect things to have, so he makes two horns from sharpened wood and ties them to his nose. But no matter what he did, they didn't look right! By the end of the story, he's a "hippo-gir-ele-bat-onoceros" who is very, very hungry for boring old grass. The illustrations are colorful and whimsical - sure to bring giggles from little ones who enjoy the absurd situations that Portly gets himself into (ages 3 - 7). Find it here: Oakland Public Library and the Berkeley Public Library.