Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Roscoe Riley Rules - a fun series (ages 6 - 8)

Roscoe Riley Rules is a fun new series for kids new to reading chapter books.  Roscoe Riley is a good-hearted first grader who gets into all sorts of mishaps with his teachers and friends. It's a great choice for first and second graders who are ready to read a chapter book, but still need the support of plenty of pictures and a controlled vocabulary. Best of all, this story is both fun and thoughtful.
Roscoe Riley Rules #5:
Don't Tap-Dance on Your Teacher

by Katherine Applegate
illustrated by Brian Biggs
ages 6 - 8
In this story, Roscoe really wants to take tap lessons because he loves the sounds that his friend Emma's shoes make when she dances.  They're loud! They're fun! "Shoes with built-in noise? I thought.  What will they think of next?" Some of the boys warn him that tap dancing is for girls, but Roscoe loved watching a video of a famous male tap dancer.  The guy whirled faster and faster, and his tapping got louder and louder.  "I never dreamed feet could make so much noise!"  But Roscoe starts to get second thoughts when he realized that he was the only boy at tap lessons.  And when Roscoe and Emma are getting ready to perform at a school assembly, Roscoe decides he can't go through with it and he fakes an injury.

I like the short, snappy sentences and the simple vocabulary.  The print is large and set off with lots of white space. Black-and-white drawings, some full page, help new readers figure out what is happening.

But best of all is how Roscoe wrestles with his decision.  He's found something he loves to do, but when the big boys tease him, Roscoe doubts himself.  So he lies to his best friend and feels awful.  This is a funny book that's also thought-provoking, a winning combination.

You can read the first 20 pages online at the HarperCollins website.

I'm looking forward to reading the newest installment: Never Race a Runaway Pumpkin"If Roscoe guesses the weight of a giant pumpkin, he'll be a winner! Easy, right? But a little black cat keeps trying to cross his path! Will the bad-luck kitty ruin Roscoe's chance to win?" Sounds perfect for Halloween!You can read a review at A Year of Reading.

Here's the whole series:
1. Never glue your friends to chairs (c2008)
2. Never swipe a bully's bear (c2008)
3. Don't swap your sweater for a dog (c2008)
4. Never swim in applesauce (2008)
5. Don't tap-dance on your teacher (c2009)
6. Never walk in shoes that talk (2009)
7. Never Race a Runaway Pumpkin (2009)

Stop by your local bookstore or library to find these.  You can also order them from Amazon. If you make a purchase by clicking through to Amazon, Great Kid Books receives a small percentage, which will be used to buy more books to review.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Trucktown - great series for little guys (ages 3 - 6)

For those kids who love to knock down blocks and then stack them up so they can knock them down again, Jon Scieszka's new series Trucktown is perfect for them. I love Uh-Oh, Max, a book perfect for little guys learning to read.
Uh-Oh, Max
Ready-to-Roll, level 1
written by Jon Scieszka
illustrated by the Design Garage
NY: Aladdin Paperbacks, 2009.
ages 3 - 6
Jon Scieska (rhymes with Fresca) created this series for preschoolers and kindergartners based on trucks that act just like those little guys. As he writes in the introduction,
"If you were a loud and funny and excited truck, would you want to learn to read by always hearing quiet stories about farm animals? I didn't think so.  And if you were a loud and funny and excited young reader, what do you think you would want to read? Exactly - a book about trucks.  Trucks acting just like you."
In this story, Monster Truck Max zooms, jumps and flies to the max - until he flips over and gets stuck!  Uh, oh - how will he get out?

His friends have to come try to help him.  Jack Truck tries to push Max.  Grader Kat digs. But Max is stuck, really stuck.  Finally, Tow Truck Ted hooks and flips Max.  "Hurray for Ted!"

Uh-Oh, Max creates a fun, exciting story with simple words.  So often I hear the complaint that their little kids want to read books that are fun and exciting, and when they're just beginning to read the books are so boring.  This would be perfect for brand-new readers who want crazy illustrations, but words they can have success reading.

The colorful illustrations are over-the-top and engaging. Max's crazy, fun personality is conveyed through his wild leaps and jumps, and his friends try to help out in their own ways.

Do your little ones like to play on the computer?  Check out the site for Trucktown: great sound effects, posters to print or color, and some fun games.  My favorite is Smash!Crash! being read aloud. My only wish: that the games incorporated some early literacy skills.

Jon Sciezka is the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, and a tireless advocate to help get boys reading.  He is the author of many of my favorite books, including Knucklehead, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, and Guys Write for Guys Read.  He also created Guys Read, a web-based literacy program for boys. Its mission is to help boys become self-motivated, lifelong readers.  It's a fantastic resource to check out.  For a great description of Trucktown and Guys Read, check out the article by Steven Williams on the BookMarc blog.

Find this book at your local bookstore or library.  It's also available on Amazon.  If you make a purchase by clicking through to Amazon, Great Kid Books receives a small percentage, which will be used to buy more books to review.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Heroes of the Environment - an inspiring collection (ages 8 - 14)

We all want to help the environment, to make the world a better place.  But it's often hard to see what we can do to make a difference.  Heroes of the Environmentis a new book that does a wonderful job of showing individuals who have done just that - made a difference.
Heroes of the Environment:
True Stories of People Who Are Helping to Protect Our Planet
written by Harriet Rohmer
illustrated by Julie McLaughlin
CA: Chronicle Books, 2009.
ages 8 - 14
Heroes of the Environmentpresents the true stories of twelve people from across North America who have done great things to help our environment. These are real people doing extraordinary things, and yet they come from very ordinary backgrounds. A teenage girl figures out how to remove a toxic chemical from the Ohio River and her community's water source. A former professional basketball player develops a thriving urban community garden that grows enough food to feed two thousand people on just two acres in the middle of a city.

This book really stands out for the way it presents a range of complex stories in a way that young people can understand.  Rohmer uses language that is accessible to 5th and 6th graders, but doesn't shy away from including technical details.  I especially like the format - each chapter tells the story of a different activist, and so each chapter can be read entirely on its own.  You can read a seven-page chapter, or several chapters in one sitting. 

Rohmer captures the courage and creativity of community activists who try to find concrete, practical ways to improve the environment.  Some activists pull together the community to protest against corporations that are polluting the ocean or the air.  Others find new scientific ways to clean the environment, such as cleaning chemicals from drinking water using common every-day ingredients.  Others bring services to a community that help people reuse materials or invest in renewable energy.  All of these ways are within reach of all of us - that's what is so empowering about Heroes of the Environment.

"We are the future.  The future is ours." Erica Fernandez, student and environmental activist from Oxnard, California

Would you like to meet Harriet Rohmer and activist Erica Fernandez?  They're appearing on Saturday, October 3rd at San Francisco's The Green Arcade Bookstore.

Do you like nonfiction?  Check out other nonfiction reviews at Nonfiction Monday.  This week's reviews are hosted on Monday by Wendie Old at Wendie's Wanderings.

The review copy was provided by the publisher.  You can find this on Amazon.  Below is also my other favorite book on the environment, A Life in the Wild.  If you make a purchase by clicking through to Amazon, Great Kid Books receives a small percentage, which will be used to buy more books to review.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

ABC books with zing! Alphabeasties and Other Amazing Types

We see a lot of books in our house, but occasionally I buy a book that I just have to share with my kids right away.  Alphabeasties: And Other Amazing Types is just that type of book: I just have to show it to you.  My kids have seen a lot of ABC books over the years, but they have poured over this for the past two days.  It grabs my kindergartner's attention and my 3rd grader's attention, it's so witty and clever. 
Alphabeasties: And Other Amazing Types
by Sharon Werner and Sharon Forss
NY: Blue Apple Books, 2009
ages 3 - 12
Alphabeasties: And Other Amazing Typeswas created by graphic designers Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss. Each animal is ingeniously built out of the letter that starts their name, but in multiple typefaces.  What a great way to talk about letters and design, with young children and older ones alike. Can you see the different As on the alligator on the cover?

But open the pages, and more details are on each page.  The camel and dog are crafted out of Cs and Ds respectively, but Werner and Forss go further, creating delightful smaller images using the letters.  Can you see the little cat at the bottom of the C page, her sleeping body shaped by the C?

They also teach us about different fonts. "An uppercase C and lower case c can be copycats.  Some Cs choose to change."  Down below, "Some Ss look similar to the number 5.  These Ss are sans-serif: no feet or other added strokes."

The details on the pages are also creative concrete poetry forms, where the words form shapes that echo their meanings.  On the S page, not only is the sheep created out of Ss, but the shape of scissors is made out of the word scissors.

This book is perfect for preschoolers learning their letters, but it's also wonderful for older children who are interested in design and graphics.  It's a gem.  Truly an ABC book with zing.

I found this at a favorite independent bookstore, Kepler's in Menlo Park.  You can also find it on Amazon.  I'm guessing this has been more popular than the publisher anticpated.  Even though it just came out in July, it's already back-ordered at the publisher.  If you see it, snap it up!

Here are some other ABC books with zing.  See my review from last winter here.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Shiver, a teen romance for Twilight fans

Do you have a teen that loved, loved, loved the Twilight series?  Are you looking for something to keep them reading?  Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater, will hook them with its longing and romance.  But I would save this for teens - the physical yearning and sexual situations would make me keep this in our middle school library, and not recommend it for 4th and 5th graders.
by Maggie Stiefvater
NY: Scholastic Press, 2009.
ages 12 - 16
Shiver is a bittersweet love story, with longing and forbidden love, but set in a werewolf story. Grace has always loved the wolves that live behind her house, especially the one with the yellow eyes, but she's never really sure why they fascinate her so much. All she knows is that when she was a little girl the wolves attacked her but didn't kill her. Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives, one as a yellow-eyed wolf who watches over Grace each summer, and the other as a solemn boy who lives with his pack, afraid to connect to the rest of the world.  Each year, he gets less and less time as a human, and this year might be his last.

When one of Grace's classmates is killed by wolves, armed townsmen head into the woods to get rid of the wolves once and for all. Grace throws her self into their line of fire in an attempt to save her wolf. Imagine her surprise when a bullet grazes the animal and he turns into a stunning young man named Sam right before her eyes. She acts quickly, saving his life as he saved hers all those years ago, and soon a passionate romance blossoms between them.

Teens will be hooked by Grace's strong character and Sam's sensitive but strong, protective nature.  Stiefvater does an excellent job of describing their longing for each other, the way they wrestle with wanting to be careful and take things slowly, but being overpowered by their yearning to be close.  Teens will have fun with the werewolf story, seeing how the wolf side takes over.  I enjoyed this book, but found the mystery a little obvious.  But then, I'm not a teen.  A better indication - when I added this to our middle school library, it was snapped up in 10 minutes of hitting the shelves. 

Want a taste?  Listen to the author reading the first two chapters aloud here.

The passion between Sam and Grace does become physical.  They clearly have sex, although the consumation happens when the chapter ends.  I would not recommend this for 5th and 6th graders.

Drop by your local independent bookstore - I'm sure they'll have it.  Or you can find it at your local public library, or on Amazon.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Patterns and shapes in the animal world (ages 3 - 7)

Children are fascinated by the world around them. Watch a young child, as they draw patterns in the sand or trace the lines in a seashell.  If your child loves animals and visual details, look for Bees, Snails, & Peacock Tails by Betsy Franco. 
Bees, Snails, & Peacock Tails
written by Betsy Franco
illustrated by Steve Jenkins
NY: Margaret K McElderry Books, 2008.
ages 3 -7
This poetry picture book about patterns in nature brought delight to my children, through its vibrant pictures, the engaging poetry and the fascinating concepts. Franco and Jenkins explore the many forms and functions of nature’s geometry. They show the mathematical genius of the bee, as it fits hexagons side by side in its honeycomb. They light up our eyes with the symmetry of the moth, showing the "stunning 'eyes', perfectly matched on either side." But my favorite poem is of the spider:
Some spiders weave
delicate tapestries
that shine in the sunlight
and sway in the breeze.

They spin lacy lines,
then go round
and round.
Their knowledge of shapes

is truly profound.
They sit in the center
admiring their art,

and wait for those flies
who aren't quite as smart.

(c) Betsy Franco, 2008.

Isn't it wonderful? And I just wish I could show you more of the artwork by Steve Jenkins. His use of cut and torn paper collage is amazing, bringing alive the transparency of the bee's wings, the fuzzy body of the moth, and soft fur of a mouse.

I found this at my local public library. It's also available at a bargain price on Amazon right now. If your children are fascinated by animals, check this out!

You can see a few excerpts at the Simon & Schuster page.  For another lovely review, check out The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Apple Doll, by Elisa Kleven - a sweet story that speaks to young kids (ages 4 - 7)

School has started and the apples are ripening on the trees.  How is the adjustment to school going for your children?  Some bound into the classroom each day, but others want to make sure they get an extra kiss to keep with them for the day.  The Apple Doll, by Elisa Kleven, is a sweet story that speaks to young children making the transition to a new school or class.
The Apple Doll
by Elisa Kleven
NY: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2007.
ages 4 - 7
Lizzy loves her apple tree in all seasons - she finds comfort in its branches, daydreaming and playing throughout the seasons. But now it's fall and she's very worried about her first day at school. For comfort, she makes a doll, Susanna, out of an apple from her tree.  She brings Susanna, her apple doll, to school but other kids tease her and the teacher tells her that she can't have food during class time. Lizzy felt like crying, she was so alone.  The school days wore on, and Lizzy left Susanna at home.

One day, as Lizzy watched her family prepare applesauce and dried apples, she had an idea: could they dry Susanna?  Her mama showed her how they could dry the apple and make a granny-doll.  Now Lizzy's doll Susanna would last all winter.  She brought Susanna back to school for sharing day, and her teacher and classmates were fascinated.  Lizzy ended up showing the whole class how they could make their own dolls.

This is a lovely, loving book that really speaks to young children starting a new class.  It celebrates their imagination and resilience for making new friends.  It's perfect for preschoolers and kindergartners studying apples in school, or anyone feeling shy in a new school.

The review copy came from my public library.  Find this at your local bookstore or public library.  You can also find it and other books by Elisa Kleven on Amazon.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Bobby Bramble Loses His Brain - a zany tale for adventurous kids (ages 4 - 8)

Bobby Bramble is a little boy who can't sit still - he has "ants in his pants, a thirst for adventure, and energy to spare."  Do you know any kids like that?  I certainly do.  Bobby Bramble Loses His Brains is a silly, zany romp that will make you and your favorite wiggle-worm giggle together.
Bobby Bramble Loses His Brain
written by Dave Keane
illustrated by David Clark
NY: Clarion Books, 2009
ages 4 - 8
“Bobby Bramble liked to climb, somersault, jump, bounce, slide, swing, sprint, flip, hang upside down, and generally give gravity a run for its money.” Bobby's parents worry that he will crack his head open and, of course, one day he does just that. Much to everyone's surprise, Bobby's brain makes a bid for freedom and runs off like it has "a mind of its own." What follows is the madcap pursuit and recapture of Bobby's brain.

David Clark's cartoon illustrations take the zany wordplay up and over the top, producing giggles in little kids as they spy Bobby's brain peaking out from under the manhole cover or zooming in front of the fire truck. Adults and older children will enjoy Dave Keane's clever word play: Bobby's family was worried that Bobby "would spend the rest of his days doing handstands and back flips without a thought in his head."  The climax is a "classic battle of brain versus brawn" as Bobby rides his brain "like a seasoned rodeo cowboy."

Share this with your favorite kid who likes to climb the highest fence or tree around.  It will make you both laugh and remind you how important it is to take care of your noggin!  Even kids who have trouble sitting still for story time will enjoy the fast pace and comic illustrations in this picture book. 

Find this in your favorite bookstore or visit your local public library.  Buy it on Amazon and support Great Kid Books.  Review copy kindly provided by the publisher.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Good Question - reading about kids living with divorced parents

A friend recently asked whether I had any good suggestions for books that showed kids living with separated or divorced parents.  A friend of hers had an 8 year old who's going through a transition with her parent's divorce.  It is important for all kids to read about characters who are figuring ways out to adjust to the changes in their lives.
Lucy Rose: Here's the Thing About Me
by Katy Kelly
NY: Delacorte Press, 2004.
ages 7 - 10
Lucy Rose is a spunky 8 year old who has to move to Washington, DC with her mom when her parents get separated.  In the beginning, she misses her father terribly and is sure that she'll never make any new friends in school.  But sure enough, she makes new friends in her new school and neighborhood.  I really enjoyed this book - it's written in first-person, diary format and you can just hear Lucy Rose talking in your head, much like I can hear Junie B Jones when I read her books.  Lucy Rose just comes alive, and her thoughts and feelings bounce right off the page.  Here, she tells about her teacher Mr. Welsh asking about how she's settling in:
Today Mr. Welsh came up to me and he said, "How are you settling in, Lucy Rose?"
And I said, "Okie-dokie." 
And he said, "That's great."
And I said, "Well, a little okie-dokie."
"Only a little?" he asked me. 
I told him, "Actually, it is not the easiest to be the new kid in the neighborhood and the new kid at school at the exact same time especially when you don't know any friends yet." 
He had sympathy for that because he told me, "I had a hard time when I was a new teacher and I didn't know any of the other teachers or any of the kids and, to tell you the truth, the principal made me a little nervous, but after a while it got better." 
"Are you still nervous of the principal?" 
"Nope," he said.  "But it took a little time for me to get the hang of everything.  I think that it will be true for you, too."
There are funny, laugh out loud moments throughout - like when Lucy Rose and her friend lose the pet guinea pig in her grandparent's house.  But what I truly appreciated about this book is how it shows Lucy Rose dealing with her feelings.  If you like Lucy Rose, you might also try the Amber Brown series by Paula Danziger or the Mallory series by Laurie Friedman.

Two picture books especially come to mind, showing young kids dealing with parents who live apart.  Molly and Her Dad is great book to share about a father bonding with his daughter.  Molly's mom needs to go on a business trip, so her dad flies in from far away to stay with her.  She's dreamed about her dad and told her friends stories about her dad, but he left when she was a baby -- so she's never really gotten to know him.  See my full review here

Fred Stays with Me is simple but powerful picture book about a young girl who travels between her mom's home and her dad's home. She spends nights at her mom's and her dad's, but Fred her dog stays with her, traveling to both homes.  I love how this picture book shows the little girl's family life as just accepted. The word “divorced” is never discussed. This is her life, and this is how she lives it. She has the same friend, the same school - but one of her rooms has a bunk bed and the other has a regular bed. Fred is her constant friend and companion throughout it all.  See my full review here.

I've just put two books on hold that librarian/writer friends have recommended.  Liz B, a librarian and blogger, recommended My Parents Are Divorced, My Elbows Have Nicknames, and Other Facts About Meby Bill Cochran. It's a picture book and sounds very funny recommended for grades 1-4. I like that it has a boy as the main character. You can find Liz's other recommendations at her blog: A Chair, A Fireplace and A TeacozyBoni Ashburn, a children's author, recommend the Moxy Maxwell series, which follow the travails of fourth-grader Moxy.  In  Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Writing Thank-you Notes, Moxy struggles to finish all of her thank you notes so she can go to visit her father who lives in Hollywood.

You can find these books by visiting your local bookstore or public library. You can also find them on Amazon.  The review copies came from my local bookstore and public library.

Yes We Can! Celebrate the artist within each of us

President Obama's campaign slogan, "Yes We Can" was an inspired mantra.  Part of our role as parents and teachers is helping our children realize that they can take risks -- to try new things, to stretch and reach for goals that aren't necessarily easy.  One book that helps children see that they can do this is Peter Reynolds' The Dot.  Join me tomorrow in celebrating International Dot Day by drawing some dots of your own.  We'll be having dot pancakes for breakfast (blueberries in mine, chocolate chips in the kids)!
The Dot
by Peter H. Reynolds
MA: Candlewick Press, 2003.
ages 3 - 100
Vashti is a little girl who is convinced that she can't draw.  One day in art class, she angrily stabs the paper with her pencil and says she's done.  Her teacher quietly asks her to sign her work, her dot.  The next day, Vashti is surprised to see her work, her dot framed and hanging in a special place next to the teacher's desk.  This support encourages Vashti to try other dots - just simple dots - and to see what she can do.  By the end of the story, Vashti shows her artwork at an art show, and then turns to encourage another little kid.  It's a beautiful book that honors a child's efforts and celebrates creativity.

Peter H. Reynolds, the author and illustrator of The Dot, was a reluctant reader but an incessant doodler as a child.  In the author notes he says, "I often visit classrooms and ask who loves to draw," he says. "In kindergarten and first grade, all the hands go up. In second grade, most of the hands go up. In third grade, half the hands are up. By fourth and fifth grade, most of the hands are down, or perhaps pointing to ‘the class artist.’ It’s sad to see the artistic, creative energy slowing down, being packed away. I am convinced it’s because children learn early that there are ‘rules’ to follow. But when it comes to expressing yourself, you can invent your own rules. You can change them, you can stretch them, or you can ignore them all and dive headfirst into the unknown."

This is a beautiful book to read with your child.  It encourages me to try new things, to know that even though I'm not comfortable drawing, I love experimenting with it.  It reminds me to honor my own children's art work and to let them see me trying new things.

Help celebrate International Dot Day with your family - try something new, draw together, frame some of their artwork, eat dotty foods. Here is how you can take part. On or around September 15, read the book “The Dot” to some kids or adult kids. Then have them paint dots. Huge dots, little dots, dots without painting dots, you know how it goes. Take pictures and/or video of the dot creation (or the final project) and email them to terry@fablevisionlearning.com.  Best of all, have fun!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ida B ... and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World

Tweens often either love fantasy adventure to take them away from their world, or they love realistic fiction to dive into someone's life.  Realistic fiction lets children explore characters' emotions from a safe vantage point, especially as tweens' own emotional rollercoaster picks up speed.  One of my favorite books that I read last year was Ida B ... and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid  Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World, by Katherine Hannigan.  My 10 year old read this and loved, loved, loved it.  She kept saying, "Mom, you've got to read this."  I read it, not knowing what to expect, and was swept away by Ida B's voice, emotions and story.
Ida B: . . . and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World
by Katherine Hannigan
NY: Greenwillow Books, 2004
ages 9 - 12

Ida B's story begins on a perfect day, "one of those days that start right and just keep heading toward perfect until you go to sleep." She is completely happy at home on her family's farm, living with her loving mother and father, being homeschooled, able to learn and play and follow her imagination. But one day, her world comes crashing down. Her mother is diagnosed with cancer.  And everything starts to change, real fast.

Ida B takes refuge with the apple trees in her family's orchard.  She tells the old wise tree, "I don't mean to complain and I don't want to whine, but Mama's not Mama, and Daddy's not Daddy, and I miss them, and I miss the life we used to have, and I am so lonely."  But things turn from bad to worse, and Ida B's father has to sell part of the orchard she loves to a developer so they can pay for Mama's medical bills.  Even worse, they cannot homeschool Ida B any longer, and she is sent to school.

As Ida B's world changes around her, her hurt turns to bitter anger and resentment.  She wants to yell at her parents, "Don't you people care that everything has changed around here, and it's gone from just about righter than right to a million miles beyond wrong?"  Author Katherine Hannigan captures Ida B's voice perfectly, showing us her thoughts as she goes through this terrible year.  Ida B is an unforgettable character, a girl with intelligence, spirit, wit and a unique imagination.  The story does not focus on Mama's illness, but develops around Ida B's reaction to these events and her emotional journey.

This would make a wonderful book to read aloud or to read in a book club.  I found our copy at our local bookstore.  Stop by your local bookstore to see if they have it.  You can also find it at your local library or on Amazon.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

When the Whistle Blows - a compelling coming-of-age story for boys (ages 10 & up)

Sneaking to watch your father's secret society meeting.  Launching rotten cabbages at high school bullies.  Running through an eerie cemetery in the middle of the night.  These are the makings of a great book to read with your sons.  Fran Slayton's debut novel, When the Whistle Blows, is a compelling coming-of-age story that will appeal to a wide range of boys and their families - I highly recommend it.
by Fran Cannon Slayton
NY: Penguin Young Readers Group, c2009.
ages 12 and up
great to read aloud with ages 10 and up
Jimmy Cannon grows up surrounded by the boys and men of his small West Virginia railroad town - his buddies Neil, Mulepie and Ajax, his brothers Bill and Mike, his Uncle Clarence the biology teacher, and the machinists at the railroad yard.  But one man is central to his life: his father, W.P. Cannon.  Throughout this story, Jimmy and his father can never see eye-to-eye; they can barely talk to one another.  Their stubbornness builds a wall of silence between them.  And yet, each of the stories in this novel brings Jimmy closer to his dad, closer to appreciating who he was and what mattered to him.

Each chapter in this novel is a snapshot in time, following a day in Jimmy's life from each year from 1943 until 1949.    The day is particular, though: All Hallows Eve.  Yes, that's Halloween, but more importantly it's Jimmy's father's birthday.  When the Whistle Blows is historical fiction at its best - it gives you a true sense of a place and time so different from ours, but it shares a universal story.  As Jimmy grows from a boy to a young man, he learns to accept the change that is inevitable in his life, that diesel trains are certainly coming and will certainly change his town.  But he also learns that the center of his life isn't necessarily the trains, but his family and friends.

So this book will appeal to you - but will it appeal to your son?  I think it will.  It's full of funny moments and descriptive writing.  Here, Jimmy has just been taunted by his older brother Mike and a friend.
    Cars are more than just a pastime to Rowlesburg High School upperclassmen; they're a living, breathing, oil-changing obsession.  I can see Stubby and Mike laughing in the rearview mirror as the car squeals away.  Pains in my you-know-what, the both of them.
    I spit hard onto the ground.  The spit is good quality - heavy and thick with no lumps - and it comes out in a perfect, spinning wad that slaps itself onto the ground just the way I'd like to slap Stubby upside the head. (p. 25)
Later in this same chapter, Jimmy and his friends develop a scheme to throw rotten cabbages on Stubby's precious car - but end up ambushing Deputy Heevie Marauder's car instead!

Fran Slayton's writing reminds me of Gary Paulsen's How Angel Petersen Got His Name, and Harris and Me - two of my favorite stories of boys growing up and the funny escapades they find themselves in.  I hope you enjoy this!

The review copy was sent to me by first time author Fran Slayton - thank you so much!  Her wonderful novel has received rave reviews from library journals and other bloggers like ShelfElf , GuysLitWire and BookDads

You can buy When the Whistle Blows at your local bookstore or find it at your public library.  Or support Great Kid Books and buy it through Amazon.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Miss Mingo and the First Day of School - it's a wild time (ages 4 - 8)

Kids are fascinated by animals - they want to know all sorts of details about them. So when I found Miss Mingo and the First Day of School, I loved the way it shares fascinating animal facts in the frame of a fun story for the beginning of the school year. Is it fiction? Sure. But it has a lot of non-fiction information in its pages!

Miss Mingo and the First Day of School
by Jamie Harper
MA: Candlewick Press, 2006
ages 4 - 8
Miss Mingo, the flamingo, looks out at her new kindergarten class and sees a room full of nervous little animals. To help them get to know one another, Miss Mingo asks them to share something special about themselves. "I'll bet you didn't know that the food I eat keeps me in the pink, said Miss Mingo sipping a shrimp shake. 'And I always eat upside down.'" Below a very fun illustration is nonfiction text explaining how flamingos scoop up food in the water upside down, and how Carotenoids in shrimp make the flamingos' feathers pink.

The classroom gets wilder and wilder as the animals share their special talents. Alligator is always losing her teeth - did you know that alligators can grow up to 3,000 teeth in its lifetime?
"Well, I have only two teeth, said Narwhal. "But one of them is a sword!" "The spiral-twisted tusk of a male narwhal is really its overgrown left tooth. It can grow to be 10 feet long."
I certainly didn't know that an octopus has almost 2,000 suckers, and that it uses them to tell the difference between sweet, salty and bitter foods.

This book brings laughter and shares interesting information about 20 different animals. It does not go into depth about any one animal, but it will certainly entertain kids and make them want to learn more about interesting animals. It's a fun book to read to a group of kindergartners or 1st graders, or to have for 2nd graders to read by themselves.

Find this at your local bookstore or public library. You can also buy it on Amazon.

Do you love finding new nonfiction for your children? Check out the weekly feature: Nonfiction Monday, part of the wonderful Kidlitosphere community. This week, it's hosted by The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Friday, September 4, 2009

New to School? great books for little kids

School has started around the US, and I wanted to share some books that are great for little kids who are new to school - especially preschoolers and kindergartners.
Does a Panda Go to School?
by Fred Ehrlich, M.D.
pictures by Emily Bolam
part of the Early Experiences series
NJ: Blue Apple Books, 2003.
ages 2 - 5
Who goes to school? Does a Panda? Does an ostrich? Does a chimpanzee? These silly questions will definitely make your little one laugh. We loved the simple, funny question-and-answer format comparing people to animals. It helped ease my kindergartner's fears about going to school. Best of all, it helps young ones see the things that they can do: make new friends, put their jacket in a cubby, sit still and listen to a story. Bolam's bright, engaging cartoons illustrate the silliness of the animals and the familiarity of school scenes. Perfect for preschoolers and kindergartners.
Keisha Ann Can!
by Daniel Kirk
NY: GP Putnam's Sons, 2008.
ages 3 - 6
Keisha Ann is a little girl that just radiates happiness and positive attitude. As she bounces through her day at school, she shows readers what she can do at school. We loved the bright, cheerful pictures, the rhyme and rhythm, and especially the message that we Keisha Ann can do these things and we can too. Here's the beginning of the book:
Who can catch the school bus for the early-morning ride?
Who can wait in line until it's time to go inside?
Who can sit in front because she's teacher's biggest fan?
Who can stand to say the pledge?
This is a great book to read at this time of year, talking with your child about what they do at school. Do they take a bus or ride in a car? Do they wait in line to go inside? When we make connections to what we read - comparing our experiences - we become more engaged as readers. Talking with your children about books like this will help them see that books are part of their lives, reflect their experiences. Keisha Ann Can! is a great book to read to preschoolers and kindergartners. It's also a nice, easy book for 1st graders to read by themselves.

Thanks to PBS Booklights for the Keisha Ann Can! recommendation. PBS is a wonderful resource for parents wanting to learn more about raising readers. These review copies came from our public library. You can find them at your local public library or on Amazon.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Alvin Ho - full of laughs and fun stories

I love a book that will make you laugh out loud, and then will make you and your child laugh out loud again a week later when you remember reading it together. The Alvin Ho series does just this. These are perfect read-alouds for 1st graders, and great for 3rd graders on their own.
Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things
by Leonore Look
illustrations by LeUyen Pham
NY: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2008. 192 pages.
ages 6 - 9
Alvin Ho is an Asian-American second grader who is afraid of everything— elevators, tunnels, girls, and, most of all, school. He’s so afraid of school that, while he’s there, he never, ever, says a word. But at home he’s a very loud superhero named Firecracker Man. This first book in the series is full of everyday adventures in short, illustrated chapters. One day, Alvin is trying to grow taller and is left stranded by his siblings during stretching exercises that leave him upside down in a tree where he remains forgotten until his mother spots his empty seat at dinner. Another time, Alvin decides to bring his dad's beloved childhood Johnny Astro toy for show-and-tell, and suffers the consequences when it's broken. The funniest episode of all, in my mind, was the chicken-pox episode. Alvin one funny little guy.
Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters
by Leonore Look
illustrations by LeUyen Pham
NY: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2008. 192 pages.
ages 6 - 9
Alvin is still getting into mischief and wriggling his way out of sticky situations in the second book in this series: Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking and Other Natural Disasters. While it didn't tickle me as much as the first in the series, it was a fun read. In the second chapter, Alvin receives a package at the front door.
I ripped open the kit right there in the driveway. Inside, there were pencils, stickers, handcuffs, and handcuff key, a rope, a Houdini's Greatest Escapes DVD and a gold card.

"Alvin Ho GOLD MEMBER OF HOUDINI-IN-A-BOX do it yourself escapes"

Calvin whistled. 'Dude!' he said.
How great would it be for a second-grader to get a Houdini-in-a-box kit?! Funny situations turn into funnier situations, as the kids make a straight jacket and then Alvin volunteers to be trapped inside his sister's time machine. I liked how Lenore Look was able to turn funny situations into more poignant ones. Alvin got really, truly scared as his sister left him trapped in the box and forgot about him.
My dad isn't a superhero, but he can pull me out of anything, even from long, tangled boa constrictors that were squeezing the last wheeze out of me.... "You're my best friend, Dad. You saved my life."
Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking and Other Natural Disasters has more touching moments like these. It isn't full of quite as many laugh-out-loud moments as the first in the series. But it will still make kids happy reading it. It would make a good family read aloud, especially talking about how Alvin learns to be brave during his camping trip.

I really like how Alvin's Chinese-American culture is simply a part of who he is. His favorite meal is vegetable wontons and noodles. His grandfathers are GungGung and YehYeh. His culture is not a pivotal part of the story, it's just part of the texture that makes Alvin feel like a real kid.

The review copies came from my local public library. The first Alvin Ho is now available in paperback. Find them at your local public library, an independent bookstore, or on Amazon.