Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Noonie's Masterpiece - for the artist in you (ages 8 - 11)

Do your kids love to doodle? Draw? Daydream? Do they ever feel like nobody understands them? Noonie's Masterpiece is a book for kids who love escaping into their drawings and daydreams, but still want a best friend and a teacher who understands them. This short novel will appeal to budding artists who know how hard it is to take risks, share your artwork and make friends.
Noonie's Masterpiece
by Lisa Railsback
illustrations by Sarajo Frieden
CA: Chronicle Books, 2010
ages 8 - 11
available on Amazon
Ten year old Noonie Norton is an artist just waiting to be discovered. She’s sure of it. But no one else understands her. Not her Aunt Sylvia or Uncle Ralph, whom she lives with. Not her math teacher Mrs. Tusk or Principal Maloney. Perhaps the only people who can glimpse Noonie’s creative potential are her art teacher Ms. Lilly and her best friend Reno. Noonie’s mother died five years ago, and now Noonie’s father is in faraway China examining fossilized wild yak bones. But Noonie feels a strong bond with her artistic mother, and has started her Purple Phase.

Noonie's Masterpiece was originally written as a play, and Noonie’s voice is fresh and full of life. The illustrations are a delight, adding texture and imbuing the story with creative energy and a fresh, contemporary look. This is not a graphic novel or a novel with occasional illustrations, but rather a highly illustrated novel with full color pen and ink drawings on nearly every page. Here are a few samples:

Kids who like short novels like Ivy and Bean will enjoy Noonie's Masterpiece. Kids will relate to Noonie's struggle to make friends in school. But they'll also be drawn to Noonie's resilience and determination to create artwork that is true to her spirit.  You can get a taste for this story in this book trailer:

The review copy was kindly provided by Chronicle Books. If you make a purchase on Amazon using the links here, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Passover books for your family: Miriam's Cup, and Wonders & Miracles (ages 5 - 14)

If you are looking for books to share with your children during Passover, I would highly recommend two books, one for younger readers and another for older readers. These are books that will enrich children's lives and understanding of this special holiday, whether their families celebrate Passover or not.
Miriams Cup A Passover Story (Scholastic Bookshelf)Miriam's Cup: A Passover Story
by Fran Manushkin
illustrated by Bob Dacey
NY: Scholastic, 1998
ages 4 - 8
available on Amazon or at your local library
Every spring as Passover arrives, Miriam and her brother help prepare the house for this special celebration. This year, Mama has a surprise for Miriam: a beautiful glass cup and the story of the prophet she was named for. "Every year we tell the story of how God freed our ancestors from slavery. Well, one of these ancestors was a brave and clever girl named Miriam." Miriam was Moses's older sister who placed him in the Nile for the Pharoah's daughter to find. Many years later, as Moses was leading the Jewish people out of Egypt, Miriam helped inspire the people with song and dance. In her honor, God created Miriam's Well, which provided clear water for the Israelites in the desert. This picture book does a wonderful job of retelling the story of the Israelites' exodus, and the role of Moses and Miriam. It is clearly retold, and the illustrations are  full of movement, color and emotion.
Wonders and Miracles: A Passover Companion
by Eric Kimmel
NY: Scholastic, 2004
ages 9 - 14
available on Amazon or at your local public library
Wonders and Miracles is a rich resource for families to enjoy and go back to year after year. Eric Kimmel presents the steps performed in a traditional Passover Seder, plus stories, songs, poetry, and art that spans 3,000 years, four continents, and fifteen countries.  The project started with the goal of making the Passover Seder accessible and comprehensible to people of all ages and all backgrounds. According to author Eric Kimmel,
This book was created to give people of all ages a fuller, richer understanding of what Passover means. This book should be read before the Seder, and used during the Seder together with the Haggadah, to answer questions that the participants have. That is what the Seder is really about: asking questions, getting answers, expanding our knowledge, and understanding.
Kimmel explores the history and lore of Passover; some sections explain the different parts of the Haggada, while others present stories of different Jewish people celebrating Passover throughout history. I particularly liked how the book was organized using the Seder as the central organization, with different sections you can dip into. Parents will enjoy reading this to understand more details behind the holidays, and older children will enjoy reading different folklore and explanations. As the Booklist review says, Kimmel's "writing shines as he ably explains the holiday, its customs, and rituals in language simple enough for children yet layered to keep the attention of teens and adults."

The illustrations are especially rich and detailed, including medieval Haggadahs reproduced in full color, a 15th century B.C.E. Egyptian mural of slaves making bricks and mortar, and artifacts such as a 19th-century matzoh cover from India.  Wonders and Miracles received the Sidney Taylor Honor Award for Older Readers in 2004.

Both of these books came from my local public library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this page, a small percentage will go to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Tooth Fairy Meets El Raton Perez - full of laughs and imagination (ages 4-8)

Losing a tooth is a BIG deal. Just ask any little kid in kindergarten or 1st grade - they'll be able to tell you who's lost a tooth recently. It's a rite of passage, a sign that they are growing up. All of a sudden, something solid that's been in their mouth as long as they can remember, suddenly becomes wiggly and then FALLS OUT! Rene Colato Lainez has written a wonderful story blending the traditions of the Tooth Fairy, who visits children throughout North America, and El Raton Perez, who visits children in Spain and throughout Latin America. It's full of humor and imagination, and is a perfect way to celebrate blending traditions of families from many backgrounds.
The Tooth Fairy Meets El Raton Perez
by Rene Colato Lainez
illustrated by Tom Lintern
NY: Tricycle Press, 2010
ages 4 - 8
available on Amazon
When Miguelito looses his tooth, he hides it under his pillow. Far away, the Tooth Fairy sees the signal that a tooth is ready for her, but so does El Raton Perez. When both arrive at Miguelito's bedside, they can't believe that there's competition for this pearly white tooth. The fairy says, "Here is my tooth!," and the mouse replies, "¡Aquí está, mi diente!" The Tooth Fairy and El Raton Perez struggle and argue until the tooth is flung up high into Miguelito's bookshelf. Now neither of them will get the tooth, unless they figure a way to work together.

This has been my kindergartner and 3rd grader's favorite picture book this year. They love the way Rene Colato Lainez blends the two cultural traditions. They love the humor, as these two creatures argue just like little kids do. They love the artwork, the way Tom Lintern brings alive the night time of their imaginations with shadows and lighting. The humor in the illustrations matches the text perfectly.

As the School Library Journal review says, "Young readers may not consciously recognize this tale as a metaphor for growing up in two cultures, but the story does model how to successfully negotiate a bicultural life by celebrating both aspects of Miguelito's Mexican-American heritage." This story is so creative and clever that children soak in the reality of a child embracing both sides of his heritage without feeling that it is instructive.

Rene Colato Lainez was born in El Salvador, and moved to the United States as a teenager. He has taught at Fernangeles Elementary School in Sun Valley, CA for seventeen years. He tells a very funny story of hearing a teacher run in fright when a child told her about a little mouse crawling under his pillow to get a tooth he left there.  Check out the Latin Baby Book Club to read the whole story.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher. If you purchase a copy through Amazon, a small percentage will go toward Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Woods Runner, by Gary Paulsen (ages 11 to 14) - a gripping story set in the American Revolutionary War

Historical fiction brings me into a time period I can only imagine, and makes me feel what it would be like to live in a completely different place and time. Gary Paulsen, best known for Hatchet (one of my all-time favorite books), does just this in his new novel Woods Runner, bringing readers into the American Revolutionary War as a young frontier boy. It is a gripping story which I loved listening to as an audiobook.
Woods Runner
by Gary Paulsen
read by Danny Campbell
NY: Listening Library, 2010
ages 11 - 14
available on Amazon, Audible, or at your local public library
You can listen to a clip of the audiobook (this is the beginning of the story):

Thirteen year old Samuel lives in Western Pennsylvania, in a small settlement far away from any large city. He spends his days in the forest, hunting for food for his family. In order to survive, Samuel has learned how to track game, sense changes and follow trails in the woods. Samuel’s parents moved to the frontier to escape the pressures and complications of life in the city.

Soon after Samuel hears news of the Revolutionary War, the brutal realities of the conflict are brought right to his home. British soldiers and Iroquois attack his settlement, burning all the homes, slaughtering most of the inhabitants and taking Samuel's parents away as prisoners. Samuel follows the British, tracking them silently through the forest, determined to find a way to rescue his parents. Along the way, Samuel sees more devestation caused by the war, particularly brutalities caused by the Hessian mercenaries. But he also finds allies: men and women who help him, feed him, protect him. Samuel learns that he must go all the way to New York City, to find his parents.

Paulsen’s writing carries emotional weight, as you connect with Samuel and feel his isolation, his pain, his anger. But Paulsen intersperses each chapter with a short nonfiction section explaining such things as weapons, war orphans, Hessians and other issues related to the story line. These nonfiction sections are short, usually one or two paragraphs, and without illustrations. While some readers might skip them, I found them interesting on audio, a short break from the intense story, and always related to the story. I was hoping Paulsen would provide sources for further reading, but am hooked enough on the story to want to seek out more information on my own.

This was a great story to listen to as an audiobook. Danny Campbell creates a deep, rough voice that feels like he's telling Samuel’s story sitting around a campfire. As Audiofile says, “Campbell skillfully employs pace and projection to build suspense and convey Paulsen's page-turning action. Campbell uses a deeper, flatter tone to differentiate brief paragraphs of background information appended to each chapter.” Because of the violence and emotional impact of this story, I would not recommend it for younger readers. It is appropriate perhaps for 5th graders, or more likely for 6th grade and above.

Other great reviews:
A wonderful article about Gary Paulsen by Jim Trelease is here.

Gary Paulsen will be visiting bookstores through the US in April to talk about Woods Runner. See his schedule here.

This audiobook was kindly sent by the publisher. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small percentage will go to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you). Thank you for your support.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary - great fun for kids ages 8 - 12

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid is one of the most popular books at our school library, and it's no surprise that many kids are excited about the upcoming movie opening March 19th. The kids are lining up to borrow a new book: The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary.
The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary
by Jeff Kinney
NY: Amulet Books, 2010
ages 8 - 12
available on Amazon or at your local library
This movie-tie in goes beyond the simple repackaging, and is a fresh look at what it's like to make a movie. Starting with "A Wimp Is Born", Kinney tells the story of how this story and movie came to be. You'll see photographs, script pages, storyboard sketches, costume designs, and original art by Jeff Kinney. Instead of following Greg's life, like the other books do, this new book follows the movie making process. Kids will like dipping into different sections, or reading it straight through. The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary is the perfect companion for fans of this series.

I had a lot of fun reading sample script pages, seeing how movies are really written. As Kinney writes, "Cartooning is the art of boiling something down to its simplest parts, but in a movie, a director is working on a much bigger canvas and needs to 'fill out the frame' with lots of detail." (p. 98). It was fun to see how different scenes were developed, and others were added.

Kids who have been reviewing this for me (librarian smiles - kids lining up to read a new book!) - have been marking their favorite spots. Here are a few:
* Casting roles of Greg's friends. Kids really liked seeing sketches from the cartoons in the book, next to pictures of the actors who were cast for different roles.

* Comparing comics from the book to scenes from the movie: Kids liked seeing how simple sketches in the book are flushed out in photos from the movie.

* Special effects: Kids had fun seeing how visual effects were added to a silicone piece of cheese to make it look like the stinkiest piece of cheese possible.

* Fake newspaper report: Kids had fun seeing mock-ups of the Westmore Middle School newspaper showing Patty wrestling (and trouncing) Greg.
This book will be enjoyed by kids who like the Wimpy Kid series, and especially by kids who are interested in making movies. A definite hit!

Wimpy Kid Movie Diary is available on Amazon and bookstores near you. Please note that if you make a purchase on Amazon using these links, a small percentage will go toward Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support. The review copy of this book was sent by the publisher.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Smile, by Raina Telgemeier - wonderful graphic novel for ages 9 - 13

So many kids are drawn to graphic novels and comic books - they love how visually stimulating they are, they love the laughs and the drama. They love reading books with fewer words but all the ideas! So it warms my heart when I read a graphic novel or comic strip that has wonderful characters, a rich story, and all the details I'd hope for in a novel. Smile, by Raina Telgemeier, is a brilliant story that speaks to tweens on the brink of adolescence.
by Raina Telgemeier
ages 9 - 13
available on Amazon or your local public library
Raina just wants to be a normal sixth grader - to fit in, to figure out the right clothes to wear, to have fun with her friends. But one night after Girl Scouts she trips and falls flat on her face, severely injuring her two front teeth. What follows is a long and frustrating journey with braces, dental surgery, embarrassing headgear, and even a retainer with fake teeth attached.  Definitely not the recipe for fitting in!

On top of the dental drama, Raina goes through middle school and starts high school, dealing with friends who turn out to be not so friendly, boys and crushes, and a major earthquake. This coming-of-age true story is sure to resonate with tweens and teens who are trying to figure things out for themselves. Author/illustrator Raina Telgemeier does a wonderful job of capturing the emotions of a young tween/teenager - the joy, the angst, the pain, the drama. Yes, this is a real story, based on all the dental drama that Raina really went through.
When I brought home the ARC (advanced readers copy), my 5th grader took it to her room and read it straight through. That night, she asked me to read it aloud to her (a treat!), and we did - staying up way past her bedtime to finish it! We just got our "real" copy in the mail, with full color and a glittery front, and my tween escaped with it again!

Raina Telgemeier might be known to you as the illustrator of the Babysitter's Club comics. She grew up in the San Francisco area, but made her way to New York City when she was 22 to attend the School of Visual Arts as an Illustration and Cartooning student. She has a lovely style, full of action and emotions, and yet not too dense so the story shines through.

You might enjoy this book trailer:

Smile went on sale last month. It's going to be my go-to present for girls turning 11 and 12! The ARC came from the ACL librarian group. We purchased the final copy from Amazon. If you make a purchase on Amazon using these links, a small percentage will go to Great Kid Books.  Thank you for your support.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

How do I help my child learn to love reading if I am not a great reader myself?

I am honored to be part of the wonderful annual blog tour for literacy: Share a Story, Shape a Future.  Today's topic is Reading for the Next Generation, hosted by Jen Robinson.
Join us as we talk about how to approach reading when your interests and your child's don't match. It may be that you don't like to read but your child does, how to raise the reader you're not, and dealing with the "pressure" of feeling forced to read.
How do I help my child learn to love reading if I am not a great reader myself?

When I think about raising my children, I want to pass on the things I love to them. But I also am aware how I might pass on my own insecurities. My husband jokes that he was brought into the family to add math and singing skills to the family gene pool – and he’s probably right! I marvel at how each of my children has their own strengths – some of which I share, others are all their own. Two of my daughters have drawing skills that far outshine my own. I’m still at the stick-figure stage, much like my kindergartner! I’m fascinated by the question of how we help our children grow in ways that we might not have. I love reading, and so it is natural for me to want to share stories with my children. But it’s much harder for me to share a curiosity about math and numbers.

My question here for today is: how do I help my child learn to love reading if I am not a great reader myself? I think about my brother, who struggled with reading challenges all through school. But he loves stories – he loves listening to them, thinking about them. How can he help his children enjoy stories the way he did? How can you help your children to become readers, if you aren't much of a reader yourself?

Here are some tips that can help you foster a love of reading for your children.

Create warmth and bonds
If you want your child to enjoy reading, start by making reading time and story telling pleasurable. Think back to your own childhood. What memories bring warmth and a feeling of connectedness? Do any of those connect to stories, either that your parents told you or read to you? How do you want to create similar memories for your children?
I can remember snuggling up with my mom and my brother as she read Where the Red Fern Grows, as my mom sniffed and tried to hold back her tears as she read the climactic end. I don’t remember the details of the story, but I remember the feeling of warmth and closeness as we shared that story together.

Focus on stories
Children who enjoy reading are motivated by the pleasure they get from it. If you want to help your child enjoy reading, help them develop a love of stories. None of us are motivated simply to read words – we read to understand, to create stories and learn information. While the mechanics of reading are important, you want to help children bring stories alive. Create imaginative stories, tell stories about your own childhood, tell stories simply from the pictures in a book, talk about the stories you read and how they make pictures in your mind.

Patricia Polacco, one of our favorite authors, talks about how she couldn’t read as a child. But her family came from a long line of storytellers. She remembers the warmth of her grandmother’s stories, and that’s what she recreates with her own stories. By helping children fall in love with stories, you are planting the seeds to help them want to read and discover their own stories.

Find ways to share reading aloud
Children grow to love reading first by enjoying hearing stories told to them. Even though reading is difficult for you, try to find ways to share story telling. You can tell stories from your memories of growing up, stories your parents told you, or memories of when your child was a baby. You can listen to audiobooks together, whether short picture books or longer novels. You can choose short rhyming books to read together.

I’m sure that my love of stories stems from listening to my mother read aloud. The funny thing is, she talks about how reading was hard for her growing up; but she remembered her mother reading aloud to her, and so it was really important to her that she share that with us. I love listening to audiobooks, and that’s something that I have shared with my children. On the way to school, we listen to audiobooks as a way to capture our attention (and reduce the sibling squabbles!). We love the voices that professional actors do, how they bring alive a story. Sometimes, when we get to school a few minutes early, we even stay in the car listening to our story for a few extra minutes!
One father shared with me that while reading is difficult for him, he finds it easier to read Dr. Seuss books with their strong rhythm and rhyming. It’s easier for him to read (and sometimes memorize) these books because of the rhythm – they’re meant for reading aloud.

Involve your children in storytelling
If you or your child feel awkward about choosing a book, involve your children in the storytelling process. One father has made a story book about his adopted son’s birth story and is printing it into a self-made book using a site like Blurb. My father-in-law made stories about his cat, and narrated it using a Power Point presentation. My daughter was enchanted. Older children love stories that are the “choose your own adventure” format, where they can be involved in creating the story.

Do you have a way that helps you develop a love of reading with your child? Please share your ideas in the comments.

Technically, It’s Not My Fault: concrete poems to make you laugh out loud (ages 9-12)

Any book that has a poem called “The Autobiography of Murray the Fart” is going to make kids laugh and want to read more. If you're looking for a book to broaden your view of what counts as poetry, come check out John Grandit's wonderfully, creative concrete poems.
Technically, It’s Not My Fault: Concrete Poems
by John Grandits
NY: Clarion, 2004
ages 9-12
available from Amazon or your local library
These poems are all told from the point of view of Robert, an 11 year old boy who is clever but bored. “Technically, it’s not Robert’s fault that a concrete block fell on the car or that his sister’s homework got blown to smithereens. Really, he doesn’t try to cause trouble. He’s just an ordinary kid who likes pizza and sports and computer games.” Grandits creates visually engaging, hilarious concrete poems – shape poems that combine words, ideas, type and art to make pictures. But it’s Grandits’ humor and understanding of real kids that will make readers laugh about the most ordinary things. This accessible, goofy collection shows how you can bend and twist language to create meaning in new ways.

Take a look at John Grandit's website for a new concrete poem each month.You'll get sense of his creativity and humor.If you have a big sister in your family, you'll also enjoy Grandit's collection for young teens: Blue Lipstick. It's a definite favorite with our middle school students.  Both are available in paperback and would make a fun addition to a home or school collection.

Review copies came from our school collection. Please note if you make a purchase from Amazon using the links here, a small percentage goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you).  This will be used to purchase more books to review. Thank you for your support.