Monday, May 31, 2010

Funny books - what are your favorites?

It's a holiday and I'm listening to kids giggle and giggle as they make cookies. "We forgot the chocolate chips!" they are laughing, as the cookies are already in the oven. Kids love to laugh - they are full of it, at all times of day. What better way to get kids to enjoy books than to share with them funny books. Easy, right? Wrong. Finding a funny book is much harder than it sounds. Everyone's humor is different - what's funny to one kid is corny to another. But given how sweet the reward is, it's well worth searching out books you and your family find funny. Just to hear those giggles, guffaws and laughs, I'll go out of my way to find funny books.

So, my theme for June is FUNNY BOOKS. All month, I'll be searching out books kids of all ages find funny. Picture books, poetry books, easy readers, chapter books and novels. Some reviews may be shorter than usual - I'd like to try to share 10 - 15 funny books this month. But I'd love your help!

Does your family have any favorite funny books? Please share! Email me, or leave a comment below.

To start us off, I'd like to share Alan Katz's silly dilly song books. Katz has a knack for turning songs like "Take Me Out To the Ballgame" to silly versions that will have you and your kids laughing. I am no singer, but I had a group of 1st graders laughing with Katz's version of "Skip to My Lou" called"I Always Lose". It starts with a kid losing his parka, backpack, and tuba. By the end, the little kid has lost his hat, lunch box and baby brother. Here's a taste:
"Turned around, lunch box was gone
Could've sworn I had a hat on
There's no sign of baby bro Ron
He's a pain, but he's darling."
The lyrics don't always scan perfectly with the songs, but they will bring out laughs in your young kids. Katz turns "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" into "He's Got the Whole Beach in His Pants". Catrow's illustrations are goofy and over the top - brilliant for this collection, and eye-catching to draw your child to it. When I read this to the 1st graders, kids were clamoring to check them out and have their parents read/sing them at home. Here are several of Katz's collections:
Take me out of the bathtub and other silly dilly songs
by Alan Katz
illustrated by David Catrow
NY: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2001
ages 4 - 8
available on Amazon and at your local library

I'm still here in the bathtub : brand new silly dilly songs
by Alan Katz
illustrated by David Catrow
NY: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2003
ages 4 - 8
available on Amazon and at your local library

Going, going, gone! : and other silly dilly sports songs
by Alan Katz
illustrated by David Catrow
NY: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2009
ages 4 - 8
available on Amazon and at your local library
These books will either make you groan or laugh along with your kids. To get a taste of Katz's goofy humor, listen to him sing "On Top of the Bleachers" - an ode to all the things you get while you're at a ball game.

The review copy came from our school library. Please note that if you make a purchase on Amazon using these links, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books at no cost to you. Thank you for your support.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bud, Not Buddy - a boy's search for his father (ages 8 -12)

Who chooses the books you read with your children? In my family, my kids take turns choosing the chapter book we listen to as we drive to school in the morning. But occasionally, truly occasionally, I get to choose the book. "Mommy's turn," I say. We just finished listening to a book that every child needs to read or listen to by the time they finish 6th grade. It's that good. Bud, Not Buddy won the Newbery Medal in 2000 and the 2000 Coretta Scott King Award recognizing African American authors. Carolyn S. Brodie, chair of the Newbery Award Selection Committee said that Bud, Not Buddy "resonates with both zest and tenderness as it entertains questions about racism, belonging, love, and hope."
Bud, Not Buddy
by Christopher Paul Curtis
narrated by James Avery
Listening Library, 2006
ages 8 - 12
available on Amazon, Audible and at your local library
Bud Caldwell has had it with foster homes. By the age ten, he observes, folks don’t treat you like a little kid anymore – they’re likely to set you straight with a blow to the head. Bud lives in Flint, Michigan, and all he has left of his late mother is a suitcase with posters of the jazz musician Herman E. Calloway. Christopher Paul Curtis mixes touching moments with full humor (especially Bud’s “Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar out of Yourself”), as Bud travels to Grand Rapids, Michigan, in search of his father.

Set during the height of the Great Depression, Christopher Paul Curtis fills his story with details of African Americans living and surviving during these difficult times. Bud gives listeners insight into life in the Depression, from Hoovervilles to redcaps and Pullman porters.

Narrator James Avery creates a charming and sincere Bud. The cast of characters is full of variety, and the occasional jazz tune sets the mood perfectly. I particularly liked the author’s note at the end, where he shares his own family history and different jobs African Americans were able to pursue in the 1930s. This is a wonderful story for the whole family. My third and fifth grader were completely engrossed in it, and my kindergartner even enjoyed it.

We listened to a copy from our local library. If you make a purchase on Amazon using the links here, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books at no cost to you. Thank you for your support.

I'd also highly recommend The Watsons Go To Birmingham on audio - read by the wonderful Lavar Burton.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Show Off - the ultimate boredom buster for this summer (ages 8 - 12)

“I’m bored!” Do you ever get tired of hearing this? “What can I do? There’s nothing here for me to do!” It’s enough to make me pull my hair out. Show Off is the perfect boredom-buster to have on hand this summer. Your kids will love it. You'll love the way it lights their imaginations on fire with a sense of possibility.
Show Off: How to Do Absolutely Everything One Step At a Time
by Sarah Hines-Stephens
illustrated by Bethany Mann
MA: Candlewick, 2009
ages 8 - 13
available on Amazon and at your local library

You’ll spend hours looking through this nearly wordless book thinking of all the cool things you could do. Through bright pictures and very short sentences, sisters Stephens and Mann give simple step-by-step instructions to doing just about anything.

You can climb a wall like Spiderman or learn how to make shadow puppets. You can stick a pin in a balloon without popping it and amaze your friends. Do you like science and experiments? Learn how to pull an egg into a glass bottle, lift a friend’s fingerprint like you’re a private investigator, or write with invisible ink. Maybe you want to create some new art. You can marbleize paper like a pro, or you can make your own fake tattoo.

This was an instant hit with my kids. They looked at it for hours together, planning and plotting the coolest things to do. They finally decided to make taffy from scratch and loved the whole process – stirring and measuring the temperature with a candy thermometer, and then stretching and pulling it.

I loved how visual this is - how it makes kids think about the visual directions, break it down step by step. As we all process so much more on the Web, more of our information will come across visually and not just in traditional reading. Best of all, your kids will love it and you'll have a great reply when they come to you whining, "I'm bored!" or "There's nothing to do!"

Are you curious? Head over to the great website to find out more about Show Off. You can download nine different activities to try at home. You can also preview Show Off at Google Books to get a feel for the book.

Big thanks to Educating Alice for turning me onto this great book, during the Share a Story / Shape a Reader week. It was a hit with her 6th graders. The review copy came was purchased at our local bookstore: Mrs. Dalloway's Books in Berkeley.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Joey Pigza: a lovable character spinning through life (ages 9 - 12)

Do you know someone who can’t sit still? Who is in constant motion? Maybe it’s your own son or daughter, falling off the chair throughout dinner, hopping around while they’re doing their homework. Or maybe it’s someone in your neighborhood. We all know someone who seems like they’re the energizer bunny who keeps going and going. Well, everyone needs to meet Joey Pigza. This is a kid who’s wired, a kid in constant motion, a kid who’s always getting in trouble because he just can’t sit still. Joey Pigza is one of the funniest, grossest and most touching books I’ve ever read. It falls in my category of “every family should read this”. You’ll go from laughing out loud to a lump in your throat in a matter of pages.
Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key
by Jack Gantos
NY: HarperCollins, 2000 (paperback)
audio: Listening Library, 2009
ages 9 - 12
available on Amazon and at your local public library
Joey understands that he’s different – he’s wired, and something in his wiring works differently than in other kids. No matter how hard he tries, he just can’t concentrate at school, can’t seem to do the right thing. Joey suffers from severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and some days it seems like he’s spinning like the Tasmanian Devil.When his teacher asks him to sharpen pencils, he does what she asks him to. But then he starts sharpening chalk, then a Popsicle stick (great fangs!), and then his finger (ouch!). He takes meds every morning when he can remember, but they wear off by lunchtime.

Joey tells his story in an honest, straight-forward manner. Readers quickly see Joey’s good heart and difficult situation. They’ll laugh out loud as Joey literally swallows his house key (which he wears on a string around his neck) and squirm when he pulls it back up, along with a few pieces of spaghetti from lunch. But readers will also cringe as they learn how his grandmother manipulates and abuses Joey. Author Jack Gantos presents a frank view of what it's like to be Joey - so honest that it hurts.

But Joey is also a warm, loveable and good-hearted character, and Gantos’ story is full of hope and love amidst the pain. Joey accidentally hurts a classmate and is sent to a special education center for six weeks. His mom returns and becomes a strong advocate for Joey. At the special ed. center, Joey gets the attention he needs; his medication is regulated and he learns how to manage his behavior. Joey leaves the center more in control, understanding his condition and knowing how to take better care of himself.

This isn’t an easy story to read, emotionally – Joey’s life is difficult and his situations are harsh. But it is a story that is full of compassion, that will lead to meaningful discussions, and that will mix heart-ache with laughter. If you like this story, you’ll want to read more about Joey in the sequels: Joey Pigza Loses Control; What Would Joey Do?; and I Am Not Joey Pigza.

Take a look inside at the HarperCollins site. You can read the first four chapters and see if you like it:

It's also available as an audiobook. I haven't had a chance to listen to it, but I have read it aloud to a 4th grade class. I think this would make a great audiobook for a family trip this summer.

The review copy came from our school library. If you purchase a book using the Amazon links here, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books - thank you for your support.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Night Fairy, by Laura Amy Schlitz - a magical adventure with a feisty fairy (ages 6 - 10)

One mark of a great book is that it changes the way I look at the world. As I walked through my garden this weekend, I found myself looking at the plants and listening to the birds in a whole new way - wondering about the tiny creatures that live there, whose live I know nothing about. I found myself wondering about what tiny creatures live all around us, wondering if there are fairies or if the animals have friendships. Another mark of a great book is that I find myself thinking about it as I go through my day, returning to the magical world or relating that world to my own.

The Night Fairy, by Laura Amy Schlitz, is a truly wonderful, magical book. I just finished reading it aloud with my 6 year old and we both loved it. It stirs your imagination, celebrates a character with feisty independence, and makes you look at the natural world around you in a whole new way.
The Night Fairy
by Laura Amy Schlitz
illustrated by Angela Barrett
MA: Candlewick Press, 2010
ages 6 - 11
available from Amazon or your local public library
audiobook available through
Flory is a brand-new night fairy, just born and getting used to her beautiful wings. Fairies, you see, aren't raised by mothers, but must make their own way in the world. Suddenly, a bat clamps down on Flory, eating her wings before spitting her out and letting her fall to a tree below. Flory, now wingless and in shock, hides in the white blossoms of the cherry tree until she finds an abandoned bird house to make her home.

Unable to fly, Flory is forced to make her way in this new environment, becoming a day fairy and making friends with the animals in the garden. Flory is feisty, temperamental and manipulative in the beginning of the story - not what you'd call a good friend at all. Through hard challenges of surviving in a realistic world where predators must find prey to eat, Flory discovers that compassion and generosity help you gain friends, trust and happiness.

Written in short chapters illustrated with beautiful full-page watercolors, The Night Fairy works wonderfully either as a read aloud for 5 - 7 year olds, or as an independent reading book for older children. It has exciting and somewhat scary parts that will appeal to readers who want suspense and action (a frightening spider and praying mantis) - I had to keep showing my daughter the picture at the end to reassure her that Flory would have a happy ending.

My daughters have long built fairy houses in the garden - imagining little creatures that live under the leaves and come out at night when everyone is away. There is something about the tiny scale that fascinates them - I think it's being able to imagine being smaller than everything else around, hiding and watching the world without anyone seeing you, but still having power and magic. The Night Fairy celebrates that sense of imagination, that sense that things beyond our sensing are real. This is a book that helps them imagine those possibilities, helps bring them to life. Throughout the whole book, my daughter was measuring how big Flory was - at first the size of an acorn. She would measure Flory in the pictures, or try to imagine her crouched on a squirrel's ear. The tiny scale of the book and of Flory was part of its draw.

You can read an excerpt at and see some of the beautiful illustrations. You can also read a letter from Laura Amy Schlitz where she describes her inspiration for writing this book.

It is available as an audiobook on - the excerpt sounds wonderful, and I think the book would translate well to an audiobook. But I have not listened to the whole audiobook.

There are many other reviews. Some of my favorites are:

A Year of Reading: "I wish I could send this book back to my 9 year-old self. I would have loved everything about it -- its small size, its thick pages, the shimmery end papers, the illustrations, the dedication to ME!!!"

The Book Aunt: "The Night Fairy is the best of everything a book should be—an adventure, a fresh take on fairies, vivid storytelling, and a tale in which the main character's experience of becoming will sweep readers along with her. To top it off, this book is physically beautiful, with a design and interior illustrations so perfectly suited to the story that it's hard to believe the illustrator isn't the author."

The HappyNappyBookseller: "There is a simple beauty to this story. Each day brings something new for Flory. It was a pleasure to watch Flory navigate her new world and learn how to interact with others."

Fuse #8: "I don’t know where this notion that fairies are insipid came from. ... In light of this, Flory may have to become a spokeswoman for anti-fairy defamers. ... Typically fairies are considered girly territory, but there’s nothing about Flory that a boy wouldn’t also enjoy. She’s feisty, a fighter, and she knows what she wants"

Kids Lit by Tasha at the Menasha Public Library: "Schlitz’s writing is laced with magic. This deceptively slim volume holds so much story that it could have been much longer. Instead, Schlitz has written a tightly woven story gilded with wonderful language. The language invites readers deeply into the story, lets them know that something special has been written here, and then sails them off on adventure."

The review copy was purchased for our home library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you).

Friday, May 7, 2010

send chocolate...

Just a short note to sadly say that I'll take a one week break from blogging. I am studying for my Master's in Library and Information Science, and it's FINALS WEEK!

I have just finished one major project (building a database), and am working on a major research paper. My topic is Building communities: How libraries can be involved. It's very interesting, but I've got a lot left to do! And I'll have a final exam next week as well.

On top of that, we're just starting inventory at our school library - scanning each of our 15,000 books over the next week. It's a huge task.

So, please send your thoughts, support and chocolate! (just kidding...) I look forward to getting back to my first love: kids and books!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Great books for 6th graders

I love getting recommendations from students. Best of all, students love sharing books they love. Here is a list of books that 6th graders at our school recommend as the best books they read this year.

Action & Suspense

o Alex Rider series, by Anthony Horowitz
o Wolf Brother, by Michael Paver
o Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
o Young James Bond series (starting with SilverFin), by Charlie Higson
o Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
o Maze Runner, by James Dashner
o Dangerous Days of Daniel X, by James Patterson
o Tentacles, by Roland Smith
o Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentlman? by Eleanor Updale
o Mister Monday (Keys to the Kingdom series), by Garth Nix
o Among the Hidden, by Margaret Peterson Haddix
o Elephant Run, by Roland Smith


o Lightning Thief series, by Rick Riordan
o Pendragon series, by D.J. MacHale
o White Giraffe, Lauren St. John
o Wicked series, by Nancy Holder and Debbie Viguié
o Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer
o Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld
o Artemis Fowl series, by Eoin Colfer
o Seventh Tower series, by Garth Nix
o The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, by Michael Scott
o Uglies series, by Scott Westerfeld
o Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchett
o The Fellowship of the Ring (1st in the Lord of the Rings trilogy), by J. R. R. Tolkien
o Evermore (the Immortals series), by Alyson Noel

Realistic Fiction

o Wednesday Wars, by Gary Schmidt
o Game, by Walter Dean Myers
o War Horse, by Michael Morpurgo
o Scat, by Carl Hiassen
o Alabama Moon, by Watt Key
o Saffy's Angel, by Hillary McKay
o The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet, by Erin Dionne
o A Corner of the Universe, by Ann Martin
o Dirty Little Secrets, by C.J. Omololu
o Rules of the Road, by Joan Bauer
o Dear John, by Nicholas Sparks


o Guys Write for Guys Read, edited by Jon Sciezska
o Diary of a Wimpy Kid, by Jeff Kinney
o The Schwa Was Here, by Neal Shusterman


o Savvy, by Ingrid Law
o When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead
o Smile, by Raina Telgemeier
o Indigo Blue, by Cathy Cassidy
o That Was Then, This is Now, by S.E. Hinton
o The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton
o Friendship for Today, by Patricia McKissack

Historical Fiction

o Al Capone Does My Shirts, by Gennifer Choldenko
o Blood on the River, by Elisa Carbone
o My Louisiana Sky, by Kimberly Willis Holt


o The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
o Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls
o The Georges and the Jewels, by Jane Smiley
o Chestnut Hill, by Lauren Brooke
o Sheep, by Valerie Hobbs

I will continue adding the WorldCat links for these titles. You can use these links to search public libraries near you.

Do you find any titles that you've already read? Try exploring others in the same category. Another good tip is to look at other books that author has written. Have fun!

Rick Riordan's Red Pyramid will be released Tuesday, May 4th

We are huge fans of Rick Riordan. My kids, my students and I all ate up his Percy Jackson series. If you enjoy mystery, mythology and adventure, you'll love Riordan's books. Naturally, we're very excited that his newest book will be released tomorrow. Imagine the Egyptian gods waking up and wrecking havoc on our modern world.
The Red Pyramid
The Kane Chronicles #1

by Rick Riordan
NY: Disney Hyperion, 2010
NY: Brilliance Audio, 2010
narrated by Kevin R. Free, Katherine Kellgren
ages 9 - 12
available on Amazon and your local library
The Red Pyramid promises to be an exciting adventure, set in modern times but full of Egyptian gods and mythology. At the heart are two siblings, Carter and Sadie Kane, whose father is a famous Egyptologist. The first few chapters are available for preview, either to read on the Kane Chronicle's website, or to listen to on Amazon or Audible's websites. Here's the publisher's summary:
Since their mother’s death, Carter and Sadie have become near strangers. While Sadie has lived with her grandparents in London, her brother has traveled the world with their father, the brilliant Egyptologist, Dr. Julius Kane.

One night, Dr. Kane brings the siblings together for a "research experiment" at the British Museum, where he hopes to set things right for his family. Instead, he unleashes the Egyptian god Set, who banishes him to oblivion and forces the children to flee for their lives.

Soon, Sadie and Carter discover that the gods of Egypt are waking, and the worst of them--Set--has his sights on the Kanes. To stop him, the siblings embark on a dangerous journey across the globe--a quest that brings them ever closer to the truth about their family, and their links to a secret order that has existed since the time of the pharaohs.
The reviews are starting to come in. Booklist has given The Red Pyramid a starred review. Carolyn Phelan writes in the Booklist review, "The first-person narrative shifts between Carter and Sadie, giving the novel an intriguing dual perspective made more complex by their biracial heritage and the tension between the siblings, who barely know each other at the story’s beginning. The first volume in the Kane Chronicles, this fantasy adventure delivers what fans loved about the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series: young protagonists with previously unsuspected magical powers, a riveting story marked by headlong adventure, a complex background rooted in ancient mythology, and wry, witty twenty-first-century narration."

My guess is that second and third graders are going to love listening to The Red Pyramid, and fourth through sixth graders will love reading it. Riordan has a wonderful skill of drawing in readers with action, suspense and characters they care about. You'll thrill your child if this shows up on their bedside this week!

I have not yet read The Red Pyramid. My copy will come from Amazon and If you make a purchase using one of the Amazon links here, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.