Friday, November 30, 2012

Playing in the rain! Rain Stomper, by Addie Boswell (ages 4-8)

Rain, rain, go away! Come again another day! Did you used to chant that as a kid? But if you want to know the real truth, kids LOVE playing in the rain. Stomping, splashing, jumping in puddles. I adore sharing Rain Stomper, a fun, high-energy picture book, and it would make a great gift along with a new pair of spiffy rain boots.
Rain Stomper
by Addie K. Boswell
illustrated by Eric Velasquez
Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008
ages 4 - 8
available on Amazon and at your local library
Jazmin was so excited - she was all set to twirl her baton in the big neighborhood parade. Everyone would dance and celebrate together. But then, the clouds started rolling in. Would her special day be ruined?

This book combines wonderful poetry and pictures. The text is vibrant, coming alive with images and descriptions - it works wonderfully as a read aloud. And the pictures make you feel Jazmin's full range of emotions. It's fun to read, but it is also rich and full of possibilities for engaging in interesting conversations about what makes it work so well. Take a look at Boswell's descriptive writing:
Jazmin threw open her front door.
Wind whistled through her hair.
Thunder rumbled the ground.
The sun scuttled behind the clouds.
The sky twisted into a thick, black coil.

Clatter, clatter
The rain poured down in buckets.
walla BOOM
Thunder rattled the bricks in the walls.
(c) Addie Kay Boswell
Velasquez's illustrations are dynamic as they show Jazmin's energy and all the kids as they all splashed, banged, bashed, and clattered on the sidewalk. To see more of the pictures, visit Eric Velasquez's website.

I'd pair this book with a bright red pair of rain boots, so kids could stomp and splash in puddles to their hearts delight.

The review copy came from our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Each Kindness, by Jacqueline Woodson (ages 6 - 12)

Be kind. Be present. Act the way you want to be treated.
These are all messages we try to share with our children, our students, ourselves. And yet do the lectures work? How do we help our kids see the impact that their actions have?

Jacqueline Woodson’s picture book Each Kindness struck me the moment I read it, with quiet intensity and searing honesty. Find a quiet moment to read this book and then share it with your class, your children, your friends. This is the book I'll be giving as a holiday gift to every teacher I know.
Each Kindness
by Jacqueline Woodson
illustrated by E.B. Lewis
Nancy Paulsen / Penguin, 2012
ages 6 - 12
available on Amazon and at your local library
Maya is the new girl, arriving in the middle of winter to a new school. The teacher sits her next to Chloe, but Chloe won’t look at Maya or return her smiles. Every time Maya tries to join Chloe and her gang, they reject her. One of Chloe’s friends calls Maya by the harsh nickname “Never New,” because she always buys her clothes at the secondhand store.

Woodson tells this story from Chloe’s point of view, keeping the reader focused on Chloe’s perspective. We can feel the uncertainty that Chloe has, not feeling a connection to this new girl. But we also see the hurt it causes as Chloe walks away from Maya time and time again.

As Tasha Saker writes at Waking Brain Cells in her review of Each Kindness, “Woodson does not pull back on her message here.  She speaks directly to the sort of bullying that groups of girls are best at, ignoring and dismissing.  Readers will immediately feel for Maya, who has done nothing at all to earn the scorn of the girls, except wear the wrong clothes.”

Woodson takes this situation a step farther, not providing the easy resolution of a happy ending, but showing what happens when Chloe realizes the hurt she’s caused and cannot undo it. With a simple, nonjudgemental discussion, the girls’ teacher talks to her class about the way we impact one another.

“The next day, Maya’s seat was empty. In class that morning, we were talking about kindness. Ms. Albert had brought a big bowl into class and filled it with water. We all gathered around her desk and watched her drop a small stone into it. Tiny waves rippled out, away from the stone. ‘This is what kindness does,’ Ms. Albert said.

Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world.’”
Each Kindness is an intensely powerful book, one that will send ripples out to your classroom. Ask your students if it seems real to them, if these types of situations really happen. Ask them what they think about the ending. Do they like the way that Woodson leaves it? Why do they think she chose this ending?

I hope each one of us can think about the small actions we can take and how these ripple out across the world. Share a small smile with a student across the room; give an unexpected compliment; set aside a special book and tell a student you were thinking just of them -- it’s amazing how far each kindness can travel.

Images shared with permission of the publisher, copyright E.B. Lewis. This post was originally shared on NerdyBookClub, a wonderful community of folks committed to celebrating the joy of children's books. The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher, Nancy Paulsen and Penguin Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Holiday gifts: books to share, gifts that last

There's a buzz in the air. Kids are getting excited for winter holidays: Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa. They love the traditions, the family time together, and the gifts. Parents are making lists, thinking about how to make the holiday special for their child. As you think about the perfect gifts for your children, think about sharing books and giving a gift that lasts.

Include books for your children as you think about holiday gifts.
While books might not grab their attention right away, they have lasting power. Take a minute to think about the amount of time and pleasure we get from a book. Combine books with other gifts, to make a package - whether it's a new stuffed animal and a book, or a baseball mitt along with a biography of Jackie Robinson. Throughout December, I'll be sharing ideas for giving books. Check out the tag "give a book" for past suggestions.

Caught Reading
Include books in your gifts to charities.
Our neighborhood does a charity drive every winter for a local women's shelter or the local children's hospital. Gifts of children's books can be especially meaningful for children struggling at this time of year. Books can help pass the time, they can help you escape in your mind, and they can bring laughter at hard times. I pass on books we're no longer using, and include some new popular books that I know kids will love.
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I love sharing books with friends, children and schools. If you've gotten great ideas from my posts, please consider supporting Great Kid Books through your Amazon purchases. First visit Great Kid Books and then click over on a link to AmazonGreat Kid Books gets a small percentage of every sale - money that helps us buy the newest books to review and share with kids and readers. Anything purchased from Amazon counts here - from candles to Kindles, toothbrushes to toys, not just books.
Flickr image shared through Creative Common licensing, thanks to John-Morgan. Thank you for your support, and for helping your children find wonderful things to feed their imagination.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade, by Melissa Sweet (ages 5-9)

Ask a room full of children, "Who's seen a parade?", and you'll see dozens of eyes start to sparkle. A parade?!! What fun!! One of my favorite books to share at this time of year is Melissa Sweet's Balloons Over Broadway. It tells the story of Tony Sarge, the puppeteer who created the original giant balloons for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Whether you have the chance to see this parade in person or watch it on TV, this book will delight families with its story of creativity and invention.
Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade
written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011
winner of the 2012 Sibert Medal
winner of the 2012 NCTE Orbis Pictus Award
ages 5 - 9
available on Amazon or at your local library
Ever since Tony Sarge was a boy, he loved inventing creative solutions to problems. Sweet hooks readers right from the beginning with the snippet of Tony as a child inventing a way to use pulleys to open the chicken coop early each morning while managing to stay in bed. Tony Sarge was truly a creative inventor who looked at new ways to do things his whole life. He brought his puppet making skills first to London, and then to New York. It was in New York that Macy's asked him to put on a parade, which Sarge did with delight.

Children love thinking through Sarge's dilemmas with creating puppets for his parade. How can he make them big enough for everyone to see? How can he carry them down the streets if they are that large? How did he get his ideas? Melissa Sweet shows just the right amount of clues that kids put the pieces together themselves, feeling Sarge's "ah-hah" moment for themselves. Her artwork is full of joy, creativity, and clear history as she leads children through Sarge's life.

I enjoyed reading this interview with Melissa Sweet over at Monica Edinger's column at the Huffington Post. Monica asked Melissa to tell readers a little bit about her process creating the art.
"Melissa Sweet: My studio is full of old toys, fabric and found objects I've collected. I started making quirky toys and paper-mache puppets using the materials I had on hand. People often ask which comes first, words or pictures, and in this case making these objects taught me about Tony's creative process and helped me figure out an angle to tell the story. I knew I wanted a 3-dimensional aspect to the art to give the feel of what Tony's studio might've been like." 
For more resources, be sure to check out the Classroom Bookshelf Blog. Grace Enriquez has assembled everything from suggestions for bringing this into the classroom (as a biography, as a unit on puppets, as a study of community parades, and more) to online resources including Melissa Sweet's activity kit, the official Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade website, and many more.

Also make sure to check out the great collection of primary resources over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast - Melissa Sweet shares original video from the Macy's Parade in the 1930s, photographs of Tony Sarge and his puppets, and some of her early sketches from the book.

If you like sharing nonfiction with your children, be sure to check out the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal. This award is given every year to the author and illustrator of the most distinguished informational book for children. I am always fascinated by the range and depth of information books that this award recognizes.

The review copies came from our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sharing books with little dancers - Bea at Ballet (ages 2-5)

I love seeing how happy and free little kids are when they’re dancing to music. Dance speaks to young children in so many ways. Share these favorite books with your little dancers and enjoy the celebrations they inspire.
Bea at Ballet
by Rachel Isadora
Nancy Paulsen / Penguin, 2012
ages 2–5
available on Amazon and at your local library
Preschoolers enchanted with ballet will love this simple introduction to ballet. Young Bea goes to dance class with six other preschoolers, four girls and two boys. After getting dressed in her leotard and ballet slippers, Bea peeks into the studio, excited and a little nervous, too. The class starts by sitting in a circle, clapping to the music — something preschoolers do all the time.

Different elements of ballet, from the five basic positions to the equipment, are introduced clearly and simply. Isadora’s simple, understated illustration style keeps the focus on the children.

Rachel Isadora began dancing at the age of eight. She trained at George Balanchine's School of American Ballet and has danced professionally in New York City, Boston and London. Ms. Isadora also lived in Africa for 10 years, and many of her other books reflect her love for this continent. You can see her portfolio of oil paintings on her website. Isadora's love for ballet shines through at each step.

I especially love 5 year old Sophie's review on the Kids Online Book Club:
"I liked Bea the most because she was wearing pink and I loved pink too. The pictures were very special and lovely."
For more books to share with little dancers, see this month's Bookshelf article in Parents Press. The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Nancy Paulsen and Penguin Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, November 12, 2012

Remembering our veterans - sharing Heart of a Shepherd and Dear Blue Sky (ages 9-12)

I've been thinking about Veteran's Day this weekend, thinking about all the sacrifices and contributions made by men and women who have served our country. As I think about these brave veterans, my mind always turns to their families. What would it be like to have your mom or dad sent away to war? What would it be like living with the uncertainty of when or how they would return?

Naturally, my mind turns to powerful stories I've read that let me feel what it might be like to live through these difficult times. Two books come to mind: Heart of a Shepherd and Dear Blue Sky. Share these books with children who want a story that touches their heart.
Heart of a Shepherd
by Rosanne Parry
Random House, 2009
ages 9-12
available on Amazon and at your local library
Twelve-year old "Brother" is the youngest of 5 boys growing up on a ranch in Eastern Oregon. His older brothers gone away to school or the army, and now Brother is alone helping his dad and grandparents manage their cattle ranch. When Brother's dad is called up to fight with his reserve unit in Iraq, everything falls on his shoulders to help keep the ranch running smoothly. His dad believes in him, and Brother has to keep faith that his father will return safely. Here is one of my favorite quotes from his dad:
“You don’t have to be brave,” he says, real quiet. “Neither of us does. A man’s life is not so much about courage. You just have to keep going. You have to do what you’ve promised, brave or not.” (page 24)
Heart of a Shepherd has stayed with me, finding a special place inside. It's a powerful story of loss, faith and coming of age. I originally read and reviewed this in 2009 (see original post here), and it has stayed with me.

Dear Blue Sky is another heartfelt story that revolves around the pain and loss caused by the Iraqi War.
Dear Blue Sky
by Mary Sullivan
Penguin, 2012
ages 9-12
available on Amazon and at your local library
I shared about this book just a few months ago, so I won't go into as many details (see original post here). But it would be interesting to read these two books together and see how the characters deal with the situation caused by their loved ones being sent away to war.

As I wrote a few months ago, "I was particularly impressed with how Sullivan raises these complex issues in a way that tweens will understand - personalizing the impact of the suffering caused by the Iraq War, focusing in on family and friendship dynamics, looking closely at the impact of assumptions and isolation."

The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Random House and Penguin. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Stand tall - voting with kids and celebrating our country

I'm still feeling the buzz from this week's election.

I ran a mock election for all our 3rd, 4th and 5th graders where they were able to vote using an electronic ballot (set up with this Google Form). They loved, loved the feeling that they were able to cast their own votes. We were able to talk about the responsibility every citizen has to vote. We also talked about the right to make a free choice and the right to privacy - that you shouldn't ask friends at the lunch table, "So who did YOU vote for???"

Students have told me that they loved being able to vote like their parents. They sensed the importance of this moment, and how everyone's voice counts. It also gave a sense of a community - that voting is something we all do together.

Yesterday, the fantastic Lara Starr passed on this drawing from the wonderful, creative Tom Lichtenheld:

In his words, “Despite the storm, despite the money, despite the mud-slinging...this thing basically worked. So let's put the elephants and donkeys out to pasture and come up with a new mascot.” – Tom Lichtenheld

Or as Lara said to her colleagues, “Today, there are no Elephants. There are no Donkeys. We are all Giraffes!”

©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, November 5, 2012

Celebrating picture books with Rosemary Wells (ages 3 - 7)

We have been celebrating Rosemary Wells' picture books with our kindergartners all fall. Two new books I've enjoyed sharing are Yoko’s Show and Tell and Hands Off, Harry! Here in Berkeley, we're thrilled that Rosemary Wells will be at our local independent bookstore, Mrs. Dalloway's THIS SATURDAY (November 10th) at 3:00 pm.
Yoko’s Show and Tell
by Rosemary Wells
Disney Hyperion, 2012
ages 3–6
available on Amazon and at your local library
When Yoko receives a special doll from her grandparents in Japan, she is so excited that she can’t wait to show her friends. She knows that Miki, the special doll that once belonged to her Mama long ago, would be perfect for show-and-tell at school. But Mama says, “Miki is too delicate to take to school.”

Young children will relate to Yoko’s feelings, as she finds the idea of sharing this special doll too hard to resist. They will share in Yoko’s horror as Miki is tossed about the school bus, and they will want to re-create Dr. Kiroshura’s doll hospital for themselves. The Yoko books are some of our absolute favorites.

Parents and teachers might be interested to know that Rosemary Wells has developed a "Kind and Gentle Week" guide that is available on her website.
Hands Off, Harry!
Kindergators Series
by Rosemary Wells
HarperCollins/Katherine Tegan Books, 2012
ages 3–6
available on Amazon and your local library
New kindergartners will be familiar with this story: a classmate is having trouble keeping his hands to himself. Harry just wants to have fun and be silly, but his classmates are bothered by the way he pokes, startles and tackles them.

Harry’s teacher, Miss Harmony, calls class meetings so that his classmates can express their frustrations, and Harry must sit in time-out to think about his actions. But nothing sinks in, and Harry continues being the joker and bothering people. Nothing seems to work until a classmate comes up with a new way to teach Harry about his personal space.

Kids will enjoy the balance of humor and compassion, relating both to Harry’s antics and his classmates’ frustrations. Best of all, children will like the sense of community and problem-solving in Miss Harmony’s kindergarten classroom. Kids, parents and teachers will appreciate Wells' new series that focuses on issues that new kindergartners and preschools have adjusting to school. Have fun watching this video to get a sense of this new series:

Meet the Kindergators! from Rosemary Wells on Vimeo.

As Rosemary Wells says, "Read to your bunny every day." We can't wait to see her newest book, Max and Ruby's Treasure Hunt. It's received a starred review from Booklist: "Packed with interactive fun, Wells’ latest story about the rabbit Max and his older sister, Ruby, is an exciting picture book with lift-the-flap clues that blend Mother Goose rhymes with playful suspense at home." Hope to see you Saturday to hear more about this much loved picture book author.

Have fun celebrating Picture Book Month with your children. Stop by the wonderful Picture Book Month blog each day for a new essay on why picture books are so important.

The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Disney/Hyperion Books and Harper Collins. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books