Thursday, May 30, 2013

WWF Together - brilliant app for animal lovers, young and old (ages 9 and up)

So what actually makes a book app? Is it that you turn pages, like in a traditional book. Nope - that's not it. Some fantastic apps, like Bats! and Bobo Explores Light have readers exploring information by swiping up, or pulling down tabs. But I think that's the key -- book apps are ways for readers to explore information and stories. They combine text, graphics and interactive features to engage readers in this exploration. One of the most dynamic, engaging apps I've shared with my students this spring is the World Wildlife Foundation's free app: WWF Together.
WWF Together
developed by the World Wildlife Foundation
released January 3, 2013
current version 1.2
available on iTunes
preview video
currently free!!
ages 9 and up
WWF Together features eight interactive stories about endangered animals around the world. Each of the interactive stories includes beautiful images and videos, facts about the animals and their habitats, and the threats to each of the animals. Readers choose a threatened animal to learn about, and then explore the information within the app. The photographs are indeed amazing, but what sets this app apart is how it engages readers in the discovery process.

Each animal has six to nine screens of information on it arranged in a tile pattern. But each screen presents information in a different way, essentially asking readers to discover how to uncover the information. In one screen, readers might swipe up the photograph to reveal facts on the threats facing the animal. On another screen, you explore a feature of the animal. Readers trace the length of a snow leopard's tail, discovering a different points key facts about it.

This app makes these key facts memorable by requiring readers to find information in different, unusual ways - integrating pictures, text, movement and interactive features. Which is more effective: telling readers that gorillas have different nose prints, or having readers swipe to change just the nose print on a gorilla's face, experiencing how different they can be?

And if my love for this app couldn't grow any more, it has maps! And you can spin them, seeing not only where the animal lives, but where you live! I'm only 995 miles from bison's territory, but over 8,000 miles from gorillas. This interactive map reinforces key terms such as habitat, but also lets students compare population sizes if they want to. For example, there are nearly 120,000 gorillas in the wild, but only 1,500 giant pandas. That's a pretty staggering difference.

So let me look briefly at the criteria I set out in my paper on evaluating book apps:
  • Audience and purpose: WWF Together works well for 3rd grade to adult. Its purpose is to inform readers about endangered animals around the world. It firmly keeps to this purpose.
  • Story, plot, information: The information is clear and engaging. The chunks are easy to read, but provide depth beyond a simple introduction. 
  • Navigation: It is easy to move from animal to animal. But the app keeps the content fresh by having readers explore the information in different ways. 
  • Narration and audio options: There is no narration, but the music is pleasing and not distracting.  
  • Pacing and chunking: The information is chunked well - brief enough that readers are continually drawn in to interact, and yet deep enough to really teach readers about the animal. 
  • Interactive features: Although there is no "game" component, this app has engaged a class of 3rd graders both as a whole group and individually. The interactive elements and the high-interest topic combine to make readers want to keep exploring information about the featured animals.
The review copy came from our home library collection. This really is one of my must-have apps of the year. And did I mention, it's free! Please support the World Wildlife Foundation and tell a friend about this amazing app.

Review ©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, May 27, 2013

Evaluating and reviewing book apps

As readers of my site know, I have been fascinated by multimedia book apps since the launch of the iPad and the first interactive books apps in 2011. I remember first reading the Pop-out Peter Rabbit that spring, and then The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore in the summer of 2011. I was drawn into these apps by the way they combined the visual delights of picture books with the magic of audiobooks. They had a bit of the allure of the movies, and yet book apps put the readers firmly in charge of the pacing -- pulling the reader in to turn pages, discover hotspots and interact with the story.

Perhaps it is my perspective as a children’s librarian that draws me to the story aspect of book apps more than the interactive features, but I firmly believe that it is this sense of story, along with the interactive features, that draws children back to apps again and again. After all, if children just wanted interactive features, they would choose games like Angry Birds. Children really do love stories and the magical world that stories create for us in our minds, and this is just as true for book apps as it is for printed books. To paraphrase Martha Parravano, a book app might be an intangible piece of computer software, but at its heart a book app is an experience that unfolds for a child as they are reading it (Sutton and Parravano, 2010).

But the question remains: How can we apply what we know already to evaluating this new media? Because book apps combine so many different elements, we need to draw on our knowledge of children’s books, learning theories, and online or multimedia teaching to understand how we as librarians can review book apps, what features we might consider, and why.

If you're interested in the different aspects I consider when I evaluate a book app, please take a look at my article Book Apps as a New Interactive Learning Experience: Evaluating and Reviewing This New Media, published in the recent CSLA Journal from the California School Librarians Association. The Spring 2013 issue of the CSLA Journal focuses on new media, and I was very happy to contribute my experience with book apps.

I am also excited for the work of the AASL Best Apps for Teaching and Learning task force to be announced next month at the ALA Annual Conference. Our committee has been working hard to select the top 25 apps for teaching and learning, and we have a great selection to share at the conference.

I value the work of my local, statewide and national librarian organizations in supporting my professional development. These communities of engaged professionals help further my own thinking, provide thoughtful sounding boards when I am struggling with my own work, and encourage me to grow in new ways.

I would like to thank Jeanne Nelson, editor of the CSLA Journal, for her guidance writing this article. I would also like to express my sincere appreciation for Michelle Holschuh Simmons, professor of library sciences at San Jose State University. Much of my original thinking was developed in her class on information literacy.

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Reading aloud about frogs: The Common Core IRL

Our children are fascinated by the world around them, soaking up information about so many different things. I clearly remember how excited my daughter was to learn that birds, snakes and crocodiles are all oviparous, or egg-bearing animals. We can foster this sort of enthusiasm by reading aloud picture books that delve into different nonfiction topics. As the Common Core standards state in ELA Standard 10,
"Children in the early grades (particularly K–2) should participate in rich, structured conversations with an adult in response to the written texts that are read aloud, orally comparing and contrasting as well as analyzing and synthesizing, in the manner called for by the Standards."
Lucy Calkins develops this idea further, writing in her Curricular Plan for the Reading Workshop,
"One cannot stress enough the importance of reading aloud. You will want to read aloud to teach children discipline-based concepts that are integral to social studies and science.You’ll also read aloud to create a sense of community and to show children why people love to read. And you’ll read aloud to teach children vocabulary and higher-level comprehension skills. As you conduct a read-aloud session be sure that it includes opportunities for accountable talk." grade 2, page 6
As part of our new series the Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries, we would like to suggest two excellent nonfiction picture books all about frogs that we like to read aloud to students. These books will have different language and text features than those we provide to children to read independently. They might use more figurative language, longer sentences, higher vocabulary. But they will engage students, laying important background for their own reading, and lead to many discussions about these interesting animals.
Frog Song
by Brenda Guiberson
illustrated by Gennady Spirin
Henry Holt / Macmillan, 2013
read aloud: grades 1-3
independent reading: grades 4-5
Lexile 950 AD (adult directed)
your local library
This gorgeous picture book explores eleven different frog species from around the world, from Australia to Borneo to Chile. Each spread focuses on a different species, with a wonderful illustration and an engaging description that focuses on one interesting aspect of that species. Guiberson uses descriptive text to hook readers:
"In Chile, the Darwin's frog sings in the beech forest. Chirp-Chweet! The male guards 30 eggs in the damp leaves for three weeks. When the tadpoles wiggle, he scoops them into his mouth. Slurp! They slither into his vocal sacs, where he keeps them safe and moist for 7 weeks. Then he gives a big yawn, and little froglets pop out."
This book would work very well as a read aloud for 1st through 3rd grade, either to a whole class or a small group. Older children might love reading this as they explore different types of frogs, but I really see this as working best as a read aloud. Guiberson ends the book with an interesting summary of the different species, and a note about how frogs are in trouble from environmental pressures or pollution. I do wish that she included a map identifying where the different species live, providing that geographical context for young readers.

Teachers and school librarians will be interested in this helpful reading guide for Frog Song. Another book for reading aloud that would complement Frog Song is Hip-Pocket Papa, by Sandra Markle.
Hip-Pocket Papa
by Sandra Markle
illustrated by Alan Marks
Charlesbridge, 2010
read aloud: grades 2-4
independent reading: grades 4-5
Lexile 1060 AD (adult directed)
your public library
Sandra Markle and Alan Marks have teamed up to write several engaging narrative nonfiction books about animals throughout the world. These books follow one animal, telling the story of that animal's life. Readers can clearly identify the beginning, middle and end of the story, much like they do in fiction.
Set in an Australian rain forest, Hip-Pocket Papa follows this tiny frog as they watch over and protect their eggs, and then the babies from tadpoles through maturity. Once the eggs hatch, the male scoops the tadpoles up and keeps them safe in hip pockets until they have developed lungs and turned into froglets. The text is both poetic and fascinating, as it follows one father's hazardous journey raising his young. Markle uses long sentences with complex vocabulary to paint a picture with her words:
"Finally, the eggs hatch!The jelly surrounding them turns to liquid -- a birth puddle for the twelve teeny, tiny tadpoles, swimming up and out onto the surface of the forest floor. Her job done, the female crawls away. The male stays. He has an even bigger job to do."
Alan Marks' detailed, realistic watercolor-and-pencil illustrations are perfect for showing to a whole group. The rich colors and close-up scenes draw readers into the forest setting, focusing close up on the tiny frogs and the miniature drama happening each moment. The only problem I had is really getting a sense of the true size of the frogs. Since narrative nonfiction books usually do not have text features like diagrams or labeled illustrations, readers must use the descriptive text to figure out this information.

Check out this preview of Hip-Pocket Papa available through Google Books:

Common Core Standards

Below you can see how standard 3 for reading informational text develops from 1st grade through 3rd grade, as students describe a process like the metamorphosis of a frog, or comparing two different frog species. Both of these books could be used to have students delve into a discussion about frogs' development, either examining the development of one species step-by-step, or comparing and contrasting different species.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.1.3 Describe the connection between two individuals, events, ideas, or pieces of information in a text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.2.3 Describe the connection between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.3 Describe the relationship between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text, using language that pertains to time, sequence, and cause/effect.
This post is part our first feature the Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries, we're focusing on frogs. Frogs are fascinating animals, from their amazing metamorphosis as they turn from tadpole to frog, to the sheer variety in their colors, habitats and sizes. Head over to these blogs to read about:
The review copies come from my school library. Many thanks to Travis Jonker, Cathy Potter, Alyson Beecher, and Louise Capizzo for taking this journey to talk about what the Common Core means for us in real life! We look forward to this recurring series.

Review ©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Frogs for middle grade readers! The Common Core IRL

An essential role for school libraries is providing developing readers with increasingly complex books that build on their previous knowledge. We want to help young readers discover that books can feed their natural curiosity, providing them with more and more information as they become experts on their chosen interests. Common Core IRL will highlight books that ladder up in text complexity on a high interest topic.
For our first feature the Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries, we're focusing on frogs. Frogs are fascinating animals, from their amazing metamorphosis as they turn from tadpole to frog, to the sheer variety in their colors, habitats and sizes.  Head over to these blogs today to read about:
For 3rd and 4th grade readers who are fascinated by frogs, I would suggest a combination of interesting just-right books to read by themselves and some engaging read-aloud books that provide even more information. Today, I'll share two books to read on their own. Tomorrow, I'll share two wonderful books to read aloud.
by Gail Gibbons
Holiday House, 1993
3rd grade, 600 Lexile
your local library
Gail Gibbons is one of my go-to authors for clear nonfiction for newly independent readers. She clearly explains how frog spawn changes to embryos, then to tadpoles, young frogs, and finally, mature amphibians. Short sentences are easy to read, and yet she provides plenty of details to fascinate young readers:
"These eggs do not have shells. They are inside jellylike coverings. As they float, the jelly lets the sun's warmth come through to the eggs inside."
The text is clearly easy to read, but detailed enough to make it appropriate for a 3rd grader. The book is designed with relatively large font and plenty of white space. Readers will be engaged by the details Gibbons provides. For example, the section on frogs enemies explains different ways frogs ward off predators:
"A sudden leap is a quick escape from danger. For protection, some frogs have skin glands that make them taste bad or make them poisonous. Sometimes their skin color hides them from enemies. This is called camouflage."  
Gibbon's distinctive watercolor and ink illustrations are appealing and clearly labeled. The illustrations are closely connected with the text, providing clear explanations for the main ideas and important terms. A double-page spread at the end presents a labeled illustration comparing frogs and toads. Kids will find it interesting to draw the comparisons themselves.
Tell me the difference between a
Frog and a Toad
by Leigh Rockwood
PowerKids Press / Rosen, 2013
4th grade
your local library
Have you ever wondered what makes the difference between a frog and a toad? Is it just that a toad's skin is dry and bumpy and a frog's is smooth and moist? Did you know that a frog has teeth in its upper jaw, but a toad has no teeth? I particularly like the way that Rockwood frames this book around a central, interesting question.

Rockwood addresses a slightly older audience, beginning right away with an explanation of the scientific classification of frogs and toads. You'll notice that the sentences are longer than in Gibbon's book, and the vocabulary is more complex.
 "Frogs and toads are amphibians that belong to a scientific order, or grouping, called Anura. This is the most widespread order of amphibians. There are around 4,000 species of amphibians in this order."
I was particularly fascinated by the way that frogs' and toads' legs are similar and different. While both have hind legs that are built for jumping and are longer than their front legs, frogs jump much farther. In fact, some frogs can jump 20 times their body length! Toads, on the other hand, have shorter legs designed for walking, with occasional short hops.

Kids will be drawn in by the colorful, sharply focused photographs of many frogs and toads. The photographs are accompanied by detailed captions, but are not labeled in the same way as Gibbon's book. A table of contents, glossary and index provide children with experience using these important text features to access information. PowerKids provides a website with links for further reading.

Take a look at this preview through Google Books:

Common Core Standards:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.7 Use information gained from illustrations (e.g., maps, photographs) and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text (e.g., where, when, why, and how key events occur).

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.8 Describe the logical connection between particular sentences and paragraphs in a text (e.g., comparison, cause/effect, first/second/third in a sequence).

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.2 Determine the main idea of a text and explain how it is supported by key details; summarize the text.

Please check out the other Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries posts to see how you would ladder up to these books, and what you might follow them with. Tomorrow, I will share two wonderful books to read aloud to students who are fascinated by frogs.
The review copies come from my school library. Many thanks to Travis Jonker, Cathy Potter, Alyson Beecher, and Louise Capizzo for taking this journey to talk about what the Common Core means for us in real life! We look forward to this recurring series.

Review ©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries -- a new series

Throughout the U.S., teachers and librarians are talking about what it means to implement the Common Core State Standards in their school. Five of us -- librarians and literacy experts -- are working together to show what the Common Core means for school libraries in real life. We’re calling the series Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries.
Today, I’m laying out some of the groundwork for our thinking. Come join all five of us on Wednesday, May 22nd, as we launch this new project:
As teachers have worked to make sense of these new standards, many have focused on the overarching shifts in teaching that the Common Core standards are calling for. EngageNY, a collaborative platform for teachers in New York, has developed several presentations on these shifts. Two key shifts are particularly important to me as an elementary school librarian:
  • the call for balancing informational and literary texts, and
  • the focus on helping students read increasingly complex texts.
As a school librarian and parent, I want to provide many opportunities for our students to read about the world around them. Young children are fascinated by so many different things in the world - animals and their habitats, faraway places, different people’s customs, famous people’s lives. It is important that we provide our children with access to materials that interest them. I am convinced that if children are encouraged to read more nonfiction of their choosing, they will develop skills that will help them read and think about nonfiction as they grow older.
As the Common Core document states for ELA Standard 10,
“Building knowledge systematically in English language arts is like giving children various pieces of a puzzle in each grade that, over time, will form one big picture. ... The knowledge children have learned about particular topics in early grade levels should then be expanded and developed in subsequent grade levels to ensure an increasingly deeper understanding of these topics.”
So what does the Common Core mean in real life? In our series Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries, we are choosing high-interest subjects and looking at how we can support elementary students as they read increasingly complex texts around a subject. We want to provide both stimulating read-alouds, especially for young students, and just-right books of increasing complexity.

As Lucy Calkins writes in her Curricular Plan for the Reading Workshop,
“We want to encourage our students to be researchers of the world and to know that reading can be a source of information to grow knowledge both about subjects they are experts in and ones that are newer to them.”
Lucy Calkins writes about curriculum that spirals from grade to grade, level to level. We are taking this idea to the library, suggesting that we look at our collections for an interesting topic and provide interesting reading materials that spiral up, gradually increasing in the complexity of the text. This allows students to build on knowledge, revisiting favorite books and then stepping into more complex material. It allows them to delve into a topic with more depth, becoming an expert in an area that interests them. But in order to do this, we must be conscious of the reading levels of the materials we select. As Calkins writes,
“It is important to get slightly easier books if the topic is new. While shopping for new books this month, keep in mind that a child can read a just-right book on a topic she may be familiar with—like cats. But if that child decides to read books on a topic about which she has no foreknowledge, like gemstones, it will benefit her to begin with books that are easier than her just-right reading level. As she builds up her vocabulary and background knowledge about gemstones, she’ll move on to reading with success books that are at her just-right level (or slightly above that level).”
In our special segments, Common Core IRL: In Real Life, we will share our favorite books on a common topic, spiraling up through the elementary grades. In the School Library Journal, Marc Aronson and Sue Bartle have suggested that school libraries develop clusters around high-interest topics. We are taking this one step further, providing suggestions for increasingly complex texts, both as read-alouds and independent reading books.

See the Common Core in action at Common Core IRL: In Real Life. Come visit Kid Lit Frenzy, 100 Scope Notes, Great Kid Books and The Nonfiction Detectives on Wednesday, May 22nd, to learn all about frogs as we suggest resources for spiraling up, gradually increasing in the complexity of the texts.

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, May 13, 2013

Odd Duck, by Cecil Castellucci and Sara Varon - touching friendship story & charming graphic novel (ages 6 - 10)

What draws friends together? Is it that you both love the same music or flavor of ice cream? Or is it that you make each other laugh? Friends understand one another, love spending time together and make each other happy. Kids -- even young kids -- totally get this. And they're going to love Odd Duck, a new graphic novel that celebrates friendship, with all its quirks and eccentricities.
Odd Duck
by Cecil Castellucci
and Sara Varon
First Second, 2013
ages 6 - 10
at your local library
on Amazon
* best new book *
Theodora swims with a teacup balanced on her head, flavoring her meals with mango salsa, and stays put for the winter. She knows exactly what she likes and is happy with everything going as planned.

When Chad moves next door, Theodora is not quite sure about this new duck. His feathers are askew, he has strange sculptures in his yard, and absolutely no manners! "Theodora could not relate to a single thing that he said. But she knew one thing was certain ... she and Chad would not be friends."

Castellucci and Varon develop this delightful story from here, showing how the two bond over their love of stars, but then fall apart over an argument over which one is odd. The illustrations are charming -- quirky, sweet and sunny. Kids will love the way the two friends come back together in the end, realizing that they really do like each other just the way they are.

Here's what my nine-year-old wrote:
"Of course, every duck can't be perfect, but these ducks are more than just not perfect. They're odd. And in this book both of them have never had a true friend, so they are put up to the challenge to make a true friend."
Kids do get it. They understand what it means to be a true friend. Odd Duck will make them laugh, smile and remember how much they value their own friends.

I really enjoyed reading this interview with Cecil Castellucci in the LA Times. It was also really interesting to read about Sara Varon's process creating the artwork, in this guest post at the First Second blog. Cecil originally proposed this as an early chapter book with spot art, but when the two began working together they realized that it might be even more effective told primarily through pictures.

Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Sara Varon, shared with permission of the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, First Second / Macmillan. 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 ©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Giants Beware! by Jorge Aguirre & Rafael Rosado - brilliant fun! hilarious adventures! (ages 8 - 12)

Did you love comics as a kid? Do your kids eat them up today like they're candy? Comics capture visual humor, action and adventure -- engaging kids at every step of the way. I particularly love graphic novels for the way they take this visual medium and develop an engaging plot. I see kids reading these novels again and again, soaking up different details each time. If your child loves action and adventure stories, seek out Giants Beware! It is brilliant fun, with a gutsy heroine, a noble quest and plenty of laughs.
Giants Beware!
by Jorge Aguirre
illustrated by Rafael Rosado
First Second, 2012
winner of 2012 Cybils Award
at your local library
on Amazon
ages 8 - 12
Claudette is a feisty warrior-in-training who's determined to follow her father's footsteps and slay a giant. Never mind that she's tiny, hotheaded, prone to irrational outbursts, and a girl. Claudette is absolutely sure that she is the one to find the giant who terrorizes her town.

Claudette does what any would-be-warrior does, she convinces her younger brother and her best friend to join her on a quest to slay the giant. They have to save the town! But, she runs into problems at every step. First of all, her brother only wants to make pastries. And her best friend just wants to be a princess, a real princess. Their doubts won't stop Claudette - just look at her determination:

You see, long ago the marquis defeated a horrible giant who terrorized the town by eating babies' toes. The old marquis chased the giant back to its mountain hiding spot and then built high walls around the town, keeping the people safe (and trapped inside).

Giants Beware! is full of action and visual humor, with the underdog coming out on top. Aguirre and Rosado weave in surprises, tension and plot twists throughout the story. But best of all, I just love the characters of the three friends. As my friend Charlotte wrote, "what made me love this one is the characters, who defy the expectations and normative categorizations most beautifully."

Claudette is a terrific tomboy, one who defies everyone's expectation that she should just be a "good girl". Marie might be obsessed with being a princess, but she is a loyal friend to the end who will risk all to stand by Claudette's side. Claudette's little brother Gaston is terribly afraid, but he's determined to join his sister and ends up saving the day.

You'll have fun watching this trailer for the story:

Intrigued? Do you already love this story? Celebrate and chat with the authors next week on the May Sharp-Schu Twitter Book Club meeting: Tuesday, May 21st at 7pm Central (8pm Eastern; 5pm Pacific). All you need to do is follow the Twitter hashtag #sharpschu. Tweetchat is an excellent way to follow and participate.

Giants Beware! is a great book for summer reading. It's one of the many books that will be on our list at Mrs. Dalloway's this week. I hope you can join us for our Hot Reads for a Cool Summer - summer reading event, Thursday May 16th at 6:30 pm.

The review copy came from our school library collection. 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 ©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Shadow on the Mountain, by Margi Preus -- gripping historical fiction (ages 10-14)

Historical fiction has always fascinated me, and I love hooking kids on an interesting period in history though an exciting story. Shadow on the Mountain is a gripping story of a young boy's resistance to the Nazi German occupiers in Norway during World War II. Margi Preus has created an exciting story full of action and adventure, but she also infuses it with a full sense of this period of history.

Amulet / Abrams, 2012
ages 10 - 14
Espen is just fourteen when German Nazi soldiers occupied Norway in 1940. The occupation has made life hard for all Norwegians, but it has also increased their sense of national identity and pride. At first, Epsen helps the Norwegian Resistance movement in small ways, delivering newspapers, refusing to participate in a Nazi-sponsored school event.

As the story begins, Epsen is riding his bike one evening when he is stopped by a car full of Nazi soldiers. As they search his rucksack, Espen notices that his friend Kjell is sitting in the car with the soldiers, but Kjell refuses to make eye contact with Epsen. The soldiers let him go on his way, believing he is on his way to visit his uncle, but Espen is really carrying coded information for the Norwegian Resistance. As he rides home, he keeps wondering about Kjell.

Preus captures the struggle of Norwegians who resisted the Nazi occupation, showing how ordinary citizens found ways big and small to stand up to the Germans. By centering her plot around a young teen, she draws young readers into the story. She hooks them with action and suspense, as Epsen becomes more and more involved in the Resistance, first as a courier and finally as a covert spy. I particularly agree with Lynn Rutan's review over at Bookends blog:
Epsen "is an ordinary boy who eventually does extraordinary things and this makes Prues’ skillful portrayal of his courage all the more affecting. Espen is frequently terribly afraid – and with very good reason – and yet even while admitting that fear to himself, he does intensely brave things – the very essence of courage." -- Lynn Rutan, Bookends blog
Margi Preus has shared many resources that will interest teens and teachers. Shadow on the Mountain is based on real events and the experiences of real people. The book contains photos, maps, and archival material. I'm especially interested in reading more about Erling Storrusten, the Norwegian man whose experiences in the Resistance movement inspired Preus's novel.

Share this story with young teens and tweens who like adventure stories and war stories, but also share it with kids who are pulled into friendship dilemmas and historical fiction.

Get a sense of it for yourself with this preview from Google Books:

This book will be one of the many I'll be recommending at Mrs. Dalloway's Books for our Fantastic Summer Reading Event next week. Hope you can join us!

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Amulet / Abrams 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 ©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, May 6, 2013

Bay Area friends: Fantastic summer reading event next week! Thursday, May 16th

Bay Area friends, I'm thrilled to be part of Mrs. Dalloway's summer reading event for school kids next week: Hot Reads for a Cool Summer. We will be recommending great books for kindergarteners through 6th grade.
click to download flyer
Most exciting of all, our special guest will be the wonderful author Katherine Applegate, author of the 2013 Newbery Winner, The One and Only Ivan, the Roscoe Riley Rules series of chapter books and the Animorphs series.

We will all be sharing some of our favorite books for children and families. We will be recommending books for little kids, new readers and big kids. Come find out about our favorite graphic novels, new chapter books to hook beginning readers, and exciting novels.
Please share this flyer with friends, local schools and teachers. Here are the details for the event:
Hot Reads for a Cool Summer
Mrs. Dalloway's Bookstore
Thursday, May 16, 6:30pm
2904 College Avenue Berkeley, CA 94705 Phone 510.704.8222
20% off selected books this night only!
$5.00 admission per adult applicable towards any purchase at Mrs. Dalloway's through 6/16. Kids free!
Hope to see you there! It should be a great night!

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers: How a First Lady Changed America, by Kathi Appelt (ages 6 - 9)

The flowers all around us astound me at this time of year. It makes me remember hiking through the California hills with my mother, noticing all the different flowers around us. These memories drew me to this picture book biography about Lady Bird Johnson, but what makes it stick in my mind is how it shows us the way that each one of us can make a difference by taking action, starting with small steps and moving larger.
Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers
How a First Lady Changed America
by Kathi Appelt
illustrated by Joy Fisher Hein
HarperCollins, 2005
at your public library
on Amazon
ages 6 - 9
This picture book biography weaves together two tales, one of Miss Lady Bird Johnson's life story, and the other of her passionate work to spread wildflowers and beauty throughout our country.

Lady Bird grew up in eastern Texas in the early 20th century, finding solace in the wildflowers and bayous after her mother died. I loved the image of her as a young girl holding ceremonies for the first daffodils that bloomed each spring. Appelt writes,
"It was as if Aunt Effie's flowers became companions and helped take some of Lady Bird's loneliness away."
After Lady Bird moved to Washington, D.C. when her husband was elected to Congress, she realized that the city parks were dingy and had few flowers. Appelt quotes Johnson as telling a friend,
"It is important for a child to plant a seed, to water it, to nourish it, tend to it, watch it grow, and when he does, and when she does, they themselves will grow into great citizens." -- Lady Bird Johnson
image copyright © Joy Fisher Hein, 2005
Johnson followed this passion by urging Congress to pass the Highway Beautification Act, and later in her life, establishing the National Wildflower Research Center. Have you ever noticed wildflowers growing along the side of a highway? Or traveled to Washington, D.C. to see the cherry blossoms? Or marveled at a city landscape with native flowers? Much of those are the direct result of Johnson's efforts.

The scene that stands out in my mind is how she stepped in front of her neighbor's tractor on her Texas ranch, imploring him not to plow under a field of pink evening primroses. It's this gusto, this initiative that captures her energy, creativity and determination to keep wildflowers growing throughout our land.

Appelt and Hein capture her energy and love of beauty in a way that inspires me. Hein shares more of her artwork from the book at her website. She also shares a nice teacher's guide. I particularly loved the interview with Appelt and Hein about this book at Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog Cynsations.
For more nonfiction gems to share with your children, check out Nonfiction Monday, hosted today by Anastasia Suen at her Booktalking site.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, HarperCollins. 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 ©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Matchbox Diary, by Paul Fleischman - full of warmth and memories (ages 6 - 11)

There's something truly special about the time a young child spends getting to know his or her grandparents. I remember soaking up my grandmother's stories, imagining her past and feeling connected to a history larger than myself. The Matchbox Diary captures this special moment, when a great-grandfather shares his stories with a young girl. It's a wonderful picture book to share with children as they start to get to know their own grandparents' stories.
The Matchbox Diary
by Paul Fleischman
illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
Candlewick, 2013
ages 6 - 11
your public library & Amazon
* best new book *
When a young girl meets her great-grandfather, he tells her to pick something and he'll tell her its story. She picks an old cigar box that holds dozens of tiny matchboxes - his diary. The grandfather explains, "When I was your age, I had a lot I wanted to remember but I couldn't read or write." So he started collecting little things to remember each experience.

As they peek inside each box, the grandfather shares his memories from his childhood. They find an olive pit from his home in Italy. As a very young boy, his family was very poor. "When I'd tell my mother I was hungry, she'd give me an olive pit to suck on." Different mementos remind him of his journey across the Atlantic to join his father in America, a frightening inspection at Ellis Island, and his first years in the United States.

As we turn each page, we are swept back into the grandfather's memories. Ibatoulline's illustrations are full of warmth and capture the emotion of each memory. They are large enough to work well reading aloud, and yet full of details that children will love pouring over. The sepia tones of the paintings reflecting the grandfather's memories help children identify that these are flashbacks. Here we see the grandfather working as a typesetter in a printing press.

Children are very aware of how small items carry many memories. My own children can tell you where each stuffed animal came from, where they got a certain bottle cap, which pen came from a special friend. I love the way that Paul Fleischman helps children connect with the stories their grandparents can share, in such a universal way.

Young children will absorb the warm feelings of family, but older children will be able to think about different themes in this story. I particularly like the way the grandfather values writing as a way of preserving memories and stories. "Books are like newspapers. They show you where you've been."

Pair this with Patricia Polacco's The Keeping Quilt in a unit about family stories. Younger children who enjoy this might also enjoy Rosemary Wells' illustrated chapter book Following Grandfather, where a young mouse remembers her grandfather's childhood immigrating from Italy to Boston.

Check out these other great reviews:

  • Bookends Blog - I especially like the way Cindy ties this book to the importance of family storytelling, and her memory of Alex Haley at the National Storytelling Festival
  • Librarian's Quest - I absolutely agree with Margie that Paul Fleischman had me hooked with the first two sentences! Margie made me think about how Fleishman told the whole story through dialog between the young girl and her grandfather. That dialog added a real heartwarming touch to the story.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Candlewick Press. Teachers should check out the teaching guide and author's note on the Candlewick site. 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 ©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books