Friday, October 25, 2013

Midnight Feast: an eerily creepy book app from Slap Happy Larry (ages 9 - 14)

Creepy stories are in high demand in our library, and engaging book apps for older readers are a real treat. I loved reading Slap Happy Larry's Midnight Feast this week - perfect for tweens and teens looking for a spooky tale.
Midnight Feast
by Lynley Stace
developed by Slap Happy Larry
available on
iTune App Store
nominated for Cybils 2013
ages 9 - 14
Roya lives in a world where her dreams blend with reality, and hunger is a constant part of life. She yearns for so much -- to be part of the adult world, to be part of her dream world. This story captures that yearning and longing that can be such a part of adolescence.

In the beginning, Roya struggles falling to sleep. "It's not that she was scared of the dark, exactly. Things were slightly more complicated than that." The artwork, narration and music create a sleepy, melancholy mood, but one that right away hints at something darker to come. If you select the option "Scary Sauce," dark haunting hands reach out from under the bed.

Stace develops this blend between worlds so you're never sure whether what she's seeing is solidly true or part of her active imagination. The interactive elements are layered enough to allow the story to shine through, but also to draw the reader back for repeated readings. At times, Roya's imaginary world literally interprets common sayings (her parents actually laugh their heads off), while at others she drifts into a surreal dream state.

When a black cat suggests to her that "Midnight's no place for a girl," Roya wonders, "Is midnight a place?" Roya begins dreaming of a midnight place, where there is dancing, revelry, and -- of course, a Midnight Feast. I love the way that Roya's dreams combine surreal elements--cats wearing fancy dress clothes--along with colorful dreamscapes that take her away from her dreary world.

I wholly agree with the Kirkus Review of Midnight Feast:
The sum of striking visuals, smartly restrained audio cues, subtle voice acting, unobtrusive narration and navigation, and always-relevant iPad interactive elements is more resonant than overwhelming. Younger readers may be confused and spooked by some of the story’s content; there’s an option to eliminate the “scary sauce” in the story (cleverly represented by a ketchup bottle).

Beautiful, haunting and completely original, Roya’s tale is a 12-course meal of intelligent storytelling.
Teens might be interested in reading this and comparing it with the bookapp rendition of Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell Tale Heart. For teachers interested in experimenting with a layered, multimedia book app, definitely check out Slap Happy Larry's reading guide and activities.

The review copy came from our home app collection.

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Common Core IRL: Spooky, creepy stories to grab you (ages 10 - 14)

Kids clamor for scary stories -- they love the adrenaline rush, the suspense, the feeling of needing to find out what happens next. When we started talking about how the Common Core might look in real libraries during October, our minds naturally turned to stories that give us a fright. We're sharing all types of books, looking at how they tie into the Common Core and serve different readers.

Zombie Baseball Beatdown is sure to grab tweens and teens who can stomach some gagging details and thrive on zombie chase scenes. But it also has plenty of depth to prompt kids' thinking. Share this with your kids and ask them what they're noticing in the text.
Zombie Baseball Beatdown
by Paolo Bacigalupi
Little, Brown, 2013
your local library
ages 10 - 14
Let's just start with the cover. I know, I know -- your mom told you not to judge a book by its cover. But really, get a grip. Covers matter, and this one hits a home run with its intended audience. Even better, it gets readers primed for the story -- one that combines plenty of gore with action, but still enough humor for a tween audience.

Rabi (for Rabindranath), and his friends, Miguel and Joe, discover that the giant feedlot and meat-production facility in their small town is knee-deep in corruption. The story is told from Rabi's point of view, and he describes the view of the Milrow beef-processing facility:
"It was feedlots to the horizon, an ocean of cows all packed together, practically knee-deep in their own manure, feeding in long troughs full of whatever it was that Milrow gave its cows to fatten them up." (ch. 3)
It turns out that the crammed quarters and questionable feed leads to some serious mutations, as zombie cows start wrecking havoc. Bacigalupi gleefully describes the zombies in all their bloody, oozy glory -- this is certainly not a choice for the weak of heart. Just take this description of the final chase scene:
"The zombies came down on us like a tsunami. When we hit, I thought we were going down. A tidal wave of hungry monsters poured over us. I didn’t think we’d hold. Miguel and Otis and Eddie were screaming and swinging like crazy, smashing and slamming zombies aside." (ch. 36)
It’s up to Rabi and his friends to protect the town and convince the authorities to take action before it's too late. Bacigalupi certainly raises questions about how corporations try to silence whistle-blowers and how we need to think about big agriculture companies' practices.

Zombie Baseball Beatdown would make an excellent choice for small lit. circle groups, especially since kids will get more out of it by talking about the characters' points of view and the author's message. For example, 5th grade teachers thinking about the Common Core standards, look specifically at these:
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.5.1 Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.5.2 Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.5.6 Describe how a narrator’s or speaker’s point of view influences how events are described.
As Kirkus Review wrote, "here’s a signal alert to young teens to think about what they eat, while the considerable appeal of the characters and plot defies any preachiness."

Check out other great posts that are part of our recurring series: Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries. Today, we're serving up a great selection to grab students with chills and thrills:
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Little, Brown. 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.

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, October 21, 2013

Fantastic school visit with Adam Gidwitz: sharing the REAL Grimm fairy tales, ages 9-12

Our school is buzzing from Adam Gidwitz's visit. Our 4th and 5th graders absolutely loved hearing his versions of the "real" Grimm fairy tales and are eating up his trilogy. I wish you could have been a fly on the wall at this author visit to see the magic that happens when an author captivates an audience of kids.

Adam started with storytelling, sharing the bloody version of Cinderella, the one that the Grimm brothers told long before Walt Disney tamed it. Clearly, there was no "bippity-boppety-boo" in this story. But did you know that there was no fairy godmother in the original Cinderella? Instead, Cinderella goes to visit her mother's grave and her ball gown springs from the tree that has grown there.

My students have been retelling Gidwitz's stories to each other all week, laughing as they recount how Cinderella had to clean out chamber pots (which, they will gleefully tell you, were toilet pots). And they still cringe as they recount how the evil stepsisters had to slice off their toes and heels to fit them in the shoe that the prince brought.

Adam Gidwitz at Emerson School, Oct. 2013

I loved how my students were able to think about why they loved Gidwitz's stories so much. He scared them, but kept adding humor all the way -- making them cringe and laugh at each turn. Even though they all knew how the story ended, he built up suspense so they felt like they were holding their breath waiting for the next part of the story. And, as you can see in the picture above, he used his whole body to dramatize his stories.

Here is our book club interviewing Gidwitz -- can you hear how excited they are?? (I'm sharing this through the free PodSnack site, so there's a quick ad to begin with):

If you're looking for a great fantasy for 4th and 5th graders, I highly recommend Gidwitz's Grimm trilogy: A Tale Dark and Grimm, In a Glass Grimmly, and The Grimm Conclusion. You can get a sense of them from the great trailers. Just see how your kids will be gripped by this:

I do want to note the way we prepared our students, laying the background for a great visit. We read aloud the beginning of his first book, hooking many students to start reading it before he came. We also read aloud several fairy tales, so they had already started thinking about how these stories were originally told for adults as well as children.

Many thanks to Adam Gidwitz, Penguin Books for Young Children and Books, Inc. for a brilliant author visit. 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.

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Ghost in the House, by Ammi-Joan Paquette and Adam Record (ages 2 - 6)

Young children love celebrating Halloween, but often they don't want scary books. Ghost in the House is a fun new picture book that fits this bill perfectly, providing some rhyming fun along the way.
Ghost in the House
by Ammi-Joan Paquette
illustrated by Adam Record
Candlewick, 2013
Google Books preview
available at
your local library
ages 2 - 6
A friendly little ghost starts exploring his house. At first he thinks he's all alone. But then... one by one, he discovers five new friends. Paquette's cumulative rhyming story is a joy to read aloud. Here's the beginning:
"There's a ghost in the house,
In the creepy, haunted house,
On this dark, spooky night, all alone.

And he goes slip-slide,
With a swoop and a glide,
Until suddenly he hears ...

A groan!"
Hidden on the right side, you can notice fingers holding the door as the mummy starts to open it. Paquette builds the story using the same pattern. I love the rhythm and rhyme. This type of cumulative story works really well with preschoolers and kindergarteners, inviting them to read it over and over again as they absorb the language and pattern.

Adam Record's friendly creatures are a big draw for young children as well. They love the digital cartoon style that emphasizes the humor in the story, while keeping just the right amount of creepiness. The twist at the end had my group of kindergartners laughing in delight.

I enjoyed reading this interview with Ammi-Joan Paquette at Elizabeth Dulemba's blog, talking about her inspiration and the path to publication for this sweet story.

Do you have any favorite Halloween books for young children? Others I love include Lisa Brown's Vampire Boy's Good Night and If You're a Monster and You Know It, by Ed Emberley and Rebecca Emberley.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Candlewick Press. 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.

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Enchanting our students with the Grimm's Tales (ages 7 to 12)

Our 4th and 5th grade students have become enchanted by the Grimm's Tales this fall, and I am absolutely delighted. We are reading Philip Pullman's Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm aloud and talking about the ways these classic stories sink deep into our culture.
Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm
by Philip Pullman
Viking / Penguin, 2012
available from
your local library
audiobook available
Fairy tales gripped me when I was a child, pulling me in with their simple plots, holding me with a few choice vivid details and always providing satisfaction as the wicked characters get the consequences they deserve. Philip Pullman retells the classic tales from the Brothers Grimm with clean simplicity and a storyteller's charm.

Our students are loving Pullman's retellings. They are fascinated to hear some of the longer versions, comparing the different versions they've heard to this one. Hansel and Gretel doesn't just end with their killing the witch. They finally return to their father, who is overjoyed at their return.

My students have noticed that they want to keep finding out what happens next, even though they already know many of these stories. Part of this is due to Pullman's masterful storytelling, but part is due to the way the stories tap into our hearts. I think it's very related to Maria Tatar's concluding comment in her New Yorker review:
"From fiction, (Pullman) tells us, we learn about good and evil, cruelty and kindness, but in ways that are always elliptical, as the text works on us in its own silent, secret way. “‘Thou shalt not’ might reach the head, but it takes ‘Once upon a time’ to reach the heart,” he once observed. Fairy tales began as adult entertainment—stories told just for the fun of it. But with their exacting distribution of rewards and punishments, they also increasingly tapped into the human urge to derive morals from stories, In his own fiction, as well as in these retellings of the Grimms’ fairy tales, Pullman tells stories so compelling that he is sure to produce in the reader the connection—both passionate and compassionate—that Nabokov called a little 'sob in the spine.'"
I'm excited to listen to the audiobook, narrated by Samuel West (available on CD or download). As the New York Times review points out:
"These stories make great bedtime read-alouds for children who can handle a little gore. (They’re short-attention-span theater: Deliciously bloody, but not really terrifying...) The original tales weren’t for children, of course; they were for everyone."
I'm looking forward to seeing how the audiobook does in holding our attention. Even more fascinating is the prospect of listening to a few tales several times to commit them to memory. In a fascinating interview with teacher Monica Edinger, Pullman encourages teachers to tell these stories to children, instead of just reading them. Hmmm... maybe, just maybe, this is something I can try to do.

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Little Red Writing, by Joan Holub & Melissa Sweet (ages 6-10)

Fractured fairy tales absolutely delight my students. They love knowing what's coming and then seeing the story twist and turn in unexpected ways. I can't wait to read them Little Red Writing, a new picture book by the terrific team of Joan Holub and Melissa Sweet. It's full of puns, wordplay and creative twists that kids and adults will love.

illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Chronicle, 2013
ages 6 - 10
available at
Once upon a time in the great state of Pencilvania, a wise teacher named Ms. 2 told her class, "Today we're going to write a story!" She laid out the path each story should take, starting with an idea, characters and setting, and then adding trouble and conflict.

Little Red wondered what she should write about:
"I want to write a story about bravery because red is the color of courage. But what would a brave pencil do?"
Ms. 2 gave Little Red a basketful of powerful words to use in case she ran into trouble and warned her to stick to her basic story path. Little Red headed off into the forest, but soon "was bogged down, hindered, lost!"

I absolutely adore the way the text and pictures play off each other in this picture book. Melissa Sweet incorporates descriptive words, dialog and signs throughout her illustrations -- making the words an integral part of the pictures. Joan Holub's puns never overwhelm the story. Children know right where it's headed (of course, Little Red runs into trouble! We know the wolf is waiting for her!!). Teachers will love the way Holub incorporates writing advice - I'm sure that it will be a classic in many elementary classrooms. But really, what draws me back to this again and again is the sheer delight in Little Red's adventure.

Teachers -- definitely check out some great ideas for incorporating this into classroom lessons over at The Classroom Bookshelf blog. Chronicle Books also has a teacher's guide aligned to the Common Core.

You can get a glimpse of Little Red Writing in this preview from Chronicle Books:

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Chronicle Books. Artwork copyright ©2013 Melissa Sweet, shared with permission of the publishers. 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.

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Bell Awards blog tour: Talk (ages 2-6)

I love sharing picture books with children of all ages, but they are especially magical for young children, inviting them into the rich world of books long before they can read. I’m thrilled to announce a new award that recognizes this special role of picture books.

The Bell Awards are specifically designed to help parents, caregivers, and librarians find wonderful picture books that support early literacy development in young children. They focus on five essential early literacy practices:
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Singing
  • Talking
  • Playing
While the Bell Awards were developed by the Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy (CLEL), it is a nationwide award. Members of the public can nominate titles and add to the conversation on the CLEL blog. The Bell Award Blog Tour is kicking off this new award, with posts by five fantastic children’s librarians. Today I’d like to focus how talking with young children as you read can help develop their early literacy skills.

As I read aloud to young children, I often wonder: should I read the text straight through? Or should I stop and talk about each page? The answer is: BOTH. Mix it up! Sometimes it definitely works best to read through a book from front to back. But definitely choose a different approach at other times.

Richard Scarry’s text brilliantly encourages adults to talk with children about what they’re reading. For example, here’s a bit from the page “Toys”:
“Sometimes it is fun to play by yourself. Sometimes it is fun to play with your friends. What are your favorite toys? Do you like to play with blocks?”
I love how this starts with a concrete question that’s likely to have kids respond with one or two words (“what” type questions), but then it moves into opening up more of a discussion. As a parent, I’d want to know more about what the child likes to play, and if they see any of their favorite toys on the page. This helps children connect their concrete experience to the rich world on the page.

With my kindergartners and first graders, I often ask them what they notice on the page. We browse through nonfiction books, looking at the pictures first. Then we’ll go back to a section that has a picture they’re interested in. I might read a small chunk, and then we’ll talk about it. These conversations are essential for bringing children into the wonderful world of books, showing them that there’s much to reading a book beyond simply decoding the words.

Here are five of my favorite books for encouraging conversations with pre-readers.
Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever
by Richard Scarry
Golden Books, 1980
available at
your local library

ages 2-6
I adore Richard Scarry’s books for the way that he encourages multiple types of reading. Perhaps on the first read through, I might try to get a sense of the story or the focus of the book. But the second time, I might start wondering about what the animals are doing. I might talk about whether we do the same things or have seen anything like that around our neighborhood.
Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building 
by Christy Hale
Lee & Low, 2012
available at
your local library

ages 3-8 
This immediately appealing book pairs young children building forts, sandcastles and more with photographs of fascinating architectural structures that mirror the children’s creations. For example, sand castles are compared to Antoni Gaudí’s soaring La Sagrada Família Basilica (Barcelona, Spain) as Hale, a Bay Area author and illustrator, celebrates children’s creativity and introduces young readers to amazing buildings from around the world.
Actual Size
by Steve Jenkins
Houghton Mifflin, 2004
available at
your local library

ages 3-8
Steve Jenkins captures the size, texture and color of creatures with his vibrant torn-paper collages in his oversized book, Actual Size. Be prepared for plenty of “Wow!”s and “Look at that!” as you share this with your children. “Mom, did you know that a Siberian tiger weighs up to 700 pounds?!!” “And what about the African elephant? It weighs up to 14,000 pounds!” On each spread, Jenkins shows either the full animal or a piece of the animal. So viewers hold an elephant’s foot in their lap or watch as a 7-pound, 36-inch goliath frog leaps across the page. This book captures readers’ attention with simple design, stunning artwork and fascinating facts.
Scholastic Discover More: Animal Babies 
by Andrea Pinnington
Scholastic, 2012
available at
your local library

ages 4-8
With bright design, colorful photographs, interesting sidebars and basic diagrams, Scholastic’s new nonfiction series introduces young readers to a range of topics. Animal Babies includes sections on hatching, metamorphosis, getting around and survival strategies. Large headings and short sentences make this a good choice for new readers trying out nonfiction.
ZooBorns! Zoo Babies from Around the World 
by Andrew Bleiman and Chris Eastland
Beach Lane / Simon and Schuster, 2012
available at
your local library

ages 3-8
Utterly adorable photographs of newborn animals will bring “ooohs” and “ahhs,” but the clear text provides interesting information on animals ranging from an Asian elephant to the tawny frogmouth (a bird with a very large mouth).

Those are my picks of some of my favorite books for the pre-reader crowd that model talking. Do you have favorites? If you've got favorites that have been published in 2013, you should absolutely nominate them for the Bell Awards! A few bits of info for participating:
Don't forget to follow the rest of the Bell Awards Blog Tour all this week by visiting the following blogs:
Picture books can create a sense of wonder in a young child. Pause to let them sink into a picture. Ask them about what they’re noticing. With young children, perhaps you might focus on talking about the names for different things. But also include some open-ended questions. Stretch out their attention span and help them express themselves. Little kids notice so many things and wonder about so much.

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.

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books