Thursday, June 22, 2017

#SummerReading 2017 for 5th & 6th graders

Kids know that practice is important in developing any skill; our job as parents is making our expectations clear AND creating a positive environment to encourage practice. You'll have much more success persuading your kids to read if they are able to choose what to read.

Validate their reading choices, engaging them to think and talk about what they read. Prod them a little to try something new--I often like to talk about it in terms of having a varied reading diet. Here are some of my favorite books to hook 5th and 6th graders.
Click for a link to the full 2017 summer reading lists
including printable PDFs

Exciting Adventure & Fantasy
Ambassador, by William Alexander
The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelley Barnhill
York: The Shadow Cypher, by Laura Ruby
Pax, by Sara Pennypacker

Funny Stories (levels Q-R-S-T)
The 52-Story Treehouse, by Andy Griffiths
Funny Girl, edited by Betsy Bird
Timmy Failure, by Stephan Pastis
Zorgamazoo, by Robert Weston

Adventure and Historical Fiction
Echo, by Pam Munoz Ryan
The Inquisitor's Tale, by Adam Gidwitz
Some Kind of Courage, by Dan Gemeinhart
The War that Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Graphic Novels We Love!
Compass South, by Hope Larson
The Nameless City, by Faith Erin Hicks
Olympians series, by George O'Connor
Roller Girl, by Victoria Jamieson

Stories that Touch Your Heart
Booked, by Kwame Alexander
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, by Rita Williams-Garcia
The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora, by Pablo Cartaya
The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, by Laura Shovan

Fascinating Nonfiction
Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon, by Steve Sheinkin
Where Do Presidents Come From? by Michael Townsend
Rhythm Ride: A Trip through the Motown Sound, by Andrea Davis Pinkney
You Got This! Unleash Your Awesomeness, Find Your Path and Change the World! by Maya Penn

CLICK HERE for all of the 2017 summer reading lists, grades K - 5.

If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

#SummerReading 2017 for 3rd & 4th graders

Kids read every day during the school year, sharing books they like with friends. Keep those reading muscles strong over the summer by feeding them a steady diet of fun books to read!

Here are some of my favorite chapter books, graphic novels and nonfiction for kids who have finished 3rd and 4th grades. Each day this week, I'll be sharing a post to help families read over the summer, organized by grade levels.
Click for a link to the full 2017 summer reading lists
including printable PDFs
Note: Our schools use the Fountas & Pinnell reading levels to help indicate "just right books" for students. I like to band these levels together, to look at a group of similar books.

Favorite Chapter Book Series (levels N-O-P)
Goosebumps Horrorland, by R.L. Stine
I Survived series, by Lauren Tarshis
Lola Levine, by Monica Brown

Funny Stories (levels Q-R-S-T)
Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom, by Booki Vivat
My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish, by Mo O'Hara
The Terrible Two, by Mac Barnett and Jory John

Adventure and Historical Fiction (levels Q-R-S)
Chasing Secrets, by Gennifer Choldenko
Full of Beans, by Jennifer Holm
Some Kind of Courage, by Dan Gemeinhart

Exciting Adventure & Fantasy (levels Q-R-S-T)
Wing and Claw, by Linda Sue Park
Shadows of Sherwood, by Kekla Magoon
Wings of Fire, by Tui Sutherland

New Graphic Novels We Love!
Phoebe and Her Unicorn, by Dana Simpson
Real Friends, by Shannon Hale
The Sand Warrior (5 Worlds), by Mark Siegel


Stories that Touch Your Heart (levels Q-R-S-T)
Amina's Voice, by Hena Khan
A Boy Called Bat, by Elana Arnold
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, by Rita Williams-Garcia

Fascinating Nonfiction
Dog Finds Lost Dolphins, by Elizabeth Carney
Journey: Based on the True Story of OR7, the Most Famous Wolf in the West, by Emma Bland
Stephen Curry, by Jon Fishman

CLICK HERE for all of the 2017 summer reading lists, grades K - 5.

If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

#SummerReading 2017 for 1st & 2nd graders

First and second graders have made monumental leaps in their reading this year. Keep those reading muscles strong by feeding them a steady diet of fun books to read!

Here are some of my favorite beginning readers, chapter books, graphic novels and picture books for kids just finishing 1st and 2nd grade. Each day this week, I'll be sharing a post to help families read over the summer, organized by grade levels.
click for link to full 2017 summer reading lists, including printable form
Note: Our schools use the Fountas & Pinnell reading levels to help indicate "just right books" for students. I like to band these levels together, to look at a group of similar books.

Beginning to Read (levels G-H-I)
What This Story Needs Is a Pig in a Wig, by Emma Virján
Don't Throw It To Mo! by David Adler

Developing Readers (levels J-K)
My Family Adventure (Sofia Martinez), by Jacqueline Jules
Buzz Beaker and the Outer Space Trip, by Cari Meister

Exploring Animals All Around
I, Fly: The Buzz about Flies and How Awesome They Are, by Bridget Heos
Puppies and Kittens (Scholastic Discover More), by Penelope Arlon

Beginning with Chapter Books (levels L-M)
The Infamous Ratsos, by Kara LaReau
Lola Levine Is Not Mean, by Monica Brown

Graphic Novel Series We Love!
Hilo, by Judd Winick
Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea, by Ben Clayton

Having Fun with Chapter Book Series (levels N-O-P)
Bad Guys, by Aaron Blabey
Notebook of Doom, by Troy Cummings

Fascinating Nonfiction
Miguel Cabrera, by Matt Doeden
Plants Can’t Sit Still, by Rebecca Hirsch

Picture Books Full of Imagination
Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music, by Margarita Engle
Surf's Up, by Kwame Alexander

CLICK HERE for all of the 2017 summer reading lists, grades K - 5.

If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, June 19, 2017

#SummerReading 2017: Preschool & Kindergarten

Summer is here. Kids are excited to have free time, but with that can come the eventual moans of: "I'm bored!" Head to the library or bookstore to stock up on a pile of books.

Here are some of my favorite books to recommend for kids just finishing preschool and kindergarten. Each day this week, I'll be sharing a post to help families read over the summer, organized by grade levels.
click for link to full 2017 summer reading lists, including printable form
Note: Our schools use the Fountas & Pinnell reading levels to help indicate "just right books" for students. I like to band these levels together, to look at a group of similar books.

New Picture Books We're Loving
Dad and the Dinosaur, by Gennifer Choldenko
Jabari Jumps, by Gaia Cornwall

Wordless Books to Read Together
A Ball for Daisy, by Chris Raschka
Journey, by Aaron Becker

Favorite Books to Read Aloud
Bee-Bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park
Press Here, by Herve Tullet

Beginning to Read (levels C-D-E-F)
I See and See, by Ted Lewin
When Andy Met Sandy, by Tomie dePaola

Folktales and Trickster Tales
Can't Scare Me, by Ashley Bryan
Little Roja Riding Hood, by Susan Middleton Elya

Beginning to Read More (levels F-G-H-I)
Super Fly Guy, by Tedd Arnold
We Are Growing!, by Laurie Keller

Exploring Animals All Around
Biggest, Strongest, Fastest, by Steve Jenkins
Puppies and Kittens, by Penelope Arlon

Picture Books that Make Us Laugh
The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra, by Marc Tyler Noble
Niño Wrestles the World, by Yuyi Morales

CLICK HERE for all of the 2017 summer reading lists, grades K through 5.

If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Summer reading: encouraging children to read

As summer approaches, kids get excited for freedom from the routines and structures of school. But parents often worry how they will encourage their children to keep reading. Kids have put a lot of effort into developing their reading abilities throughout the school year--what's going to happen to all those hard-earned skills over the summer?

Parents and children know that it’s important for children to develop strong reading skills--the question I hear so many parents asking is, “How can I get my child to enjoy reading more?” They’re absolutely right. Enjoying reading is key--we want our kids to get lost in books, totally absorbed in whatever they're reading.

Here are my tips for encouraging children to read:
1) Read aloud. Sharing stories together focuses on enjoyment and meaning. Keep reading aloud with kids, even as your children get older. If you're taking a car trip, try listening to an audiobook together.

2) Choice. What do your kids like to read? When they get to choose, they are more involved and engaged in reading. Use reading levels only as a general guide, not as a a limit on your children's reading.

3) Time and volume. Create structure that sets aside time for reading. The more children read, the better they'll get. Volume really does matter. My biggest question is how you take away distractions so kids can sink into reading a book.

4) Praise the behavior you want to see. Focus on noticing the positive. Ask your children's friends what books they'd recommend. Notice when your children read and praise their stamina.
Are you looking for summer reading ideas? Check out my 2017 summer reading recommendations, created for Berkeley Unified School District families. Please feel free to download these, print them and share with your friends. Most of all, try to make summer reading time a fun, relaxing part of your summer!

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Audiobooks for teens: June is Audiobook Month (ages 13-16)

What draws teens into a story more than anything? Voice. They want to read about a teen that's going through intense experiences--whether it's realistic fiction or fantasy. There are many brilliant YA audiobooks; I'd just like to share a few of my favorites. Think of it as a sampling, and see if anything strikes you as interesting.

Contemporary issues through fiction

As racial issues and gun violence continues to plague our communities, teens want to read and think about how these affect individual people. 

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas, is absolutely outstanding--riveting, powerful and thought-provoking. Over spring break, sixteen-year-old Starr is the only witness to her friend's fatal shooting by a police officer. As she returns to school, she must navigate the worlds of her poor, predominantly black neighborhood and the wealthy private high school she attends in the suburbs. This is an intense story, even more so with Bhani Turpin's evocative narration that pulls listeners right into Starr's fight to find her voice.

All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, also explores the impact of police brutality, alternating between the perspectives of a black high school boy and a white boy at the same school. Two talented narrators portray these different points of view, as these teens are involved in a complex situation.

Gripping fantasy

Many teens love reading fantasy, both as a way to escape but also a way to contemplate "what if..."

In Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld, we see Europe on the cusp of World War I--but it isn't quite the world we know from history books. The Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germans have Clankers, huge manmade steam-driven machines with guns, but the British are Darwinists who harness fabricated animals to wage war. Alan Cummings nails the different accents, as we get pulled into the excitement of battles and intrigue.

The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater, is a gripping fantasy that focuses on the Scorpio Races, where riders try to master Water Horses--carnivorous horses that are captured from the ocean. I was totally sucked in by the alternating narration, as I felt both Sean and Puck's yearning for a better life, determined to try to risk it all to win The Scorpio Races.

Modern romance with a twist

Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell, is a nuanced, compelling story of first love. The narrators bring alive the inner voices of both Eleanor and Park as they struggle with family, school and their own complex feelings. 

In Will Grayson, Will Grayson, John Green and David Levithan had me laughing out loud and cringing at the same time as I followed two boys, both named Will Grayson, and their quests to survive high school, find friendship, and grow up--whatever that means. Witty, cynical and irreverant, this book is definitely for older teens with its snarky jokes about sex, relationships and life.

Free audiobooks through SYNC Audiobooks for Teens

SYNC is a free summer audiobook program for teens 13+ and these are two titles I'm especially looking forward to listening to this summer. Each week, listeners can get two free audiobook downloads, provided through the OverDrive app. Check out the full schedule here.

Between Shades of Gray (available August 3-9) is a moving historical fiction novel that centers around the persecution of Lithuanians under Stalin's rule in World War II. Fifteen year-old Lina is forced to go to a Siberian labor camp with her mother and young brother. They survive the harrowing journey on the crowded, dirty train car to find themselves in the coldest reaches of Siberia.

Shadowshaper (available August 10-16) is a vibrant urban fantasy that I can't wait to listen to. Here's the publisher's description: "With the help of a fellow artist named Robbie, Sierra discovers shadowshaping, a thrilling magic that infuses ancestral spirits into paintings, music, and stories. But someone is killing the shadowshapers one by one -- and the killer believes Sierra is hiding their greatest secret. Now she must unravel her family's past, take down the killer in the present, and save the future of shadowshaping for generations to come."
Every day this week, I am sharing audiobooks for different ages. I'm also happy to offer a giveaway sponsored by the Audio Publisher’s Association June in Audiobook Month celebration. Winners will receive a pair of earbuds and 3 free audiobook downloads from Audiobooks.com! There’s an easy entry form at the bottom of this post.

Click the Rafflecopter form below for an easy entry. Enjoy listening and sharing.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
The review copies come from my personal and school libraries. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Nonfiction audiobooks for children & teens: June is Audiobook Month (ages 7-14)

I have loved listening to nonfiction audiobooks and know many adults who find them compelling listening. But I have not had as much experience with kids listening to nonfiction audiobooks. These books are terrific in both audio and print form, and I highly recommend trying them with your children.
Perhaps you might think about trying these with your family as a way to expand beyond your usual reading and listening. Explore a period from history or learn about animals with your children and broaden your horizons!

Nonfiction for children (ages 7-10)


In Harvesting Hope, narrator Robert Ramirez brings a strong, clear voice to Cesar Chavez's inspiring story of courage and resistance. If you have animal lovers, definitely try the National Geographic chapter books with stories of animals helping in all sorts of ways--Dog Finds Lost Dolphins is my favorite. Island Treasures is Alma Flor Ada's memoir of her childhood growing up in Cuba--her stories of grandparents, aunts and uncles are full of heart, warmth and gentle humor.

Nonfiction for tweens & teens (ages 10-14): 

These gripping audiobooks will introduce tweens and teens to history in its complexities, full of drama and challenges. Kadir Nelson's Heart and Soul, with Debbie Allen's masterful narration, shares the story of America and African Americans, through the voice of a grandmother sharing her people's history. Steve Sheinkin's Bomb shows how the atomic bomb was developed, as he weaves together threads of scientific development, military plots and espionage in a dramatic, suspenseful story. Code Talker is the intense story of the Navajo marines who fought in the Pacific theater of World War II, and their invaluable contributions fighting and saving lives, using their language which was an unbreakable code.
Every day this week, I will share audiobooks for different ages. I'm also happy to offer a giveaway sponsored by the Audio Publisher’s Association June in Audiobook Month celebration. Winners will receive a pair of earbuds and 3 free audiobook downloads from Audiobooks.com! There’s an easy entry form at the bottom of this post.

Click the Rafflecopter form below for an easy entry. Enjoy listening and sharing.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
The review copies come from my personal and school libraries. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Fantasy and realistic fiction for longer listening: June is Audiobook Month (ages 8-12)

I’ve seen first-hand how audiobooks bolster students’ confidence and reading skills. They enjoy reading, and this makes them want to read more. But even more so, I’ve experienced how listening together creates a shared reading experience.

As we head into summer, spend some time trying out audiobooks, listening together with your children. June is Audiobook Month, and as part of that celebration I'd like to share some of my favorite audiobooks for children. Please make sure you see the giveaway at the bottom of the post.

Fantasy for longer listening (ages 8-12): Many families love being whisked away into a fantasy world. Jim Dale is masterful narrating the Harry Potter series, but our love for fantasy extends far beyond Hogwarts.

Adam Gidwitz brings humor and adventure to his take on classic fairy tales in A Tale Dark and Grimm. Skullduggery Pleasant also combines this same dark humor with fantasy and adventure in this terrific fantasy. Monster's Ring prompts kids to consider what they would do if magic suddenly let them get the upper hand over their bullies. Horizon is the beginning of a great new fantasy series with a science fiction twist.
Realistic fiction for longer listening (ages 8-12): These stories pull you into characters' lives, letting you see and feel what they go through. They are absolutely absorbing and heartfelt.
Ghost is a huge favorite in Berkeley, winning our district-wide Mock Newbery award. The audiobook is fantastic and won the Odyssey Award from the ALA. This year, my students particularly loved The War that Saved My Life, finding the story of Ada inspiring as she realizes how she's able to overcome many odds stacked against her. If you like stories of gutsy girls, you'll definitely want to seek out Our Only May Amelia.
Do you have any other favorites for children who love listening to long, engrossing stories? Please let me know your favorites, so I can add to my list!

Every day this week, I will share audiobooks for different ages. I'm also happy to offer a giveaway sponsored by the Audio Publisher’s Association June in Audiobook Month celebration. Winners will receive a pair of earbuds and 3 free audiobook downloads from Audiobooks.com! There’s an easy entry form at the bottom of this post.

Click the Rafflecopter form below for an easy entry. Enjoy listening and sharing.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
The review copies come from my personal and school libraries. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, June 12, 2017

Audiobooks for developing listeners: June is Audiobook Month (ages 4-9)

As children start developing their attention span, try listening to longer stories. I've found that many children love listening to engrossing stories--remember that children's listening comprehension is often two years above their reading level. This means that preschoolers are ready to listen to the early chapter books that 1st graders read.
As we head into summer, spend some time trying out audiobooks, listening together with your children. June is Audiobook Month, and as part of that celebration I'm sharing my favorite audiobooks all week. Make sure you see the giveaway at the bottom of the post.

Early chapter books (ages 4-7): These stories combine humor, friendship and adventure. Mercy Watson makes us laugh with its slapstick humor, and Dory is an utterly lovable rascal. The classic friends Frog and Toad are completely charming as an audiobook collection.
Developing listeners (ages 7-9): Our 2nd and 3rd graders in Berkeley love listening to longer stories at school and at home. Some like listening and reading together, taking in the story with both their eyes and their ears. Others like just listening and letting the story develop in their mind.

Magic and imagination is a constant theme with these books. As you listen to Toys Go Out, you'll start wondering what happens to your toys when you're gone for the day--do they have a secret life all of their own? The Wild Robot follows Roz as she finds herself stranded on an island far from any humans. As any robot would do, she sets out to make herself useful and tries to be a good friend to the animals.
Do you have any other favorites for children who are starting to listen to longer stories? Please let me know your favorites, so I can add to my list!

Every day this week, I will share audiobooks for different ages. I'm also happy to offer a giveaway sponsored by the Audio Publisher’s Association June in Audiobook Month celebration. Winners will receive a pair of earbuds and 3 free audiobook downloads from Audiobooks.com! There’s an easy entry form at the bottom of this post.

Click the Rafflecopter form below for an easy entry. Enjoy listening and sharing.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
The review copies come from my personal and school libraries. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Stories & songs for our youngest listeners: June is Audiobook Month (ages 3-5)

As we head into summer, spend some time trying out audiobooks, listening together with your children. June is Audiobook Month, and as part of that celebration I'd like to share some of my favorite audiobooks for children. Every day this week, I will be sharing some of my favorites for different age groups.
My favorite storytellers blend songs, stories and folktales to captivate young listeners. Have fun listening to Diane Ferlatte, Jim Weiss or Pete Seeger as they sing traditional songs with a modern twist. Young children also enjoy listening to picture books, both new and old, especially if they are familiar books.
Do you have any other favorites you would add to this list? Perhaps there are other folk tales you love? Or classic picture books like Mike Mulligan and His Steamshovel or Is Your Mama a Llama? Please let me know your favorites, so I can add to my list!

Every day this week, I will share audiobooks for different ages. I'm also happy to offer a giveaway sponsored by the Audio Publisher’s Association June in Audiobook Month celebration. Winners will receive a pair of earbuds and 3 free audiobook downloads from Audiobooks.com! There’s an easy entry form at the bottom of this post.

Click the Rafflecopter form below for an easy entry. Enjoy listening and sharing.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

The review copies come from my personal and school libraries. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, June 5, 2017

Celebrating the music that infuses Clayton Byrd Goes Underground

Last week I sung the praises of the terrific new novel Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia. Today, I'd love to celebrate by sharing some music, in the form of a playlist recommended to me by Rita Williams-Garcia. This is a fun mix of music that mixes the blues and hip-hop that form the inner anthems for Clayton Byrd, Cool Papa Byrd, and the Beat Boys.



The hip hop beat continues to reign supreme among today's youth. My own teens introduce me to today's beats along with classic hip hop. I love how this novel connects both modern and older music together. As Rita Williams-Garcia writes in her authors note for Clayton Byrd Goes Underground,
"Both beatboxing and playing the blues harp relied upon inventiveness in a language churned up from the gut and out through breath, throat, tongue, teeth, lips and spit to amplify the musician's voice and emotional road beyond mere words."
Rita Williams-Garcia draws upon this inspiration, creates a story of a young man's emotional journey, and captures the rhythm and cry of the music in her words.

The audiobook is magnificent. Listen here, if you'd like, to an excerpt:
Overdrive sample audiobook:
I'm sure I'll be sharing more as the year progresses about what students think about Clayton Byrd. Until then, enjoy the music and the story. The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, HarperCollins, and I have already purchased several more copies. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Connecting with students: Clayton Byrd Goes Underground (ages 9-12)

As an educator committed to culturally relevant teaching, I constantly seek out a diverse range of books. Today, I'd like to share with you how Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, by Rita Williams-Garcia, connected with one of my students, Shondrick, an African-American 4th grader. Earlier this week, I shared my full review of this outstanding new novel and some videos that can help students learn about the blues.

Shondrick is a thoughtful, perceptive reader and a young man I admire. School is not always easy for him, but he works hard and is a dedicated scholar. Shondrick told me that it was "interesting that Clayton Byrd never did anything bad in his life before" he ran away from home.
He could tell that Clayton was very upset after his grandfather died. On the subway, Clayton was so worried about getting his grandfather's hat back from the older boy that he would do anything. "It was all he had left of his grandfather," Shondrick explained.

I noticed how clearly Shondrick expressed the powerful emotions that Clayton was experiencing. He could see the inner conflict Clayton felt -- should he go along with pack of boys, even though he knew they were up to no good? What was the right thing to do? Williams-Garcia skillfully develops the characters so that readers develop a sense of their nuanced emotions.

Shondrick especially liked the way Rita Williams-Garcia incorporates both blues and hip-hop music. He told me,
"Even though most rap songs have cuss words, some have life stories in them and they tell you what to do and not to do."
Rita Williams-Garcia discusses these ideas further in her author's note, and I think she would agree that both blues and hip-hop capture people's life stories, lessons and struggles. Shondrick has listened to some blues and knows about blues singers who sing about life's struggles, but he prefers rap music.

The audiobook, read by Adam Lazarre-White, effectively captured the deeper black man's voice, in Shondrick's view. "The voices added drama and emotion to the dialogue," he told me. Listen to this sample of the audiobook to hear how Lazarre-White embodies Cool Papa Byrd, with a raspy, smooth voice.

Culturally relevant teaching describes an approach to education that "that empowers students to maintain cultural integrity, while succeeding academically"(Ladson-Billings, 1995). It is grounded in understanding students' cultures and incorporating this into our teaching. As Gloria Ladson-Billings explains, we must
"develop in all students cultural competence. What I mean by that is you help kids understand assets that are part of their own culture, while simultaneously helping them become fluent in at least one more culture. So it would mean youngsters of color have to learn the mainstream culture, but at the same moment youngsters in the mainstream need to learn some other cultures. Youngsters of color also need to value the culture they have."
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground helps me do exactly this. It gives value and respect to the blues and to hip-hop, building black students' knowledge of the assets that black culture brings to our society. At the same time, it helps students of different cultural backgrounds have a greater understanding of black culture. Best of all, it does this in a compelling, dynamic, heart-felt story.

As a librarian, I love sharing books--but really, what I love most, is discovering what books connect to different readers and how different readers seek out stories that mean something to them. Each person is different; my goal as a school librarian is to help each child discover they way reading can help them find themselves and see other people.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, HarperCollins, and I have already purchased several more copies. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The music behind Clayton Byrd: developing students' background knowledge

I'm continuing my celebration of Clayton Byrd Goes Underground today, sharing videos of the music infusing this story. Yesterday I shared my full review of this outstanding new novel. Later this week I'll share students' reactions, and then I'll finish with a musical playlist that ran through Rita Williams-Garcia's mind while she wrote Clayton Byrd's story.
Whenever you start a new book, you begin by building images and a framework for the story. The author brings much of that, but as a reader you add in your own experience and knowledge. This background knowledge helps readers develop a fuller picture of the story.

Today, I started reading Clayton Byrd Goes Underground with our 4th grade classes and I began by showing the book trailer. I specifically wanted students to get a feel for the music, the characters, the tone of the book. I asked students to focus on Cool Papa and his electric blues guitar, and on Clayton with his harmonica. This was a fabulous way to plant the seeds for them, activating knowledge they brought and giving others a sense of the story before we began.

As we continue reading this story together, I will want to share a few more videos to give students a sense of the blues music that means so much to Cool Papa Byrd and Clayton. "What Is the Blues" from Music Maker Relief Foundation captures the heritage, the feelings, the history behind the Blues--and what it means to folks still today.

"The Blues is essential, man, to life." "Look where you coming from. And look ahead."

I'd also like students to develop a little more feeling for the harmonica, or blues harp as Clayton calls it. I'd like to share this video of Sam Frazier, Jr., a harmonica player and country singer from Edgewater, Alabama, a small mining camp outside of Birmingham.


As we get into the second half of the book, I want to celebrate beatboxing. In her author's note, Rita Williams-Garcia specifically mentions seeing a video of Doug E. Fresh playing the harmonica as he beatboxed. This is a great clip of him that will help students hear how Clayton used his blues harp with the boys on the train.

This is Doug E. Fresh beatboxing on harmonica at the Old School Hip Hop at Wolf Creek Amphitheater in Atlanta, GA. Rita Williams-Garcia writes in her author's note:
"Years ago I saw a video of rapper Doug E. Fresh alternately beatboxing and playing the harmonica in his live show. I was used to hearing the harmonica played in blues and in country-and-western music, but this mash-up clicked instantly for me! Of course, the blues and hip-hop!" 
I want to help students hear the blues cries when they read the book, and so it's important to share some of the music with them as we read. We can't assume that all students will bring this background knowledge to the book. Likewise, I want to celebrate hip-hop, a musical style that continues to speak so directly to younger generations.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, HarperCollins, and I have already purchased several more copies. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, by Rita Williams-Garcia -- moving story of love, grief and finding your way (ages 9-12)

Clayton Byrd loves his grandpa Cool Papa Byrd mightily and fiercely. Blues music ties them together, and their love runs deep and true. When Cool Papa dies suddenly in his sleep, young Clayton must grapple with his loss and find his own way. Rita Williams-Garcia's new novel will touch readers deeply, as they connect with Clayton and journey with him.

This week, I'd like to celebrate Clayton Byrd Goes Underground in a few different ways. Today, I'll share my review. Later this week, I'll add videos that will help build Clayton's world for students, share a student's comments, and then finish with a musical playlist that ran through Rita Williams-Garcia's mind while she wrote Clayton Byrd's story.
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground
by Rita Williams-Garcia
Amistad / HarperCollins, 2017
book trailer with Rita Williams-Garcia
Amazon / your local library
ages 9-12
*best new book*
Right from the first page, Rita Williams-Garcia weaves the power of blues through each fiber of her story, writing with the same "rhythm and slow-burning funk cooked into the blues" that she describes. She riffs on the lyrics of blues, but keeps it focused on young Clayton's story. This passage from the first chapter shows how she weaves in the feel of the blues, with repetition and patterns. But it also shows how she keeps the focus on developing Clayton's character and feelings.
"Instead of drowning out Clayton's plea with Wah-Wah Nita's full-bodied cry, Cool Papa answered back as only Cool Papa would. Cool. Clear. But sharp.
Not yet, Little Man, not yet.
Then louder. I SAID, Not yet, Little Man, not yet.
Softer--Not yet, Little Man, not yet.
Wait...

Even thought Cool Papa and Wah-Wah Nita had answered, that didn't stop Clayton Byrd from hoping, and waiting... His lungs and soul were ready to pour out his own story through the ten square holes of his blues harp. He just needed Cool Papa Byrd to wave him in for a solo." (pp. 3-4)
When Cool Papa suddenly dies in his sleep, Clayton must cope with his grief all alone. Clayton's mother is consumed with anger toward her father, still resentful that he left her as a young girl for months at a time to follow his music.  When his mother sells all of Papa Byrd's records and guitars, Clayton feels betrayed, angry beyond words and completely alone. And so he sets off in search of the Bluesmen -- going underground on the New York subway to find them in Washington Square Park where they played with Cool Papa.

Clayton runs straight into trouble when a pack of boys recruits him to help them make money, playing his blues harp as they danced and beatboxed on the subway. Their hip-hop beat is infectious, and will resonate with many young readers who love the vibrations, clicks and thumping of beatboxing.

This novel finds its groove as Clayton struggles with doing the right thing, stepping out on his own, but getting right into trouble. Many of my students who loved Jason Reynold's Ghost will find much to love here, with nuanced family relationships, well-paced plot and descriptive, dynamic writing.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, HarperCollins, and I have already purchased several more copies. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Funny Girl: Terrific collection of stories to make you laugh (ages 9-13)

Laughter and happiness is so important to share and foster with our children. Children love reading funny books and they thrive when adults can share their joy. And yet how often do we promote truly funny books, much less read them aloud with our kids? A terrific new collection fills this need: Funny Girl, a selection of 28 short stories, personal memoirs and comics that will tickle your funny bone.
Funny Girl
edited by Betsy Bird
Viking / Penguin, 2017
Amazon / your local library
ages 9-13
Betsy Bird, an outstanding children's librarian and blogger, has collected women writers and comedians to share their humor and advice to young readers. As television comedy writers Delaney and Mackenzie Yeager explain in their opening entry, "Joke-telling is the greatest superpower a gall can posses." Being a comedian takes confidence--a combination of audacity and courage to put yourself out there.

Short personal essays are among my favorites. In "One Hot Mess," Carmen Agra Deedy shares about the time her mother set a bathtub on fire to get rid of the germs, unwittingly melting the fiberglass tub in their new apartment. One of my students loved Ursula Vernon's story "Grandma in Oil Country." She loved the outrageous, over-the-top situations and the silly illustrations. Just look at the note that Maya wrote:
"SUPER FUNNY!" writes Maya about
Ursula Vernon's "Grandma in Oil Country"
The short format is great for these funny stories because they get to the humor quickly. There are plenty of relatable situations, helping readers laugh at the crazy things in their own lives. I appreciate the diverse range of authors. In "Brown Girl Pop Quiz," Mitali Perkins draws on her experiences  and shows how "all of the above" so often applies to our multiple identities.

The collection ends with short biographical entries for each author. With this great range of stories, you're bound to find new authors you'd like to explore. I was so excited talking with Maya about this story that I grabbed some other books by Ursula Vernon. I think she'll have fun with the Hamster Princess series:
Funny Girl editor Betsy Bird blogs at Fuse 8 and is a good friend and colleague. I have purchased this review copy for our home collection, as gifts and for our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, May 22, 2017

Real Friends, by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham: navigating the stormy seas of friendship (ages 8-12)

As parents and teachers, it can be hard to watch our children navigate the difficult waters of friendship. I have a clear memory of watching my oldest daughter wander the playground by herself in kindergarten, just watching other children play. It can be hard to give our children advice, and even harder still for children to figure out what's really going on.
Real Friends
by Shannon Hale
illustrated by LeUyen Pham
First Second / Macmillan 2017
Amazon / your local library
ages 8-12
*best new book*
Real Friends, Shannon Hale's graphic novel memoir, focuses on the trouble she had figuring out friendship issues throughout elementary school. The format is perfect for this audience -- blending images, short text and visual storytelling to help young readers see just how hard these friendship issues really are and understand some ways through them.

Shannon struggles with anxiety from the beginning, not wanting to leave her mother's side. Making a best friend makes her early school years happy, but when this friend moves away Shannon is left feeling all alone. As social groups at school become clearer and the popular group asserts itself, Shannon copes with feelings of inadequacy. She compares herself to other girls and feels resentment as they leave her on the edges of their group.

If you'd like, check out this book trailer to get a sense of the energy and flow between Hale's story and Pham's artwork.


I am so very glad that Hale chose to write this memoir as a graphic novel. So many more students will read and relate to her story precisely because they'll try it. Pham's artwork is full of energy and she excels and communicating the emotional upheaval that Shannon goes through. I especially love the way she brings Hale's metaphors to life, whether it's her older sister turning into a savage bear or the queen bee at school holding forth with her royal court.

This is a book that will be enjoyed by a wide range of young readers--girls and boys. Many students struggle with friendship issues, and graphic novels have broad appeal. I especially appreciate what LeUyen Pham told the School Library Journal:
"I know as many if not more boys who have read books from Raina Telgemeier or Jenni Holm, without questioning whether it’s written for them. A good story is a good story, and especially books that are reveal the navigations of elementary school relationships are necessary for either boys or girls."
Young readers will appreciate how nuanced and flawed Shannon is--she doesn't show herself as a perfect friend--but I wonder if they'll yearn for more fully developed secondary characters. I do know that my students will appreciate how Hale does not preach or lecture about how to be a friend, but rather she shows how you can work at being a good friend. As she writes in her author’s note:
“If you haven’t found your ‘group’ yet, hang in there. Your world will keep growing larger and wider. You deserve to have real friends, the kind who treat you well and get how amazing you are.”
I have purchased this review copy for our home collection, as gifts and for our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Dory Fantasmagory -- terrific series for family listening (ages 4-9)

Are you looking for a chapter book to share with your family that works across a range of ages? Hook them with the humor of Dory Fantasmagory. This audiobook will have the whole family laughing along with charming six-year-old Dory and her siblings.
Dory Fantasmagory
by Abby Hanlon
narrated by Suzy Jackson
Dial Books / Penguin, 2014
Recorded Books, 2015
preview on Google Books
Amazon / your local library
ages 4-9
Dory (called Rascal by her family) wants to play with her big brother and sister, but they just complain that she's a pest. Her brother and sister tell her that a witch, Mrs. Gobble Gracker, is going to kidnap her if she isn't careful. While they want to scare her, they just end up encouraging her. She is full of playful imagination, whether it's talking with her imaginary friend or pretending to be a puppy dog.

Abby Hanlon knows just how to balance outrageous humor with empathetic characters. She taught first grade for many years and Dory's voice rings true. Whether it's when Dory declares that time-out is too much fun, or it's how she wants to stay in her nightgown all day instead of getting dressed for school--you'll find something to laugh at.
"It's Luke. 'Mom said you can come out of time-out now.'
'No thanks,' I say, and shut the door. Time-out is turning out to be way too much fun."
Narrator Suzy Jackson captures Dory's 6-year-old voice, with a full range of enthusiasm and emotions. Families will recognize themselves in Dory's attention-getting strategies, her mom's exasperation or her siblings' bickering. As the AudioFile review puts it,
"Jackson mirrors Dory's boundless energy as she pesters her older siblings with endless questions, irritates her mother to the extreme by pretending to be a dog at the pediatrician's office, and rattles off a list of terrible things Mrs. Gobble Gracker might do when she whisks Dory away."
Dory was a favorite read-aloud with our first grade classes this year--students came to the library asking for more Dory books! Listen to the full series, for a real treat:
1. Dory Fantasmagory
2. Dory and the Real True Friend
3. Dory Dory Black Sheep
I'm happy to join friends Alyson at Kid Lit Frenzy and Michele at Mrs. Knott's Bookshelf in celebrating the #Road2Reading. As they write,
"All journeys have a starting place. This is a weekly place to find books and tools that you may use with readers at the start of their reading journey."
I'd like to give special thanks to the community at Emerson for going with me on this #Road2Reading, especially showing me the power of audiobooks. I listened to the audiobook on Tales2Go. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Friday, May 12, 2017

Congratulations! Margarita Engle named Young People's Poet Laureate (ages 5-14)

I am so happy to celebrate poetry this beautiful Friday morning. Many congratulations to Margarita Engle on being named Young People's Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. This award "recognizes a career devoted to writing exceptional poetry for young readers" and Margarita embodies all that this award stands for.
Margarita Engle has written so many books -- these are just a few of my favorites. Much of her verse highlights her Cuban-American ancestry, influenced by her childhood summers spent visiting her mother's homeland. Her poetry also reflects her background in botany and is filled with vivid descriptions of setting. As Henry Bienen, president of the Poetry Foundation, said,
“Margarita Engle’s passion, knowledge of nature, and curiosity about the world make her work fascinating to children and adults alike.”
Here are just a few of her books that I love to share with children:
Bravo: Poems about Amazing Hispanics
Drum, Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music
Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings -- A Memoir
The Wild Book
In honor of this, I'd like to share two poems Margarita wrote as part of her long collaboration with Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong.
In "Discovery," which is part of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science, Engle captures the quiet waiting of explorers and the joy when you finally find the treasure you were looking for. Much of her poetry is also available in Spanish translations -- as it is here. Share this poetry video with students to show how photographs can combine with poetry reading to bring it alive.

Many thanks to Sylvia Vardell for sharing this via Poetry for Children.

Much of Engle's work speaks directly to teens. In "Who Am I?" she captures the confusion created with forms and tests that ask students to categorize themselves. This powerful, accessible poem kicks off the terrific collaboration in Just You Wait: A Poetry Friday Power Book, with prompts to encourage students to write their own poetry.
I am thrilled that Margarita has been awarded this prestigious position. She does so much to encourage the love of poetry in our children. Bravo!!!

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books