Monday, September 18, 2017

Fault Lines in the Constitution, by Cynthia Levinson & Sanford Levinson (ages 12-18)

This week, we’re celebrating Constitution Day: officially celebrated on Sunday, September 17 and this year observed today on September 18th. This day commemorates the signing of the Constitution on September 17, 1787. I am honored to share a guest post by Cynthia Levinson, author of the outstanding new book Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws that Affect Us Today.
Fault Lines in the Constitution: 
The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws that Affect Us Today
by Cynthia Levinson and Sanford Levinson
Peachtree, 2017
Amazon / public library
ages 12-18
*best new book*
Guest post from Cynthia Levinson:

This year is the 230th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution. What do your children know about this usually revered document? They probably learn that it set up the three branches of our democratic form of government, that it contains "checks and balances,” and that it ensures certain rights, such as freedom of speech. But, do they also learn to analyze the Constitution, to look at the parts that don’t work very well?

Our new book Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws that Affect Us Today does just that for readers ten and up. As an award-winning writer for young readers, I wanted to bring these issues to today's teens, and I worked with my husband, a renowned legal scholar, to create a compelling and readable book for young readers. We show how the compromises and conflicts that the Framers dealt with in 1787 lead to issues we struggle with today.

For instance, those checks and balances. The need for bills to be approved by both the House of Representatives and the Senate and then overcome a possible presidential veto can make it hard—sometimes impossible—for Congress to pass laws the country needs. Furthermore, because every state, regardless of its size, elects two senators, less than half the US population these days holds 80 percent of the seats in the Senate while a little more than half are represented by only 20 senators. We even show how this imbalance leads to the excess of corn syrup in the food we buy! In addition, we explain in accessible language how we ended up with the Electoral College and tussles over voting rights.
We don’t leave readers completely discouraged, though. Fault Lines gives examples of how state constitutions and those in other countries do things differently, often better, and how we can do so, too. In the end, we give our Constitution a grade, based on the stirring goals laid out the Preamble, and ask students to do the same. To keep the book updated, we post a blog twice a month at www.faultlinesintheconstitution.

Thank you so much, Cynthia! This is indeed a terrific book for teens. You present a compelling case for examining the strengths and weaknesses of the Constitution, engaging readers in this debate with persuasive examples. I particularly appreciate the layout and design. Read the introduction here in this excerpt. The Fault Lines blog is a terrific resource -- just look at these recent posts:
Educators will want to also check out these resources recommended by the Library of Congress:
The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Peachtree. 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, September 12, 2017

Reading about wild weather & learning about hurricanes (ages 5-16)

The weather this fall has certainly been wild. Two major hurricanes have ravaged communities in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean. Build on students' interest by sharing a range of books that explore the causes of extreme weather and the way scientists work to predict and understand the weather.
Younger children:

Hurricanes (Smithsonian Little Explorer), by Martha E.H. Rustad -- a good introduction with accessible text, short sentences, dramatic photographs and clear diagrams. Ages 6-10. Reading level, 2nd grade.

Fly Guy Presents: Weather, by Tedd Arnold -- blending humor and information, this book captures kids' attention. The text is definitely more complex than the Fly Guy stories, making it good to read aloud to young Fly Guy fans. Clear information, excellent diagrams and labels. Ages 5-10. Reading level, 3rd grade.

Hurricane Watch, by Melissa Stewart -- this picture book focuses on how scientists track storms and what you can do to keep yourself safe if one is coming. Engaging, clear information, with expressive illustrations. Ages 5-9. Reading level, 3rd grade.

Older children & teens:

Extreme Weather (A True Book), by Ann Squire -- Focusing on key questions like what makes a tornado deadly and how a storm surge is created, this book explores how scientists study weather. Longer paragraphs will help children learn more in depth about these topics, without overwhelming them. Ages 8-12. Reading level, 4th grade.


Eye of the Storm: NASA, Drones, and the Race to Crack the Hurricane Code (Scientists in the Field), by Amy Cherrix -- dramatic writing pulls students into wanting to know more about cyclones, their deadly power and the scientists that are studying them. Beginning with a look at Hurricane Sandy, which lulled many New Yorkers into thinking it posed insignificant risk because it was a Category 1 hurricane, Cherrix keeps the focus squarely on the people who are affected by and who study these powerful storms. Try reading short sections aloud to pique students' interest. Ages 9-17. Reading level, 8th grade.

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans, by Don Brown -- this comic book delivers a powerful look at the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina, helping students understand the flooding, distress, anger, pain and death that followed in its aftermath. The visual depiction of the devastation and the inadequate government response are captured in a powerful way, and not sensationalized. Ages 10-17. Reading level, 6th grade.

Read more about choosing nonfiction for developing readers in the article I wrote with Alyson Beecher:
"Beyond Reading Levels: Choosing Nonfiction for Developing Readers," by Mary Ann Scheuer and Alyson Beecher, School Library Journal (August 28, 2017)
Many kids and adults prefer reading nonfiction, especially books that help them understand the world around us. It's important to build children's knowledge gradually, seeking out books that increase in complexity. This helps students build their reading muscles, digging into more complex books without getting totally overwhelmed.

Many teachers tell students to find “just right books” -- but how do you know what a book's reading level is? Open it up and read a few paragraphs or pages. I tell my students that the only way they can tell if a book is right for them is to read a little bit of it. Look at the vocabulary and sentences. Look at the design and layout. Ask your child what they think about it. This is much more important than knowing the specific level.

The review copies came from our school and public 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, September 5, 2017

Facing our fears: picture books give us courage to keep trying (ages 3-8)

Fear is a powerful force, in our lives and in our children's. How do we help young kids face their fears and keep moving forward? There is no one easy answer, but several picture books help acknowledge the power that fear has and different ways to overcome it. Today, I'd like to share four with different approaches for young kids.
Sam, the Most Scaredy-Cat Kid in the Whole World
A Leonardo, the Terrible Monster companion
by Mo Willems
Disney-Hyperion, 2017
Amazon / Public library
ages 3-6
One day Sam makes a terrifying discovery. You might think that it's Frankenthaler the monster, but actually it's another little kid Kerry! You see, Sam is the most scaredy-cat kid in the whole world. But guess what? Kerry is also terrified of Sam! What are their monsters going to do?

Sometimes, kids need to discover that they can just carry on and deal with their fears. Sam & Kerry's monsters just leave them to "figure it out," and guess what? These two kids discover that they have more in common then they do to fear, especially as they fall into giggles when they play a trick on their monsters. A fun companion to Mo Willems' Leonardo, the Terrible Monster.
I (Don't) Like Snakes
by Nicola Davies
illustrated by Luciano Lozano
Candlewick, 2015
Amazon / Public library
ages 4-8
A young girl can't believe it, but her family really likes snakes. When she says, "I really, really, REALLY don't like snakes!" they are amazed--setting the stage for the young protagonist to explain just why she can't stand these slithering, scaly creatures with flicky tongues.

There are times that facts and knowledge help us overcome our fears. Each time this young girl tells her family why she doesn't like snakes, they tell her a little more about these amazing creatures. "Snakes HAVE to slither," said my mom. "They don't have legs, so they bend like an S and use their ribs and scales to grip. It's the only way they can move." Davies then provides more information about different types of motions: concertina slithering, serpentine slithering and caterpillar crawling.

This skillful blend of humor and information models a terrific way of overcoming our fears by learning more about them.
I Am (Not) Scared
by Anna Kang
illustrated by Christopher Weyant
Two Lions, 2017
Amazon / Public library
ages 3-6
I'm not sure about you, but I scream like crazy on roller coasters. I get terrified when I zoom along in those tiny cars. And yet I leave the ride with an incredible rush. How do you explain this blend of fear and adrenaline? And can we extend this to other fears?

 In this delightful picture book, two bears share their fears of hairy spiders, hot lava and fried ants. But what's really on their mind is the roller coaster (with a snake!) right in front of them: The Loop of Doom. With simple, bold text and exaggerated cartoon characters, Kang and Weyant deliver the message that these friends can face their fears together, and that a little fear can be a whole lot of fun.
The Thing Lou Couldn't Do
by Ashley Spires
Kids Can, 2017
Amazon / Public library
ages 3-7
Sometimes, we are convinced that everyone else can do something and there is just no way we can do it. My youngest is absolutely sure that she cannot ride a bike. Lou loves adventure, but she is terrified of heights. When her friends decide to build their pirate ship up in a tree, Lou isn't sure she can climb it.
"Lou tells them that her arm is sore. And anyway, the cat needs a walk... There are so many reasons not to try."
After deliberating and avoiding it for a few pages, Lou decides that it's time for her "to climb aboard." She struggles and groans and is sure "she must be nearly there," but when readers turn the page they discover that she's just climbed a tiny bit.

I love this ending, with its message of trying new things and persevering. Even though she didn't climb very far, it's that she can't do it yet. "She'll be back. Maybe even tomorrow. After all, Lou loves an adventure."

The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Disney-Hyperion, Candlewick, Two Lions and Kids Can Press. 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, August 29, 2017

Patina (Track #2), by Jason Reynolds --

Last year, Berkeley students chose Jason Reynolds' Ghost as the best new book of the year in our Mock Newbery program. They loved how Ghost struggled to make good choices and find his own way, and how quickly they were drawn into his world. Today, Reynolds publishes Patina, the second in his Track series, looking at the story of Patina (Patty) Jones, the new girl on the Defenders racing team.

I cannot wait to share Patina's story with kids. Reynolds' writing explodes during race scenes. And Patty's character is richly drawn. She carries such a load, so much responsibility, taking care of her little sister, caring for her mom, navigating a school scene that isn't comfortable or rooted in her own culture. She's vulnerable and strong at the same time.
Patina (Track #2)
by Jason Reynolds
Atheneum / Simon & Schuster, 2017
Amazon / Your local library
ages 9-14
*best new book*
Patty cannot stand losing. In the opening chapter, she's fuming that she has come in 2nd place in the Defenders' most recent race. Seeing Patty pull away and fume inside, Coach assigns her to the 4x800 relay team. Instead of just focusing on herself, Patty must figure out how to partner with three other girls, literally running in step with them.

Meanwhile, Patty has to juggle being responsible for her little sister, feeling out of place at her private school, and taking care of her mom who’s “got the sugar” (diabetes). Like Ghost, Patty must deal with a heavy load. She has lost so much in her life and tries to handle everything by herself. She deserves to just be a kid, but she has to shoulder so much responsibility.

Reynolds creates a strong, compelling cast of characters, authentically capturing a young girl's voice. While this novel does not have the same tension or suspense as Ghost, I loved the track and teamwork elements of this story, as the teammates learned to be in step with one another.

In the United States, it's been a tumultuous August, with the violent conflict in Charlottesville and a pounding hurricane in Texas. This weekend, Berkeley and San Francisco were the site of further protests. In the midst of this turmoil, I wonder about the impact on our children and how we can best respond.

We need to recognize the impact of trauma; however, I also feel strongly one of the best things we can do is to keep operating with a focus on love, compassion and respect. Our libraries and books can provide a refuge, a safe place during chaotic times--a chance for our students to regroup, reflect, and find sustenance.

Sharing books like Patina help kids see that they are not alone. I am deeply appreciative of all the work that teachers, librarians and parents do to create a safe space for our children. And I am especially grateful to Jason Reynolds for sharing Patina's story with us.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Simon & Schuster. 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, August 16, 2017

Excited for the Eclipse? Resources to share with kids (ages 5-9)

Are you excited about the total solar eclipse that will occur next Monday? On August 21, 2017, all of North America will be able to see the eclipse, either a total solar eclipse or a partial one. Families, teachers, and librarians are using this event to ignite interest in science and astronomy. Take some time before the event to talk with kids near you about how the earth rotates around the sun, the moon spins around the earth and what happens during an eclipse.

While several website also explain about eclipses, I have found that they are quite wordy and complex. The best resource I've found for younger students is a print book, Eclipses by Martha E.H. Rustad, available in paperback or library binding. The advantage of a print book is that students can return to it on their own, thinking more about what happened during the eclipse.
Eclipses
by Martha E.H. Rustad
Capstone, 2017
Google Books preview
Amazon / Your local library
ages 4-9
Rustad clearly explains in short, simple sentences what happens during a solar and a lunar eclipse. This would be good to read aloud with young children (ages 4-7), or have for 2nd graders to read independently.
"The moon and Earth move in paths called orbits. Earth orbits the sun. The moon orbits Earth. Sometimes these paths line up. Then an eclipse happens."
Bold photos and a good diagram help create interest and explain the concepts. A glossary, recommended further reading and an index are included at the end.

Combine digital and print resources with physical hands-on models to help students develop an understanding of the solar system and envision what's happening during an eclipse.

These two videos are good starting places. This video from SciShowKids is short and geared to younger kids, but you'll need to explain that it was created for the eclipse that happened in Europe in 2015.


This next video, from Vox, is longer and more detailed, and so it's better for older children.

I also really liked the web resources from both NASA (eclipse2017.nasa.gov) and from the Google/UCBerkeley project Eclipse Megamovie 2017. In particular, check out the eclipse simulator where you can enter your location and see the simulation of what the eclipse will look like in your area.
Screenshot from eclipse simulator
I hope you enjoy experiencing the eclipse with children, and together you can talk about some of the wonders of astronomy. I especially liked the way John Panagos, a teacher in Oakland at Burckhalter Elementary, said it in this article in EdSource:
“The eclipse will help students appreciate the beauty of space — feel that joy and sense of wonder, ask questions and create their own journey of understanding the universe and their place in it."
The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Capstone Press. 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, August 15, 2017

Standing strong together -- using books to connect us.

I am deeply saddened by the violence that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend. It anguishes me that people in our country are filled with hatred, resort to violence to assert their views, and openly carry military weapons.

As I struggle with these feelings, I recall the words of Javaka Steptoe as he accepted the 2017 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for his masterful picture book Radiant Child. Javaka reflected on how our country and our communities are changing and the opportunities this presents.
"Today that block on Monroe Street looks different than when my father lived there. The faces are not all black. In fact, spaces all around the country are becoming more diverse. The landscape of America is not the same as it was, and we are at an impasse. Do we hold on to what we were? Or do we become what we can be? ...

"Against all odds, we have made something of this place, and if we can respect one another’s truths, if we can see outside of ourselves, we can be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. Representing all aspects of our society is not about fulfilling the selfish desires of a small special-interest group. It is about supplying power to the people of America."
Stories have the power to connect us, helping us "see outside of ourselves," as Javaka said. Reading about other people helps us respect each other's journeys and experiences.

As parents, librarians and teachers, we must actively choose to share with our children books that help them see outside of their own communities. And we must also help all of our children be able to see books that reflect their own experiences. As Kwame Alexander wrote on Twitter this week,
"Resist/Speak up. Teach yr kids same. The mind of an adult begins in the imagination of a child. Peace."
And so I focus on books that help us see each other more fully, that foster the imagination, that make kids want to read more. Because this is how I can help actively make the world a better place.

Thank you to all of the artists and authors who help me in this journey, who share their stories to help us all connect. Thank you to all of the teachers and librarians, parents and friends who help me discover more books to share. And especially, thank you to all of the students who share their stories, their reading lives with me. You all give so much of yourselves.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Grandma's Tiny House, by JaNay Brown-Wood -- a counting book that rises above the rest (ages 3-6)

Counting books are a dime a dozen, but Grandma's Tiny House rises above the rest of this crowded field. Teachers and families will appreciate this loving African American family, the story and rhymes that bring this beyond your typical counting book.
Grandma's Tiny House
by JaNay Brown-Wood
illustrated by Priscilla Burris
Charlesbridge, 2017
Amazon / Your local library
ages 3-6
A grandmother welcomes her family, friends, and neighbors into her home for a wonderful feast, and everyone brings food to share. Cheerful rhymes mark the arrival of different guests. "THREE neighbors knock on the brown wooden door, with FOUR pots of hot greens and ham hocks galore." As more folks arrive, the house quickly fills. Where is everyone going to go? Aunties, cousins, grandkids -- it's quite a houseful.

This counting story is firmly set in an African American home with specific details, a joyful community and lots of love. Many families and teachers are looking for diverse stories just like this, where race and ethnicity is a part of the story because it's just part of the family's life -- not a point of conflict. This is a counting book with lots of feeling and smiles to go around.

Enjoy this trailer to get more of a feel for this joyful story:


If you're interested in more math books, check out the Mathical Prize for children's books. "The Mathical Book Prize is an annual award for fiction and nonfiction books that inspire children of all ages to see math in the world around them." Thanks to friend and fellow blogger Betsy Bird for bringing this award to my attention! This prize is organized by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI), in partnership with the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM).

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Charlesbridge Books. 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, August 7, 2017

Pets on the Loose! series by Victoria Jamieson -- terrific pair of graphic novels for young readers (ages 6-10)

Have you ever imagined what your pets get up to while you're away? Victoria Jamieson takes this notion and gives it a fresh spin, imagining a trio of classroom pets and their antics when the kids go home for the day. Pets on the Loose! is a terrific series for kids moving into longer stories, whether you're reading it aloud together or kids are gobbling it up on their own.
The Great Pet Escape
Pets on the Loose!
volume 1
by Victoria Jamieson
Henry Holt / Macmillan, 2016
Google Books preview
Amazon / Your local library
ages 6-10
George Washington, or "GW" for short, plays the part of a a sweet, innocent classroom hamster, but the second graders at Daisy P. Flugelhorn Elementary School don't know that he's an experienced con man. Having been locked up in 2nd grade for three months, he's determined to escape and reunite with his pals Barry the rabbit and Biter the guinea pig.
"Prison can't stop me. I am now building my greatest invention ever... the Hairy Houdini Escape-O-Matic."
As soon as GW escapes and frees his pals, they run into their biggest problem: Harriet the mouse. With her minion mice and Lucinda, the 5th grade pet snake, Harriet is planning to cause chaos in the school by preparing "the most vile, disgusting lunch they've EVER seen."

Kids will crack up at the thought of mice running havoc in the cafeteria, adding chocolate chips and pickles to the casserole, making soup with ketchup, relish and mustard. The food fight finale will certainly bring giggles a plenty, and kids will relish (ha!) how the friends support one another.

I love the pacing and goofy humor in this graphic novel. GW is cute but mischievous, a good friend but also pretty self-centered. Readers new to longer graphic novels will appreciate that each panel only has one or two short sentences, and that the whole story is captured in eleven short chapters.

Kids will be eager to read the sequel, The Great Art Caper:
The Great Art Caper
Pets on the Loose!
 volume 2
by Victoria Jamieson
Henry Holt / Macmillan, 2017
Google Books preview
Amazon / Your local library
ages 6-10
GW the hamster continue his adventures with his friends, this time saving the students’ art show from sabotage by Harriet the mouse. As the story opens, the pets have settled into a nice routine in each of their classrooms. They want to go to the art room to make a card for GW's friend Carina, but it's on the 2nd floor -- the domain of Harriet and her minions. How are they going to make it all the way there?

Harriet and her minions are plotting to steal Carina’s picture from the art show, wrecking havoc on the school once again. Worst of all, they going to frame GW and his friends so that they will be sent away to St. Bart’s Obedience School for Unruly Pets.

Jamieson continues her series with her terrific blend of humor and pacing, filling this with slapstick humor and an underlying message of friendship. You'll get a nice sense through this Google Books preview:

One of my favorite experiences as a mom was reading aloud a graphic novel to my daughter when she was in 3rd grade. We snuggled up together, each reading different characters' parts aloud. This series would make a great comic book to read aloud with 1st, 2nd or 3rd graders who are ready to listen and read along with a longer story.

The review copies came from our public library, checked out through Axis 360 ebooks. 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, August 2, 2017

Dominic, by William Steig -- adventure, heart and humor for family listening (ages 6-9)

Are you setting off on an adventure this summer? Try listening to Dominic, by William Steig, and you'll find a story full of adventure, heart and humor--perfect for family listening.
Dominicby William Steig
narrated by Peter Thomas
Listening Library, 2009
Amazon / Your local library
ages 6-9
Dominic is a dog in search of his fortune. He leaves his home, taking only his hat and his piccolo, and along the way he meets many animals, developing new friends as he goes. My children were captivated by Dominic's story, as he bumbles his way along, searching for - well, he doesn't quite know what. Dominic learns about the world and himself as he makes new friends and outwits the notorious Doomsday gang.

Originally published in 1972, this timeless story has a folktale feel, full of charm, heart and a bit of magic. One of the interesting things I found myself wondering is what made Dominic so determined to defeat the Doomsday gang. Was he getting revenge for the way they had tricked him, or was he trying to make his world a safer place for his friends?

The length of this story makes is a good choice for a broad age range. While 3rd graders and older will get the most out of this rich story, young children enjoy it as well. William Steig wrote many of my favorite classic picture books: Sylvester and the Magic PebbleDr. DeSoto, and The Amazing Bone. His language is rich and imaginative, perfect for family listening.

The review copy came from our public 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

Sunday, July 30, 2017

One Trick Pony, by Nathan Hale -- exciting, inventive adventure (ages 8-12)

Nathan Hale has many fans who love his blend of adventure and history in graphic novels. In his newest graphic novel One Trick Pony, he ventures into completely new territory with a futuristic post-apocalyptic world. It's full of exciting, inventive adventure that will be perfect for many repeat readings.
One Trick Pony
by Nathan Hale
Amulet / Abrams, 2017
Amazon / Your local library
Google Books preview
ages 8-12
*best new book*
Hostile aliens have devastated Earth in search of technology, hungry for electricity and any machines that feed on it. When Strata and her friends stumble upon a cache of robots, including a super robot pony, they set off the sensors of these aliens. Strata and her family are digital rescuers who are trying to keep the memory of civilization alive by seeking out and safe guarding old technology.
"'We're doomed!' 'Bubbles! They're here!' 'Pipers!'"
Determined to protect her family and friends from the wrath of the alien Pipers, Strata leads the aliens on a wild chase in this fast-paced sci-fi adventure. I'm looking forward to rereading this, thinking more fully about the distinct characters and themes. But in the meantime, the sense of Strata's courage and mission will keep me going.

Enjoy this preview from Google Books to see how quickly the pacing of this story starts off. By pages 20, the chase is on as Strata's pony helps them escape the clutches of the Pipers.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Abrams Books. 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, July 26, 2017

Star Scouts, by Mike Lawrence --a fresh spin on the difficulties of fitting in (ages 8-12)

Many young readers are worried about how they'll find friends and if they'll need to change in order to fit in. In Star Scouts, Mike Lawrence creates a fun new twist to this when his main character finds it easier to make friends among a goofy group of aliens than she does in her new school. This is a graphic novel that's sure to have wide appeal and a terrific heart, one that I hope finds its way into many readers' hands.
Star Scoutsby Mike Lawrence
First Second, 2017
Amazon / Your local libraryages 8-12
Avani Patel is having trouble in her new school, but life becomes much more interesting when she's abducted by a cheerful blue alien named Mabel. Avani joins Mabel’s group of friends in their Star Scouts troop as they earn badges in teleporting, jetpack racing and “xenoscatology” (yep, identifying alien poops).

Kids will love the adventure, humor and especially Avani’s spunky character, as she discovers that she doesn’t have to fit in to find friends. I really love the message in this--that friends come in all shapes and sizes, that they have fun together being silly and having adventures.

Lawrence's artwork is full of zing and great characters. Hand this to fans of Hilo and Zita the Space Girl. Check out this preview from Google Books to see how quickly Avani is off flying with her new friends:

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, First Second and Macmillan. 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, July 23, 2017

The Banana-Leaf Ball: How Play Can Change the World, by Katie Smith Milway (ages 7-10)

Like our animal cousins, young children practice all sorts of skills through play. This powerful picture book takes readers to a refugee camp in Tanzania, where we see how playing soccer helps kids move through their trauma to connect with one another. This is a story that will lead to important discussions about refugees and also about the power of play in everyone's lives.
The Banana-Leaf Ball: How Play Can Change the World
by Katie Smith Milway
illustrated by Shane W. Evans
Kids Can Press, 2017
Google Books preview
Amazon / Your local library
ages 7-10
Young Deo had to flee from his hillside farm when the war came, losing his family in the chaos of that dark night. He traveled for weeks alone, finally making it to a refugee camp in northwest Tanzania. 
"one dark night his family was forced to flee their hillside farm"
Deo begins to rebuild his life, but he keeps to himself. He makes a soccer ball from dried banana leaves like his father did, but a bully called Remy and his friends steal it. Remy's gang steals food, pencils, toys from other children. 
"But when food becomes scarce or water runs dry, flights break out. Some boys form gangs to get more food by stealing from others, even though on one has much."
When a coach invites Deo to play soccer, he wants to join in--soccer was one of his favorite activities at home. The coach assigns Deo and Remy to the same team. Through their play, they begin to forget about their anger and laugh together.

This is an important, hopeful book to read together with children, whether as a family or in a classroom. A picture book, especially one that is both hard-hitting and hopeful like this, can provide a perfect starting point for talking about social justice issues of refugees. It not only can create a sense of empathy, young readers from many places will relate to the power of play.

Definitely share the author's note and backmatter with children. You'll meet the inspiration for Deo: Benjamin Nzobonakira who survived fleeing civil war in Burundi and lived as a refugee in Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania. Information about the refugee crisis, games that build trust and inclusion, and the Right to Play, a play-based nonprofit organization focused on tolerance and peace.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Kids Can Press. 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, July 20, 2017

Gone, by Michael Grant: free this week on SYNC Audiobooks (ages 12+)

Imagine all the adults in your life suddenly disappear. Isn't that every teen's fantasy? Leave me alone. I know how to take care of it all by myself! That's where Gone starts, and oh what a ride it is. I highly recommend it to any teen who loves science fiction--my only caveat is that it's a long book, so you have to be ready to dive in.
Gone, by Michael Grant
narrated by Kyle McCarley
Tantor Media, 2016
ages 12 and up 
Starting today, Gone is free through SYNC Audiobooks for Teens. SYNC is a free summer audiobook program for teens 13+. Gone will be available July 20-26th through the Overdrive App.
Each week, 2017 SYNC is giving away two complete audiobook downloads--pairs of high interest titles, based on weekly themes. From July 20 – July 26, they're focusing on dystopian fantasy novels for teens:
Gone sucked me in from the very beginning. I was caught - completely immersed in this imaginary world where the kids are in charge. The grownups have all completely disappeared. The kids who are 13 and 14 are the oldest kids around, and so have to start figuring things out.

What do they do with kids who are hurt? What about the daycare center full of babies and toddlers without any teachers? What about the kids who are raiding the grocery stores? The excitement quickly turns to fear as a fire starts in a building near the daycare center.

The kids soon realize that they are completely by themselves without computers or cell phones, and without any sign of rescue. They are trapped inside a force field barrier that surrounds the town, and whatever caused this is also causing mutations in birds and animals - along with some strange powers in some of the children.

I originally read Gone 8 years ago, and the excitement has stayed with me. I'm looking forward to listening to this again. Make sure you download your copy between July 20-26 through the SYNC website and the Overdrive app.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, July 17, 2017

Lights, Camera, Middle School! Babymouse Tales from the Locker, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (ages 8-12)

Our students love books that blend lots of images with stories that pull them through. With their knack for laughing through all the challenges that life throws your way, Jenni and Matt Holm bring Babymouse into a new format with Babymouse Tales from the Locker. Seek this out for kids who are ready to move to longer novels, but love graphic novels.

Lights, Camera, Middle SchoolBabymouse Tales from the Lockerby Jennifer L. Holm
illustrated by Matthew Holm
Random House, 2017
Google Books preview
Amazon / Your local library
ages 8-12
As Babymouse heads to middle school, she's worried about whether she'll find friends, what she'll wear and what afterschool activities she'll do. With her great sense of style and leadership, she decides to join the film club and is named director of her group's project. But nothing turns out quite as easy as it seems at first glance. She has to wrangle difficult actors (i.e., friends), make decisions about locations, and make sure everyone's on the same page.

Babymouse struggles with friendships in such a relatable way. She yearns to be part of larger friend group, but then ends up pushing her friends away because she's too bossy. Sound like anyone I know (moi???...)...

Fans of Babymouse will find the same blend of fantasy and school life, but kids new to the series will have no problem fitting right in from the get go. While this is set in middle school, the sweet spot will be with 4th graders who are looking ahead a few years as they figure out the changing landscape of friendships.

Take a look at this preview on Google Books to see how seemlessly the narrative moves between text and images:

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Random House. 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, July 12, 2017

Downloading audiobooks for you & your kids

Do you listen to music on your phone or tablet? Did you know that you can download audiobooks and listen to them the same way? You don’t have to carry around a box of CDs any more. Here are the ways that I’ve had the best experience:

Audible.com has a vast collection of audiobooks, for children and adults. Audiobooks for children cost between $10 and $20, depending on the length. While this might seem expensive, I would argue that $15 for 7 hours of entertainment is good value, especially if it can develop a love of books.

The best feature of the Audible books is that my phone automatically remembers where I paused listening to my book. Even if I listen to music or another podcast, when I go back to my book - it remembers! I've even found that I can skip or rewind by chapter. They have an extensive selection for kids and young adults.
Your school library: Ask if your school provides access to downloadable audiobooks. Berkeley Unified School District subscribes to Tales2Go for all of our elementary school students and teachers. Tales2Go streams audiobooks to listeners' devices at school or at home. They have over 6,000 titles available. Students have unlimited access to titles, so there's no waiting for a book to become available. This summer, I've listened to Harlem Charade through Tales2Go and loved it.

Your public library: I borrow e-audiobooks through my public library using a variety of different providers. Overdrive, Hoopla, and Axis360 all provide services that my local libraries use. Your library subscribes to these services; you download the free app and sign in with your library card.
Using Axis360 through the San Francisco Public Library, I was able to download How Dare the Sun Rise, a new YA memoir by Sandra Uwiringiyimana. and my daughter downloaded The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. It took less than 15 minutes from start to finish. It was a smooth, easy process. Unlike borrowing CDs from the library, there are no late fees; when your book is due, your access stops. You can borrow it again later. For popular titles, you might need to place a hold -- but it's easy to do through your computer.

SYNC Audiobooks for Teens: SYNC is a free summer audiobook program for teens 13+, sponsored by AudioFile Magazine and delivered through Overdrive. SYNC is giving away two complete audiobook downloads a week - pairs of high interest titles, based on weekly themes, from April through August.

Have fun, and let me know if you have any luck downloading audiobooks. I'm always looking for good books to listen to!

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora, by Pablo Cartaya--smooth, layered & passionate with just a little sass (ages 9-13)

Like a great Cuban meal, Arturo Zamora is smooth, courageous and passionate, with just a little sass to let you know you can't push him around. This debut novel from Pablo Cartaya excels as a layered portrait of a young teen standing up for his family, discovering his passions for social justice and finding the courage to tell a girl that he really likes her.
The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora
by Pablo Cartaya
Penguin // Listening Library, 2017
Amazon / Your local library
Google Books preview
ages 9-13
*best new book*
Every Sunday, 13-year-old Arturo joins his extended Cuban-American family at their restaurant La Cocina de la Isla. When a shady land developer threatens to put up flashy high rise condos, Arturo joins forces with his cousins and friends to fight back. Check out these great opening lines:
"I'm officially resigning from love. Time in a cell will do that to a kid. For the record: I didn't do it. Well, I didn't mean for what I did to blow up in my face. This should have been the best night of my l ife. I was going to save the restaurant. Save the town. Get the girl. Make Abuela proud... Instead I'm locked in a small room that smells like chorizo and stale popcorn while my archenemy continues to brainwash the community with reggaeton and free sunscreen."
Kids will love the way Arturo can find the courage to go up against the flashy real estate tycoon, but get completely nervous when he wants to tell a girl that he really likes her. They'll also relate to how important Arturo's family, neighborhood and culture are to him. Arturo's voice is distinctive and authentic. I love the way my friend Brenda Khan describes in her review at Prose & Khan:
"Reading it was like being enfolded into Abuela's warm hug. It was like meeting a family for the first time but feeling like I've know them forever. Arturo's voice is earnest and awkward and at times, hilarious but always genuine."
I highly recommend the audiobook. Cartaya narrates his debut novel with humor, grace and ease -- delightfully navigating Arturo’s awkwardness, humor and conviction as he develops his first crush and recognizes the power of his words in fighting for his family’s restaurant. Listen to this sample of the audiobook:

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Penguin Random House and Listening Library, 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

Monday, July 3, 2017

Celebrating the 4th of July: Picture books perfect for the moment (ages 3-8)

As we head into the 4th of July holiday, I'd like to share two picture books that are perfect for the moment. In my mind, this holiday celebrates the strength and independence of our country, as well as the values upon which our country was founded. I want to remind myself of the key phrases from the Declaration of Independence:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
I want to find ways to talk with children about what it means that all people are created equal, that all people not only have the right to freedom but also the right to pursue their dreams. And that we must do so while respecting everyone else's rights.
Blue Sky, White Stars
by Sarvinder Naberhaus
illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Dial Books / Penguin, 2017
Amazon / Your local library
ages 3-8
Inspiring paintings complement spare text perfectly, creating a stirring portrait of America. Naberhaus, an Indian American immigrant, and Nelson, an African American illustrator, begin with iconic images of our country, showing how elements of the American flag resonate today.
"Blue Sky / White Stars"
Paired images make clear associations between America's values and the diversity of our people, honoring all who have helped shaped our country.
"Well Worn"
The layered meanings of the text and images will lead to interesting conversations--about why the artist chose these images, and how they show our country changing and evolving.
"Stand Proud"
Sarvinder Naberhaus has put together a wonderful collection of resources to complement this beautiful book: Blue Sky White Stars website. Teachers will especially enjoy using this to deepen conversations with students. I especially appreciate this beautiful book's message of unity and diversity, together as one country.
She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World
by Chelsea Clinton
illustrated by Alexandra Boiger
Philomel Books / Penguin, 2017
Amazon / Your local library
ages 5-8
Chelsea Clinton's picture book is definitely building on the momentum of the current political climate, but it also captures an important value for this generation--encapsulating what it means to be a feminist.
"Sometimes being a girl isn't easy. At some point, someone will probably tell you no, will tell you to be quiet and may even tell you your dreams are impossible. Don't listen to them."
Inspired by Senator Elizabeth Warren's stand against the appointment of Sen. Jeff Sessions as U.S. attorney general, Clinton uses the word "persisted" as she describes the contributions of 13 American women who stood up for change. The selection ranges from familiar icons, such as Harriet Tubman and Helen Keller, to lesser known leaders such as union organizer Clara Lemlich and physician Virginia Apgar.
"Clara Lemlich...wrote that the factory's conditions made women into machines, and so she persisted, organizing picket lines and strikes that ultimately helped win better pay, shorter hours and safer working conditions"
The real value of this book will come from conversations it might lead to, about these different women. Clinton limits her descriptions to two sentences, just touching on some of each woman's achievements. While some critics say that this makes the broad strokes ineffective (see this Kirkus review), I would argue that it allows the conversation to develop between the child and adult. I do wish that Clinton included an author's note and some sources for further reading, precisely because this might help guide an adult and child who might want to learn more to talk more deeply.
"Ruby Bridges... wouldn't be treated like a second-class student, and she persisted, walking for weeks past angry, hateful protesters to integrate an all-white elementary school"
I am struck by how the history books I read as a student ignored so many of these women. Only two of the thirteen were mentioned in my schooling. This is precisely why this is an important book to share with our young readers--to foster these conversations, so young readers will want to learn more.
"As the first woman to serve as both a U.S. representative and a U.S. senator, Margaret Chase Smith could have let that fact alone be her legacy. Instead, she persisted in championing women's rights and more opportunities for women in the military, standing up for free speech and supporting space exploration."
Illustrations © Kadir Nelson 2017, and illustrations © Alexandra Boiger 2017, shared with permission from the publisher. The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher, Penguin Random House. 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 29, 2017

ALA 2017 highlights: graphic novels coming this summer & fall (ages 8-14)

My students love reading graphic novels, and I always look forward to expanding our collection. Here are six new graphic novels I'm excited to read this summer and fall.
For my students who love Raina Telgemeier's Smile and Ghosts, I'm excited to share three new books that show regular kids coping with the daily dramas of life. It's definitely worth celebrating how girls' stories are finding great voices in comics, with outstanding authors and artists.

Swing It Sunny, by Jenni Holm, combines heartfelt humor and heartache as Sunny wrestles with her dysfunctional family and figures out middle school. I especially appreciate the conflict and resolution with her older brother Dale who struggles with drug and alcohol problems. I finished reading this with a feeling of holding Sunny's heart in my hands.

The Baby-Sitter's Club graphic novels, adapted by Raina Telgemeier, are perennial favorites. Kids are super excited that a new one in this series will come out this fall. Dawn and the Impossible Three adapts the 5th Baby-Sitter's Club, and is illustrated by debut artist Gale Galligan.

All's Faire in Middle School, by Victoria Jamieson (who wrote Roller Girl), is sure to resonate with many kids struggling with finding friends, being true to themselves and navigating social pressures. As one librarian friend said, "Might as well order two copies right now, because it will never be on the shelf."

Pashmina, by debut author/artist Nidhi Chanani, explores a young teen's identity and relationships through magical realism. Priyanka Das wonders why her mother abandoned her home in India years ago, leaving her father behind. But Pri's mother avoids all discussions about India, leaving Pri just to wonder. But when she discovers a mysterious pashmina, she is transported to a beautiful, amazing place -- but is this the real India? And what is that shadow lurking in the background? Gene Luen Yang writes, “Colorful and deeply personal, Pashmina illuminates the experience of an Indian-American teenager and invites us to contemplate the power of our choices.”

In Making Scents, Mickey's parents are so crazy about dogs that they raise him with his "brothers and sisters", the dogs of their family. But when tragedy strikes, Mickey must move in with his aunt and uncle who hate dogs--and struggle to find acceptance for who he is. Kirkus describes this as "A heartfelt tale of acceptance, tolerance, and grief."

Nonfiction graphic novels that use humor and illustrations to draw readers into fascinating topics fascinate me. In Older Than Dirt, masterful graphic novelist Don Brown teams with geologist Mike Perfit to introduce young readers to earth science. According to the Kirkus review: "Readers will be entertained, informed, and inspired to learn more about whatever piques their curiosity, whether it is uranium, continental drift, glaciers, or one of the featured scientists, such as Marie Tharp... a grand and exciting adventure."

I'd love to hear about any upcoming releases that you're looking forward to reading! Many thanks to the publishers for sharing review 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

Monday, June 26, 2017

ALA 2017 highlights: middle grade novels coming this summer & fall

I'm just finishing a terrific weekend celebrating with librarians and authors the best books of last year, and we're already looking forward to books that will soon hit the shelves. All week I'll share books I'm looking forward to reading. I'd love to hear about any upcoming releases that you're looking forward to reading!
The First Rule of Punk, by Celia Perez (Penguin, August 2017)
Mango Delight, by Fracaswell Hyman (Sterling, June 2017)
My Brigadista Year, by Katherine Paterson (Candlewick, October 2017)
Patina, by Jason Reynolds (Simon & Schuster, August 2017)
Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate (Macmillan, September 2017)

All of these will appeal to 3rd, 4th and 5th graders, both in length and topics. Many of my students love realistic fiction they can see themselves in, like debut author Celia Perez's The First Rule of Punk. I am really looking forward to reading this and know many students will love the visual appeal of the zines included as part of this story. I also think many kids will see themselves in Mango Delight, as they follow Mango's friendship drama.

Jason Reynolds' Patina is the second in his Track series, following a track team in New York. Students across Berkeley loved Ghost, the first in this series. Like Ghost, Patina runs to escape from many of her problems, and I'm looking forward to seeing how Jason Reynolds draws readers into her world.

My Brigadista Year, master storyteller Katherine Paterson delves into the life of a young Cuban girl who leaves the comfort of her home in Havana to join Castro's army of literacy teachers. She goes into the countryside to teach villagers how to read. This historical fiction will help readers see into life in 1960s Cuba, as well as learn something about what it means to be human.

Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate, is such a truly wonderful story. I read this early in the year and cannot wait to read it again. As a teacher in Berkeley wrote me after reading this, it restores your faith in books and stories and people. This is exactly why we read -- to think about how we can respond when facing challenges, to know how our actions matter, to have the courage to speak up in the face of society's pressures.

When I get home, I will add onto this list. I'd love to hear about new books you're looking forward to reading.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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