Sunday, October 8, 2017

You Bring the Distant Near, by Mitali Perkins -- a shining intergenerational story of immigration and identity (ages 12-16)

Like Mitali Perkins' family, my own family's story spans continents and generations. This weekend, my father is at a ceremony honoring the oldest Jewish cemetery in Moravia, near his family's home in the Czech Republic. I know too well the gains and losses that come with immigration. You Bring the Distant Near, Mitali Perkins' outstanding new book, speaks to me deeply. This story spans three generations of Bengali women as they immigrate to America and create a home here.
You Bring the Distant Near
by Mitali Perkins
Farrar Straus Giroux / Macmillan, 2017
Amazon / public library / Google Books preview
ages 12-16
*best new book*
Inspired by her own experiences immigrating as a young teen in the 1970s, Mitali Perkins weaves together an intergenerational story of Ranee Das, her teenage daughters Sonia and Tara, and then later their own daughters. When Sonia and Tara move to New York as teenagers, they must navigate the possibilities that new opportunities might bring while they are acutely aware of the cultural expectations of their Bengali parents.

It's the small moments of these women's lives that make this book resonate so deeply with me. Recently, I heard Mitali speak about her story and these small moments came rushing back to me. Out of context, it's hard to capture them, but added all together, they give you a full sense of characters whose story arcs will stay with me for a long time.

The Horn Book asked Mitali what she hopes the Das family’s story shows today’s readers about family, love, culture, and country? Mitali answered:
"America inevitably “brings the distant near” because apart from members of the Native Nations, all of us originated in faraway places. Sadly, proximity within the United States doesn’t automatically generate friendship. But if we choose to cross borders that may at first bring discomfort and open our hearts to those who seem like strangers, I believe that we can be transformed and united as individuals, families, communities, and even as a country.

The title of this novel comes from a poem/prayer written by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore. My sister recited it in both English and Bangla during my California wedding (to a “foreign” boy!) at the request of our grandfather in Calcutta, India. It translates like this: “You have made me known to friends whom I knew not. You have given me seats in homes not my own. You have brought the distant near and made a brother of the stranger…When one knows You, then there is no alien, and no door is shut.” I hope and pray that despite an unhealed past full of atrocities and deep divisions in the present, God can and will make “the distant near” and a “brother of the stranger” in America’s future."
This novel shines with strong sisterhood, humor and meaningful reflections on family, culture and identity. I came away from this story thinking more deeply about what connects us all, how our lives can bring us close to people in our communities, and how we must reach across borders to see each other as humans.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Macmillan, and I have already purchased many additional copies for friends and family. 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, October 4, 2017

Scary books for beginning readers: #Road2Reading Challenge (ages 6-8)

As kids work hard at beginning to read, they can get frustrated that simple books seem too young for their tastes. As Halloween approaches, try sharing these scary books with 2nd graders. They'll like the combination of creepy moments, simple sentences and ghoulish humor. This group of books is especially good for 2nd graders at the beginning of the year (often reading at levels I-J-K).
Eek! Stories to Make You Shriek
by Jane O'Connor, illustrations by Brian Karas
Penguin, 1992
Amazon / public library / Goodreads / level K
Kids wrestle with spooky situations in three short, slightly scary stories about Halloween night, a possessed doll, and a haunted photograph. Short, simple sentences keep new readers engaged. "It was dark now. The trees made spooky shadows on the street. Ted hoped Danny would come soon." Karas' illustrations enhance the spooky mood.
In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories
by Alvin Schwartz,  illustrations by Victor Rivas
HarperCollins, 2017 (reillustrated version)
Amazon / public library / Goodreads / level J
New illustrations by Victor Rivas reinvigorate this classic easy reader with cartoonish, creepy kids, ghosts and ghouls. Schwartz begins his book writing, "Most of us like scary stories because we like feeling scared. When there is no real danger, feeling scared is fun." He uses repetition, suspense and sudden revelations to great effect. Rivas' illustrations amp up the fright with creepy cartoon characters in the style of Tim Burton and Edward Gorey.
Scary, Scary Halloween
by Eve Bunting, illustrations by Jan Brett
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1986
Amazon / public library / Goodreads / level J
As sinister green eyes look through the darkness, a narrator begins: "I peer outside, there's something there / That makes me shiver, spikes my hair. / It must be Halloween." Bunting's rhymes are full of repetition, making them read almost like a chant. This classic picture book is delightfully scary to read aloud, and perfect for beginning readers to tackle on their own. "Little ones, stay safe inside! / It's best to stay at home and hide / On hallowed Halloween."
Secret of the Summer School Zombies
by Scott Nickel, illustrations by Matt Luxich
Stone Arch / Capstone, 2008
Amazon / public library / Goodreads / level J
With over-the-top imagination and action, these graphic novels appeal to kids who love funny, frightful stories. When Trevor and his friends realize that their summer school teachers have all turned into zombies, it's up to the three friends to save the day. Also try Monster in the Outfield and Attack of the Mutant Lunch Lady, two other monster-themed graphic novels for beginning readers.
There's a Nightmare in My Closet
by Mercer Mayer
Dial / Penguin, 1968
Amazon / public library / Goodreads / level I
A friend just wrote to me about the power of monster spray for her son. Childhood nightmares are real, and kids know this. "There used to be a nightmare in my closet. / Before going to sleep, / I always closed the closet door." In this classic picture book, Mayer turns the tables and has the child scare the monster as it comes out of the closet. Absolutely brilliant! All told with one short sentence on each page, with illustrations that respect the power of kids and their imaginations.

Please check out other posts in the #Road2Reading Challenge, hosted by my friends Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy and Michele Knott at Mrs. Knott's Book Nook. As they say, every journey has a beginning and it's important to celebrate & support readers at the start of their reading journey.

The review copy of In a Dark, Dark Room was kindly sent by the publisher, HarperCollins, and the other review copies came from my public 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, October 1, 2017

A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars, by Seth Fishman & Isabel Greenberg (ages 6-9)--and more crazy awesome enormous numbers!

How do you help kids gain a sense of what numbers really mean? At first, you help them count all the things around them. But what happens when you're trying to help them understand bigger numbers? And then how do you move onto truly enormous numbers? Seth Fishman makes number sense and estimating so much fun with his terrific picture book A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars.
A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars
by Seth Fishman
illustrated by Isabel Greenberg
Greenwillow / HarperCollins, 2017
Amazon / Public library
ages 6-9
Fishman helps kids get a sense of just how crazy awesome enormous numbers can be. He begins with the sun, explaining that it's just one star among "(maybe) 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars." And he even helps readers know how to say this outrageously large number, putting the words "a hundred billion trillion" down in the corner.

As he tours the universe and our world, looking at different huge numbers, he serves up a smorgasbord of examples. There are 7,500,000,000 people on Earth and 10 quadrillion ants. "The strange thing is that seven billion five hundred million humans weigh about the same as ten quadrillion ants." (OMG!!!) And 420 million kids or dogs lined up head to toe would circle the Earth about 10 times (that's 240,000 miles).

He keeps bringing examples back to kids, with a particular focus on the kid audience. Terrific, diverse kids and families fill the illustrations. Definitely read the author's note aloud to kids -- it talks about how Fishman estimated these numbers and why estimates are so important. Have fun watching this trailer:

Here are a few other math books I enjoy sharing that give kids a sense of enormous numbers:

How Many Jelly Beans?, by Andrea Menotti and Yancey Labat (Chronicle, 2012). My students love this candy-focused counting book that starts off small and ends with a giant fold-out to help them visualize a million jelly beans. I mean, how many kids can relate to the question, "Can you really have too many jelly beans?"

How Much Is a Million?, by David M. Schwartz and Steven Kellogg (Collins, 1985). Marvelossissimo the Mathematical Magician helps kids get a sense of big numbers. "If one million kids climbed onto one another's shoulders, they would be...farther up than airplanes can fly." While human tower with a billion kids "would stand up past the moon." A classic in school and classroom libraries everywhere.

Millions, Billions and Trillions: Understanding Big Numbers, by David Adler and Edward Miller (Holiday House, 2013). Adler builds up a systematic, gradual sense of how to visualize big numbers by using concrete examples kids can relate to. To imagine what a million might look like, kids are asked to pour 1/4 cup of sugar onto black construction paper to see "about one million granules." He helps kids imagine one billion by starting with looking at how many hairs are on a typical human's head: one hundred thousand. If you looked at ten thousand people's heads, you would see about one billion hairs!

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, HarperCollins. 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