Sunday, June 10, 2018

#SummerReading for 7th & 8th graders

Carve out time from your busy summer schedules for reading. Talk with your teens about their interests AND the importance of reading. The best way is to give them choice and power, and to make reading a priority.

Middle school is a time of great variety -- some kids want to reread their favorites from earlier years, and others are eager to try edgy YA. Go with their interests, and encourage them to keep finding books that make them want to read.
#SummerReading: 7th & 8th grade
click for full 2018 summer reading lists
Exciting Adventure & Fantasy
Aru Shah and the End of Time, by Roshani Chokshi
Miles Morales Spider-Man, by Jason Reynolds
Peak, by Roland Smith
Skulduggery Pleasant, by Derek Landy
Warcross, by Marie Lu

Powerful Nonfiction & Memoirs
The 57 Bus, by Dashka Slater
Because I Was a Girl, edited by Melissa de la Cruz
Boots on the Ground, by Elizabeth Partridge
Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral & Getting It Done, by Andrea Gonzales & Sophie Houser
How Dare the Sun Rise, by Sandra Uwiringiyimana

All the Feels: Modern Teen Romance
Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell
I'll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson
Just One Day, by Gayle Forman
Solo, by Kwame Alexander
When Dimple Met Rishi, by Sandhya Menon

Graphic Novels We Love!
Amulet series, by Kazu Kibuishi
Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson
The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang
Pashmina, by Nidhi Chanani
Sunny Side Up, by Jennifer L. Holm

Stories that Touch Your Heart
Fish in a Tree, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Like Vanessa, by Tami Charles
Piecing Me Together, by Renee Watson
Refugee, by Alan Gratz
Rogue, by Lyn Miller-Lachman

Social Justice Reads
Ball Don't Lie, by Matt de la Pena
Dear Martin, by Nic Stone
Ghost Boys, by Jewell Parker Rhodes
The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

CLICK HERE for all of the 2018 summer reading lists.

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.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, June 7, 2018

#SummerReading 2018 for 5th and 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.
#SummerReading: 5th & 6th
click for full 2018 summer reading lists

Exciting Adventure & Fantasy
Aru Shah and the End of Time, by Roshani Chokshi
The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelley Barnhill
The Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste
Peak, by Roland Smith
The Wonderling, by Mira Bartok

Funny Stories
Funny Girl, edited by Betsy Bird
Hamster Princess, by Ursula Vernon
Pickle, by Kim Baker
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, by Tom Angleberger
The Terrible Two, by Mac Barnett

Historical Fiction
Echo, by Pam Munoz Ryan
The Inquisitor's Tale, by Adam Gidwitz
The Night Diary, by Veera Hiranandani
Refugee, by Alan Gratz
The War I Finally Won, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Graphic Novels We Love!
Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson
The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang
Real Friends, by Shannon Hale
Sunny Side Up, by Jennifer L. Holm
The Witch Boy, by Molly Ostertag

Stories that Touch Your Heart

Amal Unbound, by Aisha Saeed
Fish in a Tree, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Ghost Boys, by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Like Vanessa, by Tami Charles
Rebound, by Kwame Alexander

Fascinating Nonfiction
Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson
Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon, by Steve Sheinkin
Boots on the Ground, by Elizabeth Partridge
I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai
Marley Dias Gets It Done, by Marley Dias

CLICK HERE for all of the 2018 summer reading lists.

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.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

#SummerReading 2018 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.
#SummerReading: 3rd & 4th
click for full 2018 summer reading lists
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)
Bowling Alley Bandit, by Laurie Keller
EllRay Jakes, by Sally Warner
I Survived series, by Lauren Tarshis
Jaden Toussaint, by Marti Dumas

Funny Stories (levels Q-R-S-T)
Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom, by Booki Vivat
Hamster Princess, by Ursua Vernon
Jake the Fake, by Craig Robinson
Timmy Failure, by Stephan Pastis

Adventure and Historical Fiction (levels Q-R-S)

Al Capone Does My Shirts, by Gennifer Choldenko
Dash, by Kirby Larson
The Parker Inheritance, by Varian Johnson
What Elephants Know, by Eric Dinerstein

Exciting Adventure & Fantasy (levels Q-R-S-T)
Endling: The Last, by Katherine Applegate
The Serpent's Secret, by Sayantani DasGupta
Shadows of Sherwood, by Kekla Magoon
Wings of Fire, by Tui Sutherland


New Graphic Novels We Love!
5 Worlds: The Cobalt Prince, by Mark Siegel
Be Prepared, by Vera Brosgol
Pashmina, by Nidhi Chanani
Secret Coders: Potions & Parameters, by Gene Luen Yang

Stories that Touch Your Heart (levels Q-R-S-T)
The 14th Goldfish, by Jennifer Holm
Amal Unbound, by Aisha Saeed
The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, by Laura Shovan
The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley


Fascinating Nonfiction
Grand Canyon, by Jason Chin
Marley Dias Gets It Done, by Marley Dias
Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson's Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions, by Chris Barton

CLICK HERE for all of the 2018 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.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

#SummerReading 2018 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.
#SummerReading: 1st & 2nd grade
click for full 2018 summer reading lists
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)
Block Party, by Gwendolyn Hooks
It's Shoe Time!, by Bryan Collier
My Toothbrush Is Missing!, by Jan Thomas

Developing Readers (levels J-K)
Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy, by Laurel Snyder
Pedro's Big Goal, by Fran Manushkin
Zelda & Ivy, by Laura Kvasnosky

New Picture Books We're Loving
After the Fall, by Dan Santat
Harriet Gets Carried Away, by Jessie Sima
Mommy's Khimar, by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
No Kimchi For Me!, by Aram Kim

Beginning with Chapter Books (levels L-M)
Ashley Small & Ashlee Tall series, by Michele Jakubowski
Dory Fantasmagory, by Abby Hanlon
Fergus & Zeke, by Kate Messner
King & Kayla series, by Dori Hillestad Butler

Graphic Novel Series We Love!
Dog Man, by Dav Pilkey
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
DATA Set series, by Ada Hopper
Zoey & Sassafras series, by Asia Citro

Fascinating Nonfiction
Give Bees a Chance, by Bethany Barton
Her Right Foot, by Dave Eggers
Malala's Magic Pencil, by Malala Yousafzai

Picture Books Full of Imagination
Little Red Writing, by Joan Holub
Maybe Something Beautiful, by F. Isabel Campoy
Take Away the A, by Michael Escoffier

CLICK HERE for all of the 2018 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.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, June 4, 2018

#SummerReading 2018: Preschool, TK and Kindergarten (ages 4-5)

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.
#SummerReading: Preschool & Kindergarten
click for full 2018 summer reading lists
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
Alma and How She Got Her Name, by Juana Martinez-Neal
Is Everyone Ready for Fun?, by Jan Thomas
When's My Birthday?, by Julie Fogliano

Wordless Books to Read Together
A Ball for Daisy, by Chris Raschka
Little Fox in the Forest, by Stephanie Graegin

Favorite Books to Read Aloud
Bee-Bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park
Lola at the Library, by Anna McQuinn

Beginning to Read (levels C-D-E-F)
I See a Cat, by Paul Meisel
When Andy Met Sandy, by Tomie dePaola

Folktales and Trickster Tales
Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas, by Natasha Yin
La Princesa and the Pea, by Susan Middleton Elya

Beginning to Read More (levels F-G-H-I)
Super Fly Guy, by Tedd Arnold
The Watermelon Seed, by Greg Pizzoli

Exploring Animals All Around
Can an Aardvark Bark?, by Melissa Stewart
Puppies and Kittens, by Penelope Arlon

Picture Books that Make Us Laugh
How to Find an Elephant, by Kate Banks
Niño Wrestles the World, by Yuyi Morales

CLICK HERE for all of the 2018 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.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Unicorn Rescue Society: Creature of the Pines, by Adam Gidwitz: a new fun, short, engaging mystery series (ages 7-10)

Unicorns are pretty awesome! So are Sasquatch, the Minotaur and all sorts of other mythical creatures--magical, powerful and hard to find. I know kids love reading fantasy series, yet when it comes to recommending books for developing readers there just aren't many fantastic fantasy series out there.

Adam Gidwitz's new series Unicorn Rescue Society is perfectly aimed at readers transitioning from short chapter books and moving up toward longer stories. Hand this to kids who have read all the Magic Tree House and Secrets of Droon books but aren't quite ready for Percy Jackson or Harry Potter.
Creature of the Pines, Unicorn Rescue Society #1
by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly
Dutton / Penguin, 2018
Amazon / your local library / preview chapters 1-3
ages 7-10
*best new book*
Elliot's first day at a new school turns out to be full of adventure. Chapter One opens as Elliot stares down the long aisle of the school bus. It's his first day of school, and his class is taking a field trip. Gidwitz brings the reader right into this uncomfortable situation, as Elliot struggles to make a new friend. While I totally relate to Elliot, I love Uchenna -- the Nigerian American girl who befriends Elliot. Uchenna looks "like the lead singer in a punk rock band." She's got style, confidence and a sense of adventure.

Before we even find out where Elliot and Uchenna's class is going on their field trip, we meet their teacher Miss Vole and their special guest, the intimidating and mysterious Professor Fauna. He informs the class that they will be going to the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, where many dangerous things haunt the forrest.
Professor Fauna, Elliot, Uchenna and Jersey
When they get to the Pine Barrens, Uchenna wanders off the path to investigate a noise she hears. Elliot follows, and they discover a blue-furred magical creature that looks like “a tiny dragon.” This creature, the mythical Jersey Devil, takes an immediate liking to the pair, following them back to the school bus. A hide-and-seek chase ensues as Elliot and Uchenna try to protect the Jersey Devil.

The book closes as Professor Fauna invites Uchenna and Elliot to join his secret organization that is committed to protecting mythical creatures. You'll have fun showing this video to kids, as Elliot and Uchenna explain what the Unicorn Rescue Society does.

Gidwitz has hit a great balance between short, engaging chapters and a mystery that makes you want to learn more. Hatem Aly's illustrations keep readers grounded, helping them create the movie in their heads. The fantasy and humor elements are engaging, but never overwhelm the straight-forward storyline. Hand this new series to 2nd & 3rd graders who have moved beyond Magic Treehouse, but still want a story that moves quickly.

I'm particularly excited to see how this series unfolds. Elliot and Uchenna will rescue mythical animals from different cultures and places, bringing young readers traveling the globe with them. Gidwitz is partnering with authors from different cultures, so that they bring their experiences and cultural knowledge to the series. Gidwitz describes upcoming installments in his Nerdy Book Club post:
"Joseph Bruchac and I are writing about the Native American legend of Sasquatch. Emma Otheguy and I will travel to Cuba to rescue the madre de aguas. David Bowles and I will scour both banks of the Rio Grande to find, and protect, the chupacabras. And Hena Khan and I will write about the mythical creatures of Pakistan. These are the first members of The Unicorn Rescue Society."
I love how intentionally inclusive Adam Gidwitz is with his storytelling. When I was at the launch for this book at the Brooklyn Public Library, a young Black girl asked Adam where he got the inspiration for creating the character of Uchenna. He explained that Uchenna and Eliot are based on students from his teaching days in Brooklyn. Uchenna was one of his students, and is now in college (I think). This representation matters to young people.

It's no secret that I have loved Adam's writing since I first read A Tale Dark & Grimm, and my book club Skyped with him. Those kids are now in high school, and they still talk about how awesome that experience was.

I want to end with Adam's mission statement, as it were, that he shared in the Nerdy Book Club post.
"I’ve always believed that kids books should be ambitious. They should challenge children. Stretch their vocabularies. Or their courage. Stretch them emotionally and psychologically. Or stretch their imaginations. Maybe stretch their moral imaginations. But I have also always believed that ambition in kids books (in any book) is useless unless kids are actually reading the book. You can have the genius of James Joyce, but if you write like James Joyce, the kids will never get to experience your genius. The first priority is to get kids turning the pages. All the pages. All the way to the end. The second priority is to make it worth turning the pages.

"The Unicorn Rescue Society is pretty darn fun. When I write it, I generally find myself cackling like an idiot.

"But The Unicorn Rescue Society is also, I hope, worthwhile.

"Oh, and we rescue unicorns."
My job as a librarian isn't to share books I love, but to help kids discover books they like -- books that get them excited to read. Like Adam, I also believe that books have the potential to challenge, stretch and connect with kids. But I also know very clearly that this will never happen unless kids get hooked on a story, that they want to read the book in front of them.

Illustration copyright ©2017 Hatem Aly and the Mixtape Club founders Jesse Casey and Chris Lenox Smith. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Dutton Books for Young Readers / Penguin Publishing Group. 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.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Humor Hooks Readers: book recommendations from the Bay Area Book Fest (ages 6-10)

We had a terrific time at the Bay Area Book Fest this weekend, and I want to share the book recommendations for funny books. Megan McDonald, Travis Nichols and LeUyen Pham were all so funny, thoughtful and kind. I was honored to facilitate this conversation.
Funny books! (click to enlarge) (printable PDF here)
Funny picture books
The Bear Who Wasn't There, by LeUyen Pham
Betty's Burgled Bakery, by Travis Nichols
Disgusting Critters series, by Elise Gravel
Niño Wrestles the World, by Yuyi Morales

Funny chapter books
Dory Fantasmagory, by Abby Hanlon
Judy Moody Was In a Mood, by Megan McDonald
Princess in Black, by Shannon Hale & LeUyen Pham
Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid, by Megan McDonald
Unicorn Rescue Society, by Adam Gidwitz

Funny graphic novels
Astronaut Academy, by Dave Roman
Babymouse, by Jennifer Holm
Bird & Squirrel, by James Burks
Phoebe & Her Unicorn, by Dana Simpson
Travis and Uyen both started drawing from a very early age, using pictures to tell stories. Drawing was really important to both of them as they tried to find their place in the world. Uyen talked about how she was very shy and realized that her classmates really liked the drawings she could do. She even started selling her drawings of popular movie characters to classmates!

I especially loved how Megan talked about the humor in Judy Moody stemming from how readers can relate to Judy. Megan read aloud the very beginning of Judy Moody Was In a Mood, and talked about how everyone knows how awful it is to be in a bad mood. But we can also laugh at how grumpy Judy gets. So while we're empathizing with her, we're also laughing at ourselves in a safe and gentle way.

A large part of humor is in the timing. With picture books, illustrators really work at using the page turn to create tension and set up the punchline. They also really play with kids' expectations and then turning the tables. We had a blast listening to some of the kids' jokes!
Listening to kids tell jokes.
Cracking up with the punchline!
(photo credit: Armin Arethna)
I also loved how they all agreed on the importance of pictures in creating the humor that hooks kids. Uyen emphasized how reading the pictures and seeing the funny setups there was just as important as reading the words. She read some of The Itchy Book!, her newest book that's part of the Elephant & Piggie Like Reading series. That's a really important message to share with young kids who are struggling with decoding. They bring so much to the story by figuring out what's happening in the pictures!

Travis talked about how his newest book Betty's Burgled Bakery started from a failure. He was struggling with the followup to Foul Play, trying to focus the story on idioms, when it came to him how alliteration might be funnier and easier for kids to get. This makes me think about the way Uyen described incorporating her mistakes in artwork. She really likes doing artwork by hand and not just the computer, because the mistakes make her more creative and bring even more out of her drawings.

Many thanks to Travis, Uyen and Megan for their time, humor and kind spirits. Many thanks to the publishers for sponsoring their time, and to the Bay Area Book Festival for inviting us all to speak with kids and families. And many thanks to my friends and family who came out to support me! 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.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Putting the FUN in Reading! at the Bay Area Book Festival, April 28th (ages 7-10)

We all like doing the things we have fun with. Psychoanalysts might call this the "Pleasure Principle," but I call it common sense. So how do we help our kids discover the fun in reading? Come join me in conversation with four terrific authors/illustrators at the Bay Area Book Festival this weekend.
Join me in hearing from LeUyen Pham, Megan McDonald, Travis Nichols and Judd Winnick about how they make reading fun for kids. It's sure to be a great session, with stories about Judy Moody, Hilo, crime-fighting princesses and wordplay in the bakery.
These authors and illustrators bring their sense of fun to picture books, short chapter books, and graphic novels. I'm looking forward to asking them about how they focus on the fun in reading. Comedy is truly an art form! Come enjoy a laugh with us and learn about the magic ingredients in their storytelling.
Putting the FUN in Reading! 
with LeUyen Pham, Megan McDonald, Travis Nichols
Bay Area Book Festival
The Marsh Arts Center, 2120 Allston Way, Berkeley, CA
Sunday, April 29, 11:45am - 1:00 pm
LeUyen Pham illustrates the Princess in Black series with Shannon Hale, as well as the terrific graphic novel Real Friends. She's also the author of several picture books. Megan McDonald writes the Judy Moody and Stink books, bringing shenanigans and hijinks, along with real life struggles, to every chapter. Travis Nichols combines word play, comic book panels and crisp, clever capers into punchy picture books like Betty's Burgled Bakery. And Judd Winick is the author of our favorite Hilo graphic novels.

Everyone loves a good joke. We're going to put them to the test and ask each of them to share a joke. And then we'll turn the tables, to ask the audience to come up with a few jokes.

We'll also look at why visual comedy is so important for kids. You'll notice that all of these books use pictures to pack a punch. How do illustrations add to the reading experience for kids?

Finally, we'll brainstorm together ways to keep reading fun. Bring your kids and let them join the creative fun we'll have together! Hope to see you on Sunday in Berkeley!

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Tackling Issues: Katherine Applegate & Jen Petro-Roy at the Bay Area Book Festival, April 28th (ages 9-14)

Great books for young readers don’t shy away from tough issues. While parents and teachers sometimes worry that kids aren't ready for difficult subjects, many children want to explore these topics in the safe space provided by fiction.

Come join me in conversation with Katherine Applegate and debut novelist Jen Petro-Roy at the Bay Area Book Festival this weekend. Here are the details:
Tackling Issues, with Katherine Applegate & Jen Petro-Roy
Bay Area Book Festival
The Marsh Arts Center, 2120 Allston Way, Berkeley, CA
Saturday, April 28th at 3:15 p.m.
Katherine Applegate is one of my students' favorite authors. Her books include Home of the Brave (read in all of Berkeley's 5th grade classes) and last year's Mock Newbery title Wishtree. Katherine won the Newbery Award for The One and Only Ivan. Katherine balances imagination, whimsy, empathy and hope, but she also recognizes children's ability to think about difficult issues.
a few of Katherine Applegate's many novels
Home of the Brave centers around refugee experiences, as Kek resettles in America after losing much of his family. One New York Times reviewer called Wishtree “the most moving commentary I’ve read on the anti-immigration movement.” In The One and Only Ivan, children think deeply about the impact of zoos and animal treatment.

Jen Petro-Roy is a vital new voice for young readers; her novel P.S. I Miss You has garnered national attention for centering on young same-sex love and an older sister's teenage pregnancy. Jen was inspired by middle grade authors such as Beverly Cleary, Sharon Creech and Kate Messner.

Come hear how fiction can empower kids and make them feel less alone, and how reading can start a conversation around difficult subjects that kids engage with every day. Remember, anyone under age 18 is let in free—no wristbands necessary!

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.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Mommy's Khimar, by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and Ebony Glenn -- full of love, sunshine and imagination (ages 4-8)

Mommy's Khimar is a delightful new picture book that is full of love, sunshine and imagination. A young Muslim girl plays dress up with her mother's khimar, or Islamic headscarf. When she wraps it around herself, she feels her mother's love surrounding her and she imagines all of the things she can be. The bright, warm illustrations convey all of this love and draw young readers to this story.
Mommy's Khimar
by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and Ebony Glenn
Salaam Reads / Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018
Amazon / your local library
ages 4-8
*best new book*
I especially appreciate how this picture book is both specific to this young girl's African American Muslim culture and universal. Many of my students will recognize themselves in this story. Some wear a headscarf every day and will see their family's love and heritage in this story. Others will recognize the joy in playing with their mother's clothes.
Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
I am honored to have Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow as my guest here today. My questions are in red below, followed by her answers.

What planted the seeds for writing Mommy's Khimar?
Wearing a khimar or an Islamic headscarf is part of my everyday life but I wasn’t really sure that I wanted to focus on that in writing kidlit with Muslim characters. I remember thinking people always make this piece of cloth so serious but as a kid I didn’t really see it that way. Khimars were soft, silky scarves I borrowed from my mother when it was time to pray or wrapped around myself to create pretend dresses and gowns. So, I guess I ended up telling a story about how four-year-old me saw the khimar.
"A khimar is a flowing scarf that my mommy wears."
What ran through your head the first time you saw the delightful illustrations by Ebony Glenn?
I was just so giddy! I loved the main character’s facial expressions. She’s very adorable. The scene when she is playing in the closet with all of the khimars is magical every time I look at it. And--this may sound strange--but I loved that the characters have dark skin. In the rare stories about Muslims, I rarely if ever see Black Muslims depicted. It was nice to have more diversity.
"Some have tassels. Some have beads.
Some have sparkly things all over."
I'd love to learn more about why you wear a khimar. Can you tell me a little about this tradition and what it means to you?
I was 14 years old when I decided to wear full hijab. Full hijab is the khimar/head covering and clothing that covers everything except the face and hands. I started exploring my faith more around that time and I saw this as a way to demonstrate my faith in God. I also liked and continue to like the way it identifies me as Muslim. Although I am a religious minority, I get to feel connected to other Muslims who are also identifiably Muslim--even strangers on the street. This wasn’t actually a tradition of my family though. My father is a convert to Islam and although my mother grew up in a Muslim culture, she didn’t regularly wear a khimar when I was growing up unless she was going to the mosque.
"When I wear Mommy's khimar, I am a mama bird.
I spread my golden wings and shield my baby
brother as he sleeps in his nest."
I'm curious about your family heritage. I love the diverse families included in your story. Can you tell us a little about your family?
My family is bicultural. My mother is from Guinea, which is in West Africa and she is from the Mandinka ethnic group which has been predominantly Muslim for centuries. My father is a Black American, descended from the Africans who were brought here through the transatlantic slave trade. He was raised as a Christian but became Muslim as a young man. On his side of the family there are Christians, atheists, and Buddhists. My husband is also a Black American convert to Islam, and so my kids have Christian and Muslim grandparents. My oldest immediately recognized Mom-mom in Mommy’s Khimar as being just like his own Mom-mom or grandmother who often exclaims, “Sweet Jesus!”

I see you're a program director for Mighty Writers--I love the sound of this! Can you tell us a little about your work there?
The mission of Mighty Writers is to teach kids to think and write with clarity. We are a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that provides writing instruction in after school, evening, weekend, summer, and mentorship programs to youth ages 2 to 18 and we provide all of that instruction for free. My work is to create writing programs, teach writing programs, and engage volunteers in doing that work too.

What are some other favorite picture books you like to read with your students at Mighty Writers?
There are so many! In recent months, I have enjoyed reading It’s Okay to be Different by Todd Parr, The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi, and Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena. I think the kids and I have had the most fun reading Say Hello! by Rachel Isadora.

Thank you so much, Jamilah. Your book has already brought my students and me so much happiness. Much luck to your continued writing.

Illustrations copyright ©2017 Ebony Glenn, shared by permission of the publisher. 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.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Sports books for young players! (ages 4-8)

Whether you play sports with your kids or love watching games together, sports books can be a great hook for young kids. They enjoy seeing their favorite games as part of their stories, and they're fascinated by real-life stories in picture book biographies. Here are some of my favorites to share with kids ages 4 to 8 years old.
(click to enlarge)
The Banana-Leaf Ball: How Play Can Change the World, by Katie Smith Milway, illustrated by Shane W. Evans. A powerful, hopeful picture book for older readers inspired by real events. Fleeing war in Burundi, young Deo ends up at a refugee camp, without his family and surrounded by bullies. He finally finds friendship when he shares his homemade soccer ball, discovering trust and community.

Baseball: Then to Wow!, by the editors of Sports Illustrated Kids. Whether it’s looking at changes in equipment or comparing playing styles then and now, this high-interest book provides opportunities for fans to analyze different aspects of the game. Great layout, photographs and illustrations engage kids and help them see the progression of the game over the past 150 years.

Don't Throw It to Mo!, by David Adler. As the youngest and smallest kid on his team, Mo has to work extra hard. He gets teased by the opponents, but his coach has a plan to turn Mo's small size into a big advantage. A great short book for beginning readers.

Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery, by Sandra Neil Wallace, illustrated by Bryan Collier. Although his athletic skills brought Ernie Barnes success as a professional football player, his true passion was art. He would quickly sketch scenes as he sat on the bench between plays. Barnes pursued his dreams, eventually becoming the official artist for the American Football League.

The Field, by Baptiste Paul, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara. "Vini! Come! The field calls!" cries a girl as she races to play soccer with her brother and friends. Basing this joyful story on his Caribbean childhood, Paul mingles Creole alongside English. Vibrant, dynamic illustrations capture the enthusiasm and infectious joy of the game, rain or shine.

Girl Running: Bobbi Gibb and the Boston Marathon, by Annette Bay Pimentel, illustrated by Micha Archer. In 1966, Bobbi Gibb became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, even though the authorities would not recognize her efforts. Despite the authorities’ rejection, she decides to run alongside the registered racers, determined to prove that the rules were wrong. An inspiring picture book biography of defying the odds.

H.O.R.S.E.: A Game of Basketball and Imagination, by Christopher Myer. Two kids start playing a game of H.O.R.S.E., matching each other's basketball shots and trash-talking all the way. The first to miss five is "giddy-up, you're out." I love the way these two friends keep one-upping each other, and the humor that Myers brings. on a city basketball court start a game of matching each other’s shots. Don't miss this!

Pedro's Big Goal, by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Tammie Lyon. First grader Pedro LOVES playing soccer with his friends and dreams of playing goalie. Will he make it as his team’s goalie, or is he too small? Beginning readers will enjoy this fun, accessible series -- perfect for 1st and 2nd graders.

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.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, April 8, 2018

I'm Just No Good at Rhyming, by Chris Harris & Lane Smith (ages 7-12)

April showers and spring flowers always remind me that I love celebrating National Poetry Month. My students' favorite new collection of poems is definitely I'm Just No Good At Rhyming, by Chris Harris and Lane Smith. Full of short, funny wordplay in the tradition of Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss, this collection has kids laughing out loud and passing it from friend to friend.
I'm Just No Good At Rhyming
And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-ups
by Chris Harris, illustrated by Lane Smith
Little, Brown, 2017
Amazon / local library / Google Books preview
ages 7-12
Right from the get-go, Harris hooks his readers and lets them know that they're in for unexpected twists and turns. Just look at the opening poem:
I'm just no good at rhyming.
It makes me feel so bad.
I'm just no good at rhyming,
And that's why I am blue ...

My teacher asked if I could find a word that rhymes with "hat."
"It's something that a dog might chase."
                                              "Aha!" I said. "A car!"
In the space of one line, Harris sets up what you'd expect and then flips it on its head. He gets kids eager to participate and shout out the rhyme, then slaps them with something totally different. Best of all, he never condescends to kids. This is smart, funny writing.
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I..."
Some poems are short and punchy, while others give you even more to chew on. Harris uses layout and design to get kids thinking about double messages, like in his poem “How the Fourth Grader Communicates.” And there's great back-and-forth between author and illustrator. At one point Harris writes a poem, “I Don’t Like My Illustrator,” and Lane Smith delights in his revenge portrait.
"I Don't Like My Illustrator"
I especially appreciate the irreverent tone and entertaining wordplay. I find myself relating to many different poems, both serious and absurd. And I discover more hidden nonsensical gems on each reading.

I purchased a review copy for my school library, and it's been constantly checked out ever since! Illustrations copyright ©2017 Lane Smith. 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.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Rebound, by Kwame Alexander--the power of story, the power of poetry, the power of the rebound (ages 9-14)

Kwame Alexander knows how to harness the power of story, the power of poetry to touch readers' hearts, to make us laugh and sigh, to make us feel. If your kids like realistic stories that are funny, fast and heartfelt, get your hands on his newest book, Rebound, which hit shelves this week.
Rebound, by Kwame Alexander
HMH, 2018
Amazon / local library / Google Books preview
ages 9-14
*best new book*
Like many twelve year olds, Charlie Bell just wants to hang with his friends and read comics. He's angry at his mom, yet we realize that his bitterness runs far deeper than your typical preteen moods. Charlie's dad died suddenly and he's left alone, angry and alienated---struggling to survive in a black hole, after his "star exploded / and everything / froze."

By using metaphors, Kwame helps readers connect with Charlie's intense grief while giving space for Charlie to sidestep around soft feelings. Kids might not want to talk about their feelings, but they certainly know what it means to wrestle with them. He also paces this story so well, weaving together humor and action with heavier moments.

Charlie begins the summer under the weight of his emotions. Having hit an impasse with his mother, she sends him to live with his grandparents for the summer. Grandfather calls him Chuck, brings him to the Boys and Girls Club with him, and is full of corny refrains ("Champions train, chumps complain, Chuck. Love. Work. Eat. In that order. Time to get in the game, Chuck!").

This is by no means a sports story, but basketball is key. Even better, Kwame has created a new genre-bending blend: slam poetry comics! Just love the illustrations by artist Dawud Anyabwile.
"They had the ball, talking trash.
Zipper said my game was broke
and his was all cash."
Kwame creates a great cast of supporting characters in Rebound, with Charlie's family and close friends. I especially love that two of his close friends are girls. CJ is brainy, sassy and sweet. Roxie can play ball better than most of the boys. She has a "crown of braids" and is "tall as a sequoia, and she walks like there's music in her roots." Oh my, isn't that how you want your daughters to think of themselves?!

Readers will discover many layers within Rebound. They'll go back and realize the connections between Chuck Bell, the dad in The Crossover, and why he never wanted to go to the hospital for checkups. They might see Grandpa's sayings in the rules for life in The Playbook. Or they might think about how they face hard times themselves.

Kwame himself knows how to push through difficulties. He discovered after Rebound went to press that there are some problems with the timeline. Rebound is set in the summer of 1988, but he originally wrote it set in the mid-90s. A few of the cultural references (songs, basketball players) didn't shift when he revised it to the late-80s. These details might be important to us old folks who remember back-in-the-day, but I truly don't think they'll matter to the core audience. The power of the rebound shows how you can overcome setbacks.

Rebound is way more than a prequel to The Crossover. It's a powerful story in its own right, one that will resonate with many young readers. I look forward to sharing it with as many kids, families and teachers as I can.

Illustrations copyright ©2017 Dawud Anyabwile. I purchased the review copy, the first of many copies I hope to read and give to students. 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.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books