Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Lowriders Blast from the Past, by Cathy Camper & Raul the Third -- outstanding graphic novel (ages 8-14)

Do you have kids who love cars? Who doodle and draw all the time? Who only read graphic novels? You'll want to race out to get Lowriders Blast from the Past, the newest graphic novel from Cathy Camper and Raul the Third. Not only does this celebrate Latinx lowrider culture, it turns cultural expectations on its head with Lupe's girl-power & fixit prowess.

As we celebrate Latinx and Hispanic Heritage Month, you'll definitely want to highlight this series. My students especially appreciate the mashup of cultures, the humor and the Spanish slang.
Lowriders Blast from the Past
by Cathy Camper and Raul the Third
Chronicle, 2018
Amazon / Your local library
ages 8-14
This story brings us back to the origins of Lupe, Flapjack and Elirio's friendship. Mosquito Elirio loves painting more than anything else, especially mixing words with art. He paints giant murals on an alley wall near his home.
"This alley wall is my secret studio.
It's like my own museum."
But when Elirio is bullied by Las Matamoscas, the local gang, he feels alone and helpless, until he meets two new friends, Flapjack and Lupe.  Flapjack is a sweet little octopus who's always willing to lend a hand (or eight). And Lupe can fix anything, especially bicycles and cars.

I especially appreciate how this series turns cultural expectations upside down. Not only is Lupe a fixit whiz, her Mamá Impala runs the junk store, and her Mamá Gazelle runs a papel picado workshop.
"Mama Gazelle's workshop is pretty awesome, right?
Want to watch me fix your bike?"
Elirio, Flapjack and Lupe are excited to go to Señor Bufolardo's car show. The bullies won't leave the younger kids alone--and they insist that girls can't be in car shows. Will the friends figure out how to get their mamas' car entered, or will the bullies win?

If you like this, you'll also want to get the first two in the series:
Raul the Third won the 2017 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award for Lowriders to the Center of the Earth, honored for his "energetic ballpoint pen drawings portray a complex mash-up of cultures with humor and verve," as the committee chair Eva Mitnick said.

Illustrations copyright ©2018 Raul the Third, shared by permission of the publishers. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Chronicle 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.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Tackling Issues: an interview with Katherine Applegate & Jen Petro-Roy (ages 8-14)

Katherine Applegate is one of my students’ favorite authors. Her books include Home of the Brave and wishtree, both of which center around the experience of young immigrants. Jen Petro-Roy is a vital new voice for young readers. Her debut novel P.S. I Miss You has garnered national attention for centering on young same-sex love. I’m excited to welcome them as we explore how fiction engages kids as they think about difficult subjects.

This conversation came out of our panel together at the Bay Area Book Festival last spring. I am so lucky to know these talented, thoughtful women.
Mary Ann: Katherine, You’ve written for many age levels, from very young children to adults, yet it seems that your sweet spot is middle grade. What draws you to this age group?

Katherine: You’re right that middle grade readers are my favorite audience. Typically that’s defined as children 8 to 12 years of age. Children this age are beginning to think about the wider world. They start asking Big Questions (to the delight and frustration of the adults in their lives): What does fairness mean? Why is there cruelty in the world? What defines who I am? Why did Joey get the biggest meatball?

I just wrote an introduction to an essay collection by the beloved children’s writer, Natalie Babbitt (Barking with the Big Dogs: On Writing and Reading Books for Children, coming out on November 20, 2018). Babbitt is perhaps best known for her remarkable novel for middle grade readers, Tuck Everlasting, which Anne Tyler called “one of the best books ever written -- for any age.”

And what is Tuck about, this little book for children? Immortality. Why we have to die. What matters most in our short and magical lives. All those things we try not to think about . . . and absolutely must think about.

And it’s a book for kids.

That’s why I love writing for middle grade readers.

Mary Ann: You're so right -- kids are really beginning to wrestle with big issues. Jen, what has been your experience?

Jen: In my job as a librarian, I found that kids often sought out books about tough topics. They want to read about kids going through struggles--with homelessness, with difficult family situations, with friend troubles, with illness, and more--because they are often going through the same struggles themselves.

When I'm reading, it’s reassuring to see that I’m not the only one going through a specific situation...and it’s even more reassuring to see that characters can find their way through, triumph, and thrive. For kids, this is an even more necessary process, because they don’t have as much life experience. They need to see that representation on the page and they truly want to. It makes them feel so much less alone...and isn’t that one of the aims of literature?

Katherine: I love your point about literature helping us feel less, alone, Jen. That’s probably the greatest gift books can give us. That, and helping us make sense of a world that doesn’t always make sense. (That’s particularly true lately.)

Mary Ann: Jen, can you tell us a little bit about the issues Evie has to wrestle with in P.S. I Miss You?

Jen: After being raised in a very Catholic family, Evie starts to question the beliefs of her parents after her older sister gets pregnant and Evie herself gets her first crush on a girl. Teen pregnancy, religion, and sexuality are definitely three “tough issues” and many have questioned why I raised them in a middle-grade novel. For me, though, this was exactly the place to raise it, because middle school is the time when kids start to question the world, who they are, and how they were raised. It’s so important that these kids can see themselves now, and don’t have to wait until they’re teens or even adults to see themselves represented in literature. At the same time, though, I love hearing about teenagers and adults reading P.S. I Miss You. I think it helps different age groups in different ways.

Mary Ann: Have you heard from young readers about the tough issues you bring up in your books? How have they reacted? What do they find powerful?

Jen: Hearing from and interacting with readers is my absolute favorite part of this job. I’ve heard from a bunch so far about how wonderful it is to see representation of different sexualities in books for their age group. After one of my school visits, I had a girl come up to me and share that she’s a queer middle schooler with a brother about to go off to college, and she really related to Evie, who writes letters to her older sister Cilla. I am so proud to be able to help people feel a little bit less alone.

Mary Ann: Katherine, with wishtree you tackle tough issues around immigration and racism, and yet you do this in a way that 3nd graders can relate to. Do you keep the age of your audience in mind while you write?

Katherine: I do, very much so. (Although I know many writers for children who say the age of the audience doesn’t figure into their writing.) School visits have helped me a lot in this regard. I see the innocence and the honesty in younger readers, and I try to write what they need to hear. If it works for other ages, great.

Mary Ann: One of my students, Clara, told me that books “give kids an idea of how the world can be and how we can change it.” Katherine, while Endling is clearly fantasy, what are you hoping that readers think about while they read it?

Katherine: Endling is a fantasy about the last individual in a doglike species. Here in the real world, we’re in the midst of what is often referred to as the Sixth Extinction, a huge loss of species that seems to be almost entirely the result of human behavior. I wanted to touch on that, but in a way that I hope is accessible to younger readers.

Mary Ann: What do you think parents or teachers are afraid of when they push back against “heavy” or “mature” books for kids?

Jen: As a parent myself, I can understand the impulse to shield kids from tough issues. The world is scary, and it’s even more frightening to think of innocence being shattered. I wish the world was perfect for my daughters, and I wish they could believe it was so. So when parents push back, I think a lot of that impulse comes from fear or the desire to avoid discomfort. It’s hard to imagine explaining things like school shootings or death to children, so it can be easier to avoid the topic entirely. And for issues that parents or teachers don’t believe in, it may be “easier” to ban books or topics entirely. Out of sight, out of mind, after all. The problem there is that issues never remain out of sight. And when kids don’t know the realities of the world, those realities will be that much harder to deal with in the future. They won’t learn tolerance or acceptance, either.

Katherine: This is why librarians were invented. To get books into the hands of the children who most need them.

Mary Ann: Many of my students are drawn to realistic fiction that deals with tough issues. Why do you think this is? How do stories help us?

Katherine: When you’re in the middle of figuring out your place in the world, it helps to have a map. Books are like GPS for our hearts. They help us navigate the hard stuff.

I’ve had OCD since I was a kid. A book like OCDaniel (by Wesley King) would have changed my life.

I have a trans daughter who’s 21. I wish Alex Gino’s George had been around for her when she needed it.

I know too many young girls on their way to eating disorders. I’d love to get Jen’s upcoming novel, Good Enough, into all their hands.

Jen: Stories help us feel like we’re not alone in the world, that we’re not the only one dealing with certain issues. Readers can think, “Hey, if that character can get through such a difficult situation, maybe I can, too.” Simply seeing that books like this exist can make readers feel a sense of belonging, too. If readers see LGBTQ books in libraries or classrooms or are handed a book by their parents, they will know that those authority figures are safe and accepting. That they can go to them if they need to talk. Books can help facilitate a community of love and acceptance, and I love that about them.

Mary Ann: Jen, can you tell us a little about your upcoming books? With Katherine raving about them, I can't wait to know more!

Jen: Absolutely! I have two more books coming out in next year, both out on February 19th. Good Enough is another middle-grade fiction, about a 12-year-old named Riley who has been hospitalized for anorexia nervosa and is struggling to recover amidst parents who don’t understand, a fellow patient who is trying to sabotage Riley, and a gymnastic star sister. I’m so proud of this book, as it was inspired by my own struggle and recovery from anorexia, and there’s not much out there in this area for young readers that is both hopeful and non-triggering. Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends will also be simultaneously releasing You Are Enough, which is a non-fiction guide to eating disorder recovery, body image, and self-esteem for middle-schoolers and teens. Advanced copies of both are starting to make their way in the world!

Katherine: As an early reader, I can offer this spoiler alert: Good Enough is amazing. It belongs in every library.

Mary Ann: I wonder if you can end with any advice for parents about reading.

Jen: Reading is anything your kids want it to be. As a former librarian, I’m familiar with parents steering their children away from books they don’t think are “real literature.” They don’t want their kids to read graphic novels or those easy chapter books with mermaids and puppy dogs on the covers. But any kinds of books are good. Kids thrive when they are reading the books they want, whether it’s a book filled with fart jokes or War and Peace. Let them follow their interests. Let them love the written word.

Katherine: Couldn’t agree with Jen more. Reading is supposed to be fun, people!

I was a reluctant reader myself, and it took me a long time to find my “perfect” book. For me, it was Charlotte's Web. But for your child, it may be a graphic novel. Or non-fiction. Or a picture book. Or a chapter book. Or poetry. Or song lyrics.

It’s all about words. It doesn’t matter how they’re packaged. It only matters how much they’re loved.

Thank you both so much for your time and all of the care and love you pour into your stories. 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, September 24, 2018

Celebrating the Harvest Moon with two beautiful picture books (ages 3-8)

Cultures around the world celebrate the harvest every autumn, and many involve tribute to the glorious harvest moon. Two of my favorite new picture books honor both the magic of the moon and the importance of family. Both books connect to Asian traditions, and they also reflect North American families celebrating both their American and Asian identities.
A Big Mooncake for Little Star
by Grace Lin
Little Brown, 2018
Amazon / Your local library / Book chat with Grace Lin
ages 3-8
*best new book*
Little Star and her mother bake an enormous mooncake, sharing the joy of baking together. Mama tells Little Star she mustn't eat any yet. Little Star does her best and goes to bed, but when she wakes up in the middle of the night it's just too hard to resist a tiny nibble.
Would her mama notice if she took a tiny nibble? Little Star didn't think so. Mmmm, yum!
As each night passes, Little Star wakes in the middle of the night thinking only of the Big Mooncake. Just one more little bite, and she'll race back to bed. Young readers will smile as the mooncake slowly disappears, recognizing the phases of the moon.
"Night after night,
Little Star took tiny nibble
after tiny nibble
of the Big Mooncake."
Grace Lin creates a story filled with delight and love. In her author's note, she describes how this story celebrates the Chinese Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, yet she is creating a new story here, one that reflects her experience as a mother.

I especially appreciate her video book chat, in which she describes the importance of using her work to explore the American side of her identity. I hadn't noticed the explicit nods to Blueberries for Sal before Lin pointed them out, but I certainly felt kinship toward this mother-daughter delighting in baking together.

Ocean Meets Sky, the beautiful, dreamlike new picture book from The Fan Brothers, also blends Asian and North American storytelling heritage. You'll notice nods to Sendak, Peter Pan and more.
Ocean Meets Sky
by Eric Fan and Terry Fan
Simon & Schuster, 2018
Amazon / Your local library / preview art
ages 4-8
*best new book*
In honor of his grandfather who has passed away, young Finn builds a boat for the journey they always wanted to take. Finn then crawls inside to sleep and dreams of a "great golden fish" who takes him on a journey, in search of the magical land of his grandfather’s stories.
"Finn remembered Grandpa's voice
Telling him stories about a place far away where ocean meets sky."
Finn follows the golden fish into his dreamlike world, searching for where the ocean meets the sky. He sees wondrous scenes, with whales swimming among the stars, bookish birds roosting on the Library Islands, and moon jellies dancing in the sea.
"'I didn't think the open sea would feel so lonely,'
Finn said after some time.
This caught the attention of a great golden fish."
Soon Finn's boat lifts out of the water and sails into the night sky, drifting toward the great full moon. As the golden fish swims toward the moon, readers realize that his grandfather's spirit fills both the wise fish and the luminous moon.

Filled with atmospheric blend of Asian imagery and dreamlike fantasy worlds, this beautiful, magical picture book immerses readers into a young boy’s search for healing.

It strikes me how central storytelling is to both of these picture books, as a way for families to connect and pass down their heritage. In both, building and baking serve as a way for generations to connect, to share time and to create something together. My friends, please seek out these truly special books and share them with your families.

Illustrations copyright ©2018 Grace Lin and ©2018 Terry Fan & Eric Fan, shared by permission of the publishers. The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Little Brown and 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, September 20, 2018

I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor's Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope, by Chessy Prout (ages 13-18)

With the news cycle focusing on Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused Judge Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers, I've been thinking about consent and rape culture, especially with high schoolers. This summer I listened to Chessy Prout's powerful memoir I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor's Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope, which she narrates herself. I highly recommend this for teens, as an important personal perspective as they consider these issues.
I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor's Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope
by Chessy Prout, with Jenn Abelson
read by Chessy Prout
Simon & Schuster Audio / Margaret K. McElderry, 2018
Amazon / Your local library / OverDrive audiobook preview
ages 13-18
As a freshman at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire, Chessy Prout was sexually assaulted by an upperclassman. In her raw and honest memoir, Prout shares her experience of assault and the subsequent journey with the tumultuous trial, media attention and search for healing and change.

At the end of her freshman year, a senior by the name of Owen Labrie lured and assaulted Chessy as part of a “Senior Salute” ritual at the school. Prout has cowritten her account with journalist Abelson. I especially appreciated the way she shares about her life before and after the rape, providing context for her experience both at school and with the legal system.

As I read this, I was particularly angered by the way the school resisted Chessy's search for justice. The case was turned over to the police and the public defender, and Chessy did find important allies. But I was struck by how the legal system does not help our young people find the resolution they need. She was  I so wish that Chessy's school and community had used Restorative Justice practices.

I've been inspired by The Restorative Justice Project at Impact Justice. This practice helps communities "address harm through dialogue among those most impacted. Restorative justice brings together those who have harmed, their victims, and affected community members into processes that repair harms and rebuild relationships."

Chessy narrates the audiobook, balancing clarity with personal feelings, giving voice to her experience. She conveys her commitment to activism and justice for those who have experienced sexual assault.

I recommend this memoir for both middle schools and high schools, as an important component raising awareness about the importance for consent. Today, I was struck by the podcast The Daily, which interviewed Caitlin Flanagan, a writer for The Atlantic, about her assault in high school. What's especially notable is that the high school boy apologized to Ms. Flanagan two years after he assaulted her, asking for forgiveness. This enabled her to move beyond this traumatic event.

Chessy's memoir has an important place in the debate today around sexual assault, consent and our justice system. Please share this with teens in your lives. I highly recommend I Have the Right To for both middle schoolers (especially 8th graders getting ready for high school) and high schoolers. I think that many 13 and 14 year olds are ready to explore the emotional complexities and realities that Chessy describes. The review copy came from my local library, through OverDrive. 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, September 16, 2018

Tight, by Torrey Maldonado -- real boys, navigating emotionally complex decisions (ages 8-14)

I've been thinking a lot about how we show our boys different ways to handle emotions, so that we are breaking the expectations of acting tough and macho. In Tight, by Torrey Maldonado, Bryan must navigate making friends, controlling his temper and choosing the right path. Hand this to young readers who loved Jason Reynolds' Ghost, who want a book that feels real, and a character that is believable and emotionally honest.
by Torrey Maldonado
Nancy Paulsen / Penguin, 2018
Amazon / Local library / Google Books preview
ages 8-14
*best new book*
I wonder what kids will think about the cover of Tight. Which train is Bryan going to get on? Is he struggling with a decision? Is he in a tight place? How do you feel if you're tight? What other meanings does it have? Whenever I'm showing a student a book, we spend some time wondering about the cover and thinking about its meanings.

Bryan, an Afro-Puerto Rican sixth grader, lives in the projects in Brooklyn and generally keeps to himself, heading to his mom's office after school to do his homework, read comics or draw. His mom likes it that way, wary that he might fall in with a bad crowd. So Bryan is surprised when she encourages him to get close with Mike, a slightly older boy in their neighborhood who seems like a good kid.

Soon Mike and Bryan become close friends, but Bryan realizes that Mike isn’t as good as Ma and others think. Bryan can't stand the way his dad and sister tease him for being "soft," and he likes some of the ways that Mike encourages him to break the rules, throwing rocks at cars from rooftops and skipping school.

Bryan realizes that he's following Mike into more and more dangerous situations, and his honest, internal dialog shows how difficult it is to dothe right thing. When Mike asks Bryan to tell Little Kevin how great train surfing is (holding onto the outside of the train as it speeds through the tunnels), Bryan follows along even though he has misgivings:
"I start doing that, and the whole time I wonder why I don't just say what I really feel. Now it's like I'm two people. On the outside I'm promoting train-surfing so hard. On the inside, I'm like, Why am I being Mike's hype-man with this?"
Torrey Maldonado skillfully creates a believable, real character facing his vulnerabilities, figuring out what it means to be a friend and how to make the right decisions. I especially appreciate the way that Bryan and Mike bond over superhero comic books and television shows. Bryan's voice is authentic, filled with slang that rings true. This is not a simple morality tale, but rather one that peels back the complex, contradictory currents that make these decisions difficult.

Torrey Maldonado crafts such an authentic voice because it's coming from his own experience. He's a middle school teacher who "still teaches in the Brooklyn neighborhood where he was born and raised" and uses his students’ & his experiences to shape his stories and characters.

I highly recommend Tight for a wide age range. Although this is clearly a middle-grade novel, I think that many 13 and 14 year olds will be drawn to the emotional complexities and authentic voice that Maldonado creates. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Nancy Paulsen / 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.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Dactyl Hill Squad, by Daniel Jose Older -- historical fiction with social justice and dinosaurs! (ages 10-14)

I'm really excited to share Dactyl Hill Squad with my readers--my first copy went out today to a reader who loves Percy Jackson fantasies. Dactyl Hill Squad is a terrific mix of historical fiction, action-adventure and fantasy--with a strong underlay of social justice themes. Hand this to readers who want high energy books and a critical look at race relations.
Dactyl Hill Squad
by Daniel José Older
Arthur A. Levine / Scholastic, 2018
Amazon / Local library / Google Books preview
ages 10-14
Magdalys Roca chafes at the rules imposed at the Colored Orphan Asylum in Civil War era New York. Above all else, she cannot stand it when the matron calls her Margaret, instead of Madalys, her real name. Right from the opening page, readers know that Magdalys is strong-willed and proud of her Afro-Cuban heritage. But she also really wants to see the play at the colored theater, so she complies with the matron's demands.

Magdalys discovers that she has a special connection with the dinosaurs that are part of everyday life in this alternative history. She discovers that she can communicate with them mentally: they hear her wishes, and she knows how they are feeling. Dinosaurs and pterodactyls are both wild and tamed, serving people as beasts of burden and roaming free.
"It was only a few years ago that New York had passed a law granting black citizens the right to dinoride, and white people in Manhattan still bristled and stared when they saw someone with brown skin astride those massive scaly backs."
While Magdalys and her friends are seeing the play, riots break out on the streets and their orphanage is burned down. These riots are based on the Draft Riots of 1863. The children flee to Brooklyn, in a neighborhood called Dactyl Hill for all of the pterodactyls that fly over the homes. They find refuge with the Vigilance Committee, which, as Miss Bernice explains, "helps fugitive slaves make it farther up north and works to stop the Kidnapping Club from sending our folks south to bondage."

Once safe in Brooklyn, Magdalys and her friends form the Dactyl Hill Squad and set out to foil the Kidnapping Club, find Magdayls's brother and protect their friends. There's plenty of dinoriding, battles and near-escapes.

I especially appreciate how Daniel José Older weaves together complex topics such as race, power and gender in the Civil War in the framework of an action-packed, fantastical story. He provides fascinating historical background information in his author's note.

Given this, I do think that this story is best appreciated by kids who already understand some of the complexities of the Civil War and race relations in US history. My first reader who loved it had just finished reading Laurie Halse Anderson's Chains with his class, and this made a perfect follow-up. I wonder if the cover looks a little young--I imagine this working more with a middle school crowd.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Scholastic. 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, September 9, 2018

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices, edited by Wade Hudson & Cheryl Willis Hudson -- inspiring, beautiful & uplifting (ages 8-13)

As the news inundates us with the harm caused by divisive politics, institutional racism and prejudice, and angry civic discourse, what do we tell our children? How do we help give them hope, help empower them during these difficult times? We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices is an inspiring new anthology that asks 50 of the foremost children's authors and illustrators to share their love, concern and experience with the next generation.
We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices
edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson
Crown Books, 2018
Amazon / Local library / Google Books preview
ages 8-13
*best new book*
Dedicated to "those who advocate for and pursue a just society and basic human rights for all people," this anthology presents an inspiring collection of poetry, essays, short stories and art designed to give children hope during difficult times, especially children from traditionally marginalized communities. As Ashley Bryan writes in the forward:
"Having a safe space to imagine and dream and (re)invent yourself is the first step to being happy and successful, whatever road you choose to pursue."
This beautiful collection provides children (and the adults in their lives) this safe space. Authors ask questions, share wisdom and provide support. By doing so, they open the window to talking about these difficult times. In the opening poem, Wade Hudson asks:
"What shall we tell you when our world sometimes seems dark and uninviting?
What shall we tell you when hateful words that wound and bully are thrown like bricks against a wall, shattering into debris?"
Other authors share their fears, their worries. Kwame Alexander, in his poem "A Thousand Winters," writes about when his daughter worried that the police would take him away if he was driving too fast. Our youngest children hear the news, see the reaction of adults around them, and they have questions. We must be honest with them, and yet we must also find ways to protect our children and give them hope -- for, as Kwame writes, "if we can't survive this storm, how will our children?"
"A Thousand Winters," by Kwame Alexander, illustration by Eukua Holmes
I especially appreciate the variety in this collection. These are heavy topics, and yet readers turn the pages and find so many different approaches. Jacqueline Woodson writes a letter to her children, reminding them to be safe and be kind as they walk in the world. Joseph Bruchac gives advice about choosing a friend who "sees how beautiful you are, even on days when you're sad." Zetta Elliott reminds children that "You Too Can Fly." The illustrations move from painting with deep hues, to drawings with soft warm touch, to photographs showing children of different races and ethnicities.

Above all, this collection leave me with the feeling that there are caring adults who truly see children, who know how difficult these times can be, and who admire all the ways that our children walk in this world. I'd like to leave you with a bit of Sharon Flake's letter:
"How are you, my love? Well, I hope. I've been thinking about you lately. So, I wanted to check in, to make sure you're okay. I see you...draped in confidence, walking like you own the world, looking fine, skateboarding, protesting injustice, helping out friends. My heart sings at the thought of what is possible for us here on earth because you exist."
I definitely recommend this collection for every elementary and middle school library. I'll be bringing it to my new high school library to see what our students think of it. I purchased the review copy from my local independent bookstore, Mrs. Dalloway's. 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, September 4, 2018

Ivy & Bean One Big Happy Family, by Annie Barrows -- interview with Mia, age 8

I am so happy to share the newest installment of Ivy + Bean, one of my all-time favorite series of chapter books. I love these two friends; they are goofy, full of mischief, and remind me of all the things I almost did!

This series is perfect for readers new to chapter books. Pictures on every page help readers build a movie in their mind and keep the pacing going. Humor and friendship drama make these stories relatable and funny. The Ivy + Bean series fills a perfect spot in children's literature: between longer Early Readers like Mercy Watson and novels like Ramona the Pest.

Bay Area friends: You'll definitely want to see Annie Barrows and Sophie Blackall on Saturday, September 8th at 10am at the Elmwood Theater in Berkeley, organized by Mrs. Dalloway's Books. Get your ticket here and save your spot!
Ivy + Bean One Big Happy Family
by Annie Barrows, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Chronicle, 2018
Amazon / Public library / Google Books preview
ages 6-9
*best new book*
When I showed the newest installment to one of my favorite readers, she was thrilled to revisit her favorite book friends. So instead of a review, I'd like to share my conversation with Mia, age 8.

Mary Ann: Hi Mia! Why were you excited to read the new Ivy & Bean?

Mia: I really like the series. I like that they're funny and silly. I also like that they're about real kids.

Mary Ann: Can you tell me a little bit about this new book?

Mia: Someone in their class says that only children are spoiled, and Ivy worries about this. So she tries to do lots of things to make sure she isn't spoiled. She gives away her clothes. Then she says they should get a new baby, so she won't be an only child. But the baby ends up crying and fussing so much! Then Ivy & Bean decide that they should actually be twin sisters, so that Ivy isn't an only child.

Mary Ann: Was there a part that made you laugh?

Mia: It was funny when Ivy & Bean tried to become twins and tied their wrists together so their skin would grow together. It was so funny because we knew it wouldn't work and they kept bonking their heads when they tried to get out of their playhouse.

Mary Ann: Were there any other parts you liked?

Mia: It was funny when Nancy was doing yoga and in downward dog. When Bean sees this, she tells Nancy that isn't what a dog looks like. Bean is really funny when she starts barking at Nancy and showing her what a dog does.

Mary Ann: Do you think you're more like Ivy or Bean?

Mia: I am really like both of them! I love reading like Ivy. I also like running around, screaming and being crazy like Bean.

Mary Ann: Thanks so much, Mia. I really appreciate your sharing your thoughts with readers!

Enjoy this book trailer for Ivy & Bean, featuring real kids and what they think about the series:

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Chronicle. 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, August 29, 2018

Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers : Celebrating animal underdogs, by Melissa Stewart (ages 4-8)

Young readers delight in learning about new animals. If you have animal lovers in your house or classroom, definitely seek out Melissa Stewart's newest picture book: Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating animal underdogs. She takes a fresh look at what makes an animal noteworthy--do we really want to focus only on the fastest animals? Or do we want to find out how animals survive and thrive?
Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating animal underdogs
by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis
Peachtree, 2018
Amazon / Public library / Teachers guide
ages 4-8
Stewart's lively, playful voice draws readers right into her text. We start off looking at a pair of tiny critters, the Etruscan pygmy shrew and the Amau frog. I appreciate how Stewart and Laberis help readers envision just how small these animals are by comparing them to everyday objects.
"Let's start with this little critter--the Etruscan pygmy shrew.
It's a real pipsqueak. Look, it's name is longer than its body."
But the real question, as Stewart asks, is "How can these puny peewees survive?" Turn the page, and readers will see dramatic examples of how being tiny can actually help you hide from predators.
"Believe it or not,
size is on their side."
Stewart presents an engaging look at a range of animals, helping young children think about what characteristics might help animals survive. The backmatter includes more information, but she keeps it quite brief. Instead, she focuses on encouraging children to think about different animals. This would be a terrific discussion-starter for talking about habitats and animal characteristics.

I especially appreciate the gentle message Stewart provides throughout, that every animal has “its own special way of surviving" and we need to recognize the strengths each has just the way they are. Take special note of the dedication at the end of the book:
"For any child who is being bullied right now---
what others see as a weakness may actually be your strength.

Don’t give up."
I have long admired Melissa Stewart's nonfiction books for children and appreciated her thoughtful writing about the craft of writing nonfiction. She helpfully examines different types of nonfiction writing (see her recent article Understanding—and Teaching—the Five Kinds of Nonfiction, published in the School Library Journal). I encourage you to explore her helpful blog, Celebrate Science.

Illustrations copyright ©2018 Stephanie Laberis, shared by permission of the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Peachtree Publishers. 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, August 26, 2018

The Day You Begin, by Jacqueline Woodson -- giving voice and honoring identity (all ages)

"There will be times when you walk into a room
and no one there is quite like you."
Jacqueline Woodson begins her newest picture book--The Day You Begin--by giving voice to children who feel alone. She speaks directly to readers, honoring their individual stories while creating a book that speaks universal truths.
The Day You Begin
by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López
Nancy Paulsen Books / Penguin, 2018
Amazon / Local library / Audiobook preview
all ages
*best new book*
Woodson and López directly address readers, honoring their worries and difficulties as they begin a new school year and feel alone. Perhaps no one looks like them or no one understands them.
"There will be times when the words don't come..."
"What did you do last summer?" can be a loaded question, as children share about summer travels. Angelina remembers the days spent at home caring for her little sister, but cannot find the words to describe them.

Woodson gracefully turns the story to talk to different children. Perhaps they are new to the school, or new to the country. Or maybe they want to start the year with a new beginning, a new group of friends.
"There will be times when the world feels like a place
that you're standing all the way
outside of..."
And yet...and yet, Woodson shows us that we can find our voice if we begin to share our stories. When Angelina tells her class about her summer, her voice becomes stronger. Her classmates listen. And notice.
"And all at once, in the room where no one else is quite like you.
the world opens itself up a little wider
to make space for you."
López's illustrations bring a tenderness to Woodson's text, helping young readers see themselves and their classmates in these stories. I especially appreciate the range of children's racial and ethnic backgrounds. The warm colors throughout create a reassuring tone to this lovely story.

Beginnings are not always easy. I so appreciate Woodson noticing this and naming it. With her grace and wisdom, she encourages all of us to find friends who will listen to our stories, a new friend who "has something a little like you--and something else so fabulously not quite like you at all."

I am beginning at a new school this year, as the librarian at Albany High School, and I can relate to many of my students who feel excited and anxious to begin a new year. This is a perfect way to begin the year, and is a book that belongs in every classroom for all ages. I will be sharing this with my high school students as we begin school this week.

Illustrations copyright ©2018 Rafael López, shared by permission of the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Nancy Paulsen / Penguin Young Readers 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, August 19, 2018

We Don't Eat Our Classmates, by Ryan T. Higgins -- back-to-school fun, with a dollop of empathy (ages 4-8)

Each fall brings a bevy of back-to-school books--helping young children get used to new classrooms, make new friends, learn new routines. Earnest advice might appeal to parents, but kids love stories combine humor, empathy and advice. If you're looking for a heartfelt back-to-school book, check out We Don't Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins.
We Don't Eat Our Classmates
by Ryan T. Higgins
Disney-Hyperion, 2018
Amazon / Public library
ages 4-8
As the first day of school approaches, Penelope worries about making friends. The cuddly cute little T. Rex wonders what her classmates are going to be like, whether they will be nice.

When the first day arrives, Penelope "was very surprised to find out that all of her classmates were... CHILDREN!"

Penelope is so surprised, she ate all the children. "Because children are delicious." The teacher is not impressed, and instructs Penelope to spit them out immediately. Penelope's classmates are covered in slimy spit--you can imagine the giggles that will erupt from young readers.

Phe tries really hard at school, but she keeps eating her classmates. After this, Penelope's classmates don't want to be her friends. They're worried about sitting next to her at lunch.
"It was lonely."
Penelope can't understand why her classmates are reluctant to play with her. It isn't until a goldfish chomps on her finger that she understands just how much this can hurt. When she changes her ways, Penelope starts making friends.

Young students know just how difficult it is to control themselves. Higgins creates a very likable main character--readers will identify with her fears, worries and lack of self-control. With gentle humor, Higgins reminds us to think about how your actions might impact others.
"Now, even when children look especially delicious, she peeks at Walter (the goldfish) and remembers what it's like when someone tries to eat you."
Ryan T. Higgins is the author of one of our favorite read-alouds: Mother Bruce. He is a masterful storyteller, knowing just how humor can help resolve important issues. I appreciated reading this interview on Publisher's Weekly about his process creating this story.

Check out more back-to-school favorites on my Goodreads shelf. Illustrations copyright ©2018 Ryan T. Higgins, shared by permission of the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Disney Hyperion 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.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Stop, Go, Yes, No!: A Story of Opposites by Mike Twohy -- terrific fun for youngest readers (ages 3-6)

As a school librarian, I delight in sharing books that make kids laugh and want to read more. Stop, Go, Yes, No! is just this sort of book -- our youngest kids will love reading this together again and again. It's funny, full of energy and utterly relatable. The icing on top is that it helps little ones learn about opposites and develop early reading skills.
Stop, Go, Yes, No! -- A Story of Opposites
by Mike Twohy
Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins, 2018
Amazon / Public library / preview
ages 3-6
*best new book*
A grey cat peacefully sleeps on the opening page, and the word "Asleep" is written in large, clear letters. Turn the page, and the joyful dog from the cover shouts "Awake!" jolting the cat from its nap.
Twohy keeps a steady rhythm of paired opposites, as the dog chases the cat and tries to convince it to play. Happy-go-lucky dog just wants to play, but the cat clearly wants to be left alone.
With just 28 words, Twohy builds a story that pulls readers in, makes them laugh and want to find out what happens next.
I appreciate the way Twohy keeps plenty of space around each word, encouraging young readers to look at the picture and then the word. Using these picture clues is an important part of reading development.

Twohy masterfully creates two distinct characters. Try asking young readers how the cat and dog are feeling at different moments. Then have fun role-playing these two characters, or making up your own pairs of opposites. Also be sure to check out Oops, Pounce, Quick, Run! Twohy's previous book with this lovable dog.

Illustrations copyright ©2018 Mike Twohy, shared by permission of the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Balzer + Bray / 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.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Heretics Anonymous, by Katie Henry -- teen angst, student activism and personal reflections (ages 13-16)

As a teen, I bristled against rigid authority and strict policies--I wanted to understand why rules were made, and insisted that they were fair. As a teen, I would have fit right into Heretics Anonymous, the secret club at St. Clare's in Katie Henry's debut novel. Henry weaves together a story full of teen angst and student activism as she presents a multifaceted look at religion in a Catholic prep school.
Heretics Anonymous
by Katie Henry
Katherine Tegen / HarperCollins, 2018
Amazon / public library / Google Books preview
ages 13-16
*best new book*
Michael resents moving once again, having to start a new school a month and a half into his junior year of high school just because his dad has a new job. Now he finds himself struggling to fit in at St. Clare's Preparatory School, even though he doesn't believe in any kind of God. How is he going to make friends here, with "a bunch of mindless Catholic sheep people"?

Fortunately, Michael soon meets a group of St. Clare's students who question the school's rigid policies and dogma: Lucy, a feminist  Colombian-American who's a devout Catholic determined to reform the church; gay, Jewish Avi; Eden, a self-described pagan; and Max, a Korean-American Unitarian. At their secret club meetings of Heretics Anonymous, they share their grievances about St. Clare's.
We believe in one fundamental truth:
That all people, regardless of what they worship, who they love, and what they think,
Have a right to exist, and a right to be heard.
(from the Heretics Anonymous Creed)
Michael urges his new friends to do something to change St. Clare's, to go public to make it better for everyone. In a series of hilarious episodes, they take on the school administration, first by annotating the school's outdated sex-ed DVD to make it more accurate, informative and entertaining. Then they create an alternative newspaper to challenge the dress code. But Michael's family tensions impact his judgement and he rashly carries his mission to change the school too far.

I especially appreciate how Katy Henry develops her characters' friendship and respect for each other, even though they are all so different. Through their relationships, they begin to reflect on their own beliefs and accept each other. And in doing so, Henry invites her readers to do the same.

Personally, I identify more with Michael's world view, but I found myself appreciating Lucy's perspective the most. She's a fierce feminist, and she's also a committed Catholic--and both sides fit together in her well-rounded character. Religion can bring comfort, faith and support to people, and Michael sees this in Lucy. But religion has also been used throughout history to enforce social norms and uphold the existing power structures. Above all, I appreciate how Henry asks readers to separate these two strands and think about what they value.

Full discloser: Katie Henry writes in her acknowledgements about her childhood church, Newman Hall-Holy Spirit Parish in Berkeley, California. This was also my childhood church (although in different decades). She tells Kirkus how this liberal Catholic upbringing was so different from what she discovered when she went to college. While this novel stems from Henry's attempt to create a space for kids to think about the complexities and nuances of religion, she keeps it grounded in humor and everyday relationships.

Hand this to teens who want a heartwarming story with characters who question the rules and fight to make the world better for all of us. I purchased the review copy for my school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

After the Shot Drops, by Randy Ribay: authentic, relatable & fast-paced -- a great combination for teen readers (ages 12-16)

When high school basketball star Bunny Thompson transfers to a private school to play ball, his best friend Nasir feels betrayed and left behind. In this powerful dual-narrative, readers hear from both boys as they struggle to repair their friendship. Randy Ribay creates relatable characters, authentically capturing the teens’ voices and struggles. Hand this to teens who loved Kwame Alexander’s Crossover and Jason Reynold’s Ghost.

After the Shot Drops
by Randy Ribay
HMH, 2018
Amazon / public library / Google Books preview
ages 12-16
During the summer after freshman year, Bunny Thompson transfers from Whitman High, his neighborhood public school, to St. Sebastian’s, a private school in the suburbs. It’s a difficult transition—he misses his friends, struggles to fit in, and knows his old friends don’t understand.
“Pride in Whitman High’s basketball team runs real deep around our way, so a lot of people didn’t like that one bit. My main man, Nasir, straight up stopped talking to me.”
Nasir feels left behind and betrayed. Bunny was so focused on himself that he didn’t even tell Nasir about his decision to leave Whitman. Nasir hangs with his cousin Wallace, and is concerned when Wallace tells him he’s about to get evicted from his apartment because they’re behind on rent. Wallace fuels Nasir’s anger at Bunny:
“Wallace lets out a sarcastic laugh. ‘He ain’t your friend. He up and left you to go play ball with some rich-ass white boys. He doesn’t care about you. Bunny Thompson’s looking out for Bunny Thompson. That’s it, Nas.”
Wallace’s anger and resentment build, and he turns to betting against Bunny in order to make rent money. Readers will relate to Nasir’s difficult decision whether to support his cousin’s reckless behavior and how to walk away.

Race and economics play an explicit part of this story, although in a nuanced way. Whitman is a primarily Black community in Philadelphia, and Bunny’s parents work long hours to make ends meet. Nasir’s family is Filipino and Black, providing an alternative to the reductive black/white tropes of urban life. I appreciate how supportive both Nasir and Bunny's families are.

Teens will appreciate the fast pace of this story and the tense climax as Wallace pulls a gun on Bunny. I also appreciated the layered themes of friendship, identity and loyalty. Plus, I’ve got to give a big shout-out for Keyona, Bunny’s girlfriend. She’s a great character, who’s never afraid to set Bunny straight.

For more about After the Shot Drops, check out Rand Ribay's 5 Questions over at the Horn Book. Randy Ribay now teaches in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read in The Horn Book about his experience teaching in Philadelphia, and why school libraries are so important.

The review copy came from my local 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.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Meet Yasmin, by Saadia Faruqi -- outstanding new early reader (ages 6-9)

Beginning readers seek out funny stories they can relate to. Even with unlikely situations and over-the-top humor (Fly Guy, I'm looking at you), kids want to be able to imagine that they are the main character in the story. That's precisely why representation matters so much.

I'm thrilled to introduce you to Yasmin, the Pakistani-American main character in Saadia Faruqi's debut series Meet Yasmin! Young readers are going to relate to many of the situations that Yasmin finds herself in--getting lost, wanting to win the art contest, making a mess at home. Many readers are also going to appreciate the cultural details that Saadia seamlessly weaves into her story.
Meet Yasmin!
by Saadia Faruqi, illustrated by Hatem Aly
Capstone, 2018
Google Books preview / Amazon / your library
ages 6-9
*best new book*
Yasmin is a vivacious second-grader who's always looking for ways to solve problems she gets into. Her multigenerational Pakistani-American family is supportive, giving her the space to figure things out and also offering some help along the way.
Yasmin's family: Mama, Baba, Nani and Nana (via CapstoneKids)

Meet Yasmin! is a short chapter book with four separate stories within it--these help keep the pacing moving quickly for young readers new to chapter books. Each story is divided into three short chapters. You can also purchase the stories individually, as short beginning readers. Katie Woo and Sofia Martinez, two of our favorite series, are also available in this way--providing flexible formats for new readers.
  • Yasmin the Explorer – Yasmin wants to be a brave explorer after she draws a map of her neighborhood, but gets scared when she gets lost at the farmer's market.
  • Yasmin the Painter – Worried about an art contest at school, Yasmin doesn't have any idea what to paint. Luckily, inspiration comes from the mess she makes.
  • Yasmin the Builder – When her class starts building a city, Yasmin doesn't know what she'll build. In a delightful twist, she decides to make bridges and paths that connect everyone else's buildings together.
  • Yasmin the Fashionista – Yasmin is so excited to play dress up with her mother's clothes, but she and Nani accidently rip Mama's satin kameez and must figure out how to fix it.
Yasmin is a happy child with a loving family. Students from many backgrounds will relate to her multigenerational family. Muslim students will especially notice the cultural details. The review at MuslimReads summed it up:
The fact that her mom grabs her purse and her hijab when she’s getting ready to leave the house and that her dad calls her jaan are just normal parts of Yasmin’s life and a normal part of the fabric of American life.
"Don't forget your map!" Baba said. "Every explorer needs a map."
Notice in these illustrations that Mama is not wearing her hijab at home, but puts it on as they're leaving the house for the farmer's market. This small detail is important to weave into the story. Hatem Aly does a wonderful job of keeping the illustrations fun and lively, and also keeping them culturally specific.

Saadia Faruqi decided to write children's books, especially for beginning readers, because her own children did not have books they could relate to. Her heartfelt post in NerdyBookClub explains how her children struggled as first generation Muslim Americans, and how "books – the one thing that should have helped them deal with all this – didn’t have any answers. There were no beloved Muslim characters with the same problems they had."

Read more about Saadia's vision and journey:
Meet Yasmin! is well crafted for beginning readers, with a crisp focus on problem and resolution, a small cast of characters for new readers to learn, and an engaging main character. Hand this to readers who like relatable, funny stories with short chapters.

Many thanks to Saadia Faruqi and Capstone for sharing the review copy with 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

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Immigration & refugee stories: hearing children's stories (ages 9-14)

Throughout the United States, we are feeling the rippling effects of family separation policies by immigration officials. How do we explain these painful experiences to children? How do we hear and honor children's stories?

My father's family was torn apart by World War II, and I have always found refugee stories powerful. They let me connect to my own family's history, and help me extend my grandmother's experiences to those of children in my classroom. Here are a few books that I would recommend to children ages 9 to 14. For younger readers, seek out Front Desk and Stormy Shores. Older readers will appreciate the suspense and understand the terrifying situations in The Only Road and Refugee.

Front Desk, by Kelly Yang (Scholastic, 2018): Mia's family has recently immigrated from China, and finding a steady job has been really tough for her parents. When an opportunity to manage a motel comes their way, they leap at it. Mia's excited that she can help out, managing the front desk while her parents clean the rooms. Kelly Yang bases this story on her own experience, immigrating from China to Los Angeles. She weaves humor and compassion into her story, while frankly addressing poverty, bullying and the importance of family.

The Only Road, by Alexandra Diaz (Simon & Schuster, 2016): Twelve-year-old Jaime flees his home in Guatemala after a local drug gang kills his cousin Miguel. Jaime and Angela, Miguel's sister, travel north alone, navigating the treacherous journey by bus, train and foot. This gripping novel not only shows the violence and abuse Jaime and Angela survive, but also how painful family separation is for children.

Alexandra Diaz has been honored with the Pura Belpre Author Honor Award, the Américas Award and was a finalist for the International Latino Book Award. I'm excited that The Crossroads, the sequel to The Only Road, will be published in September.

Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees, by Mary Beth Leatherdale (Annick Press, 2017): This powerful nonfiction book combines brief memoirs, clear information and dynamic collage illustrations, making this an engaging introduction to immigration experiences of children during 20th and 21st centuries. Each chapter focuses on a child fleeing war, oppression and conflict in Nazi Germany, Vietnam, Cuba, Afghanistan, and Africa’s Ivory Coast.

Refugee, by Alan Gratz (Scholastic, 2017): Gratz alternates the stories of three children from different periods of time, each of whom are fleeing their homes in search of refuge. Josef is escaping persecution from Nazis in Germany during World War II. Isabel and her family are fleeing Cuba in 1994, escaping the riots and unrest under Castro's rule. And Mahmoud's family flees Syria in 2015 after their home was bombed. These parallel stories are engrossing and compelling. The structure keeps the suspense high, and helps readers see how each character must cope with extreme stress, separation and loss. Gratz uses historical fiction at its best to help readers understand global issues in a way that inspires hope and empathy.

If you're looking for more stories like these, check out my Goodreads shelf: Immigration. 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, July 8, 2018

The Treehouse series, by Andy Griffiths -- zany, over-the-top, can't-put-it-down stories (ages 7-10)

Are you looking for a book to keep your kids laughing and asking for more? Do they love goofy, over-the-top stories with lots of illustrations? My students love-love-love Andy Griffiths' Treehouse series.

What kids wouldn't want their own ever-expanding treehouse, with a bowling alley, a limitless marshmallow-launcher, a swimming pool, a watermelon-smashing room, and a rocket-powered carrot-launcher?!?! The Treehouse series originated in Australia and has become a best-seller in the United States, Britain, the Netherlands, Norway and South Korea. The 91-Story Treehouse which hits shelves in the US this week.
The 91-Story Treehouse
by Andy Griffiths
illustrated by Terry Denton
Macmillan, 2018
Your local library / Amazon
ages 7-10
I'm happy to welcome Andy Griffiths here to share about his vision and purpose creating this best-selling, crowd-pleasing series.

"The Treehouse series is a comic-adventure-fantasy which employs lavish illustration & graphic nonsense on every page in order to tell a very silly but involving and complex story with a minimum of words.

This gives us an unusually broad and passionate readership of emerging, reluctant and highly competent readers from 5 - 13 years old and we are especially proud that the series has equal appeal for both boys and girls.

Each book in the series (and they can be read in any order) features a brilliant always-on-task writer called Andy—that’s me—and Terry, the irresponsible and easily distracted illustrator living in an ever-expanding fantasy treehouse while trying write a book for our bad-tempered & demanding publisher Jean Feiwel—I mean Mr Big Nose—who, if he doesn’t get his book on time gets so mad his nose explodes—but the problem is we can’t write the book because Terry keeps getting distracted by all the crazy stuff going on in the treehouse and then our intrepid and ever-resourceful neighbour Jill comes over and helps us sort it all out and then we write the book about all the crazy stuff that happened while we were trying to write the book and then we send it to Mr Big Nose just in time to prevent his nose from exploding."

I've seen kids gobble these stories up. They love the silliness, the abundant illustrations, and the rampant imagination. Take a look at The 13-Story Treehouse preview from Google Books:

The New York Times compares Andy Griffiths to Roald Dahl, which I think is apt.
"Mr. Griffiths’ work is both witty and fantastical, with a dark edge not dissimilar to Roald Dahl. In person, however, he is humble and thoughtful, if tightly coiled, with the taut, sinewy body of a long-distance runner and zany green eyes."
I'd argue that the visual nature, drawing on cartoons and comics, makes these stories even more appealing to today's kids.

Why 91 stories in this treehouse, you might wonder? Griffiths began with 13 levels in the first book back in 2011, and has added another 13 levels every year since. So you get the secret numerical code hidden in the titles: 13-26-39-52-65-78-91. Next March will bring The 104-Story Treehouse, which will bring the US completely up to date with Australia.

Griffiths concludes with a nod to humor and to his true purpose:
If you’re wondering, our secret agenda—aside from evoking the exhilarating joy and freedom of imaginative play and converting non-readers into passionate book-lovers—is to teach children the sadly neglected 13 times table."
Here's what I wrote in 2014 when Andy visited our school:
My favorite part? I love how Andy gives total permission to laugh at anything -- whether it's stinky underwear or stuffing your face with marshmallows. He tells plenty of poop jokes, because he knows his audience (hello, have you listened to 8 year old boys?), but he also gets us laughing at our greatest fears.
Andy visits with an Australia classroom and gets them excited about writing their own stories:

He's got some great tips for young writers here. Also check out his website FAQs to learn more about his process.

Many thanks, Andy, for all your creative storytelling and for working so hard to keep us all laughing. 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