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.
Tight
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

Monday, July 2, 2018

The power of stories: ALA Annual 2018

I just returned from my annual "Librarians Gone Wild" weekend, otherwise known as the American Library Association Annual Conference. I'm filled with gratitude for my fellow librarians who help me think more carefully about my craft, and for the authors and publishers share their stories with us.

Time and again, I was reminded of the power of stories and the responsibility we have in finding stories that will lift up young people. From former first lady Michelle Obama to best-selling debut author Angie Thomas, I was reminded of the important role stories play in our lives.
Michelle Obama speaking at
the American Library Association, June 2018
Michelle Obama opened our conference in conversation with Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress. I was inspired by the way she described the very ordinariness of her extraordinary story: "I grew up with music, art and love -- that's about it. There's no miracle in my story." Even more so, she talked about how important it is to learn about each other's stories and how we're all trying to figure it out. This video captures a key moment of her talk.

As a child, I often felt unsure--unable to connect to my peers, alone yet surrounded by people. Books filled my imagination, helped me see myself and feel connected to the world.

As a teacher, I have seen this same power of stories again and again. Stories can fill children's hearts and emotions, giving them courage when they feel most alone. Stories can spread laughter when everything around us seems heavy. They can help us see ourselves in other people's stories. They can make us feel less alone.

Erin Entrada Kelly, winner of the 2018 Newbery Medal, spoke directly to this. "My greatest wish as a writer is that the person reading my book -- or any book, for that matter -- feels less alone." She, too, often felt alone as a child, and it was through books that she discovered friends and companions.
Yet children must see these stories as a piece of themselves. They must see themselves in stories, for when we don't recognize ourselves, what can anchor us--as Nina LaCour (author of We Are Okay) said in her Printz Award acceptance speech.

Every day we are bombarded with terrible news, from school shootings to police brutality to inhumane immigration policies. Angie Thomas (author of The Hate U Give) said, "I often wonder what's the point of creating fiction when our society has failed young people so much." Yet I see every day young people determined to make it, to love and laugh and walk in this world. We need to give our children the message that the things they do, the people they are, all that they care about has value.

In his preface to Out of Wonder, Kwame Alexander quotes poet and author Lucille Clifton: “Poems come out of wonder, not out of knowing.” I think the same can be said of our children. They grow when they are given the love, support and encouragement to wonder. We must listen to them, see them, love them.

I wanted to capture the inspiration and wisdom that so many authors shared this weekend. Enjoy this slideshow:


©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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