Sunday, April 15, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Illustrations copyright ©2017 Ebony Glenn, shared by permission of the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Simon Schuster. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, April 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, April 8, 2018

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

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

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

I purchased a review copy for my school library, and it's been constantly checked out ever since! Illustrations copyright ©2017 Lane Smith. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Illustrations copyright ©2017 Dawud Anyabwile. I purchased the review copy, the first of many copies I hope to read and give to students. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Black Girl Magic, by Mahogany Browne -- power in poetry (ages 12-16)

Poetry can cut to the core message, conveying truth in a sparse, direct way. When I shared Mahogany Browne's illustrated poem Black Girl Magic with two students at Berkeley High, they simply said, "Well, it's the truth. That's how it is for black girls." 
"You ain't 'posed to wear red lipstick.
You ain't 'posed to wear high heels."
Browne directly fights back against racism and misogyny, naming the stereotypes and injustices black girls face, and she ends with a resounding celebration of black girlhood and a rejection of society's limitations. 
Black Girl Magic: A Poem
by Mahogany L. Browne
illustrated by Jess X. Snow
Roaring Brook Press / Macmillan, 2018
Amazon / local library / Google Books preview
ages 12 and up
Much of modern society sends negative messages to black girls: Don't wear this; don't smile at that. Don't have an opinion; don't dream big. And most of all, don't love yourself. Poet Mahogany Browne challenges these stereotypes by naming them and crafting a message of strength.
"You black girl magic!
You black girl flyy..."
Mahogany Browne first shared this as a spoken word poem for all beautiful black girls. She created this picture book with artist Jess X. Snow, crafting a powerful visual form for her message. For maximum power, encourage students to listen and see both versions:

Share this powerful poem with all students in middle and high school. Encourage them to explore the messages that society sends and how naming these helps create change. There's power in being seen, in being heard, in claiming space.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher Macmillan. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Inspiring youth activism: Marley Dias Gets It Done--And So Can You! (ages 10-14)

I have been so inspired by the groundswell of youth activism--the March for Our Lives this past weekend was incredible. I participated in San Francisco, and my eldest was in DC for the march. I especially found this speech by 11 year old Naomi Wadler brave and inspiring.

Are you and your kids inspired by this call to action? As adults, we need to support our kids to help create the changes they want to see. I highly recommend Marley Dias Gets It Done--and So Can You! Marley Dias shares her experience as a young activist advocating for diversity in the books in her school.

Marley Dias Gets It Done--And So Can You!
by Marley Dias
Scholastic, 2018
Amazon / Your local library / Google Books preview
ages 10-14
*best new book*
At the age of ten, Marley Dias launched the #1000blackgirlbooks book drive campaign. She was frustrated by the lack of diversity in books her teachers were asking her to read, and she decided to collect a thousand books featuring black girls as the protagonist. Marley's positive attitude and youthful energy radiates in this guide to becoming an activist.
"During my travels I have met thousands of kids like me who are passionate about their own causes, who have dreams they want to make come true, and who are ready to do something. I'm eager to share my story with them and you."
Marley makes her story personal, showing how she developed her passion for her cause and then turned that commitment into action. I love her conversational tone: "But hold up. Wait a minute, Marley, slow down. I'm getting ahead of myself, as usual." How's this for telling it straight:
"Plus, to get basic about it: How can educators expect kids to love, instead of dread, reading when they never see themselves in the stories they're forced to read?"
Marley encourages readers to find their passion and make it personal. She shows how she used social media to get the word out and convince others to join her. She covers topics ranging from how to stay strong to the importance of keeping your phone charge to her mantra: "Be the change you want to see in the world."

I especially appreciate how Marley talks about her love of fashion and hairstyles. One librarian friend talked about how her kids love paging through this, debating which outfit they like best. Marley would totally love that. "Yes, you can like school and style simultaneously." She writes directly about her hair, her love of different hairstyles, and the importance of being a role model for other black girls.
"Black girl hair has so many different meanings. So much history...The way I style it expresses my creativity. The way it can transform into different beautiful shapes from one day to the next symbolizes my grace. All girls deserve to know how empowering that feels, to embrace their natural state and love it for everything it is."
The audiobook, narrated by Damaras Obi, brings her sparkling personality and upbeat writing directly to the reader. I recommend reading and listening to this, because the layout and design of the print book is so engaging. The photographs of Marley pop and highlight her magnetic spirit. Quotes are called out in catchy boxes, and sidebars give extra information.

Marley's call to action is contagious. She believes in young readers, and she shows how we can work together to create real change. As a friend at yesterday's march told me, the children of today are going to create real changes in our world.

The review copy came from my local library; I listened to the audiobook on Tales2Go. I have already purchased several copies for our school libraries. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, March 18, 2018

March: Inspiring student activism and #goodtrouble (ages 11 and up)

Although the past several months have left me feeling disillusioned with Washington politics, I have been moved and inspired by the response of young people across the US to the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Tens of thousands of students across the United States walked out of school on Wednesday, March 14, demanding action on gun violence in a National School Walkout.
Berkeley High School students
protesting gun violence, March 14, 2018
via Berkeleyside
Nonviolent civil disobedience is a powerful tool to protest unjust laws or policies. Inspired by the teachings of Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., our students are continuing this tradition. Across the country, students formed peace signs, held rallies, and led marches in their communities.
"We're sick of it," said Maxwell Nardi, a senior at Douglas S. Freeman High School in Henrico, Virginia, just outside Richmond. "We're going to keep fighting, and we're not going to stop until Congress finally makes resolute changes." (Newsela)
If your teens are interested in political protests, share Congressman John Lewis's graphic novel memoir series March. The combination of stark illustrations, quick-moving panels and personal voice creates an intense and accessible memoir. The account starts with a conversation with two young visitors in Lewis' congressional office just prior to Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration, and then uses flashbacks to Lewis's childhood and formative years with Dr. King.

Creating political change requires more than marching. We need to encourage our students to write to political leaders and express their views. These don't need to be long letters, but they need to express their personal views. As John Lewis's coauthor Andrew Aydin writes in an essay introducing March: 30 Postcards to Make Change and Good Trouble,
"Human beings are social animals. We need human interaction... If you're trying to change someone's mind, you need to be personal; you need to establish a connection to share your ideas. You need to make sure a very real part of you shows up to make sure your voice and your ideas are heard."
Aydin's essay is powerful, personal and will reach young people. I'm excited to share these postcards with students at our library. We'll mail any postcard they write to their legislators.
Check out these quick tips on writing to your elected officials. Harness the momentum your teens feel and encourage them to continue to be involved.

The review copy of the March postcards was kindly sent by the publisher, Chronicle Books; the copy of March 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

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Amina's Voice & read-alikes: connecting readers with more books (ages 9-12)

Many of our students really enjoyed reading Amina's Voice, by Hena Khan, as part of our Mock Newbery Book Clubs. They connected with the way Amina learns to cope with her nerves, finds the courage to perform, and deals with the pressures of sixth grade.
Amina's Voice
by Hena Khan
Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster, 2017
Amazon / your local library / Google Books preview
ages 9-12
As Amina starts sixth grade, she struggles with friendship and family issues. At school, her best friend Soojin is befriending another girl, Emily. Soojin is also talking about becoming an American citizen and taking a second, more American name. Amina just wants things to stay the same with Soojin.

At home, Amina loves to sing; true to her parents' nickname (geeta, 'song' in Urdu), she has a beautiful voice. Amina avoids the spotlight, and prefers to sing by herself. When her uncle Thaya Jaan, who is visiting from Pakistan, tells her parents that her singing and piano playing are un-Islamic, she feels undermined and unsure of herself just as she's trying to get up the courage to perform at a school concert.

Students of many backgrounds really responded to this story. Here are some of their comments:
  • "It totally hooked me and stayed with me."
  • "I liked the beginning how she felt nervous and scared, and then she overcame this."
  • "It was intense when their mosque burnt down."
  • "I could relate to having arguments with a friend."
Berkeley librarians worked together to recommend "read-alikes" for students who enjoyed Amina's Voice.
If you liked Amina's Voice for the way Amina found her own voice, you might try:
If you liked Amina's Voice for the way it portrayed a Pakistani family in America, you might try:
In looking for read-alikes, we tried to think of a "hook" to give a student a connection to another book. We also looked for books that would appeal to students at a similar emotional level and reading level. This is not an exact match, but rather a general guide to help us. We also looked for books that many of our libraries have and books that are still in print.

Many thanks to all of the librarians in Berkeley (both at BUSD school libraries and Berkeley Public Library) who are helping us create these read alike lists. Please let us know if you have any other books to add to these suggestions!

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, March 11, 2018

Wrinkle in Time: the movie, the novel & the graphic novel (ages 9-14)

In her Newbery medal-winning classic, A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L'Engle created Meg Murray, an angsty, angry, passionate, heroic young girl on a quest to save her father and vanquish evil from the universe.

Does Ava DuVernay's film adaptation capture the story and L'Engle's characters? Most certainly yes. I can also certainly say that the movie is best seen alongside reading both the original novel and the recent graphic novel adaptation. Yes, see this movie AND read the book.

A Wrinkle in Time is a visual splendor. DuVernay catapults us into the fantastical otherworlds of Uriel, Ixchel and Camazotz. Even more than that, she gives us a Meg we can easily identify with, a young teen struggling with bullying at school, a missing father and a world that doesn't seem to recognize her gifts. As A.O. Scott wrote in The New York Times,
"It is the first $100 million movie directed by an African-American woman, and the diversity of its cast is both a welcome innovation and the declaration of a new norm."
I especially appreciate the way Meg is an introverted, brainy heroine who struggles to control her emotions. I am grateful for the additional layers that DuVernay added with Meg's biracial identity. She is a young teen many girls today can relate to.
Storm Reid as Meg Murray, in A Wrinkle in Time
Meg is called on a classic hero's quest, and through her journey she battles her insecurities, claims her purpose and discovers hope for the world. Storm Reid plays her with a perfect balance of straightforward every-girl and brainy teenage heroine. She is rightfully frustrated at the injustices around her, and she discovers that the answers lay in both her heart and her critical problem-solving.

The Mrs. W's were imaginatively realized in the movie. Although they were not what I had imagined when I first read this story, they came alive on the screen as fully realized characters. I must say that Oprah's Mrs. What captured the inner voice of wisdom and guidance much more than the original text or even the audiobook, in which her language came across as hissing or stuttering.

While the movie captures the emotional development and visual tone of the story, its rushed ending left me thinking back to the book. I missed Aunt Beast's careful tending to Meg, helping her discover the light and hope in the world. I wondered how Calvin reunited with Meg.

I hope those questions will lead children back to reading or rereading the books, both Madeline L'Engle's original A Wrinkle in Time and Hope Larson's graphic novel adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time.
In the end, I so appreciate the way Ava DuVernay embraced and captured this imaginative, passionate heroine. Meg wrestles with the existence of good and evil, she embraces love and hope, she claims her identity as a geeky girl who can figure out how to solve problems much bigger than herself. As Madeline L'Engle said in her Newbery Medal acceptance speech in 1963,
"We have the vocation of keeping alive Mr. Melcher's (the founder of the Newbery award) excitement in leading young people into an expanding imagination. Because of the very nature of the world as it is today our children receive in school a heavy load of scientific and analytic subjects, so it is in their reading for fun, for pleasure, that they must be guided into creativity."
Yes, that is just it. Books help young readers discover expanding worlds. Stories lead to stories, ideas create more ideas. I can't wait to hear what others think of this movie and whether it will bring them back to reading the 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

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer by Carole Boston Weatherford and Ekua Holmes (ages 10-14)

As we celebrate Black History Month, we must honor those who struggled, raising their voices to call for change. Fannie Lou Hamer was an iconic Civil Rights leader who led voting drives throughout the South and co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Carole Boston Weatherford chronicles Hamer's life and struggles in the powerful picture book Voice of Freedom. This is an essential book to share--not an easy one to read, but an essential one to share with older children.
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement
by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes, narrated by Janina Edwards
Candlewick, 2015 // Dreamscape Media, 2017
2016 Caldecott Honor award, 2016 Robert F. Sibert Honor award and the 2016 John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award Winner
ages 10-14
Reading Voice of Freedom is like walking beside Fannie Lou Hamer on her hard journey. Even as a child in Mississippi, the daughter of sharecroppers who could barely make enough money to feed their family, Fannie Lou Hamer was keenly aware that the system around her was unjust:
"Black people work so hard, and we ain't got nothin'
to show for it,
I told anyone who would listen.
Sharecropping was just slavery by a gentler name."
"I was just six when I dragged
my first bag down a row of cotton."
We learn that Fannie Lou's hardships continued, and see her political awareness evolve when voting-rights activists came to Mississippi. Weatherford directly addresses harsh elements of life Hamer experienced under Jim Crow laws, such as her forced sterilization under a Mississippi law.

Conversational, free-verse text lends itself to animated adaptation. Janina Edward's narration embodies Hamer's powerful voice with depth and resonance. I watched this through my public library's Hoopla platform, and look forward to sharing this with my students.

Hamer's fierce determination to fight for equal rights survived and thrived, and this power shines through majestically in Weatherford's rich poetic text. Throughout her life, Hamer refused to give up hope. She faced many brutal hardships, which Weatherford describes with candor. This is not an easy book to read, but one that we must share with older children.

Ekua Holmes won the 2017 Caldecott Honor Award for her stunning, majestic illustrations. Multimedia collages capture Hamer's strength and struggles using both abstract and realistic elements.

Reading this book filled me with anger at the violence and bigotry that Fannie Lou Hamer faced, but it also inspired me to keep raising my voice, adding it to the persistent call for change.

Illustrations copyright ©2017 Ekua Holmes, shared by permission of the publisher. The review copy came from my public library, accessed through Hoopla Digital. 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, February 19, 2018

Before She Was Harriet, by Lesa Cline-Ransome -- poetic, powerful, beautiful (ages 7-10)

"The story of Harriet Tubman has always been one that has infused me with pride." -- Lesa Cline-Ransome, interview on TeachingBooks
Before she was Harriet Tubman, she was a young girl with the courage and determination to fight against injustices. This powerful, poetic picture book takes readers back in time to look at Tubman's many contributions fighting for freedom.
Before She Was Harriet
by Lesa Cline-Ransome
illustrated by James E. Ransome
winner of the 2018 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award
Holiday House, 2017
Amazon / Your local library
ages 7-10
*best new book*
Harriet Tubman is an iconic figure in American history as a courageous leader on the Underground Railroad, helping enslaved people escape to freedom. With lyrical free verse text, Lesa Cline-Ransome looks back on Harriet's long life.
"Before she was an old woman,
she was a suffragist
a voice for women
who had none"
With each page turn, readers are taken further back in Tubman's life. During the Civil War, she was a spy for the Union and a nurse for wounded soldiers. Before all of this, she was a little girl who learned from her father to read the woods, "readying for the day/ she would leave behind slavery." Lesa Cline-Ransome's writing is poetic, focusing in on key moments to help bring readers in close to see Tubman's humanity, her dedication to helping others, her perseverance.

Striking, luminous illustrations highlight Tubman's determination and courage, providing visual context for her long life. James E. Ransome was awarded the 2018 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award for this magnificent book.
"Before she was a suffragist
she was General Tubman..."
Share this picture book with children who have already learned about Harriet Tubman. Help them see her more fully and appreciate her humanity, drive and hope. I especially appreciated these resources:
Illustrations copyright ©2017 James E. Ransome, shared by permission of the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Holiday 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

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

2018 Newbery and Beyond: Highlights for 4th & 5th graders

The Newbery Medal has been compared to the Oscars of children's literature, and that's an apt comparison. It brings a boost in popularity, a promise of longevity and a bump in sales. Yesterday, the American Library Association announced not only the winner of the 2018 Newbery Medal, but also a heap of other awards for children and young adults.

Here are my recommendations of awards that are particularly good for 4th & 5th graders.
Hello Universe, by Erin Entrada Kelly: winner of the 2018 Newbery Medal. The lives of four middle schoolers collide when one of them plays a horrible prank.  This sensitive story will appeal to 4th and 5th graders who like realistic fiction that lets you get to know characters, tugging on your heart-strings and imagining how you would respond in difficult situations. I'm looking forward to rereading this friendship story and hearing my students' thoughts.

Crown: Ode to the Fresh Cut, by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James: winner of the 2018 Newbery honor, Caldecott honor and Coretta Scott King author and illustrator honor awards. Wow!!! Look at those awards! This dynamic picture book celebrates the power of a fresh haircut, the way it makes you feel and the transformation that comes with it. The strong voice is a joy to read, and would make an excellent mentor text for memoir, poetry and and small moment details. Inspiring, gorgeous and empowering -- a must-read.

Lucky Broken Girl, by Ruth Behar: winner of the 2018 Pura Belpré Award. Based on her memories growing up as a young Cuban immigrant in Queens, Behar shares with readers her difficult first few years in this country. At first, she struggles to learn English and acclimate herself to a new school and new community. Just when things are improving, she is terribly hurt in car accident and must spend the next eight months in a full body cast. While Behar never shies away from her anger or fears, she ultimately finds hope and healing.

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora, by Pablo Cartaya: winner of the 2018 Pura Belpré honor award. Cartaya delightfully portrays this Cuban-American family and neighborhood as Arturo develops his first crush and recognizes the power of his words when a shady land developer threatens to put up flashy high rise condos and tear down his family's restaurant.

The First Rule of Punk, by Celia C. Pérez: winner of the 2018 Pura Belpré honor award. This fun, fresh story was a favorite of many Berkeley students. María Luisa wears Chuck Taylors, listens to punk rock, makes zines, and goes by the nickname Malú. She’s devastated when she has to move to Chicago and has to navigate finding new friends, balancing her Mexican culture with her punk rock identity.

Grand Canyon, by Jason Chin: winner of the 2018 Caldecott honor. Detailed illustrations show young readers what it would be like to hike down into the canyon and convey the geologic history of the canyon's formation. Stunning, informative and captivating.

Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators that Saved an Ecosystem, by Patricia Newman: winner of the 2018 Sibert honor award. I have not yet read this yet and am definitely looking forward to it. Newman describes marine biologist Brent Hughes and his work investigating the impact of sea otters on the ecosystem of Elkhorn Slough, near Monterey, CA. A fascinating look at the scientific process in action.

Not So Different: What You Really Want to Ask about Having a Disability, by Shane Burkaw: winner of the 2018 Sibert honor award. With candid humor and accessible descriptions, Shane Burcaw explains how spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) has affected his body and invites questions readers might have. Engaging, informative and important.

Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess, by Shari Green: winner of the 2018 Schneider Family Book Award for Middle Grade. I am looking forward to reading this novel in verse about a deaf sixth grader as she deals with changes life is throwing her way: her mother is remarrying, they are going to move to her step-father's house, and she is going to have to change schools.

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets, by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Ekua Holmes: winner of the 2018 Coretta Scott King honor award for illustration. In this dynamic collection, Alexander and fellow poets Chris Colderley and Marjorie Wentworth share original poems that dance and spin with poets they admire, inviting readers join the celebration. Ekua Holmes' illustrations are magnificent, capturing and extending the rich themes and imagery of the poetry.

With many thanks to the publishers who sent review copies. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, February 8, 2018

2018 Berkeley Mock Newbery Book Clubs -- our results are in!!!

For the second year, every elementary school in Berkeley Unified School District held a Mock Newbery Book Club to read and discuss the best new books of the year. Our 4th & 5th graders have wrapped up their final voting meetings and the results are in!

The American Library Association awards the Newbery Award each year to the most distinguished children's book written by an American author. Kids know this award and have been so excited to add their voices, taking part in mock elections.
Across the district, over 300 4th and 5th grade students read and discussed the best new books published in 2017. Library staff, literacy coaches, and teachers are worked together to host book clubs. Children's librarians from Berkeley Public Library are coming to support several of our schools. The enthusiasm was contagious!

In order to vote in February, we asked students to read at least 5 of the nominated books. This gave students voice and choice to read based on their preferences:
2018 Berkeley Mock Newbery Nominations:
Amina's Voice, by Hena Khan
A Boy Called Bat, by Elana K. Arnold
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, by Rita Williams-Garcia
The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora, by Pablo Cartaya
The First Rule of Punk, by Celia C. Perez
The Harlem Charade, by Natasha Tarpley
Patina, by Jason Reynolds
The War I Finally Won, by Kimberley Brubaker-Bradley
Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate
The Wonderling, by Mira Bartok
Our readers chose The War I Finally Won, by Kimberley Brubaker-Bradley, to honor with the Berkeley Mock Newbery Award. Students talked about how vividly the author described Ada's emotions. "I liked the main character because she was stubborn and daring on the outside, but on the inside she's a different person." They talked about how scared she was climbing the church steeple, and how she overcame her fear through sheer determination. "Ada was so complex," another student said.

Students also noticed how secondary characters were well developed in The War I Finally Won. One student remarked that Susan (Ada's adoptive mother) could connect to the children because she had also lost someone she loved. Other students really liked how well the author wove historical setting into the story, helping them learn about World War II without telling them specific facts.

Our students chose three honor books: The Harlem CharadeWishtree and The Wonderling. It's fascinating that these choices span across a wide range of genres.

Many loved the mystery and intricate plot in The Harlem Charade. One student said, "It was really thought-provoking. It made me keep wondering and asking questions about what was happening, how they would solve the mystery." Other students noticed how it was written from different characters' perspectives, making it especially interesting to read. Many remarked about the action-driven plot, an important quality they look for in books.

Wishtree appealed to students who like more sensitive stories. A 5th grader said, "Even though it's for a younger audience, I liked the way it was about animals as well as human." Another student said, "I liked how the tree was important to the animals and the people; it rooted their community."  Students noticed that the pacing was effective, with suspenseful elements introduced as chapters ended, making them want to keep reading.

The Wonderling especially appealed to our fantasy readers. Students liked how it was about groundlings, creatures that were part animal and part human. This captured their imaginations, and the characters were fully developed. Many commented on how they related to Arthur, feeling alone and left out at times.  They liked how he started off not really knowing where he belonged, and ending up with a family and friends. The secondary characters generated quite a bit of discussion in some groups, with special love for Trinket. Even the villain, Miss Carbunkle, was complex with her own backstory that created empathy in some of our readers. Davey Reed, one of our terrific librarians, noted,
"The Wonderling was a book that kids may have tried early in the year -- it had appeal, but was a little long and hard to get into. But once their friends liked it, they were willing to give it another shot. All it takes is 2-3 kids to start talking about it."
I love how Mr. Reed describes this social side of reading, because that's what the Mock Newbery Book Clubs really help foster. The create community among our readers by honoring their voices and encouraging them to spread the love of reading. Library staff, literacy coaches, and teachers are all working together to host book clubs. Children's librarians from Berkeley Public Library are coming to support several of our schools.
The Newbery Committee is meeting this weekend in Denver, as part of the American Library Association's Midwinter Conference. The 2018 Youth Media Award announcements will take place on Monday, Feb. 12, at 8 a.m. MT from the Colorado Convention Center. Fans can follow 2018 results in real-time via live webcast at , or follow hashtag #alayma.

I am so grateful for the support from all of my colleagues in Berkeley. Together, we are making a huge difference in kids' lives. Many many many thanks.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, February 5, 2018

Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral and Getting It Done, by Andrea Gonzales and Sophie Houser (ages 12 and up)

Here's a truth that won't surprise many teens: our society has normalized video games that are full of violence, shootings and death, and many have hypersexualized images of women. Here's another truth: while images of violent bloodshed has become normalized, our society still shuns mention of women's menstruation and periods.

Two teens decided to take action to change this. Read their story in Girl Code, a terrific memoir to hand to teens interested in using coding to make a difference and have their voice heard.
Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral and Getting It Done
by Andrea Gonzales and Sophie Houser
HarperCollins, 2017
Amazon / your public library / read a sample
ages 12-17
Andrea (known as Andy) and Sophie are two New York teenage girls who met at the summer program Girls Who Code. Andy, from the East Village and the Bronx, had some coding experience before from previous summer camps. Sophie, from the Upper West Side, had never coded before. While Andy has been a lifelong gamer and is a programmer's daughter, Sophie was drawn to Girls Who Code as a way to get experience speaking out and finding her voice. Both write clearly about their own nervousness coming into the program and the coding world.

As soon as they started working together, Sophie and Andy knew that they wanted to create a project that combined social commentary with coding in a fun, fresh way. The started talking about the social taboo surrounding menstruation and how it might be fun to create a game that made people talk about this. Their result was Tampon Run, where the protagonist throws tampons at her enemies.

Tampon Run went viral, bringing Andy and Sophie attention and networking opportunities. It's pretty astounding how quickly they went from being kids goofing around with coding to young adults on the national stage. These opportunities presented challenges of their own, and they speak frankly about how they're trying to evaluate their futures.

Teens will enjoy seeing how Andy & Sophie grappled with self-doubt, worked together and persevered to create something fun and meaningful. Most teens know that coding is an important skill for their futures; this memoir shows what it might actually look like.

Find out more at Andy & Sophie's site: Girl Code. The review copy came from my public library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Each kindness matters. Celebrating World Read Aloud Day with high schoolers

To celebrate World Read Aloud Day today, I popped into two of our high school's English classes to read aloud picture books. Our students loved the chance to slow down and enjoy a picture book, and they were able to connect their own experiences and dreams to these author's ideas in powerful ways.

I read aloud Each Kindness, by Jacqueline Woodson. Each student knew just how awful Maya felt, as the other kids excluded her. They could relate to her and imagine her anger. It is a difficult book to read, because the narrator, Chloe, is not nice to Maya -- in all of those small ways that ring so true to life.

As we got to the end, our students shifted in their thinking. They weren't just sad or frustrated for Maya, they realized that the author wrote this to show how we have to think about being in Chloe's shoes. How we treat others matters.

Jacqueline Woodson masterfully shows us how each kindness matters. Each small action, whether it's a little smile or an offering of a seat, can make someone feel welcome. And Woodson shows us what happens when we don't make that choice.

To celebrate World Read Aloud Day, Jacqueline Woodson posted a video of her reading aloud this magical story. You'll notice the great big medal she's wearing -- Ms. Woodson has just been appointed as the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.

Many thanks to the team at Lit.World for spreading the word about the power of reading aloud to children. And special thanks to Jacqueline Woodson for her leadership, kindness and support of libraries.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race, picture book by Margot Lee Shetterly and‎ Laura Freeman (ages 6-9)

The movie Hidden Figures was inspiring, and I'm happy to be able to share the story of these impressive mathematicians with a younger audience. This picture book gives young readers a clear understanding of these women's contributions, within the framework of the time period. Striking illustrations and brief, compelling text make this a terrific choice to read aloud.
Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race
by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by‎ Laura Freeman
HarperCollins, 2018
Amazon / your local library
ages 6-9
Based on the popular book and movie, this picture book recounts the true story of four black women who helped NASA launch men into space using their mathematical analysis, persistence and hard work.

Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden used their mathematical skills to help NASA send astronauts into space. And they did so during a time when there were great prejudices against women and African Americans.
"Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were good at math…really good."
Margot Lee Shetterly, the author who wrote the original book Hidden Figures, collaborated with Winifred Conkling to write an accessible, focused text. They bring young readers through the main achievements of these women, focusing on how they used their mathematical skills to solve important problems.
"Katherine wanted to help the group prepare its research reports, so she asked if she could go to meetings with the other experts on her team. Her boss told her it was impossible."
Laura Freeman's illustrations draw readers into the scene using bold colors and focusing on the women's experiences. The illustrated timeline in the back is especially engaging and helpful for young readers. A "Meet the Computers" provides more information on each of the four women featured, allowing students a way into learning more.

This picture book goes beyond just being a tie-in with the movie. Seek it out to share with young children who are interested in inspiring figures, but not ready for the whole movie.

Illustrations copyright ©2018 Laura Freeman, shared by permission of the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, HarperCollins. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, January 15, 2018

Let the Children March, by Monica Clark-Robinson and Frank Morrison: inspiring children to raise their voices (ages 5-9)

As our country's political stage has been overtaken with denigrating remarks and racial strife, our children are listening and watching. How can we help inspire them to raise their voices to make our country a better place? We must focus on the great possibilities ahead of us, and we must inspire our children to stand up when they see injustice.

Let the Children March is a powerful new picture book that brings readers into the 1963 Children's Crusade through the strong voice of a young girl volunteering for the march. This is historical fiction at its best, combining well researched facts with emotional details that place readers of today in the moment.
Let the Children March
by Monica Clark-Robinson, illustrated by Frank Morrison
HMH Books, 2018
Amazon / your public library
ages 5-9
When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. comes to speak at her church, a young girl knows that he isn't there just to preach. They have gathered together to plan. Dr. King "wanted to raise an army of peaceful protestors to fight for freedom." And yet when he called for people to join him, many adults were worried they would lose their jobs. As this young girl and her brother watch her parents worry, she realizes:
"The weight of the world rested on our parents' shoulders, but this burden, this time, did not have to be theirs to bear."
Morrison's dynamic illustrations show the courage, determination and resolve in each of the young marchers. As Kirkus Reviews writes, "Morrison’s powerful use of perspective makes his beautiful oil paintings even more dynamic and conveys the intensity of the situations depicted, including the children’s being arrested, hosed, and jailed."
'I don't have a boss to fear,' my brother said, 'or a job to loose.' 'We can march this time. We'll be Dr. King's army,' I said.

Dr. King didn't like children being put in harm's way--he was a daddy too, after all. But he said that though we were young, we were not too young to want our freedom."
This powerful picture book will spark important conversations between children and adults about the importance of speaking up, the risks involved and the powerful change that can result in peaceful protest. We see the young protestors facing snarling dogs, angry onlookers and water hoses, but we also see the impact that they have on the nation.

Pair this story with the picture book biography The Youngest Marcher, by Cynthia Levinson, which tells the true story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, the youngest participant in the 1963 Birmingham Children’s March.

Illustrations copyright ©2018 Frank Morrison, shared by permission of the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 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, January 7, 2018

Love, by Matt de la Peña and Loren Long: learning to recognize love in ourselves and our world (ages 7-9)

With a poet's eye and a painter's touch, Matt de la Peña and Loren Long have created a picture book that helps us see love in unexpected, everyday moments. With small moments from a diverse cast of characters' lives, this evocative book provides opportunities for us all to think about the intangible feeling of love and learn to recognize it in ourselves.
by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Loren Long
G.P. Putnam's Sons / Penguin, 2018
Amazon / your local library / Google Books preview
ages 7-9
*best new book*
What is love? Where do we see and feel it? Is it in our parents' voices? Or also in the sounds of the city? Is it in a gift outstretched to a stranger? Or maybe in that brief moment just before sunset?

With lyrical text, de la Peña brings readers from scene to scene, glimpsing love in many different forms, giving weight and color and texture to this abstract idea. Long takes these brief moments and depicts them, not with one character arc but by showing how people from all over find small moments of love in their lives. This means that children from cities, small towns and rural communities will see themselves reflected in these pages.

Take a moment to look at this scene to see how Long expands upon de la Peña's text to show a child creating and expanding a moment of love by giving a hot dog to a stranger. This small act of kindness is a moment of love that a child can play an active part in creating.
"A cabdriver plays love softly on his radio while you bounce in back with the bumps of the city
and everything smells new, and it smells like life."
I think this book will resonate most with children in elementary school, especially in 3rd and 4th grade. They have the life experiences to understand how love can exist in painful family arguments or frightening tragedies. Older children can see how the author and illustrators chose unexpected moments to find love, and what it means to "learn to recognize a love overlooked."
"And in time you learn to recognize a love overlooked.
A love that wakes at dawn and rides to work on the bus.
A slice of burned toast that tastes like love."
How do we help our children develop the resilience to push through difficult times? Certainly, recognizing small moments of love helps us all be stronger in our journeys. Even more so, seeing the love within ourselves, and within the world around us fortifies us.

Listen to Matt de la Peña and Loren Long talk about their thoughts as they worked on this special book:

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Penguin Random House. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books