Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Life in the Wild - and a free giveaway!

A friend recently said to me that she wanted her son (entering 5th grade) to read some biographies this summer. As her son gets older, she wants him to read about people who have struggled to achieve a dream in their lives. One of the challenges reading biographies is to find stories that will capture an older child’s imagination.

A Life in the Wild: George Schaller's Struggle to Save the Last Great Beasts is a fantastic read for children in grades 5 through 8. It tells the story of field biologist George Schaller, and follows many of his studies, from the gorillas in West Africa to the tigers in India. Read on to find out about a chance to win a copy of this book!
A Life in the Wild: George Schaller's struggle to save the last great beasts
By Pamela S. Turner
NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2008.
Ages 10 – 14
Tuner has created a vivid, moving biography of George Schaller, a researcher who transformed field biology with his studies of gorillas, tigers, lions, and other wild creatures around the globe. In the nineteenth-century, biologists studied exotic animals by with the approach: “find it, kill it, examine the corpse.” Schaller knew he could study these endangered animals by observing them in the wild. After his initial studies in Alaska, Schaller worked for two years in the Belgian Congo studying the mountain gorillas. Next, he observed lions in Tanzania for three years, tracked the elusive snow leopard through the Himalayas for six years, and spend five years working with the pandas in China. Middle school students will like the way this biography moves from place to place. Each chapter focuses on a different animal, and Turner creates suspense with her descriptions of the challenges that Schaller faced.

I particularly liked the way that you get a sense of Schaller living in the wild with his family. George's wife Kay and young sons moved first to India and then to Africa with him. Kay and the boys experienced first hand many of the wild animals George was studying.
"One female cheetah raised two cubs near Seronera (the Schaller's home in Tanzania), and George and Kay grew to know her well. They heard the mother cheetah call her cubs with chirps and chirrs, sounding more like a bird than a cat. When the cubs were half-grown, kay saw the mother cheetah bring her daughters a live gazelle fawn. The cubs needed to learn the family business: chase, knock down, grab by the throat, and hold until dead. After several inept tries the cubs managed to knock the fawn down, but their mother had to handle the killing."
This is a wonderful book for kids to read to see that you can follow your dreams. From a young age, Schaller loved animals. He found a way to pursue his interests, developing his knowledge and leading scientists from all over the world in developing new respect for the natural world.

A Life in the Wild has won the 2008 Golden Kite Award for children's nonfiction from the Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators, as well as the Northern California Book Award for Children's Literature. For other reviews, you can see Chasing Ray or the National Science Teachers Association.

Fantastic Giveaway: Would you like your own copy of A Life in the Wild? Leave a comment (click the word "comments" below), or email Great Kid Books by June 7th. Tell me why you think your child would like to read it. For a bonus entry, email me the email addresses of 5 friends you think would like to know about my blog. I'll do a random drawing and send you a copy of this fantastic book!

Find the book at the Berkeley Public Library and the Oakland Public Library. You can buy it online at IndieBound independent bookstores or Amazon.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Good Question - board book that older kids enjoy

One question that I've been thinking about is when do we start clearing out the board books in our house? Or another way to look at it is, does my 5 year old still want to read her board books? I think the answer is that there's still a real benefit to having younger books around for familiar, independent reading. Let me recommend this title, No No Yes Yes by Leslie Patricelli, and share a story about it.
No No Yes Yes (Leslie Patricelli board books)
by Leslie Patricelli
MA: Candlewick Books, 2008.
ages 1 - 5 (and older!)
This is a very funny book - showing on each page spread the No, No (scribbling on the wall), and then the Yes, Yes (drawing on a piece of paper). From a very early age, parents and children will enjoy reading this book. The drawings are simple and full of silly situations, like eating dog food or floating bath toys in the toilet, that make even older children laugh out loud. The repetition will help young children want to read the story over and over again. It's a perfect first board book.

But it's more. My youngest daughter is 5 years old and her preschool class is asking them to practice talking in front of the whole class. She is at the very early stages of reading (her name, her friends' names, basic words). She was able to read this book in front of the whole class, confidently and with expression. What a wonderful thing - for a young child to think, "Hey, I can read! I can read this all by myself!"

So, if you have young children at home, seek out books by Leslie Patricelli. She has a gift for capturing the rhythms and heart of young children. If you have older children, keep your board books. You might find they have the magic key for helping unlock the reader in your children.

For another lovely review of No No Yes Yes, see the post at The Well Read Child.

Find No No Yes Yes at the Oakland Public Library. You can buy it online through IndieBound independent bookstores or Amazon. Thanks to John and Melissa for this great recommendation and a magical moment for Emily.

Do you have a good question? Post it in the comments, or email me at mscheuer(at)rdschool(dot)org

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Heart of a Shepherd - a touching story about a boy whose father is sent to Iraq

As we celebrate Memorial Day, I'd like to take a moment to think about the families who have sent fathers, sons and brothers to fight in war. The Heart of a Shepherd, by Rosanne Parry, tells the story of an twelve-year old boy whose father is sent to fight in Iraq with the rest of his reserve unit. I was very moved by this story, especially because it shared with me a perspective that is so far away from my experiences here in Oakland, and yet such an important part of our American experiences in the early 21st century.
Heart of a Shepherd
by Rosanne Parry
NY: Random House, 2009. 161 pages
also available on audiobook from or iTunes
ages 10 - 12
Twelve-year old "Brother" is the youngest of 5 boys growing up on a ranch in Eastern Oregon. His older brothers are now off at boarding school, college or the army, and he's now alone helping his dad and grandparents manage their cattle ranch. Brother feels that he's never been the rancher that his older brothers are - it's difficult trying to fill their shoes when they're away. But his dad and grandpa help him learn how to do things.

Then, Brother's dad is called up to fight with his reserve unit in Iraq. With all of his brothers away, Brother promises his dad that he will help keep the ranch running smoothly. His dad believes in him, and Brother has to keep faith that his father will return safely. Here is one of my favorite quotes from his dad:
“You don’t have to be brave,” he says, real quiet. “Neither of us does. A man’s life is not so much about courage. You just have to keep going. You have to do what you’ve promised, brave or not.” (page 24)
In many ways, The Heart of a Shepherd reminds me of A River Runs Through It for tweens. The setting is inextricably part of the story - the land, the weather, the power it holds for people living on a ranch. Brother struggles with his relationship with his older brothers, trying to prove himself a man. And Brother tries to come to terms with his faith, both his faith as a Catholic and his grandfather's faith as a Quaker.

Kids who like real stories about real people will like this book. I think it will appeal to girls and boys, most likely in 5th or 6th grade. The audiobooks has gotten great reviews - it would make a great story for a car trip this summer. It's availabe for download through iTunes or

Our local libraries don't have it yet, but you can see a preview of much of the book at Google Books. It's also available through IndieBound independent bookstores and Amazon.

Read some other reviews of this book:
Jen Robinson's Book Page

I agree with Jen Robinson - above all, this is a book you want to share with others. It shares a perspective about growing up, about loss, about faith that can stretch us and resonate at the same time. Enjoy!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Tap Dancing on the Roof - Sijo poems by Linda Sue Park

Poetry is wonderful to share with children. It's like little nuggets of chocolate - poems pack a lot of flavor with just a little bit of text. They linger in your mouth, and can make you think of memories from long ago. One of my favorite book of poems is Tap Dancing on the Roof, by Linda Sue Park.
Tap dancing on the roof : sijo (poems)
by Linda Sue Park, pictures by Istvan Banyai
NY: Clarion Books, c2007.
ages 7 - 12
Tap Dancing on the Roof is a collection of original poems written in the Sijo style, a traditional Korean form. The poems are funny, but it a way that makes kids think and then laugh. All of these poems have a twist in the last line. Here's an example of one of our favorites in our family:

For this meal, people like what they like, the same every morning.
Toast and coffee. Bagel and juic. Cornflakes and milk in a white bowl.

Or -- warm, soft, and delicious -- a few extrea minutes in bed.
(c) Linda Sue Park, 2008.
Sijo is similar to haiku, a traditional Japanese poetic form, because they both have a fixed number of stressed syllables in each line. Sijo has 3 short lines or 6 long lines. But instead of focusing on nature themes, like haiku, Siju poems always have an ironic, unexpected twist in the last line. Here's another favorite from the collection:

Ocean Emotion

The red flag waves its stern warning:
The ocean churns, foams, roars, dashes,
hurles huge breakers at the sand!

The next day it's all tired out
and takes a long nap in the sun.`

(c) Linda Sue Park, 2009.
This is a book that will appeal to kids in 3rd through 6th grades. I've enjoyed reading these poems aloud with my 2nd grader, but we need to go slowly and talk about some of the twists in the poems.

You can find it at the Berkeley Public Library and the Oakland Public Library. It's also available online at IndieBound independent bookstores and Amazon.

Find other reviews of Tap Dancing on the Roof at A Year of Reading and Shelf Elf.
If you like sharing poetry with your child, check out Poetry Friday on the web. This week it's being hosted by Susan Taylor Brown.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Supporting readers where it counts

Guys Lit Wire, a blog recommending books for teenage boys, has started an important, impressive project. They are holding a Book Fair for Boys to collect books for boys incarcerated in LA County's juvenile justice system. Guys Lit Wire has partnered with InsideOut Writers in LA, and they have created a wish list at Powell's Books.Books matter. They provide escape, they provide solace, they provide entertainment. Sometimes, they help us see that we aren't alone in the world - other people are struggling with things like us. Sometimes, they let us escape from the drudgery of what surrounds us and let us experience the rush of adventure. The boys in LA County's Juvenile Justice system need your help. Please go to Powell's Books and search for the wish list for Mail your books to InsideOut Writers at:

Eve Porinchak
5850 Brookline Lane
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

I have donated, and I urge everyone to try to do so. Guy's Lit Wire has started an important project - we need to support them. It doesn't take much to buy a book, but these books can make a difference to these incarcerated teens. So please, head over to Powell's and support this important cause. Thank you.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Good Question - How do babies get inside their mommies?

Michelle asked me to recommend a book for her 5 year old daughter who asked, "Mommy, how do babies get inside their mommies?" It's a great question, and there are three books that come to mind. They differ in their focus, but are all good introductions to questions that young children have about our bodies. The most important thing that I have found in talking with young children is to really listen to their questions, and not to give them more information than they are asking for.
It's Not the Stork!: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families and Friends
by Robie H. Harris
MA: Candlewick Press, 2006.
ages 4 - 8
It's Not the Stork! is aimed at children ages 4 - 8, and has lots of cartoons and short dialogues as part of the description. I like the way it starts with real basic questions, like how are girls and boys the same and different. It has a conversational tone, but clear information with lots of illustrations - drawings that look realistic. It shows special parts on the outside of boys and girls bodies, and on the inside of their bodies. It does talk about sex, but in a way I'm comfortable with: "When grownups want to make a baby, most often a woman and a man have a special kind of loving called 'making love' - having sex' or 'sex.' this kind of loving happens when the woman and the man get so close to each other that the man's penis goes inside the woman's vagina." My guess is that this has lots more than most five year olds want, but it would make an easy introduction.
My Mom's Having a Baby!
by Dori Hillestad Butler
IL: Albert Whitman & Co., 2005.
ages 5 - 8

My Mom's Having a Baby is also conversational in tone, telling the story of a little girl who's mom is having a baby. It goes month by month about the baby's development. It has a different focus from It's Not the Stork - this follows a baby, and so introduces sex that way. The book by Harris really starts with what are our bodies like, and so focuses on the child more. It would be a good book for children who are interested in where babies come from, or for older siblings whose families are expecting a new baby.
When You Were Inside Mommy
by Joanna Cole
NY: HarperCollins Publishers, c2001.
ages 3 - 5
When You Were Inside Mommy is a good introduction to the topic for younger children, especially the preschool set. Cole is a wonderful author who knows how to introduce complex topics to young children. She sensitively introduces the topic of how babies develop, without getting too graphic. It would be a great place to begin the discussions and see how your child responds.

These books are available at your local library or bookstore.

Good Question will be a new regular column. If you have a question or type of book you're looking for, please let me know. Either post a comment (click the comment link below the post), or email me at mscheuer(at)rdschool(dot)org. Thanks!

Nonfiction books are great ways to explore and answer questions with kids. For some great suggestions, check out Nonfiction Monday. Today it's being hosted by the ACPL Mock Sibert blog.

Good Question - Ask a Question, Offer Advice

Friends often ask me questions about finding the right books for their kids. I thought that "Good Questions" might make a great column on my blog.

If you have questions or suggestions, please let me know. Maybe it's books that might connect with your child's tastes or interests. Maybe you have an issue or topic you're trying to talk about with your child. Or maybe there's a series that your child loves and you want to share it with other parents.

Please write questions in the comment section of the blog (click on the comment box at the bottom of each post), or just send me an email to mscheuer(at)rdschool(dot)org. You can also send me an email by clicking the link on the right.

I'd also love suggestions from parents about what books work for their kids.

Some examples of questions friends have asked are:

* My 5 year old daughter has asked me about where babies come from. Can you suggest any books that would help me talk about sex with her?

* What books would you recommend for my 10 year old son? He likes fantasy and action/adventure stories.

* How do I know what length of books I can read to my 2 year old?
If you have any questions or suggestions, please let me know. We're all trying to help our children grow to love reading!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Fun in the Clubhouse - great picture books that celebrate kids' imaginations

The weather has turned lovely and my children are back in their clubhouse, inventing games and painting signs. I love the way they let their imaginations take over as they enter the world of their games. A great series of picture books by Daniel San Souci celebrates kids' imaginations and shares some very funny stories of the author's childhood. They're definitely worth seeking out.
The Dangerous Snake and Reptile Club
by Daniel San Souci
CA: Tricycle Press, 2004.
full preview available on Google Books
ages 4 - 8
One summer, Danny and his family went up to Lake County for a vacation. He found a live King snake, and his brothers found tadpoles and a "real" dinosaur bone. When they get home, their friends are thrilled with the treasures they brought! The boys started a new club, The Dangerous Snake and Reptile Club, painted huge signs for the clubhouse, and the fun really began. Soon they started inviting neighborhood kids in to see their treasures - of course, charging a small entrance fee! Hilarity ensues as the snake escapes one day. Kids will really enjoy this funny story.

Space Station Mars
by Daniel San Souci
CA: Tricycle Press, c2005.
ages 4 - 8
Another very funny book in this series, Space Station Mars, tells about the time when Danny and his friends are sure that aliens from outer space have come to Earth. One night when they're sleeping in the clubhouse, the boys are convinced that they've seen a flying saucer. The next day, they investigate a meteor that's fallen in a neighbor's garden - but they have to make protective gear (out of cardboard boxes) in case it might be radioactive! Neil brings over his crystal radio, and listens to the odd crackling. It has to be a message from Mars that they are about to land! The next evening, when Dad tells the family that he's seen an odd domed-shaped thing near the park, the boys race to call an emergency meeting at the Space Station Mars clubhouse.

If your kids have fun with these books, check out the Clubhouse website: You'll find information on all the books, plus fun things like how to draw the characters.

The Clubhouse Books are available at the Oakland Public Library and the Berkeley Public Library. They're also available from independent bookstores near you at IndieBound, and at Amazon.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life - by Jan Reynolds

Our children are learning the mantra of "Reduce, Reuse and Recycle" - but do they know where our basic food staples come from? More than that, do they understand what it means to grow food in a sustainable way?

On the island of Bali, growing rice is a way of life. For hundreds of years, Balinese farmers have grown rice in a sustainable way, working with the natural cycles of the environment. Photojournalist Jan Reynolds provides a fascinating look at how rice farmers work with the traditional religious practices to create a sustainable, productive way of growing one of the world's most important crops.
Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life
written and illustrated by Jan Reynolds
NY: Lee & Low Books, 2009
ages 10 - 13
This book combines interesting scientific and cultural information with beautiful photographs that draw you in. Jan Reynolds, an award-winning photojournalist, describes the traditional rice farming methods in Bali and how this cycle is closely connected to that of community life in the island. This natural rice cycle involves a hierarchy of water temples; high priests perform rituals to thank the goddesses of water and rice; the priests and the farmers carefully plan water-sharing schedules to distribute the water down the mountainside, allowing for a fallow period between growing cycles to keep the fields fertile. After the growing period, ducks are brought onto the fallow fields to eat worms and bugs and to fertilize the soil naturally with manure.

I particularly think students who are studying agricultural societies will find this interesting because Reynolds shows how fully the culture and the religion revolves around the crop cycle. In my mind, this is a perfect book for middle school students wanting to learn more about science, the environment and world cultures. For younger children, perhaps ages 9 and 10, it would be interesting to read as a family, discussing the way we get our food, and how we grow our food impacts the environment.

In support of this blog tour, the publisher, Lee and Low, is having a great sale on Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life, offering 26% off AND free shipping. Just enter the code JanTour at

For those who would like to find more information, Jan has a some good information on her website, with links to videos about this project. Find her at She also has interesting interviews at the publisher's website (Lee and Low Books) and at Lori Calabrese's Children Book Examiner.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Celebrate! Connections Among Cultures, by Jan Reynolds

Did you ever sit and pour over the National Geographic Magazine as a kid? My brother and I used to sit in our family room for hours looking at the pictures of far away places and cultures. There is something fascinating about seeing the way people in other places live. Celebrate! Connections Among Cultures speaks to this fascination, but helps kids see similarities between different cultures - the way that no matter how different we are, we are essentially the same.
Celebrate! : connections among cultures
written and photographed by Jan Reynolds
NY: Lee & Low Books, 2006.
ages 6 - 10
Reynolds is a photojournalist, and her pictures are beautiful and captivating. Her field work has taken her to Australia, Bali, Tibet, Europe, Africa, and North and South America. In this book, she pulls together her real understandings of these different cultures to ask the essential question, "When people celebrate, what are they doing?" This book is organized into a series of simple statements, such as:
"When we celebrate, we gather together."

"When we celebrate, we eat and drink."

"When we celebrate, we decorate ourselves."
On the double page spread showing people gathering together in celebration, there is a picture of Tibetans from the Everest region gathering together for Mani Rimdu to receive blessings; there is also a picture of the Sami gathering together to celebrate the return of sunlight to the Arctic region of Northern Europe in the spring. Another picture a Yanomani village gathering together in honor of someone who has died. (To see some samples of the book, go to the publisher's website at Lee & Low Books.)

I loved the way Reynolds brought complex ideas to a level that young children in 1st or 2nd grade could understand. They can look at these pictures of people so different from ourselves and start to draw connections to their own lives. It's a beautiful book that children will look at again and again. It would also make a wonderful starting place for talking about the way we celebrate traditions in our own families.

Tomorrow I'll be reviewing Jan Reynold's new book Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life as part of her blog tour. It's also a very interesting book that looks at the traditional methods of growing rice in Bali.

Find it at the Berkeley Public Library or the Oakland Library. You can buy it from the publishers, Lee & Low Books, or from Amazon.

Interested in more nonfiction books for children? Check out Nonfiction Monday at Book Scoops. Cari posted an interesting review of Secrets of a Civil War Submarine, for any history and mystery lovers out there.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Hello, Baby! a beautiful new book for toddlers by Mem Fox

Mem Fox is truly one of my favorite authors for young children. She has such a gift of language, creating beautiful rhymes that carry you along, but keeping them simple enough to capture a young child's imagination. With her newest book, Hello Baby!, she has teamed with the imaginative artist Steve Jenkins to create a vibrant, engaging book for the younges children.
Hello, Baby!
written by Mem Fox, illustrated by Steve Jenkins
NY: Beach Lane Books, 2009.
ages 2 - 4
"Hello, baby! Who are you?" begins this book, with a picture of a baby's hand and a monkey's tail, enticing you to turn the page. “Are you a monkey with clever toes? / Perhaps you’re a porcupine, twitching its nose.” We see an eagle, a gecko, a lion and more - all done in Steve Jenkin's vibrant paper collages.

Baby then hears, “Wait, let me guess – Are you my treasure? The answer is…Yes!” And a parent's hand reaches toward the little baby's hand.

It's simple, but the vibrant pictures will fascinate young toddlers because they are so clear and uncluttered. Parents will enjoy reading the rhyming questions and responses. This reminds me of some of Eric Carle's classic books, like The Very Busy Spider, which my children wanted me to read over and over again.

This would make a great baby shower present, or birthday present for 2 and 3 year olds. It's available in bookstores now, and will soon be in libraries.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Skulduggery Pleasant - a perfect blend of fantasy and adventure, filled with wit and humor

I love fantasy novels that take the main character on a quest, a classic search to solve a mystery and find something out about themselves as well. Derek Landy's novel, Skullduggery Pleasant, The Scepter of the Ancients does this with plenty of action and humor. On top of this, the audio version is perfect - absolutely engaging and exciting.
Scepter of the Ancients, Skulduggery Pleasant Book 1
by Derek Landy
NY: HarperCollins, 2007. 416 pages.
also available in CD and audiodownload.
ages 10 - 14
Twelve-year old Stephanie Edgely lives a fairly uneventful life in a small town in Ireland, until her uncle dies, leaving most of his wealth and estate to her. At the reading of his will, Stephanie meets her uncles friend, Skulduggery Pleasant. Something was different about him, but she couldn't say just what. On her first visit to his home, she is attacked by a man wanting a key - but just as he has her in a choke-hold, Skulduggery bursts in and fights him off. Stephanie and Skulduggery enter into a battle against the powers of evil, trying to find the scepter of the ancients before the evil Nefarian Serpine does.

Skulduggery is the perfect ally. He has a very dry wit, is an ace detective with hundreds of years of experience, and he can throw fireballs from his bare hands. But, he's also a skeleton. A skeleton who's a snappy dresser, but still, a skeleton.

The audiobook is wonderful - I would highly recommend it. Really, get the audiobook for this. It's read by Rupert Tween, who does all the voices pitch-perfect, in an Irish accent that makes me want to melt. He brings the magical caste alive, making Stephanie really sound like a tween Irish girl, and Skulduggery a dry, witty detective. On top of this, there's the great sound track, full of finger snaps, distant screams and drumming percussion.

As for the title, it was re-released in paperback in the U.S. last month (April 2009), under the title The Scepter of the Ancients. Personally, I like the original cover art much better. Just so you don't get confused, some libraries will call the first volume Skulduggery Pleasant, and others will call it The Scepter of the Ancients. The second volume in the series is Playing with Fire. The third installment, The Faceless Ones, will come out this summer.

This is a great choice for kids who loved Harry Potter or the Percy Jackson series. It does have some scary scenes and lots of fighting - but I don't think it was too gruesome, just action-packed. I think kids in 5th through 8th grade will really enjoy it, quite possibly 4th graders too.

Find it at the Oakland Public Library or the Berkeley Public Library. You can buy it at your local independent bookstore (it's in paperback!) or at Amazon.

Many thanks to the review by My Neighborhood Librarian to the suggestion!

This review was written by Mary Ann Scheuer for Great Kid Books. Copyright Great Kid Books, 2009.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Little sisters can have the last say! The Chicken of the Family, by Mary Amato

Did you ever tease your little brother or sister? Or maybe they taunted you?? All little brothers and sisters have to figure out how to deal with older siblings who try to pull one over on them. If you have a littlest one in your family, check out The Chicken of the Family. It is hilarious as it shows the youngest sister deciding what she wants to do.

The Chicken of the Family
by Mary Amato, illustrated by Delphine Durand
NY: G.P. Putnam Sons, 2008.
ages 3 - 7.
Henrietta's two older sisters always tease her, and she hates it. One night, her sisters tell her that she is really a chicken that their mom got from Barney's farm up the road. Henrietta finds an egg in her bed the next morning, and two brown feathers on the floor. Oh no, maybe her sisters were right...

So Henrietta goes searching for her real family ... up at Barney's farm. The chickens are actually happy to see her. They play games with her, they cluck with her - and Henrietta is full of smiles. But then, her sisters show up. This is a sweet, funny book that will have your kids laughing as Henrietta convinces her middle sister that life with the chickens is actually better than a life with a bossy big sister.

Find it at the Berkeley Public Library or at the Oakland Public Library. You can also find it at Amazon.

This review was written by Mary Ann Scheuer for Great Kid Books. Copyright 2009, Great Kid Books.

Monday, May 4, 2009

How do we help our kids read about the news?

I've been wrestling for a while about how I help my children read about the news. Clearly, my 7 year old isn't going to just pick up the Sunday New York Times - although she did like figuring out from the interview with President Obama in this Sunday's magazine that they got a dog recently. So my question is how do we help our children start reading the news and being interested in current events throughout the world?

We subscribe to Time for Kids for 4th graders, and we keep it in one of our bathrooms. The kids (ages 10 and 7) do seem to like browsing through it and reading some of the articles. The most recent issue has a cover article, "The Afghanistan Plan: Can the U.S. make the country safe?" It is a basic introduction to the war in Afghanistan and why the U.S. is fighting there, includes a map of where Afghanistan is, and then a side article about a program that a nonprofit organization has started to provide skateboards to kids in Afghanistan. Other articles include: Finding Cleopatra, Ladybugs Lost, and Growing Hope: Jane Goodal's Roots and Shoots program.
Time for Kids
published weekly during the school year
to subscribe as a family (instead of a teacher)
you need to call: (800) 777-8600
My only hesitation about recommending this magazine is that it is pretty slim. My 4th grader's comment is that she wanted more articles. I would add that it could use more depth. It has a fairly neutral, a bit conservative bias. But I think it's a good start to exposing children to a range of issues in the current events, from the environment to the economy to foreign affairs.
World News for Children
BBC Podcast
subscribe on iTunes
or using your RSS feeder
A friend also suggested that we check out BBC podcasts: World News for Children. You can subscribe on iTunes, or download the podcasts to your MP3 player. The daily podcasts are four minutes long, and cover about 3 or 4 main events in the day's news. They're aimed at children ages 7 to 14 years old. Last week, they covered the Swine Flu, the war in Iraq, and more of the Swine Flu (not surprising). I haven't listened to this with my children yet, but my main observation is that they go very fast. I'm not sure how kids will take it in. But I could see listening to this for a short burst in the car as we were driving to school, and then talking more about whatever caught their interest.

My real question is for all of you: what news magazines do you have for your kids to read? What captures their interests, and is at their level? I'd love your suggestions - so please email me or leave a comment!

For other interesting recommendations for nonfiction books for children, check out today's Nonfiction Monday at Chicken Spaghetti.

Friday, May 1, 2009

We're so excited - the new Percy Jackson book comes out next week!

The students here at Redwood Day are so excited about the publication of The Last Olympian, by Rick Riordan. This 5th installment of the Percy Jackson series will be published next Tuesday, May 5th. It's a great series that hooks kids looking for an exciting fantasy series, along the lines of Harry Potter.
The Last Olympians
by Rick Riordan
Disney Hyperion Books for Children, 2009. 400 pages.
ages 9 - 12.
audiobook by Listening Library, 2009 (available through iTunes)
Percy Jackson is the young hero of this exciting series. In the first book, The Lightning Thief, Percy discovers through a series of hair-raising encounters that he is actually the son of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea. Percy is a demi-god: the child of a forbidden encounter between a god and a mortal. Percy lives in the human world, but has special powers. In The Lightning Thief, Percy is chosen to solve the crime of Zeus's missing thunderbolt. A classic hero's quest ensues, putting Percy on the path of danger and adventure.

Girls and boys have loved this series. Here are some thoughts from my students:
"We've been waiting sooo long for this book to come out. All the books in the rest of the series are really exciting!" Claire

"I really like the funny chapter titles (chapter one of The Lightning Thief: "I Accidentally Vaporize My Pre-Algebra Teacher"). Whenever I read this, it's a new surprise because there are so many different Greek gods. I can't wait to find out what happens next, to see if Percy will make it and what happens to Luke." Sylvie

"It's exciting because there's always a new adventure coming around the corner, which is really fun. It's so good and juicy, but it's hard because it's such a long book - but I just have to keep listening. The audiobook is better than having to read it because you understand more. the reader does a really good job of being really dramatic and exciting." Simone
Do you love audiobooks? Listen to this clip of The Last Olympians from Listening Library. It's available through iTunes, and will also be available on CD starting May 12th.

Here's the list of all the books in the series:
1. The Lightning Thief
2. Sea of Monsters
3. Titan's Curse
4. The Battle of the Labyrinth
5. The Last Olympian

Are you in the Bay Area? Come see Rick Riordan at Kepler's Bookstore in Menlo Park on Saturday, May 9th.

Find The Last Olympian at your local independent bookstore or at Amazon, starting Tuesday, March 5th.