Monday, November 30, 2009

Celebrating holidays - with family and neighbors (ages 5 - 10)

Winter holidays are soon here, and this season I would like to share with you several holiday stories that stand out above the rest, stories that are worth searching for at bookstores or the library.  Two of my favorites to share with children in grades 2 through 5 are The Trees of the Dancing Goats, by Patricia Polacco, and One Candle, by Eve Bunting.  Both are warm, loving stories that celebrate family and community, while sharing some of the deeper moments of holidays.
The Trees of the Dancing Goats
by Patricia Polacco
NY : Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, ©1996
ages 5 - 9
When young Tricia's neighbors come down with Scarlet Fever, her family is worried. It's the middle of winter, and Tricia's family celebrates Hanukkah, following her Russian grandparents' traditions. It's an exciting time, as her grandmother hand dips candles for Hanukkah, and her grandfather carves little wooden animals as a present for the children. But when they realize that their neighbors won't be able to celebrate Christmas properly because they are so sick, Tricia's family reaches out to help.  They bring their neighbors meals, Christmas trees, and even decorations. It's a lovely tale of friendship, sharing and community, based on Patricia Polacco's own childhood memories.
One Candle
by Eve Bunting
illustrated by K. Wendy Popp
NY: Joanna Cotler Books, 2002.
ages 8 - 10

One Candle, by Eve Bunting, is a soft, powerful tale that is very evocative for me.  A family gathers together to celebrate Hanukkah, and Grandma brings a potato as she does every year.  When she was younger, the narrator thought this potato was to make latkes.  But now she realizes that it's so that Grandma and Great-Aunt Rose can tell the story of surviving the Holocaust. In a concentration camp, they stole a potato at tremendous risk, and lit the Hanukkah candle using a bit of margerine and a thread.  As the young girl today wrestles with hearing this story, she thinks, "But I think it has to do with being strong in the bad time and remembering it in the good time." While it discusses the Holocaust, it's a good introductory book, never naming the concentration camps as such, but talking about it as a bad time.

I look forward to sharing more holiday books in the coming weeks.  Do you have any favorites you love to share with your children?  Please let me know!

Both review copies came from my public library.  Search for them at your public library using WorldCat: Trees of the Dancing Goat and One Candle.  If you make a purchase by clicking through to Amazon, Great Kid Books receives a small percentage, which will be used to buy more books to review.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

In Our Mothers' House, by Patricia Polacco (ages 5 - 9)

During the holidays I love spending time with my family, coming together for big meals and relaxing with my family at home.  One of my favorite books from this year is all about a family's love: In Our Mother's House, by Patricia Polacco.  It is a touching book that radiates a family's love for one another, as it tells the story of two mothers raising their children.  It also celebrates differences, without being heavy handed.
In Our Mothers' House
by Patricia Polacco
NY: Philomel Books, 2009
ages 5 - 9
Marmee and Meema and their three children fill their lives with the of joy of new puppies, holiday meals and homemade Halloween costumes.  They cook together, laugh together, dance together.  Their lives are like any other family in their town.  And while one of their neighbors doesn't accept them because they are different, Marmee and Meema handle it with gentleness and grace, focusing instead on the support they feel from the rest of their neighborhood.

Patricia Polacco has created a portrait of a loving family here, celebrating their differences while showing the love that all of the family members feel for each other.  This certainly can help children see that families with two moms, two dads or adopted children are families full of love; but this book also simply reminds children of the love and safety they feel within their own home.  As the narrator says,
There wasn't a day in my life that I didn't feel deeply loved and wanted by Meema and Marmee.  Our mothers were willing to do anything for us.  We knew that.
She continues to tell a story about how they volunteered to host the school's mother-daughter tea that year, complete with tea sandwiches and long dresses with big picture hats!  This is a story you'll laugh about with your children and come together feeling the love and happiness of your family.  It is perfect for holidays as we enjoy our time together.

For other reviews, see:
Kids Lit, by Tasha Saecker at the Menasha Public Library: "A joyous look at a family with two mothers and children of all different colors, this book is filled with laughter and love.  Children who live in all sorts of families will find themselves at home here."
Amy Ford in Adoptive Families: "Families of every kind will value this uplifting story about love and tolerance."

The review copy came from my local public library. You can find these at your local library by searching WorldCat. If you make a purchase by clicking through to Amazon, Great Kid Books receives a small percentage, which will be used to buy more books to review.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thinking about Thanksgiving (ages 5 - 12)

I've never been fully comfortable with the Thanksgiving story.  In part, the classic pictures of Pilgrims and Indians seemed so cookie-cutter perfect, so fake to me.  In part, it was hard to relate to the Pilgrims' story as I was growing up in California.  But I've been thinking more and more about how Native Americans are portrayed in children's books, thanks in part to my fellow librarian Jen Ammenti.  I realize that I am just beginning my thoughts down this road, but I wanted to share some of my reflections.  I also wanted to recommend some wonderful resources for talking about Thanksgiving with your children.
1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving
by Catherine Grace and Margaret Bruchac
DC: National Geographic Children's Books, 2004
(ages 8 - 12)
This book delves into the history of the Wampanoag people and the English settlers in Plimoth to describe the actual events of the "first Thanksgiving."  In looking more closely at the history, a more complex and textured look at these people develops than the traditional stories told in schools across the country. Co-authors Catherine O’Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac worked closely with Plimoth Plantation historians to tell the whole story by including the voices of all who were involved.

Traditionally, both English and Wampanoag cultures gathered to celebrate the harvest, but the gathering in 1621 took place for politcal reasons and was unlikely to be called Thanksgiving.  In October of 2000, Plimoth Plantation cooperated with the Wampanoag community to stage an historically accurate reenactment of the 1621 harvest celebration. The photographs taken by Sisse Brimberg and Cotton Coulson capture the spirit of the event and bring it to life.

For younger readers, I would suggest the books by Kate Waters which look at children who might have lived during this time period.  These are reenactments of what the lives of individual children might have been like, based on factual historical accounts.  Giving Thanks tells the story of Resolved White, a 6-year-old English boy, and Dancing Moccasins, a 14-year-old Wampanoag youth.  It is accessible to younger children, although I talked with my children about how these are photographs of actors reenacting what the lives of these children would have been like.  My children were interested in how this showed two different perspectives, two different cultures coming together.
Giving Thanks: The 1621 Harvest Feast
by Kate Waters
photographs by Russ Kendall
NY: Scholastic, 2001
(ages 5 - 9)
I particularly liked how Sarah Morton's day : a day in the life of a pilgrim girl talked about the perspective of a young girl living during this time period.  I remember being fascinated as a young girl with how much time each chore took, and how everyone had to contribute to the family's survival.  This does not specifically talk about the Thanksgiving feast, but rather looks at a young girl's life at this time.
Sarah Morton's Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl
by Kate Waters

photographs by Russ Kendall
NY: Scholastic, 2001
(ages 4 - 9)

What am I taking away from this? The first thing I'm realizing is how much I don't know.  But another thing that I realize is how we need to share with our children how different the various tribes of Native Americans were.  We cannot group California Miwok in the same group as the mid-Atlantic Lenni Lenape.  When we share folktales and stories, it's important to talk with our children about where these came from specifically.  Finally, I want to include talking with my children about how Native Americans live today - this is not just a culture from the past, but from the present too.

If you would like to look into these issues more in depth, I would recommend Oyate Web Page "Deconstructing the Myths of 'The First Thanksgiving'". Oyate is "a Native organization working to see that our lives and histories are portrayed honestly, and so that all people will know our stories belong to us. For Indian children, it is as important as it has ever been for them to know who they are and what they come from."  Debbie Reese also writes a very interesting blog called American Indians in Children's Literature.  She wrote recently about American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving.  I would also like to recognize Carol Rasco, CEO of Reading is Fundamental, for her thoughtful blog post about rethinking Thanksgiving.

For more nonfiction resources for children, please check out Nonfiction Monday, a regular feature of Kidlitosphere bloggers.  For today's posts, visit Diane Chen's blog Practially Paradise at the School Library Journal.

The review copies came from my local and school libraries.  You can find these at your local library by searching WorldCat.  If you make a purchase by clicking through to Amazon, Great Kid Books receives a small percentage, which will be used to buy more books to review.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Comics for Early Readers: TOON Books

Kids love comic books.  Whenever we get a new comic book in the library, there's a mad rush to check it out. Comic books are stimulating and engaging; they are complex and yet very easy to dive into. But reading comic books takes certain skills. We read comics in a different way than we read other picture books or stories. If you have an early reader, take a look at these two comic books and the websites that go along with them.  Toon Books is a new publishing division of Raw Books that focuses specifically on comic books for early readers.

Check out Toon Book Reader, a fantastic online site that helps bring comics alive for young kids, while teaching them important reading skills. Kids can read a book online, clicking on text bubbles to have the story read aloud to them.  My kindergartner loves the interactive nature of this site, and it's fascinating watching her learn how to read the comic book.  You need to read the text bubbles in order, from top to bottom, within a panel.  And you need to read the panels in order.  You  need to think about the action that the pictures show, and figure out where the action or setting changes between panels.  This site is a great resource for kids practicing early reading skills at home: it's fun, engaging and free!  Toon Books has developed this site in conjunction with the Professor Garfield Foundation, a leader in online educational literacy programs. 
Little Mouse Gets Ready
by Jeff Smith
NY: Toon Books, 2009
(ages 3 - 6)

Little Mouse Gets Ready is for early readers in kindergarten and 1st grade.  It's a sweet and funny story about a little mouse who must get dressed before he can go to the barn.  Each step takes careful work, from putting his underwear on and checking the tag is in the back, to buttoning a shirt.  The gentle humor will remind little kids of all that they have to do.  As you can see from this picture of a page, the text is very simple and easy to follow.

"I'm going to the barn with your brothers and sisters.  Are you ready to go?" says Little Mouse's mother.  "Almost, Mama."  If you'd like to read the book online, click the image above. As Booklist says, "Smith's deceptively simple style is a terrific match for a young audience—one- or two-panel pages that are elegant, lighthearted, and touching all at once—and a knock-your-socks-off twist at the end will leave children giggling."
Benny And Penny in The Big No-No
by Geoffrey Hayes
NY: Toon Books, 2009
ages 4 - 8
Benny and Penny are two squabbling siblings playing together in their backyard.  When they discover that a neighbor has moved in next door, they become convinced that this new neighbor must have stolen Benny's missing pail.  Curiosity leads them into a big no-no: climbing the fence to see for themselves.  They end up meeting their neighbor and discovering the peril in making assumptions.  This book is more complex than Little Mouse, with multiple panels per page.  The story is inventive and the characters thoughts and dynamic expressions make it come to life.  My daughter immediately asked for this be read again, and then again the next night.

As Francoise Mouly, the founder and editorial director of Toon Books, said, "Comic invite repeated readings, because there's more to find in the images.  In the first reading you get the story, but in the second reading you get all the little supporting players, all the way that the theme is conveyed... I think comics are a medium where kids can get readily involved - there's something in it for them that is decipherable." (Scholastic Parent and Child)

Click on these illustrations to read the book online at Toon Book Reader. If you like this story, check out Benny and Penny in Just Pretend.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Great Kid Books talks with Annie Barrows, author of Ivy & Bean

The best, the absolutely best sound in the world is hearing a kid suddenly laugh out loud while they're quietly reading to themselves.  It can be a low chuckle, a loud guffaw or a quiet giggle to themselves.  I love books that combine laugh-out-loud moments with the ah-ah moment  "that could really happen to me!"  Annie Barrows creates wonderful humor in her series Ivy and Bean.  I was thrilled to be able to talk with Annie about writing this series, and her experience as a mother helping her children develop a love of reading.

Ivy and Bean are two best friends who find out that they make a great pair, in part because they like getting into mischief.  But also, they are such good friends precisely because they're so different.  They get themselves into all sorts of adventures, wind up in trouble and then figure a way out.  Annie Barrows creates spot-on humor for children just becoming interested in chapter books.

Great Kid Books: What inspired you to write the first Ivy and Bean book, especially as a chapter book for younger readers?
Annie: It all started when my daughter was 6 1/2, at the end of 1st grade.  After we read the Magic Tree House series and Junie B. Jones, we ran out of stuff to read. There was a big, empty hole.  I was looking for a chapter book that was age appropriate and at the right reading level.  I was floundering around the library looking for something - something that was more than easy readers and not the full blown novels for older children.  I thought, "Something needs to be done about this!  This is terrible!" Then I thought: "Wait a moment, I'm a writer.  Maybe I should write a book for these kids."

For this age group, children like stories that reflect their own reality.  Later on, books for children get so heavy.  I wanted to create a light-hearted experience, something that was fun to read.

Great Kid Books: Do you draw on any of your own childhood experiences when you're writing?
Annie: Oh, yes.  I steal from my daughters' experiences.  I watch the kids around me.  The years I was developing Ivy and Bean were the years I spent hours on the playground, at the park, on play dates with my daughters.  The plot lines also come from things that I did as a kid.  Doomed to Dance came from my own experience wanting desperately to dance, and then finding out that it was so unbelievably boring that I didn't know what to do with myself.

Great Kid Books: What are some of the challenges of keeping a series fresh and exciting as you write sequels?
Annie: It is something I think about a lot. I think the challenge is not to write to write to grown ups, but to kids.  It's easy to amuse myself as a grown up, but I have to ask myself, "What do the kids want?"  I try to get back to the kid level, the kid brain.  What do the kids I know want?  Amusement for grown ups in Ivy and Bean is often the discrepancy between what Ivy and Bean think and what we know as grown ups.
But for kids, the humor is often in seeing that Ivy and Bean make their games work.  It's a subversive sense of humor, but not enough to upset the world around them, not enough to break anything irreparably.  Ivy and Bean have enough power to make the world they envision, but not enough to change the order of the world they live in.  Kids like physical humor, but they also like seeing that Ivy and Bean can create solutions that are real solutions.

Great Kid Books:  What authors or books influenced you as an early reader?
Annie:  So many.  My favorite book of all time was Little Women.  But I read it way too soon.  At seven, I was very confused about Beth dying.  The book said she "went out with the tide" and I thought, Gee, that's a funny time to go on vacation.  This experience is something I try to keep in mind when I'm writing for kids--don't get too figurative on them.

I loved books by Edgar Eager and the Little House books.  But the most influential books for me as a writer of Ivy and Bean were the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace.  They have the same basic structure as Ivy and Bean: two girls who don't really like each other become friends.  They are masters of their very small world. They reimagine and repurpose the stuff of daily life.  They have adventures--no real peril but lots of creativity.  I always found that very satisfying.

Great Kid Books:  Now that your children are older, do you still read together?
Annie:  Yes.  I am trying to prolong this forever.  My oldest is now 13 and is mainly reading by herself.  But my 9 year old loves to draw--it's her favorite thing.  And my favorite thing is to read aloud to her.  So I read aloud to her while she draws.  I also push the reading level a little - the books I read are a little bit longer than she would read on her own.  Right now we're reading the most fabulous book, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier.  It's set in Transylvania, but there are no vampires!  It's a cross between the story of the twelve dancing princesses and the frog prince.

Great Kid Books:  What advice do you have for parents as they try to share the love of reading with their children, and as they look for books to read with their children?
Annie: There is something I did when my children were little.  Whenever they asked me to read to them, I stopped whatever I was doing and read to them.  It was a surefire way of getting my undivided attention, and I think that created a good strong bond with books.

It's important to choose books that aren't just the classics.  I try to choose books to read with my children that are fun and funny, to mix in all sorts of different books.  I still read picture books with my daughter.  I don't think reading should be a lesson.  It should be something we turn to for joy.  Sometimes it should just be restful.

Great Kid Books: Thank you so much for your time, and for all that you give our kids.

Ivy and Bean books are available at your local bookstore or library.  If you make a purchase by clicking through to Amazon, Great Kid Books receives a small percentage, which will be used to buy more books to review.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Online fun for young readers (ages 3 - 7)

Like many kids, my children love to play on the computer. Bright lights, lots of action, sound and music all capture their attention. Two websites that I particularly like for children learning to read are: PBS Kids Island and Starfall. Both sites help children develop early literacy skills while having fun.  Both are solidly based on literacy research, and both have no advertising.  Best yet, both are free and easy to use.

PBS Kids Island is a fantastic site for children ages 3 - 7. This site uses many games from across PBS shows, tying them together to match your child's reading development. You log into the site each time, and so your child is able to build their own amusement park with games they earn each time. As your child develop his/her reading skills, the site adds more complex games. The reading games have been collected from elsewhere on the PBS KIDS website, from a family of reading-based TV shows including Sesame Street, Super WHY!, Word World, and Between the Lions.

I have been impressed with PBS Kids Island, both as a parent and a teacher. My kindergartner loves coming to this site. The games really engage her, and she's definitely motivated by earning tickets and adding games to her island. I particularly like how the games are sequenced, so she had to play the early games (with basic letter recognition) before progressing to the more difficult ones (with word building, rhyming and word recognition).  This helps introduce and then reinforce basic literacy skills, while keeping the games fun and easy.

Starfall is another excellent site for early readers. opened in September of 2002 as a free public service to motivate children to read with phonics. This site is much more directed toward phonics than the PBS site, but it is engaging and fun.
My kindergartner loves watching the animated letters and letter sounds.  I like how it develops her sense of building words through a combination of sounds.  It also uses words in the context of funny stories, not in an isolated flashcard approach.  I especially appreciate how this site is simple and easy for young children to use.  Starfall starts with introducing basic letter sounds, and advances through 2nd grade reading skills.  The Starfall reading program is designed to be fun, exciting, and to instill confidence in young children as they learn to read.

Do you have any websites that you like using to help your early readers?  I would love to share additional ideas.  My criteria is that they are free of advertising, and combine both phonics and fun storytelling.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Stretch - a fun book for little kids on the move! (ages 2 - 6)

Stretching, wiggling, bouncing – little children are full of movement.  Do you have a little one that can't sit still during story time?  Look for this new book by Doreen Cronin and Scott Menchin - you'll all have fun with its rhyming text and vibrant illustrations.
by Doreen Cronin and Scott Menchin
NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2009
ages 2 - 6
Children are invited to join the fun, as the book opens with “Stretch with me,/ hands in the air!/ Count to three…./ Hold it right there!” The humorous rhyming text works well as a read-aloud. The scenes change as the dog meets different animal friends and travels to different settings. “I can stretch underwater,/ I can stretch on a wave./ I can stretch on a surfboard/ if I’m very, very brave.” The illustrations are clean, sharp pen and ink drawings, combined with bright digital color and photographic elements. The layout is engaging, as text elongates, curves and responds to the pictures and images.

If you like stretch, you'll also have fun with Wiggle (2005) and Bounce (2007). Both have the same format and energetic rhymes.  Look for them at your library.

The review copy came from the publisher. Stop by your local bookstore to find a copy, or find it at your local library.  This books is available online at Amazon. If you make a purchase by clicking through to Amazon, Great Kid Books receives a small percentage, which will be used to buy more books to review.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Lunch Lady - fun graphic novels full of action & zany adventure (ages 7 - 10)

Action! Silliness! Pictures galore! It's no wonder that comic books and graphic novels are a big hit with kids.  We've loved how authors artists are creating fun graphic stories for younger readers.  Babymouse has been a huge hit for the past few years - we can hardly keep them on our shelves.  And Calvin and Hobbes collections are grabbed as soon as someone returns them. Lunch Lady is a new series that will find many fans among 1st through 3rd graders looking for a fun adventure in their comics.  Would you like a free copy?  See below for your chance to win!
Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute
by Jarrett K. Krosoczka
NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009
ages 7 -10
Hector, Dee and Terrence, three friends who make up the Breakfast Bunch, start wondering about what the Lunch Lady does when she isn't serving lunch.  "I'm telling you, they probably lead very boring lives!" Dee says.  Meanwhile, Lunch Lady and her faithful assistant Betty, suspect that something fishy with the new substitute.  As Betty distracts him with freshly baked cookies, Lunch Lady brings her lunch-tray laptop to his room to investigate.  A crazy chase ensues, with our superheroes Lunch Lady and Betty chasing the mysterious substitute back to his maker's lab, and the kids following the Lunch Lady and Betty, where they all find an army of cyborg robots.
Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians
by Jarrett K. Krosoczka
NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009
ages 7 -10

In the second book, Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians, our secret crime-fighting duo takes on the evil schemes of the school librarians. Kids will love the plot, as the librarians try to destroy all video games and achieve world domination.  The snazzy gadgets continue, with Taco-vision Night Goggles, Hover Pizzas and Sonic Boom Juice Boxes.  I loved how the librarians unleashed creatures from stories to battle Lunch Lady and her gang.

I especially liked how Krosoczka created an action-packed comic book with goofiness that makes it perfect for this younger set.  This doesn't have any of the dark undertones that some graphic novels or comic superhero stories have.  This is not a book with a lot of character development, but I think it's purpose is to hook readers and make them laugh.
Enter to win a copy of Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians for your child.  The publisher kindly donated 4 copies to give away to Great Kid Books readers. Contest ends Sunday, November 15th. All you need to do to enter is:

* Enter a comment on the blog OR send me an email to greatkidbooks(at)gmail(dot)com Make sure you leave your email address so I can contact you.

* Let me know a book you've enjoyed reading with your children, especially funny books, graphic novels and comics.

* Get 2 extra entries: become a follower or tell me you're already a follower!
 There are some fun reviews of Lunch Lady by other wonderful bloggers.  Check out:
Jen Robinson: "I mean, what right-minded elementary school kid could resist the premise that the lunch lady is a secret crime-fighter? Or the idea that the substitute teacher is actually a cyborg?"
The Book Aunt: "There's no mystery meat here: second and third graders are going to eat these up!"
Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast: "Every little detail is so well-thought-out, from the school-lunch-inspired spy gadgets (those Fish Stick Nunchucks made me hoot out loud) to Lunch Lady’s expletives (”Oh, Doughnuts!” and “Nutritious!” were a couple of my faves)."

The review copy came from the publisher.  Stop by your local bookstore to find a copy, or find it at your local library.

NOTE: The 3rd installment, Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta, comes out December 22nd!

This books is available online at Amazon. If you make a purchase by clicking through to Amazon, Great Kid Books receives a small percentage, which will be used to buy more books to review.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Ivy and Bean, by Annie Barrows - a fantastic series for kids new to chapter books (ages 7 - 9)

I love books that combine laugh-out-loud moments with the ah-ah moment  "that could really happen to me!"  Ivy and Bean is one of my favorite series for 1st - 3rd graders - I love these two friends who are so goofy and full of mischief, and yet remind me of all the things I almost did!
Ivy and Bean (Book 1)
by Annie Barrows
illustrated by Sophie Blackall
CA: Chronicle Books, 2006
ages 7 - 9
"Before Bean met Ivy, she didn't like her. Bean's mother was always saying that Bean should try playing with the new girl across the street.  But Bean didn't want to."  So begins this unlikely friendship.  Bean is loud.  She's spunky and goofy.  Ivy is quiet and always thinking of plans.  But Ivy is also full of surprises.  She's spending all of her time learning how to be a witch and make spells.  These two find out that they make a great pair, in part because they like getting into mischief and playing tricks (especially on Bean's utterly annoying big sister Nancy).  But also, they are such good friends precisely because they're so different.  As Annie Barrows says on her Ivy and Bean website, "For Ivy and Bean, their differences mean that they have more fun together than they could ever have separately. It also means that, together, they do more wacky things than any one kid could ever dream up."  And the wacky pranks will certainly get your kids laughing.  I can't give away all the laughs, but they involve pink wiggling worms, plenty of gooey mud, and Nancy dancing in a fit of rage.

If you're a fan of the series, you'll be excited that Ivy and Bean: Doomed to Dance has just been published.  The two friends really get themselves in a fix when they beg to take ballet lessons - but do they really know what they're signing up for?
Ivy and Bean - Doomed to Dance (Book 6)
by Annie Barrows
illustrated by Sophie Blackall
CA: Chronicle Books, 2009
ages 7 - 9
Don't we all know kids who have begged, and I mean begged, for something?  A puppy? a new toy? a glittering pair of shoes?  Well, Ivy and Bean have seen amazing pictures of ballet dancers and they're sure that it's the perfect thing for them.  Giselle kicks her pointed toe so fiercely toward the duke that she's surely going to snap his head off.  And the Wilis get to dance with these cool long flowing finger nails, as they dance the duke to death!  What kid wouldn't want to do that?!  So Ivy and Bean beg, and beg, and beg with wobbly lower lips to take ballet class.  They promise that it will be different than ice skating or softball.  And they promise: no quitting.  And NO complaining.  But that's before they know ... how ballet classes really are.  Especially when you get assigned the roles of the squid in the final performance.

We just went to a wonderful reading at our local bookstore, Mrs. Dalloway's in Berkeley, with Annie Barrows.  If you have a chance to see her or invite her to your school, do so.  She is wonderful reading her books aloud to kids and talking to them about writing. She makes them laugh, she makes them hang on her every word, she tortures them so they want to find out what happens next to Ivy and Bean!  She has a very fun web site you'll enjoy if you're a fan.  On the Chronicle Books website, you can hear her read aloud from her books.

It's an amazing thing when your children move from reading just a few sentences on each page to reading chapter books.  But you need to find the right type of chapter book: they still need lots of pictures to keep the movie playing in their minds, they need humor and relationships to keep them going, and the vocabulary can't be too challenging.  Ivy and Bean fills a perfect spot in children's literature: between longer Early Readers like Mercy Watson and full chapter books like Ramona the Pest. 

Want a taste? Check out this video or go over to Google Books and read the first three chapters!

The review copy of these books came from one of my local bookstores, Mrs. Dalloway's in Berkeley. Stop by your local bookstores to check out their selection. You can also find them at your local public library

These books are available online at Amazon. If you make a purchase by clicking through to Amazon, Great Kid Books receives a small percentage, which will be used to buy more books to review. Thank you for your support!