Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Resolutions: Exploring the Caldecott books

New Year's Resolutions - I have mixed feelings about them. Do they help us achieve our goals, or are they just a passing fad, something discarded by the time the snow melts? I have been thinking for quite a while that I would like to get to know older picture books better, try to revisit old favorites like The Story of Ferdinand - or read books I really never remember, like Blueberries for Sal. I want to think about what makes these classic picture books sing to children, what draws children to them time and again.

When teacher and library friends, part of the Nerdy Book Club (#nerdybookclub on Twitter - yes, really), started talking about reading all of the Newbery award winners, my thoughts turned to the Caldecott award. The Caldecott Medal is awarded annually "to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book published in the United States during the preceding year." This award, granted by the American Library Association, is not only a high honor for the winner but also a sign to parents everywhere that this is a truly special book.

My goal for 2012 is to read as many of the picture books awarded the Caldecott Medal or Honor as I can. I will be reading both with a lens of history, trying to get a sense of what picture books spoke to children in the 1940s, 1950s and on. But I will mainly be reading these classic picture books to share books with children and families today, thinking about those that still make a wonderful read aloud, that still have beautiful art to share.

Throughout the year, I hope to share my favorite Caldecott books with my Great Kid Books readers and with my students at Emerson. I also will be sharing favorites with my librarian and teacher friends through Twitter and Goodreads. If you'd like to join me, please do! Head over to the Caldecott Challenge organized by the wonderful librarians Laura and Anna over at LibLaura5 and A to Z Library. You can also read Laura's guide to creating a Goodreads shelf for this. Laura has started a great series at her blog documenting her reading with lots of great photos. I've also had so much fun reading my friend John Schumacher's updates for his Caldecott challenge over at Watch.Connect.Read.

Wish me luck with this New Year's Resolution. I'm starting with first reading some history about the Caldecott award and some of Randolph Caldecott's picture books. Then I'll start reading some of the first picture books awarded the Caldecott Medal or Honor. It should be a fun journey!

©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Bigger than a Bread Box, by Laurel Snyder (ages 9 - 12): a heartfelt story of a family coping with divorce

The holidays can add a stress to anyone's life, but particularly for families coping with divorce. Change is hard for anyone, but particularly for children. I was particularly struck by Laurel Snyder's newest book, Bigger than a Bread Box, by how change can wrench a child from all her certainties. This is a wonderful book for kids who love realistic fiction, with a hint of fantasy.
Bigger Than a Bread Box
by Laurel Snyder
NY: Random House, 2011
ages 9 - 12
available from your local library, favorite bookstore or on Amazon
Rebecca's life was suddenly torn apart when her parents reached a breaking point. One moment, their life in Baltimore seemed pretty normal - a bit stressful since her dad crashed his taxicab - but still pretty normal. But the next moment, everything changed. Her mom packed up the car, told Rebecca and her little brother to get in, and told them that they were going to visit their grandmother in Atlanta. But Rebecca looked at her dad:
    "My dad. My dad. My dad was so strong. He never cried. 'I don't know . . .,' he whispered to me. Answering a question I hadn't answered.
    I felt frozen. Stuck to him, stuck with him in a bubble, in a hug so tight it was bruising my arms. We were going to leave him - my dad - and there was nothing I could do. It wasn't possible. It was too fast. I just hugged and hugged and hugged." (pp. 13-14)
Rebecca was angry and resentful when she got to her grandmother's in Atlanta. Unable to talk to her mom, she escaped up into her grandmother's attic. Amongst all her grandmother's things, she discovered a collection of bread boxes. One in particular drew her attention. And then Rebecca wished for a book to read up in the attic, and when she looked inside the bread box - there was a book.

We all wish for different things, whether it's for tangible things we covet or for our situations to change. As Rebecca wrestled with fitting into a new school, she used the bread box to satisfy her wishes - but it would only bring her things, things that would fit inside the bread box.

I especially liked the way Laurel Snyder layers character development, emotional dilemmas, and underlying questions into this heartfelt story. This is a book that will speak to kids, whether it's kids who have experienced divorce or changes that they don't have control over, or kids who connect to Rebecca's difficulties at school.
Download the Bigger Than a Bread Box study guide. It includes writing prompts and information about Penny Dreadful.

Read other reviews at:
  • 100 Scope Notes: "The first-person narration is refreshingly honest. Rebecca is brought to life with a clear voice that readers will buy into."
  • John Schumacher on 100 Scope Notes & Mr. Schu's Top 20 Children's Books of 2011: "I wish I could magically place Bigger Than a Bread Box inside the backpack of every fifth-grade girl who wishes her parents would get back together, or inside the locker of every reflective sixth-grade boy who wishes his life would return to the way it used to be."
  • Anita Silvey's Children's Book-a-Day Almanac: "The problems of children facing divorce, the dark side of magic, the struggles of an engaging twelve-year-old not wanting to adapt to change—all these themes have been explored through superb storytelling."
  • New York Times: " Snyder captures the divided household’s terrible sense of limbo and the helpless anguish and self-­involved fury of a newly adolescent girl, allowing no ties to form until the post-bomb dust has settled to reveal whatever new landscape has been obscured by its cloud."
The review copy was kindly sent by Random House Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Clementine and the Family Meeting, by Sara Pennypacker (ages 7 - 10)

Our 2nd and 3rd graders love reading series, especially when they can connect to the main characters. One of their favorite series is the Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker, and the newest Clementine book will surely delight readers new and old. This also makes a great series for families looking to read aloud their first chapter books to 4 and 5 year olds. In my mind, Clementine is a little bit of Ramona and a little bit of Junie B. Jones, but a whole lot of her own person.
Clementine and the Family Meeting
by Sara Pennypacker
illustrated by Marla Frazee
NY: Disney / Hyperion Books, 2011
ages 7 - 10
available at your local library, favorite bookstore or on Amazon

nominated for the 2011 Cybils early chapter book award
Clementine is sure she’s in trouble again - why else would the “family meeting” sign be posted? No matter how much she begs, her mom just won’t tell her what the meeting is about. Clementine is used to family meetings where she has to think about being nicer to her little brother, being better behaved, trying harder. But nothing prepares her for the news at this family meeting: a new baby is on the way. Clementine is not taking the news well. Their family of four suits her just fine.
"Four can be two and two sometimes, and nobody is lonely. Two kids and two grown-ups. Two boys and two girls. There are four sides to the kitchen table, so we each get one." 
Change is hard, and Pennypacker captures this pitch-perfectly in the 5th installment of this popular series for readers new to chapter books. Even Clementine’s best friend Margaret is changing in crazy ways. Having just returned from visiting her father in Hollywood, Margaret is now obsessed with makeup. Clementine’s special relationship with her father is particularly touching in this story. He knows how to comfort her, joke with her and make her feel understood.

Pennypacker, with Frazee’s line drawings, continues to portray a warm, supportive family that readers will relate to. Fans will be excited to learn that Pennypacker is publishing her first standalone novel since the Clementine series this spring: Betsy Bird reports that HarperCollins is publishing Summer of the Gypsy Moths - read more here at Fuse #8's Harper Colling Spring 2012 preview.

For other reviews of Clementine and the Family Meeting, see:
The review copy came from the Association of Children's Librarians, my local review group. It was kindly sent by Disney / Hyperion Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Nursery rhyme comics: a collection that will delight kids (ages 7 - 12)

My students adore comic books, and we have just gotten a collection that is delighting them. Nursery Rhyme Comics is a collection of 50 nursery rhymes, each illustrated by a different cartoonist. It is a real treat, especially for kids who already read many comic books. I love the way this is bringing classic nursery rhymes back into the experiences of kids ages 7 to 12.
Nursery rhyme comics
edited by Chris Duffy
illustrated by 50 cartoonists
NY: First Second, 2011
ages 7 to 12
preview available from First Second
available at your local public library, favorite bookstore or on Amazon

nominated for the 2011 Cybils graphic novel award
With 50 nursery rhymes illustrated by an talented array of leading cartoonists, this book is a visual feast. Each cartoonist was asked by editor Chris Duffy to interpret a different nursery rhyme, one suited to their particular taste or style. The result is a humorous, often quirky collection of some old favorites and some lesser-known traditional rhymes.

Some pairings play off the cartoonists’ reputations - Nick Bruel, well-known for his Bad Kitty series illustrates “Three Little Kittens”, with the kittens ending up eating pie with messy delight.  Other artists lend thoroughly modern reinterpretations. Lucy Knisley sets “There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe” at “Ruth’s Rock & Roll Baby Sitting” where Ruth - a tattooed old rocker - entertains the children, inviting them to play with her band “The Whips” - and so finding a nice justification for the line “and whipped them all soundly” before she sent them to bed.

Each artist stays true to the traditional nursery rhyme, but they add their own twist and interpretation. I had great fun with Tao Nyeu's interpretation of Rock-a-Bye Baby. Take a look closely at the how the baby gets back at the wolf:

Other rhymes delighted children who didn't really know the full nursery rhyme. Many have heard of Tweedledee and Tweedledum, but I'm not sure many could tell you this nursery rhyme:

This collection will certainly draw in readers who already love comics - they will revel in the sheer variety of the different artwork, returning to look at it again and again. But the audience is not the traditional nursery rhyme audience of preschoolers and toddlers. Hand this to a 3rd, 4th or 5th grader and they will love the quirky, fresh illustrations, and delight in reading nursery rhymes they learned as little kids.

The review copy came from the Association of Children's Librarians, my local review group. It was kindly sent by First Second Books and Macmillan. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Very Babymouse Christmas - delightfully fun graphic novel (ages 7 - 10)

Babymouse, oh Babymouse, oh how do I love you, Babymouse? Let me count the ways: 
  1. I adore the way you pull children into reading, delighting them at every step. 
  2. I smile each time I check out your books to girls AND boys, young and old. You are the most popular series in our school library, month after month!
  3. I laugh each time a child tells me how funny you are, or how much you make them laugh. 
  4. And I smile each time I read your stories and realize how many nuggets of truth are buried inside your pages, like chewy goodness inside my favorite candies.
A Very Babymouse Christmas is the newest in the popular graphic novel series by the sister-and-brother team Jennifer and Matthew Holm. Our students, ranging from 2nd grade girls just starting to read to 5th grade boys who can't get enough graphic novels, love love love Babymouse - and I'm talking a *rush right to the shelves* "Ms. Scheuer, do you have any Babymouse books in please?" kind of love. A Very Babymouse Christmas is a pitch-perfect addition to this series.
A Very Babymouse Christmas
by Jennifer L. Holm
illustrated by Matthew Holm
NY: Random House, 2011
ages 7 - 10
available at your local library, favorite bookstore or on Amazon

nominated for the 2011 Cybils Graphic Novels award
It's almost Christmas, and Babymouse is thinking of the presents she really wants for Christmas. OK, she's not just thinking about presents - she's obsessed with presents, one present to be specific. All Babymouse wants for Christmas this year is a WhizBang gadget. "It plays video games and movies, it texts, sees into the future, folds laundry, and does homework!" Kids (and parents) will certainly connect with the way Babymouse is just dying to have this newest, greatest gadget. But, as usual, nothing goes quite right for Babymouse.
As always, Babymouse's daydreams rescue her from her not-so-glamorous life. Her Christmas daydreams take her into the Babymouse version of A Christmas Carol (featuring the scary Ghost of Mean Girls Past) and a Babymouse Nutcracker.

Kids will laugh at the way Babymouse is completely fixated upon a new WhizBang, but they'll also realize how their own obsessions can get out of proportion. My favorite scene of all is the ending, where Babymouse discards her new WhizBang to play with her little brother Squeak. With the WhizBang tossed aside, they spend hours playing with Squeak's dollhouse - in perfect togetherness. It's a moment that rang true for me and warmed my heart to see.

Have some holiday fun watching Jenni and Matt Holm sing about their love for reading, libraries and books in this Babymouse Holiday Video. We had fun at a recent event for Babymouse at our local indie bookstore A Great Good Place for Books. Here's a fun picture of some huge fans hiding in Babymouse's locker:
The review copy was kindly sent by Random House, but we've bought many copies since, for our school library, classrooms and friends. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Magic School Bus: Dinosaurs (ages 4 - 8)

Dinosaurs fascinate many young children. These huge beasts dominated the world, and yet they vanished leaving only a few traces behind. Preschoolers and kindergartners love the sense of power that dinosaurs bring - there's nothing better than stomping through the sand box pretending you're a giant dinosaur on the hunt. But these young children also soak up scientific information as they learn about dinosaurs. If you have a dino-lover, check out the new book app: Magic School Bus Dinosaurs.
The Magic School Bus: Dinosaurs
developed by Scholastic Media
based on the book
The Magic School Bus in the Time of the Dinosaurs
by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen
for the iPad
version 1.1 - October 25, 2011
current price: $7.99
ages 4 - 8
available from the iTunes app store

nominated for the Cybils Book App award
Ms. Frizzle takes her class on a field trip to a dinosaur dig to investigate how dinosaur bones are uncovered. The paleontologists at the site have discovered some Maiasaura dinosaur bones, but are disappointed that they haven't discovered any eggs. Ms. Frizzle has the perfect solution: her class will travel back in time to see if they can figure out where the Maiasaura's nests are.

The bus transforms to a time machine and takes the class back to the Late Triassic period, then moves forward through the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Ms. Frizzle and her class discover which animals and plants lived during the different eras. Along the way, different class members share short reports with readers.

The app stays true to the original Magic School Bus book, making it accessible for a nice range of audiences. I've found that young children, ages 4 - 7, adore the wacky Ms. Frizzle but are often unable to read these busy books on their own.

This app uses engaging narration along with a well designed interactive app to pull young children into discovering this interesting scientific information. Children listen to the main text, but then they tap speech bubbles to hear what different characters are saying. This means that kids are actively engaged with reading this story, not just passively watching the movie roll by.

The highlighted reports are a great way for young kids to really absorb interesting scientific information in small chunks. I really like the way that the reports pop out when you press on the report icon, so kids focus on just that information. See this screen shot for an example:

Kids also are enjoying the interactive games, digging for fossils and then dragging the dinosaur bones to the correct place on the whole skeleton. Along the way, they collect special dino cards, with facts about the different dinosaurs they have uncovered.

The app does not include any extra nonfiction visuals, the way that the Magic School Bus: Oceans app does. It would have been very interesting if the developers included some photographs of fossils or dig sites, or short videos of paleontologists at work. The iPad apps have great potential for combining different materials, the way that the Magic School Bus: Oceans app did.

If you have a child who's fascinated by science or dinosaurs, this is definitely an app worth exploring.

Read an interesting interview with the producer at Scholastic Media about developing Magic School Bus: Dinosaurs iPad app at the Scholastic Blog Ink Splot 26. Read another review over at School Library Journal's blog Touch and Go.

The review copy was sent by the publisher, Scholastic Media. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Around the World, by Matt Phelan - graphic novel adventure (ages 9 - 12)

Take a graphic novel and an adventure story, and kids are going to love it - right? Add in real life adventures from the late 1800s, and you've got yourself something really interesting. Matt Phelan's newest book, Around the World, is a wonderful book to open kids' reading world. They'll read about three real-life adventurers who traveled around the world in the late 1800s, inspired by the fictional journeys of Phileas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days.
Around the World
by Matt Phelan
MA: Candlewick Press, 2011
ages 9 - 12
available from your local library, favorite bookstore and on Amazon

nominated for the Cybils graphic novels award
Award-winning graphic novelist Phelan chronicles the real-life journeys of three nineteenth century adventurers who each set out to circumnavigate the globe for the sheer challenge of the journey. While the nineteenth century was full of Americans pushing boundaries and exploring new territories, these three were each inspired by Jules Verne’s best-selling novel Around the World in Eighty Days.

Thomas Stevens rode a high-wheel bicycle from San Francisco to Boston, and then continued around the world with or without roads. Just look at the spread above and you can get a sense of Stevens' crazy determination, starting in San Francisco of the Gold Rush era and venturing first across the US and then across the world.

Journalist Nellie Bly set out in 1889 persuading the editors at the New York World to sponsor her journey around the world, as she attempted to beat the record of Verne’s protagonist, Phileas Fogg. She not only had to beat Fogg's fictional record, she also had to overcome her editors' doubts that a woman could really accomplish this on her own. Bly was stubborn and determined, as well as courageous.

And finally Phelan shares the story of seaman Joshua Slocum who sailed around the world by himself, the first person to do so alone.

As we read these stories, we are fascinated by these adventures, but we also find ourselves asking, "Why? Why did these people decide to go around the world? And what kept them going?"
Phelan shares not only these adventurers’ public travels, but he also explores their internal journeys. As he writes in an author’s note, he focuses not just on what these real-life characters did, but why they undertook these challenges, what motivated them, what emotional baggage they brought along on their journeys.

The stories are brought to life by Phelan’s illustrations: washes of color set the tone, emotions and reactions are masterfully conveyed in the distinct characters, and the layout and design of the panels visually moves the action along.

Kids in 4th and 5th grade have loved this book. They are swept into the lives of these nineteenth century adventurers by the visual appeal of Phelan’s artwork, but they have been held by his masterful storytelling. Around the World has received four starred review, and is featured on the Kirkus Best Children’s Books of 2011, and has been included in 100 Scopenotes and Mr. Schu's list of Top 20 Books of 2011.

Around the World is copyright © 2011 by Matt Phelan, and published by Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA. Images reproduced with permission of Matt Phelan.

The review copy was originally sent by the publisher, Candlewick Press, and I have bought several copies since. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Monday, December 12, 2011

We ♥ Todd Parr (ages 2 - 8): a fun school visit!

All of Emerson was abuzz last week with excitement for books and reading. Todd Parr, a wonderful author and illustrator, came to visit our students and share about his books. As so many of the kids said, "We love you, Todd." You see, he ends each book with a note that speaks directly to kids, and he signs these notes, "Love, Todd". I truly believe this helps kids connect with Todd as a person, and they return his love adoringly.

Todd Parr is the author of over 30 books. Every one of Parr’s books helps children feel good about themselves and helps families talk about all kinds of things that kids really do care about. Parr illustrates his stories, creating bright, colorful artwork that will bring a smile to your face. Through every book he shares the message that it’s OK to be different and important to believe in yourself.

Todd Parr with my daughter Emily
During his visit, he read several of his stories aloud to the kids, asked for their help drawing silly pictures, and played a great improvisation game with the kids. The students laughed, giggled and begged to participate.

I especially love talking with the kids about how Todd's grandmother read with him when he was a child. He loved reading his favorite books over and over again. Todd talks about how his grandma would ask him what would happen next, and he would create crazy imaginative predictions. She encouraged his creativity and helped him connect to the books they were reading.

In talking with the kids afterward, they especially loved seeing Todd draw right there in front of him. They love noticing things in his artwork. Kids have described his style as simple, but full of details. They like the way it looks like a kid could draw it, but they clearly notice that he takes care and effort.

Todd's books are perfect for preschoolers and young elementary students, but older students read them with joy and smiles on their faces. At Emerson, we had all of our kindergartners, 1st and 2nd graders come to the library to listen to Todd. But, a group of older kids also came along - these 10- and 11-year-olds loved listening to him just as much as their little brothers and sisters!

At Emerson, our favorite Todd Parr books are:
Each is filled with Todd's humor, heart and kindness.  We truly appreciate Todd's taking the time to share a little bit of himself with us.

©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Harold and the Purple Crayon book app - wonderful celebration of imagination (ages 2 - 6)

One of my favorite books as a young child was Harold and the Purple Crayon. I can't actually remember reading it, but whenever I read it now the feelings and memories flood back to me. The wonder as Harold draws his world, whatever he wants to see. My amazement at when his hand shook and water appeared behind him. And my delight when he was so clever that he realized he could draw his own window around the moon. I was so happy to see that the new iPad/iPod book app remains true to the original story, but brings it to life in a new way. It's a real joy, one that I highly recommend for young children.

Harold and the Purple Crayon
by Crocket Johnson
developed by Trilogy Studios
for the iPhone, iPod, iPad
version 1.4 - December 6, 2011
current price: $6.99
ages 2 - 6
available from the iTunes app store

nominated for the Cybils Book App award

Features: Touch Tale * Read to Me * Read Alone * Tutorial
Harold is a little boy who decides one night to climb out his window for an adventure. He isn't sure where he should go, but he decides to create his own adventure - drawing it each step of the way with his purple crayon. It's a wonderful celebration of children's imagination.

The book app "Touch Tale" incorporates wonderfully paced narration with just the right amount of interactive features. Children are invited to draw along with Harold, tracing over gray lines that become bold purple when the child draws them. But you also can discover hidden treasures, like swiping over the empty sky to reveal twinkling stars. When Harold gets to the city, the careful reader will notice that there is a cat hiding in one of the windows which you can tap on to zoom in to see.

Harold's journey is animated, but in a way that stays very true to the simplicity of the original story. You follow Harold through his imaginary world, seeing the dragon roar or the ship sailing. But most of the details of this world are still left to the child's imagination.

The pacing and narration fit the story perfectly for a young audience. The app "chunks" the original picture book pages, so that only one line appears at a time on the screen. This helps children see the words at a nice, slow pace and large enough to see clearly. If you tap on different items in Harold's world, the word labels will pop up - helping children develop an awareness of printed words. But best of all is the soothing voice of the narrator - perfect for a bedtime story.

This is a joy to read, and drew me to it time and again. It's a perfect example of a book app staying true to so many qualities of the original book, but making it accessible to a young child in a new way. I am looking forward to reading Harold at the North Pole (released 11/29/11).

For other reviews, check out:
Psst, don't tell - but I'll be getting this for my niece and nephew, along with the print book. I think they will enjoy the app, and also enjoy reading the print book. It will be interesting to see if the app stimulates interest in the book, or if they shun the book in preference for the app.

The review copy came from our home iTunes library collection.

©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Top Book Apps for Tweens & Teens - School Library Journal's list

I am excited that the School Library Journal has included several apps for tweens and teens. In today's post, I will round up the Best Apps for 2011 that have been recommended by the School Library Journal. While I have not had a chance to explore many of these, I wanted to share them with you.

The biggest trend that I see is how iPad apps can bring alive nonfiction, embedding a variety of photographs, images, video and live links that readers can explore while they're reading. I'm also very happy to see some apps for tweens and teens to continue using audio narration to pull in readers. I hope more include narration as an option on these longer texts too.

1. Touch Press apps such as Gems and Jewels, The Waste Land, and March of the Dinosaurs. My friend Paula Willey (of PinkMe) shared Gems and Jewels with us at KidLitCon, and it is a truly beautiful app. Kids and grownups alike will love exploring so many different facets of these stones and how they've been used through the ages. I haven't seen the others, but look forward to checking them out. The nonfiction apps are great for tweens and teens, either browsing on their own or maybe reading with a parent.

2. Paris AppTours: Beware Madame La Guillotine (Time Traveler Tours): I have not listened to this audio tour yet, but I'm absolutely fascinated! Here's the beginning of the review on SLJ's Touch and Go: "Drama of historical proportions, an awesome guide, and games and challenges, what more could a teen on vacation ask for? In Beware Madame La Guillotine (Time Traveler Tours, LLC) Sarah Towle offers iPhone and iPod users a tour through the streets of Paris with stops at the sites associated with the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. Their guide? Charlotte Corday, the 24-year-old from Normandy who killed journalist and Jacobin leader Jean-Paul Marat in his bath in 1793." What fun!

3. Jack Kerouac's On The Road (Penguin / 1KStudios): I'm fascinated by the way this app combines the complete text with "a rich variety of print resources, video and audio recordings, and visuals culled from Viking's archives and the Kerouac estate." SLJ's review recommends it for grades 9 and up, and I can indeed imagine many high school students interested in this rich, multimedia approach to exploring Kerouac's work. Take a look at this preview video to get a sense of this rich resource.

4. Al Gore's Our Choice (Rodale) is a rich, multimedia app that examines the climate crisis that will engage teens and adults alike. Gore published Our Choice: How We Can Solve the Climate Crisis in 2009 as a young readers’ edition of An Inconvenient Truth (2007). This app, released in September 2011, updates these books, incorporating a variety of compelling information. As SLJ writes in its review, "A video introduction by the author sets the agenda, while a cogent text, video clips, fluid interactive graphics, and spectacular photos address our world's most pressing environmental issues." Learn more about this app at the Our Choice website. Watch this introduction by Gore to see the different types of multimedia included in this app:

Al Gore's Our Choice from Push Pop Press on Vimeo.

5. In Journey to the Exoplanets (Farrar/Scientific American), Edward Bell explores planets beyond our solar system, helping readers to understand the different types of planets in this region, as well as current scientific investigations. School Library Journal writes, "The app offers many cool options, including a regularly updated "Exoplanet Feed," animated explanations of key concepts, and gyroscopic views of these far-flung orbs." Audio narration helps bring the content this app to a middle school and younger teen audience. Readers will be fascinated by the rich illustrations, fascinating data and interactive gyroscope features. Here's a trailer for the Journey to the Exoplanets:

You can clearly see that nonfiction apps are leading the way for engaging tween and teen readers. I would love to hear from readers whose older children have explored any of these apps. At times I wonder if kids will want to sit and read the content, or if they will be distracted by the bells and whistles. The key is finding an app that stimulates a reader's interest, making them want to learn more. And then making that reading accessible and interesting.

Thanks very much to Daryl Grabarek, the editor at the School Library Journal's blog Touch and Go, for a fascinating, well-rounded list of the Best Apps of 2011. If you are interested in this topic, definitely follow Touch and Go for their thoughtful, interesting regular reviews of book apps for a wide range of children.

©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Top Apps for 2011 - School Library Journal's list, part 1 (ages 2 - 10)

I'm finding the hardest thing about book apps for kids is discovering ones that are really good. That's why I was happy to see that the School Library Journal came out with a list of their favorite apps for 2011. I'm going to divide their list into age groups. Today, I'll share their apps that work for younger kids (ages 2 - 10). Tomorrow, I'll share the apps they're recommending for tweens and teens.

1. Pat the Bunny (Random House / Smashing Ideas Inc.). I haven't had a chance to see this app - on the face of it, it seems so odd that Pat the Bunny is an app. But I've heard from many places that this app is engaging with perfect age-appropriate interactive elements. It's a difficult balance to achieve, and I'm looking forward to trying this out with my young nephew.

2. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (Moonbot Studios): this app is truly captivating, in my opinion. As I wrote in the SLJ review on their blog Touch and Go, "With a stunning combination of computer animation, interactive features, and traditional picture-book elements, William Joyce and Moonbot Studios have developed an enchanting story about the power of books. Based on their award-winning short film, this production sets the bar high for picture-book apps." Indeed - my 7 and 10 year old both read this book over and over again this summer.

3. Spot the Dot (Ruckus Media): David Carter's app combines his creative books with a find-and-seek game. Preschoolers and kindergartners will love searching for the hidden dot, following the progressively more difficult challenges with each turn of the page. I am fascinated by this blend of a book and a game. Each time you open this app, the dot changes its hiding place. We had a lot of fun with this app!

4. Hildegard Sings! (One Hundred Robots) I can't wait to get this app by Thomas Wharton. Betsy Bird of Fuse#8 nominated it for the Cybils Book App Award, and says that it's hilarious. Here's SLJ's description: "Hildegard, a flamboyant hippo, works as a singing waitress, but dreams of becoming an opera star. When she croons off-key, listeners experience it firsthand. Add to that flashes of melodramatic lightning, orchestra music, amusing interactive features, and a few games, and you have a flat-out funny, immensely entertaining theatrical production that hits all the right notes."

5. Cinderella: A 3-D Fairy Tale (Nosy Crow) has been a big hit both with students at Emerson and here at home. Of course kids love this story, but Nosy Crow gives it a fresh new multimedia twist with great illustrations, bouncy interactive characters, and fun dialog bubbles that pop up when you touch the characters. This has definitely been one of our favorites of the year.

Tomorrow, I'll share the apps that the School Library Journal has recommended for tweens and teens. I don't know these apps as well, so am looking forward to exploring them!

©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Book Apps That Get Kids Reading - NPR Interview

Today I was interviewed by Robin Young of NPR's show Here & Now about book apps for reluctant readers. I was very excited to be able to share all that I've learned about this new way for children to read and listen to stories.

Come listen to the interview - I'd love your thoughts! Head over the the Here and Now site and click "Listen" right under the article title.

I often hear people saying, "But is watching and listening to a book app really reading?" In fact, Robin asked me if I'm a librarian, shouldn't I really be in the business of wanting kids to read books? It reminds me of the debates about audiobooks.

Listening and watching these book apps is a way of experiencing stories that will pull in many children who won't sit and read a book on their own. It's a way of providing a way into stories, and with the right support and motivation, they will be able to read them on their own at a later point. My brother would have loved the way these apps bring stories to life.

My goal is finding the book apps that really do capture children's interests and make them excited to read, to listen to stories, to learn about the world around us. I am convinced that once we can open a child's eyes to the world of imagination or the wonders of the real world, and we can share how our stories make these come alive, we have won half the battle.

To read more reviews of book apps on my site, check out this link: ebooks.

thanks for listening,

Mary Ann

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness (ages 12 - 15) - a powerful story of a boy coping with grief

I sometimes wonder if we, as parents, try to protect our children from the hard things in life too much. We try to protect them, even though our children deal with hard things every day. And other times, I wonder if we are trying so hard to deal with our adult issues that we don't really see our children and the issues they're wrestling with. Conor, in Patrick Ness's powerful new book A Monster Calls, knows all too well about wrestling with life's pain. His mother is battling terminal breast cancer. And yet in so many ways, Conor is alone to deal with his pain - alone, that is, until the monster comes walking.
A Monster Calls
by Patrick Ness
inspired from an idea by Siobhan Dowd
illustrations by Jim Kay
Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2011
ages 12 - 15
available from your local library, favorite bookstore or on Amazon
Life for Conor has been completely changed by his mother's cancer. Breakfasts alone, as his mother struggles with the effects of her treatments. The recurring nightmares, filled with screaming and falling. And of course, school - where everyone avoids him, not knowing what to say. And then, the monster comes. At 12:07, to be precise. The monster is looming, giant drawn up from the earth, from the ancient yew tree outside Connor's window.
"Conor O'Malley, it said, a huge gust of warm compost-smelling breath rushing through Conor's window, blowing his hair back. Its voice rumbled low and loud, with a vibration so deep Conor could feel it in his chest.
I have come to get you, Conor O'Malley, the monster said." (p. 8)
Jim Kay's illustrations add a powerful, almost visceral element to A Monster Calls. He uses everything from beetles to breadboards to create marks, textures and images from Conor's dreams and his sense of reality. The dark pen and ink, along with relief printing and various printed textures, convey the dark, twisted, nameless horror and grief that consumes Conor. The illustrations are perfectly pitched toward a teen audience, suitably abstract, dark and disturbing.

This book is utterly compelling, completely riveting, and deeply painful to read. On the one hand, I want to tell everyone I know about it. And on the other hand, I can't imagine the effect it would have on children. My 5th grader would get terrible nightmares from this - she just wouldn't be able to process Conor's pain. And yet other children yearn for books that make them feel, that make them understand others' pain, perhaps to get a sense that their pain is understandable or manageable, or to get a sense that they are not alone.

Each person will bring their own stories, their own journeys to A Monster Calls. What I was so impressed with was the way Ness approaches this story. As Tasha Saeker writes in Waking Brain Cells,
"Ness does not duck away from anything difficult here, rather he explores it in ways I haven’t seen before. He takes the darkness and makes it real, makes it honest, creates truth from it and lays it all bare. It is a book that is difficult to read but too compelling to put down."
As Ness writes in his author's note, A Monster Calls was inspired by an idea developed by the writer Siobhan Dowd, the author of "four electric young adult novels", as Ness says. She had this idea for a story, but "what she didn't have, unfortunately, was time." Dowd passed away from breast cancer before she was able to develop her ideas further. But her ideas grew in Ness's imagination, and he ran with them.

I was fascinated reading a conversation between Patrick Ness and two teachers who both lost their mothers to illness during their childhood. Head over to Monica Edinger's blog Educating Alice to read Ness's thoughtful comments on their reactions.

A Monster Calls has been recognized by many as one of the best books of 2011:
The review copy came from my personal collection. This is a book that will stay with me, in my heart, for many years. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I Want My Hat Back, by Jon Klassen (ages 4 - 8) - a book to read aloud!!

We had so much fun today in our library! Ms. Carter and I read aloud I Want My Hat Back, by Jon Klassen, for our 4th and 5th graders. But we didn't just read it aloud, we had FUN with it! Some books are just meant to be read aloud, with silly voices that bring the characters to life. This is a book for kids who want something a little different, easy to read but one that makes you want to play with it. What's especially funny - I just totally didn't get it the first time I read it. It took several friends to convince me to try it again and again.
I Want My Hat Back
by Jon Klassen
NY: Candlewick Press, 2011
ages 4 - 8
available at your local library, your favorite bookstore, or on Amazon
A large, brown bear walks sadly along, asking other forest animals if they have seen his hat. "My hat is gone. I want it back. / Have you seen my hat?" The words are so simple that the first time I read this, they just sat on the page. The illustrations didn't jump out at me; the words just fell flat. But friends raved about it. What was I missing, I wondered. Then I asked my daughter to read it aloud, and she did it with this wonderful sad, grumpy bear voice. Voila, that's it! You've got to get the character's voices to come alive in your head!

Today, I persuaded Ms. Carter to read it aloud for me. We performed it as Reader's Theater - that's the school word for playing with our books, reading them aloud in voices that make the characters come alive. She was the PERFECT bear, sad, a bit bewildered, and then surprised and angry. The kids - yes, these oh-so-cool 10 and 11 year-olds - ate up every word of it.

The bear ambles through the forest asking all the animals if they have seen his hat. No one has seen it. The fox hasn't seen it. The armadillo asks, "What is a hat?" The rabbit insists that he hasn't seen it. "No. Why are you asking me? I haven't seen it. I haven't seen any hats anywhere." Hmmm... Are you noticing anything in the picture below? The bear sure didn't, and just went on his way.

I Want My Hat Back doesn't just hand you the whole story on the page. You have to bring your creativity to it as well. Klassen asks the reader to create the voice of the characters as they read this story. And he makes the readers figure out what happens. No simple answers here. As our kids said, they like it because you can talk about it, you can talk about what happened. They also just love the subverted, deadpan humor. Life is not always about the nice guys.

I Want My Hat Back is receiving much well-deserved praise, and is included in the following lists:
The New York Times list of The 2011 Best Illustrated Children's Books
Publisher Weekly's Best Children's Books of 2011
Fuse #8's Best Books of 2011

Many thanks to friends who encouraged me to read and reread this: Kathy Shepler, Walter Mayes, Mac Barnett, John Schu, and especially Jen Vincent. Here's the blog post that totally opened my mind up to trying it again at Teach Mentor Texts, by the wonderful Jen Vincent. This is really a case of my Twitter PLN (personal learning network) helping me develop to be a stronger reader, a better librarian.

The review copy was a gift from Natchez and the Lee family at Emerson. Thank you so much!! If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Inheritance Cycle, by Christopher Paolini (ages 10 - 15)

Two of our students came in two weeks ago so, so, so excited because Inheritance had just been published. I loved feeling this excitement, and so sat down with them today to ask them all about Christopher Paolini's Inheritance series.
Book 4 in the Inheritance Cycle
by Christopher Paolini
NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011
ages 10 - 15
available from your local library, your favorite bookstore, or on Amazon
Luca and Sebastiaan began reading Eragon in 3rd grade, drawn in by this complex fantasy. They share the feeling that Eragon is THE BEST BOOK EVER. Here are some of their thoughts about Eragon:
"It's so well written. You can tell he (Paolini) took his time with it."
"It has a lot of details, and a lot of action."
"I love the way he tells the story. You have no idea what's going to happen next."
"I really like the use of the ancient language to cast spells. You can read the spells at the back, to know what they mean. But you really want to remember them as you're reading, so you try to memorize them."
Luca and Sebastiaan's excitement is spreading in the school. Another friend also loves fantasies, and he's trying out Eragon for the first time today. Luca and Sebastiaan recommend this series to friends who are strong readers, who love fantasy and action in their stories. "You have to be a really strong reader because there are so many details," they explain to me. They like reading this series quickly, so they can absorb all the details and get to the action.

Their favorite parts? Oh, it's so hard to pick, but here are just a few:
  • in the volcano with the tunnels inside of the mountain
  • the creativity in the landscape and the description of the dragons
  • Eragon's connection with his dragon Saphira - you can tell they really care about each other
  • the life cycles of all the creatures, not just the dragons
You can get a sense of the drama from this book trailer:

I think my students will really enjoy this video of Christopher Paolini reflecting on his experiences writing the Inheritance Cycle:

If your child loves fantasies like Harry Potter or Percy Jackson, but is ready for a complex series - try out the Inheritance Cycle. Here are the books in order:
  1. Eragon
  2. Eldest
  3. Brisingr
  4. Inheritance
Many thanks to Random House for sending a review copy, and many thanks to Luca and Sebastiaan for sharing their enthusiasm for this series. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Chronicles of Harris Burdick - a fascinating collection of stories (ages 8 - 12)

Do children want their stories all wrapped up, with easy answers? Or do they like stories that ask the reader to think, that leave us feeling a bit off-kilter? I would argue that many children like stories that don't have tidy endings, but that let the reader come up with their own answers. Our students are fascinated by books by Chris Van Allsburg, precisely because he wants his stories to leave mysteries that are unsolved.

Twenty-five years ago, Van Allsburg shared with us The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. One day, an author Harris Burdick showed up in a children's book editor's office with sample illustrations and titles for fourteen of his stories. This editor was fascinated, but Burdick never came back to share his full stories. This editor shared these stories with Van Allsburg, who was determined to share these. Ever since The Mysteries of Harris Burdick have been published, children have been writing their own stories to complete Burdick's stories.

Now, in The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, fourteen children's authors have shared their own stories based on Burdick's original stories. Ranging from Jon Scieszka to Kate DiCamillo to Stephen King, these authors have responded to Burdick's original illustrations, keeping true to the illustrations, the titles and lines from the stories. The interesting thing, as Van Allsburg said in a recent interview on West Coast Live, is that Burdick's stories plant a different seed in whoever responds to the illustrations.
The Chronicles of Harris Burdick
Fourteen Amazing Authors Tell the Tales
by Chris Van Allsburg and others
illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg
NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011
ages 8 to 14
available at your local library, favorite bookstore or at Amazon
audiobook available on Audible or Amazon
Each of the stories will plant a seed in your mind. The authors create an idea of what might have led to Burdick's illustrations, but they don't provide definitive answers. What I love best about these stories is that they allow the scenarios to echo in my mind, as I wonder about what might have happened. Some authors revel in Van Allsburg's mysterious suggestions. Jon Scieszka's and Stephen King's stories will send eerie chills down your spines, and you'll never look at your own house quite the same way. Other authors stretch outside of their usual comfort zone. Walter Dean Myer's story, Mr. Linden's Library, has an almost old-fashioned, fable-like quality as it follows a girl who finds herself utterly compelled to read a story that has a different ending each time she reads it.

I'm interested to hear from teachers how students respond to these new stories. Many teachers use Harris Burdick's illustrations as writing prompts in the classroom. I wonder how children will feel reading author's stories after they've written their own. I am hoping that they see the way that art can inspire creativity in different ways in different people.

My daughter and I had great fun seeing Chris Van Allsburg in conversation with Lemony Snickett and Mac Barnett at the San Francisco Public Library yesterday. If you want to have a fun sense of Lemony Snickett's take on the story, watch this funny book trailer. Snickett is convinced that the Burdick mystery continues. Learn more about Van Allsburg through the wonderful video interviews at Reading Rockets.

For other reviews, check out:

The review copy was kindly sent by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.