Monday, December 30, 2013

Mary Poppins & other favorite classics

I'm looking forward to seeing the movie Saving Mr. Banks, and it's made me remember the fun we had listening to Mary Poppins as a family. The book is such a different experience from the movie! We especially loved all the escapades the children had with Mary Poppins. I highly recommend the audiobook for this classic:
Mary Poppins
by P.L. Travers
narrated by Sophie Thompson
Listening Library, 2008
your local library
Mary Poppins flies into Jane and Michael Banks' life, whirling them off their feet and into magical adventures. Here's a sample:

Classics often make great audiobooks that appeal to a wide range of ages, whether it's listening in the car with a grandparent or reading aloud to your 8 year old and 5 year old. Are you looking for other books like this? Here are a two others I love:
Pippi Longstocking
by Astrid Lindgren
narrated by Esther Benson
Listening Library, 2007
your local library
Pippi amazes Tommy and his sister Annika just the way that Mary Poppins amazed the Banks children. We loved Pippi's headstrong antics, but also were touched by her gestures of friendship.
Mrs. Piggle Wiggle
by Betty MacDonald
narrated by Karen White
Listening Library, 2005
your local library
Whether children hate to wash dishes, won't clean up their rooms, or answer back to their parents, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle has the perfect plan how to help them. Kids and parents will giggle at her creative solutions. The short, stand-alone chapters make this a great "long" book to read with preschoolers.

Still looking for more like Mary Poppins? Check out these read-alike suggestions from Penny Peck at the Bay Views blog. A few she recommends are:
  • Barrie, J.M. Peter Pan
  • Brand, Christianna. Tales of Nurse Matilda
  • Burch, Christian. The Manny Files
  • Fitzhugh, Louise. Harriet the Spy
Happy listening! The review copies came from our personal library and our public library. 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.

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, December 16, 2013

Robert Paul Weston visits to talk about The Creature Department (ages 8-12)

Last week, our students were so excited to visit with Robert Paul Weston, the author of The Creature Department and Zorgamazoo. Over 60 fourth & fifth graders came to have lunch in the library and have a live video chat with Mr. Weston. You see, he lives in London but he wanted to share his fantastic books with us. Once I showed my students the videos from The Creature Department website, they were hooked!

I invited a good friend Shannon Miller and her students from Van Meter Community School in Iowa. Friends LOVE sharing books they're excited about, something I always model for students!

Kids crowd into the library at lunch to visit with Robert Paul Weston

The Creature Department is a fun adventure fantasy book that's getting great early reviews from our students. Elliot and Leslie, two kids who see themselves as outsiders at school, end up having to save DENKi-3000—the world’s eighth-largest electronics factory. But it isn't just that DENKi-3000 has come up with amazing inventions like wireless breath mints; Elliot and Leslie discover that DENKi-3000 is home to The Creature Department, a group of fantastical creatures who are as wacky as they are creative.

My students love all the different creatures in the book, like G├╝gor, "a creature that resembled a muscly eight-foot salamander—if salamanders grew sloppy dreadlocks, walked around on their hind legs, and had enormous knobbly hands." One of their favorites was Harrumphrey Grouseman. Weston described coming up with his name from the way he always says "harrumph" and grouses about complaining.


Weston actually created his creatures in tandem with Framestore, the amazing special effects studio behind movies ranging from Gravity to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Framestore animators created some of the visuals for the story brainstorming with Weston as he was writing. Usually, authors complete their work before illustrators are ever involved. Weston talked about how this made the process so much fun, but also a little challenging managing a story with so many characters.

Over 60 kids came in during lunch!
At our visit, Weston shared how he loved listening to audiobooks as a kid (he laughed with great appreciation when my students told him will still have a big collection of books on tape, yes cassette tapes!). I piped in that I think this really shows up in his writing, because it is great to read aloud.

Students asked many questions, ranging from how long it took Weston to write his books to what stories he liked reading when he was their age. They wanted to know whether he went to college (yes!) and what he studied (film studies, among other things), and whether he likes learning about real life animals as well as fantastical creatures.

Big smiles as kids chatted with Weston

Most of all, I think our students liked connecting with an author. Many kids wanted to come up to to share the Japanese they've learned with their Dojo at their martial arts classes. They wanted to say HI! They loved knowing that the books they love are written by real people who struggle with writing each day, just like they do in the classroom.

Many thanks to Robert Paul Weston for taking the time to connect with our students and spreading the love of reading. So many kids are clamoring to read his books now. Hugs to Shannon Miller and all her students at Van Meter for joining in and sharing their love of reading. If you want to learn more about video chatting, definitely check out Skype in the Classroom or Google Hangouts.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Penguin Young Readers and Razorbill. 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.

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Dot., by Randi Zuckerberg & Joe Berger (ages 4 - 8)

I know I'm not alone, but I wonder at times just how much television my kids can watch if left to their own devices. We all wanted time to rest and relax over vacation, but for many kids (mine included) this seems to mean unlimited TV time. A new picture book Dot., by Randi Zuckerberg and Joe Berger, really appeals to me for the way it helps us all think about our screen time and outside time.
by Randi Zuckerberg
illustrated by Joe Berger
Harper Collins, 2013
ages 4-8
your local library
Dot knows her way around an iPad, a laptop, a cell phone. She's a kid the media might call "a digital native," home with any and all devices. But one day she's tapped out, fried. So her mom tells her that it's time to go outside and reboot, recharge.

I love the twist that happens as Dot spends time outside, realizing that she loves tapping, tagging and sharing in a different way. You can get a nice sense of the book from this trailer:

Some might say that this book is heavy-handed, but I found the spare text and bright, energetic cartoon illustrations created a fun spin on a situation many kids know very well. The overall design of the book keeps the pacing moving, and lets readers enjoy the word play and humor.

Yes, Randi Zuckerberg is the former marketing director of Facebook and sister of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Yes, this could be seen as an ironic twist for a Silicon Valley celebrity, and she's certainly getting plenty of media coverage. But really, I approach this book as a mom who's fried after a vacation where her kids just wanted to watch TV instead of walking on the beach. Reading Dot. is a whole lot more fun than nagging kids to put away their iPads and turn off the TV.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, HarperCollins. 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.

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Greet the Dawn: The Lakota Way, by S.D. Nelson (ages 5-12)

There is something very special about watching dawn break over the sky. At this time of year, as our world is transitioning into winter, I want to take a moment to celebrate a beautiful book: Greet the Dawn--The Lakota Way, by S.D. Nelson. My students loved the way Nelson blends modern and traditional imagery in this beautiful celebration of the circle of life.

Greet the Dawn:
The Lakota Way
by S.D. Nelson
South Dakota State Historical Society, 2012
your local library
Modern Lakota kids board a yellow school bus, with traditional images floating in the dawn sky above them. "Father Sun gives warmth to Mother Earth" as the day unfolds in this poetic tribute to the natural cycle of life.
My students marveled at Nelson's use of color, repeated imagery and combination of modern and traditional symbols. They noticed the geometric patterns repeated throughout and wondered about why he painted people in so many different colors. Some students speculated that it might symbolize many different tribes or races living peacefully together. Others thought maybe the different colors represented human forms of Mother Earth and Father Sun.
S.D. Nelson is member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in the Dakotas. He weaves into this picture book songs in the Lakota language, placed alongside English translations. I have loved browsing through the gallery he shares on his website, and his biography Buffalo Bird Girl is one of my favorites to share with older children.

For more resources and children's books that share the Native American experience, definitely check out Debbie Reese's article in School Library Journal. Debbie writes the invaluable blog: American Indians in Children's Literature.
I have also found PBS Learning Media's resources for Native American Heritage full of fascinating video clips. It would be great to share Nelson's book along with the watching the video about Truman Lowe, a contemporary Native American artist.

The review copy came from our home library collection, purchased on Debbie Reese's advice. 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.

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

#AASL13 Wrap Up: Still Buzzing with Ideas!

The American Association of School Librarians had their national conference last weekend, and it was fantastic. Rocco Staino and I were the author event co-chairs -- we had over 50 authors talking with school librarians about their work. Here's just a smattering of the amazing folks we hosted:

a few of the amazing authors at #AASL13

I am so grateful for everyone's contributions. I'm still buzzing with the energy I get from connecting with passionate librarians and authors about how we inspire kids. Our work matters deeply, and we bring so much to our communities. We help them think more about the books we read. Connecting with authors and illustrators gives us a glimpse into their creative process, peeling back some of the layers. 

Meeting fellow librarians was a huge highlight for me. I especially loved connecting with my Twitter pals -- these face-to-face connections cements our friendship. These are folks I turn to all year long to help me develop my craft. Here are two librarians I really enjoyed sharing this conference with: Donna Macdonald and Susan Polos.

I found that posting quick Tweets was easier for me than taking notes. I know it isn't quite as good of a record, but it was a way for me to share the joy in the moment.

I also liked using the hashtag #aasl13 to follow other librarians at the conference, sharing their excitement and take-away nuggets.

Thank you so much to all the authors and publishers for sharing their enthusiasm hooking kids with books, history and science. Thank you to my fellow librarians for your laughter, friendship and passion. And thank you to my family for helping me pursue my dreams.

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Biographies through Picture Books: #AASL13

Reading aloud picture book biographies is sharing a slice of personal history with children. They draw young readers in so much more effectively than dry text books. Even older children still find themselves absorbed by them.

We are hearing lots about the Common Core these days, especially the mandate for children to read more nonfiction. Teachers are also being told that students need to examine primary source documents. But how many nine year olds can really read the Declaration of Independence and make sense of it?! 

At the American Association of School Librarian's conference this week, I've spearheaded a concurrent session called: Biographies Through Picture Books. We've invited five authors and illustrators to speak about how they draw on primary source documents and give children a real sense of history by showing them these primary sources. I hope you can join us!

Feel free to share this poster:

Biographies through Picture Books
2013 AASL National Conference
Saturday, Nov. 16th
10:15 am - 11:30 am
Hartford, CT

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Exploring Scientists at Work: #AASL13

I have been fascinated reading nonfiction books that delve into scientists' work in the field. When I was in junior high and high school, I never really saw how the science we were learning connected to unsolved mysteries. Today's kids have a wealth of interesting books that help bridge this gap -- a great alternative to deathly dry textbooks.

Come hear a conversation with some of the top science writers, editors and teachers at the AASL 2013 National Conference:
Exploring Scientists at Work
Concurrent session at #AASL13
Friday, November 15th
1:00 - 2:15 pm
Join authors, a science teacher, and an editor to discuss how stories about scientists at work can meet the needs of children, librarians, and teachers, with a special emphasis on meeting the new Common Core standards. Come prepared to share your own ideas too!

Learn how kids can explore real scientists at work. Just take a look at this fantastic line up:
©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Guess Who?? They're out of this world at #aasl13

Can you guess who these guys are? Here's a hint: they will all be at AASL's 2013 National Conference -- presenting an OUT OF THIS WORLD concurrent session next Friday, at 3pm

A. The Pirate

B. The Professor

C. The Mad Scientist

D. The Magician

E. The Beast

F. The Guy in Charge

Their session is going to be fantastic! Check below for an easy hint, and find out the details! Photo IDs will be revealed on Monday!
AASL National Conference
Friday, Nov. 15th
3:15 - 4:30 pm
 Leave your guesses in the comments or on Twitter #aasl13 @MaryAnnScheuer. Right answers will get a special treat -- a picture of me, ready to join this crowd!

Many thanks to the great publishers at Harper Collins, Walden Pond Press, Simon & Schuster, Scholastic and Abrams.

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Authors Who Skype -- concurrent session at #AASL13

With rising travel costs and shrinking budgets, schools are experimenting with ways to connect students with authors through Skype and other video conferencing. At AASL's 2013 National Conference next week, there will be a fantastic panel of authors sharing their experience Skyping with classrooms.

I'm excited to listen to this panel of authors talk about their experiences Skyping with elementary, middle and high schools. I'm curious to see how they establish a rapport with kids, even when the video gets blurry. Do kids feel like they're really connecting the with author? How do they show visuals?

I'm sure librarians will be interested in whether authors charge, how they go about setting up video conferences, and what type of technology authors have preferred.

Come listen to this great group of authors, as they share their experiences and learn from one another:
Here are the details:
Authors Who Skype
AASL National Conference
Friday, 8:00 am - 9:15 am
room F1-MC
Follow along the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #aasl13 on Friday morning!

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Sunday Comic Book Brunch at #AASL13 -- lots of fun in store!!!

School librarians are in for a treat! We're turning the traditional author brunch into a celebration of the Sunday Comics -- so break out your favorite pajamas and join the crowd! Here are the details:
AASL Author Brunch
Sunday Comic Book Celebration
Sunday, November 17, 2013
9:00 - 11:00 am
2013 AASL National Conference
Hartford, CT
tickets required

We have a stellar line-up of comic book creators for all ages:

Jarrett Krosoczka will moderate the panel with Jennifer and Matt Holm, Raina Telgemeier, and Faith Erin Hicks. We’ll hear their thoughts on
  • why graphic novels and comic books draw kids to them again and again, 
  • how we can incorporate kids’ passion for reading comic books in our lessons on the Common Core, and 
  • how they use their experiences growing up to create stories that stay with us long after reading. 
You’ll see these artists draw, talk and laugh with one another in this lively brunch.

Are you too far to come? Join us at the Twitter hashtag #aasl13 on Sunday morning, November 17th. Jarrett will be taking questions from the audience here and at home through live tweets!

Hope the see you there!

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Getting excited for AASL 2013 National Conference! Author events galore

Librarians Gone Wild -- that's the term my family has for my trips to library conferences. They energize me, giving me a chance to meet authors, visit with other librarians, and learn so much.

In just two weeks, I'm heading to Hartford, CT for the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) 2013 National Conference. This week I'd like to preview some of the fantastic author events that will be happening at the conference. Rocco Staino & I are the author events co-chairs, and we've been working hard to plan some fantastic events!

Friday night, November 15th, is the Author Banquet with Libba Bray and Shane Evans. This promises to be a real highlight of the weekend. I hope my librarian friends have bought tickets!
Libba Bray definitely knows how to travel - at least in her books. Whether she’s on a deserted island with a gaggle of Beauty Queens, on a cross-country road trip Going Bovine with a dying teenage boy, or solving murder mysteries with The Diviners in 1920s New York City, this girl knows how to have a good time.

Libba’s newest book, The Diviners, is a mix of crime thriller, paranormal fantasy and historical drama set in the 1920s, mixing the occult, the uppercrust and the underworld. It follows young Evie who comes to New York to live with her uncle, and finds herself investigating a rash of occult-based murders. I love this trailer for The Diviners. If teens are looking for a creepy, fun, smart mystery, I definitely recommend this.

Libba is in the midst of wrestling with the sequel to The Diviners, and I'm curious how she's developing Evie's character, as well as some of the terrific supporting characters.

Shane Evans won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award in 2012 for his stirring picture book Underground. His illustrations effectively weave together dark and light, representing both the fear and hope that escaping slaves felt on their journeys to the North. As his friend and collaborator Taye Diggs wrote in the Horn Book,
Shane is a “renaissance man. A true artist, in every sense of the word. Illustrator, painter, sculptor, photographer, singer, songwriter, musician, composer…the list goes on. He’s the type of cat who just randomly picks up a guitar, and next thing you know, he’s teaching you how to play.” 
Shane will bring his guitar, sing for us and share his dreams. Come and be inspired by Shane’s spirit and art, as he reflects on how we can all be true to ourselves.

Every day I try to connect children with books that inspire them, that make them want to reach out and connect to other people. These two artists fill me with those same feelings. I can't wait for a chance to hear their presentations.

Check in later this week for other highlights from what's promising to be a fantastic conference.

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.

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Friday, October 25, 2013

Midnight Feast: an eerily creepy book app from Slap Happy Larry (ages 9 - 14)

Creepy stories are in high demand in our library, and engaging book apps for older readers are a real treat. I loved reading Slap Happy Larry's Midnight Feast this week - perfect for tweens and teens looking for a spooky tale.
Midnight Feast
by Lynley Stace
developed by Slap Happy Larry
available on
iTune App Store
nominated for Cybils 2013
ages 9 - 14
Roya lives in a world where her dreams blend with reality, and hunger is a constant part of life. She yearns for so much -- to be part of the adult world, to be part of her dream world. This story captures that yearning and longing that can be such a part of adolescence.

In the beginning, Roya struggles falling to sleep. "It's not that she was scared of the dark, exactly. Things were slightly more complicated than that." The artwork, narration and music create a sleepy, melancholy mood, but one that right away hints at something darker to come. If you select the option "Scary Sauce," dark haunting hands reach out from under the bed.

Stace develops this blend between worlds so you're never sure whether what she's seeing is solidly true or part of her active imagination. The interactive elements are layered enough to allow the story to shine through, but also to draw the reader back for repeated readings. At times, Roya's imaginary world literally interprets common sayings (her parents actually laugh their heads off), while at others she drifts into a surreal dream state.

When a black cat suggests to her that "Midnight's no place for a girl," Roya wonders, "Is midnight a place?" Roya begins dreaming of a midnight place, where there is dancing, revelry, and -- of course, a Midnight Feast. I love the way that Roya's dreams combine surreal elements--cats wearing fancy dress clothes--along with colorful dreamscapes that take her away from her dreary world.

I wholly agree with the Kirkus Review of Midnight Feast:
The sum of striking visuals, smartly restrained audio cues, subtle voice acting, unobtrusive narration and navigation, and always-relevant iPad interactive elements is more resonant than overwhelming. Younger readers may be confused and spooked by some of the story’s content; there’s an option to eliminate the “scary sauce” in the story (cleverly represented by a ketchup bottle).

Beautiful, haunting and completely original, Roya’s tale is a 12-course meal of intelligent storytelling.
Teens might be interested in reading this and comparing it with the bookapp rendition of Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell Tale Heart. For teachers interested in experimenting with a layered, multimedia book app, definitely check out Slap Happy Larry's reading guide and activities.

The review copy came from our home app collection.

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Common Core IRL: Spooky, creepy stories to grab you (ages 10 - 14)

Kids clamor for scary stories -- they love the adrenaline rush, the suspense, the feeling of needing to find out what happens next. When we started talking about how the Common Core might look in real libraries during October, our minds naturally turned to stories that give us a fright. We're sharing all types of books, looking at how they tie into the Common Core and serve different readers.

Zombie Baseball Beatdown is sure to grab tweens and teens who can stomach some gagging details and thrive on zombie chase scenes. But it also has plenty of depth to prompt kids' thinking. Share this with your kids and ask them what they're noticing in the text.
Zombie Baseball Beatdown
by Paolo Bacigalupi
Little, Brown, 2013
your local library
ages 10 - 14
Let's just start with the cover. I know, I know -- your mom told you not to judge a book by its cover. But really, get a grip. Covers matter, and this one hits a home run with its intended audience. Even better, it gets readers primed for the story -- one that combines plenty of gore with action, but still enough humor for a tween audience.

Rabi (for Rabindranath), and his friends, Miguel and Joe, discover that the giant feedlot and meat-production facility in their small town is knee-deep in corruption. The story is told from Rabi's point of view, and he describes the view of the Milrow beef-processing facility:
"It was feedlots to the horizon, an ocean of cows all packed together, practically knee-deep in their own manure, feeding in long troughs full of whatever it was that Milrow gave its cows to fatten them up." (ch. 3)
It turns out that the crammed quarters and questionable feed leads to some serious mutations, as zombie cows start wrecking havoc. Bacigalupi gleefully describes the zombies in all their bloody, oozy glory -- this is certainly not a choice for the weak of heart. Just take this description of the final chase scene:
"The zombies came down on us like a tsunami. When we hit, I thought we were going down. A tidal wave of hungry monsters poured over us. I didn’t think we’d hold. Miguel and Otis and Eddie were screaming and swinging like crazy, smashing and slamming zombies aside." (ch. 36)
It’s up to Rabi and his friends to protect the town and convince the authorities to take action before it's too late. Bacigalupi certainly raises questions about how corporations try to silence whistle-blowers and how we need to think about big agriculture companies' practices.

Zombie Baseball Beatdown would make an excellent choice for small lit. circle groups, especially since kids will get more out of it by talking about the characters' points of view and the author's message. For example, 5th grade teachers thinking about the Common Core standards, look specifically at these:
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.5.1 Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.5.2 Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.5.6 Describe how a narrator’s or speaker’s point of view influences how events are described.
As Kirkus Review wrote, "here’s a signal alert to young teens to think about what they eat, while the considerable appeal of the characters and plot defies any preachiness."

Check out other great posts that are part of our recurring series: Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries. Today, we're serving up a great selection to grab students with chills and thrills:
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Little, Brown. 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.

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, October 21, 2013

Fantastic school visit with Adam Gidwitz: sharing the REAL Grimm fairy tales, ages 9-12

Our school is buzzing from Adam Gidwitz's visit. Our 4th and 5th graders absolutely loved hearing his versions of the "real" Grimm fairy tales and are eating up his trilogy. I wish you could have been a fly on the wall at this author visit to see the magic that happens when an author captivates an audience of kids.

Adam started with storytelling, sharing the bloody version of Cinderella, the one that the Grimm brothers told long before Walt Disney tamed it. Clearly, there was no "bippity-boppety-boo" in this story. But did you know that there was no fairy godmother in the original Cinderella? Instead, Cinderella goes to visit her mother's grave and her ball gown springs from the tree that has grown there.

My students have been retelling Gidwitz's stories to each other all week, laughing as they recount how Cinderella had to clean out chamber pots (which, they will gleefully tell you, were toilet pots). And they still cringe as they recount how the evil stepsisters had to slice off their toes and heels to fit them in the shoe that the prince brought.

Adam Gidwitz at Emerson School, Oct. 2013

I loved how my students were able to think about why they loved Gidwitz's stories so much. He scared them, but kept adding humor all the way -- making them cringe and laugh at each turn. Even though they all knew how the story ended, he built up suspense so they felt like they were holding their breath waiting for the next part of the story. And, as you can see in the picture above, he used his whole body to dramatize his stories.

Here is our book club interviewing Gidwitz -- can you hear how excited they are?? (I'm sharing this through the free PodSnack site, so there's a quick ad to begin with):

If you're looking for a great fantasy for 4th and 5th graders, I highly recommend Gidwitz's Grimm trilogy: A Tale Dark and Grimm, In a Glass Grimmly, and The Grimm Conclusion. You can get a sense of them from the great trailers. Just see how your kids will be gripped by this:

I do want to note the way we prepared our students, laying the background for a great visit. We read aloud the beginning of his first book, hooking many students to start reading it before he came. We also read aloud several fairy tales, so they had already started thinking about how these stories were originally told for adults as well as children.

Many thanks to Adam Gidwitz, Penguin Books for Young Children and Books, Inc. for a brilliant author visit. 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.

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Ghost in the House, by Ammi-Joan Paquette and Adam Record (ages 2 - 6)

Young children love celebrating Halloween, but often they don't want scary books. Ghost in the House is a fun new picture book that fits this bill perfectly, providing some rhyming fun along the way.
Ghost in the House
by Ammi-Joan Paquette
illustrated by Adam Record
Candlewick, 2013
Google Books preview
available at
your local library
ages 2 - 6
A friendly little ghost starts exploring his house. At first he thinks he's all alone. But then... one by one, he discovers five new friends. Paquette's cumulative rhyming story is a joy to read aloud. Here's the beginning:
"There's a ghost in the house,
In the creepy, haunted house,
On this dark, spooky night, all alone.

And he goes slip-slide,
With a swoop and a glide,
Until suddenly he hears ...

A groan!"
Hidden on the right side, you can notice fingers holding the door as the mummy starts to open it. Paquette builds the story using the same pattern. I love the rhythm and rhyme. This type of cumulative story works really well with preschoolers and kindergarteners, inviting them to read it over and over again as they absorb the language and pattern.

Adam Record's friendly creatures are a big draw for young children as well. They love the digital cartoon style that emphasizes the humor in the story, while keeping just the right amount of creepiness. The twist at the end had my group of kindergartners laughing in delight.

I enjoyed reading this interview with Ammi-Joan Paquette at Elizabeth Dulemba's blog, talking about her inspiration and the path to publication for this sweet story.

Do you have any favorite Halloween books for young children? Others I love include Lisa Brown's Vampire Boy's Good Night and If You're a Monster and You Know It, by Ed Emberley and Rebecca Emberley.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Candlewick Press. 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.

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Enchanting our students with the Grimm's Tales (ages 7 to 12)

Our 4th and 5th grade students have become enchanted by the Grimm's Tales this fall, and I am absolutely delighted. We are reading Philip Pullman's Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm aloud and talking about the ways these classic stories sink deep into our culture.
Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm
by Philip Pullman
Viking / Penguin, 2012
available from
your local library
audiobook available
Fairy tales gripped me when I was a child, pulling me in with their simple plots, holding me with a few choice vivid details and always providing satisfaction as the wicked characters get the consequences they deserve. Philip Pullman retells the classic tales from the Brothers Grimm with clean simplicity and a storyteller's charm.

Our students are loving Pullman's retellings. They are fascinated to hear some of the longer versions, comparing the different versions they've heard to this one. Hansel and Gretel doesn't just end with their killing the witch. They finally return to their father, who is overjoyed at their return.

My students have noticed that they want to keep finding out what happens next, even though they already know many of these stories. Part of this is due to Pullman's masterful storytelling, but part is due to the way the stories tap into our hearts. I think it's very related to Maria Tatar's concluding comment in her New Yorker review:
"From fiction, (Pullman) tells us, we learn about good and evil, cruelty and kindness, but in ways that are always elliptical, as the text works on us in its own silent, secret way. “‘Thou shalt not’ might reach the head, but it takes ‘Once upon a time’ to reach the heart,” he once observed. Fairy tales began as adult entertainment—stories told just for the fun of it. But with their exacting distribution of rewards and punishments, they also increasingly tapped into the human urge to derive morals from stories, In his own fiction, as well as in these retellings of the Grimms’ fairy tales, Pullman tells stories so compelling that he is sure to produce in the reader the connection—both passionate and compassionate—that Nabokov called a little 'sob in the spine.'"
I'm excited to listen to the audiobook, narrated by Samuel West (available on CD or download). As the New York Times review points out:
"These stories make great bedtime read-alouds for children who can handle a little gore. (They’re short-attention-span theater: Deliciously bloody, but not really terrifying...) The original tales weren’t for children, of course; they were for everyone."
I'm looking forward to seeing how the audiobook does in holding our attention. Even more fascinating is the prospect of listening to a few tales several times to commit them to memory. In a fascinating interview with teacher Monica Edinger, Pullman encourages teachers to tell these stories to children, instead of just reading them. Hmmm... maybe, just maybe, this is something I can try to do.

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Little Red Writing, by Joan Holub & Melissa Sweet (ages 6-10)

Fractured fairy tales absolutely delight my students. They love knowing what's coming and then seeing the story twist and turn in unexpected ways. I can't wait to read them Little Red Writing, a new picture book by the terrific team of Joan Holub and Melissa Sweet. It's full of puns, wordplay and creative twists that kids and adults will love.

illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Chronicle, 2013
ages 6 - 10
available at
Once upon a time in the great state of Pencilvania, a wise teacher named Ms. 2 told her class, "Today we're going to write a story!" She laid out the path each story should take, starting with an idea, characters and setting, and then adding trouble and conflict.

Little Red wondered what she should write about:
"I want to write a story about bravery because red is the color of courage. But what would a brave pencil do?"
Ms. 2 gave Little Red a basketful of powerful words to use in case she ran into trouble and warned her to stick to her basic story path. Little Red headed off into the forest, but soon "was bogged down, hindered, lost!"

I absolutely adore the way the text and pictures play off each other in this picture book. Melissa Sweet incorporates descriptive words, dialog and signs throughout her illustrations -- making the words an integral part of the pictures. Joan Holub's puns never overwhelm the story. Children know right where it's headed (of course, Little Red runs into trouble! We know the wolf is waiting for her!!). Teachers will love the way Holub incorporates writing advice - I'm sure that it will be a classic in many elementary classrooms. But really, what draws me back to this again and again is the sheer delight in Little Red's adventure.

Teachers -- definitely check out some great ideas for incorporating this into classroom lessons over at The Classroom Bookshelf blog. Chronicle Books also has a teacher's guide aligned to the Common Core.

You can get a glimpse of Little Red Writing in this preview from Chronicle Books:

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Chronicle Books. Artwork copyright ©2013 Melissa Sweet, shared with permission of the publishers. 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.

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books