Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Women Scientists: 5 great nonfiction books to spark a love of science (ages 5-12)

Explorers, inventors, researchers -- throughout history, scientists have pursued many different paths. But women have not always had an open invitation to take part. We need to pay particular attention to offering our students strong role models of all types of careers. Here are five of my favorite books about women who have pursued amazing careers in all sorts of scientific fields.
Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women
by Catherine Thimmesh, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Houghton Mifflin, 2000
Your local library
Google Books preview
ages 7-12
With short entries, Thimmesh shares how women created ingenious inventions ranging from eminently helpful like Liquid Paper or the windshield wiper, to technically complex like the “space bumper” that protects NASA spacecraft and astronauts. The book ends with suggestions and resources to help young women start inventing on their own.
Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle
by Claire A. Nivola
Farrar, Straus & Giroux / Macmillan, 2012
Your local library
Google Books preview
ages 5-9
This picture book biography captures Sylvia Earle’s life-long love of nature and the ocean. She helped design devices that allowed deep-water dives, lived for two weeks in a deep-sea station, and studied whales, swimming alongside them. Nivola’s rich illustrations help convey the awe-inspiring vastness of the undersea world and Earle’s passion for studying and protecting it.
Lives of the Scientists: Experiments, Explosions (and What the Neighbors Thought)
by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt
Harcourt / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013
Your local library
ages 8-12
Krull tells young readers about the lives of 20 scientists, presenting quick biographical sketches told with verve and humor. She focuses on a diverse range of scientists, including six women, from around the world. An entertaining look at what these men and women were like as human beings, in the laboratory and out of it.
Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell
by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
Henry Holt / Macmillan, 2013
Your local library
Google Books preview
ages 5-9
Although Elizabeth Blackwell received 28 rejections from medical schools, she persevered until one accepted her. This lively picture book biography reminds readers that opportunities were different in the 1840s, and that Blackwell helped change this for girls today.
Who Was Sally Ride?
by Megan Stine, illustrated by Ted Hammond
Grosset & Dunlap / Penguin, 2013
Your local library
ages 7-11
Sally Ride was an astrophysicist who became the first American woman to fly into space. This biography, part of the popular “Who Was…” series, clearly relates Ride’s life, from her childhood interests in sports and science to her work developing a robotic arm for space shuttles. Inspiring and informative, in an easy-to-read format. I especially like the parallel timelines at the end, which help young readers put Ride’s life in context of world events.

This article was originally published in Parents Press, September 2015. Many thanks for all of their support. On Monday this week, I shared five fiction stories that spark a love of science, especially for girls.

The review copies came from our school library, public library and home library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, September 28, 2015

Top 5 stories with a spark of science, especially for girls (ages 4-14)

Only two generations ago, our grandmothers faced serious limitations on the careers they could pursue. Today, our girls can do anything they put their minds to, but far fewer women pursue scientific careers than men. Here are two picture books and three novels that share the exciting spark that fuels so much passion in young scientists.
The Most Magnificent Thing
by Ashley Spires
Kids Can, 2014
Your local library
ages 4-7
This picture book celebrates the trials and tribulations that come with making things. As the young artist & engineer pulls a wagon full of odds and ends, she starts designing her magnificent creation. But science is hard work, filled with disappointments, before a triumphant ending.
Rosie Revere, Engineer
by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Abrams, 2013
Your local library
ages 5-8
This rhyming picture book tells the story of shy Rosie who likes to build things hidden away in her attic room. Her great-great-aunt Rose comes to visit, helping young Rosie see her way through her current contraption’s failure: for now she can try again. Rosie the Riveter would be proud, indeed.
Chasing Secrets
by Gennifer Choldenko
Wendy Lamb / Random House, 2015
Your local library
ages 9-12
Turn-of-the-century San Francisco comes to life for young readers as 13-year-old Lizzie Kennedy accompanies her father on medical house calls, forms a friendship with the son of Jing, her family’s beloved cook, and grapples with the injustices that exist with gender, class and race. Local author Choldenko creates a tender and gripping story of friendship, mystery and persistence.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
by Jacqueline Kelly
Henry Holt, 2009
Your local library
ages 9-14
A natural-born scientist, 11-year-old Calpurnia would like spend time examining insects, getting to know her scientist grandfather or reading Darwin’s controversial The Origin of Species. But in 1899 Texas, all around her expect young girls to learn to sew, run a household and attract a future husband. Readers adore this witty heroine, and will be thrilled to read the sequel just published this year.
The Fourteenth Goldfish 
by Jennifer L. Holm
Random House, 2014
Your local library
ages 9-12 
When a vaguely familiar teenage boy shows up at Ellie’s house, she is confused until she realizes that her grandfather has discovered a way to regenerate himself. But now he needs Ellie’s help regaining access to his laboratory. Young readers love the relationship between Ellie and her grandfather, but they also feel her growing excitement for scientific discoveries.

This article was originally published in Parents Press, September 2015. Many thanks for all of their support. On Wednesday, I'll share 5 nonfiction books that highlight the accomplishments of women scientists.

The review copies came from our school library, public library and home library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Crenshaw, by Katherine Applegate -- keeping hold of hope through hard times (ages 8-11)

I find that my students particularly respond to books that touch their hearts, that talk honestly about how kids can survive through difficult times, about how we can keep hold of hope even though everything seems like it's about to crumble around us. I can't wait to share Crenshaw, Katherine Applegate's newest novel, with my students and friends.
by Katherine Applegate
Feiwel and Friends / Macmillan, 2015
Preview at Google Books
Your local library
ages 8-11
*best new book*
Jackson knows that his parents are worried about having enough money for rent. And he's noticed that lately, the cupboards seem pretty bare. But he's a no-nonsense kind of guy, entering 5th grade--the kind of kid who likes to learn all about the facts, not get lost in make believe stories. That's why he's seriously perplexed when he sees a giant cat surfboarding at the beach.
"Maybe I'd gotten sunstroke at the beach... Maybe I was asleep, stuck in the middle of a long, weird, totally annoying dream... Maybe I was just hungry. Hunger can make you feel pretty weird. Even pretty crazy."
Applegate draws readers into Jackson's story, blending humor with small moments that place you right in Jackson's world. For example, instead of just telling us that Jackson is hungry, she shows us how he plays a game with his little sister called Cerealball: "a good trick for when you're hungry and there's nothing much to eat."

Jackson is resilient and smart -- and that's why he's so perplexed that this giant imaginary cat has come to visit him again. But it's also why we, as readers, can relate so easily to him. He wants his parents to realize that they can tell him what's going on, but he's also shaken by the uncertainty. Will they have to move? Will they have to live in their van again? Will he have to change schools?

Applegate helps kids see the impact of worrying, something that kids can relate to all too well. She shows them how a friend can help, how talking with your family can help. But she does more than this. Applegate creates a voice for kids struggling with hunger and homelessness. She says, in effect, I see you, I know you, I care about you. And she helps all of us say the same thing.

When students perform in front of their class at school, we talk about how the audience holds their heart in their hands. I feel the same way about authors who write the books that we read as kids. They hold our hearts in their hands as they take us on a journey. Friends, I hope this is a journey that you take as well.

This book trailer does a great job of introducing the story to kids:

Please use this opportunity to talk with kids about hunger and what we can do about it. Support local food banks and food drives. Check out all the local bookstores that are participating in a nationwide food drive throughout October: #CrenshawFoodDrive.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Macmillan, and we've already purchased several more copies for school. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Marvels, by Brian Selznick: mystery unfolding through art and text (ages 10-14)

"Either you see it or you don't."
As you open the heavy novel The Marvels and read this epigraph, you wonder--just what am I supposed to see? What pieces fit of the story together? What details in his multilayered drawings does Brian Selznick intend as hints for plot twists to come? What imagery from his rich descriptions stand out?

Please join me as I ruminate over the wonder of Brian Selznick's masterful story The Marvels. And definitely add your name below for a chance to win a giveaway of this beautiful novel.
The Marvels
by Brian Selznick
Scholastic, 2015
Your local library
ages 10-14
As in Wonderstruck, Selznick tells two entirely different stories, one in pictures and the other in text. Instead of intertwining the two narratives, The Marvels begins with nearly 400 pages of continuous pictures, telling the story of Billy Marvel and his family of actors, who flourish in London from the 17th to 19th centuries. The text then jumps nearly a century later, to Joseph Jervis, a boy who runs away from home, seeking refuge with his uncle in London. Joseph's eccentric uncle lives in the Marvel house, and young Joseph is intrigued by its portraits and ghostly presences.

The book trailer for The Marvels is wonderful -- giving you a taste for the story, Billy's shipwreck and the sense of drama created by the theater setting.

I'm sure our Emerson book club will be talking about this as we go through our Mock Newbery discussions. Honestly, I haven't been able to fully digest this story. What parts of a story do we pay attention to? Can we see more when we look again? How does the text develop the characters and setting? The Marvels, like Selznick's other masterpieces, is definitely a story that demands multiple readings.

Brian Selznick is setting out on a multi-city tour to celebrate the release of The Marvels! Find out where to meet Brian Selznick on his tour for #THEMARVELS here.

Please complete the rafflecopter below to enter for a chance at winning your own copy of The Marvels plus a Marvels jigsaw puzzle.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway open to US addresses only. Prizing and samples provided by Scholastic.

Here are some snippets from other reviews:

  • "Art is seen to illuminate life and life to constantly spark art — a point further reinforced in the afterword when Selznick reveals his inspiration. Rich with “miracles and sadness,” a bookmaking tour de force, this novel is as full of marvels as its title suggests." -- The Washington Post review
  • "Upon completing The Marvels, I sat still, feeling as I did after a remarkable theatrical experience, say a dramatic opera, a visually stunning film, or a striking play, in awe of what I’d just experienced. Hours later it lingers with me, a gorgeous work of art." -- Monica Edinger, Educating Alice
  • "As a mentor text, this book is an excellent anchor piece for looking at character development and characterization. We see especially how Joseph develops as a character and how he changes throughout the book. It's simple and subtle but remarkable at the same time." -- Jen Vincent, Teach Mentor Texts
The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Scholastic. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Making Time for Rhyme -- guest post by Susan B. Katz

I wrote to author Susan B. Katz, author of ABC School's For Me and several other books, asking her to talk with parents about the power of rhyming stories.

I notice that so many parents love reading these aloud to their kids. Why is that? Why do these stories play such an important part in children's language development? Can listening to stories actually help kids learn to read, even if they aren't reading the words at all? And what do you think makes the difference between a good rhyming book and a bad one -- what do you look for when you read aloud to kids?

Thank you, Susan, for your delightfully fun and thoughtful response.

Make Time For Rhyme
By Susan B. Katz

I grew up on a diet of books by the master rhymer, Dr. Seuss. I devoured Green Eggs and Ham, the Sneetches and that crazy Cat on the Loose. As a teacher for 20 years, I did lots of “rug” read alouds. Rhyme sure does please the little listener crowds. Parents will find that rhyme gives students a feeling of success. Children are able to predict the last word, they love to shout out a guess. That is what’s called a Cloze, and yes, it’s spelled with a Z. In my books, predictable rhyming patterns make clozing easy. Take for example, in MY MAMA EARTH, my second title. Students guess the ending words; that brain engagement is vital. I say, “My Mama makes the hippos snore and mighty lions proudly ________.” Clozing keeps them involved and on their toes so reading isn’t a bore. My most recent book, ABC SCHOOL’S FOR ME, features bears, at school, making all sorts of creations. Students also predict the rhyming words using the colorful illustrations.

Authors are discouraged from writing in rhyme by most publishers, of course. Editors receive a lot of rhyme that is, what we call, “forced.” But, there are those of us who continue to publish in rhyme, confident that children’s love of verse will stand the test of time. Rhyme helps students learn language patterns like: might, tight, bright, sight. This impacts their spelling, long term, so they get more words right. You can teach them that rhyming words live in a family. The “cat, sat, mat” words fill up the leaves on the “AT” family tree. Research shows that children who detect rhyme orally in their early years are much more successful as the time for reading print nears. Even “pre-readers” enjoy rhyme although they’re not decoding books yet. And, as for that Common Core rhyming Kinder standard—consider it met! Rhyming is fun and can even be silly sometimes. Dr. Seuss still offers the best example of funny, whimsical rhymes. Novels in verse are becoming more popular for sure. The most recent Newbery was awarded to THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander.

The English language has so many exceptions to the rules. English Language Learners benefit from having rhyme as one of their literacy “unlocking” tools. I have written all four of my books in verse. Thinking in rhyme is both a blessing and a curse. I rhymed all of my middle and high school speeches when I was young. Rhyme and word play just roll off my tongue. Children like songs and poems, both of which are different forms of rhyme. Prose has a purpose and place too—you can’t rhyme all the time. But, rhyming helps children tune their ears and change out sounds. Rhyming is a natural part of jump roping on playgrounds. “Ms. Mary Mack Mack Mack, all dressed in black, black, black.” I probably haven’t jumped to that since I was very small. But, the rhyme makes it easy for me to recall. For songs that are on your phone, the radio, TV or in a Disney movie, rhyme makes words tickle the tongue, melts meaning into your memory. There is so much power in the rhyming word. For a child’s language development, it is like the wings of a bird.

Can you imagine a world without songs and chants? Rhyming invites imagination, it welcomes, it enchants. You’d be hard pressed to find a child who doesn’t like to play, with words, that is, like: say, day, way, today! I will continue to be a champion for writing and reading rhyming stories. The love lasts forever: college kids listen to rap (a.k.a rhyme) in their dormitories. So, find a good rhyming book that sings and allows kids to cloze. (Once in a while, you can still read them prose.) Rhyme is the foundation of word patterns and song. It makes students feels successful—how could that ever be wrong? Most importantly, rhyme gives children a love of language and reading. You feed your child three meals a day-- consider rhyme a literary feeding. It fuels your child’s brain; helps expand their vocabulary. Rhyme makes reading sound much less scary. Build a banquet of books for those picky readers at bedtime. I promise you, they will be delighted if you just feed them, I mean, read them, rhyme!

Many thanks to Susan B. Katz for sharing her thoughts on rhyme. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Susan B. Katz, via Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Celebrating Rosh Hashanah -- finding new books to celebrate the New Year (ages 4-9)

Tonight marks the beginning of the Jewish High Holidays with the start of Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the New Year. A few books stand out as joyful ways to celebrate these holidays, both with Jewish families and in a multicultural school setting.
Apple Days:
A Rosh Hashanah Story
by Allison Sarnoff Soffer
illustrated by Bob McMahon
Kar-Ben, 2014
Your local library
ages 4-8
Katy loves her family's tradition of picking apples and making applesauce in preparation for celebrating Rosh Hashanah. But this year, her mom can't go apple picking--she has to go help Aunt Leah with her new baby. What can Katy do?
"The next day, the crossing guard handed Katy a yellow apple, and the principal placed another in her backpack."

Kids and families will smile at the way Katy's friends rally around her, knowing how important this holiday is for her family. Katy becomes the "expert", coaching her dad on just how she and her mom make applesauce. This simple story conveys the feeling of a community coming together, recognizing the importance of family traditions.
Celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur
with Honey, Prayers and the Shofar
by Deborah Heiligman
National Geographic, 2007
Your local library
ages 6-9
With beautiful photographs and clear, engaging text, Deborah Heiligman helps young readers explore how Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are celebrated by Jewish families around the world. Some examples will feel familiar to American families: a boy and his mother make a round challah in Israel and a little girl practices blowing a shofar in Los Angeles, but others emphasize how widespread the Jewish diaspora is. For example, a congregation in Zimbabwe sings and dances at a Rosh Hashanah service, and thousands of Jews attend a tashlikh service around a lake in the Ukraine to cast away their sins. A wonderful way to talk about celebrations that bring families together around the world.

For more books that portray the Jewish experience, I highly recommend looking at the Sydney Taylor Book Award recipients from the past 40+ years. New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Story won this award in the young readers category in 2010. I remember very much enjoying it at the time, but haven't had a chance to reread it recently.

The review copies came from our school and public libraries. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Courage and Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs and Survivors in World War II Denmark, by Deborah Hopkinson (ages 11 to 14)

"Imagine waking up one morning to find foreign soldiers standing on the street corners of your town. Overnight, an enemy army has arrived and now occupies your entire country. This is what happened on April 9, 1940, when Germany invaded Denmark in World War II."
Deborah Hopkinson begins the prologue to Courage and Defiance by asking readers to imagine just how world-changing the events of April 1940 were. As she relates stories of Danish people who were spies, saboteurs and ultimately survivors, she paints a picture of just how complicated and dangerous life was for people who dared to make a stand against the German army.
Courage and Defiance
Stories of Spies, Saboteurs and Survivors in World War II Denmark
by Deborah Hopkinson
Scholastic, 2015
Your local library
ages 11 to 14
Deborah Hopkinson weaves together the complicated tale of how many different individuals took actions large and small to resist, disrupt and fight back against the German army occupying Denmark. As she acknowledges in her introduction, this is a multifaceted, complex story. One of my overriding impressions is just how frightening it would be to live in these times, precisely because you could never be sure who was an informer or in the resistance movement. Students who are fascinated by history and can grapple with its complexities will find this an engrossing account.

Deborah Hopkinson
I asked Deborah Hopkinson to share about her research process, and I'm honored to share her thoughts with you here. Thank you, Deborah.

"When students ask me my favorite part of writing about history, I tell them I’m a research nut. After all, the best way to really learn about something is to write about it. That was definitely the case with my new nonfiction title, Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in WWII Denmark, the first of three books I’m writing about the Second World War. And my favorite part of research is finding the stories of ordinary people.

Like the fictional characters in Lois Lowry’s classic Newbery-winning Number the Stars, also set during the German occupation of Denmark, the real resistance activists I encountered in my research for this book were driven by strong personal convictions. I learned that many were young college students, whose first steps were often working in small groups on an underground newspaper.

Others, like Niels Skov, defied the instructions of his own government to launch what he called his “private war against the Germans” very much on his own, setting out on a bicycle at night to find German vehicles to set on fire. Later he was arrested for his resistance work and deported to labor camps in Germany. Niels survived the war and came to the U.S., becoming a university professor. When I asked him his advice for young people today he said, “Swim against the stream.”
Niels Skov
Time travel, fantasy, and dystopian books are popular genres with young people. But learning about history can be just as exciting. Stanford historian Sam Wineburg once said studying history helps us think our way into what living in the past was like. “It's the only form of time travel that exists."

Young men and women in Denmark put their lives on the line to print and deliver underground newspapers, disrupt the German war machine by committing acts of sabotage, and prevent the deportation of their Jewish neighbors. Young readers in America today may be spared such life-and-death choices. But they nevertheless face difficult personal decisions every day.

The heroes and heroines of fantasy can certainly be models for young readers to emulate. But, I hope, so can real people. And history is full of them."
Thank you so much, Deborah, for sharing your personal thoughts on this powerful story. Friends, please do check out other stops on the Courage & Defiance Blog Tour.

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

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, September 7, 2015

Honoring Cesar Chavez on Labor Day (ages 8-11)

I want to take a moment on Labor Day to honor Cesar Chavez and share a new biography that conveys his life and work clearly for young readers. This is a must-have for school libraries, and also a good choice to have at home.
Cesar Chavez
True Books biographies series
by Josh Gregory
Children's Press / Scholastic, 2015
Your local library
ages 8-11
Cesar Chavez changed conditions for farm laborers across the United States, especially in California. He helped farm workers come together to demand better working conditions and fair wages, and still inspires people today to stand up for their rights.
"Cesar Chavez changed farm labor in the United States."
Bright photographs will draw students in to this biography, but it's the overall design that makes me recommend it so highly. This biography is written in clear, short sentences -- but more than that, it is organized clearly in a way that helps students form a clear picture of his life. As you can see from these examples, each chapter has a meaningful title, and sections headings help students create a focus for their reading. Captions provide focused information, and are set out in red.
"Chavez talks with striking workers in a worker's home."
The timeline is one of my favorite features. It is often difficult for students to piece together the different parts of a person's life. Here, the timeline helps young readers see the key details progress in chronological order.
"1962: Chavez founds the National Farm Workers Association and begins gathering members."
This biography is available in paperback for home or classroom use. Our schools subscribe to TrueFlix, an online resource that lets students access full-text books as well as curated resources. I especially like the "read along" feature that provides full-text narration. Through this subscription, we have access to books on 18 different subject areas ranging from biographies to ancient civilizations to outer space.

You might also be interested in these picture books about the fight to improve the working conditions of farm workers in California:

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Scholastic Library, as well as accessed through out TrueFlix subscription. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Owl Diaries by Rebecca Elliott: short chapter book with big appeal (ages 6-8)

Young children who are just ready to move beyond "beginning readers" need short chapter books with big appeal. These readers, often in 2nd grade, are still developing their reading stamina. Our students are loving Owl Diaries, a new series with big kid appeal.
Eva's Treetop Festival
Eva Sees a Ghost
Owl Diaries series
by Rebecca Elliott
Scholastic, 2015
Your local library
read an excerpt
ages 6-8
When Eva gets a diary, she is sooo excited. She is so happy to tell all about her life at school, her best friend Lucy. Eva is a cheerful little owl, who acts and talks just like a bubbly little 7 year old girl. Eva begins by introducing herself, and this helps young readers build a sense of her world. Every page has drawings and only one or two short paragraphs.
"Hello Diary, My name is Eva Wingdale."
Eva is always full of ideas and enthusiastically pursues them. In the first book, she decides that her school should have a spring festival and undertakes planning it all by herself. In the second story, she's sure that she sees a ghost but is frustrated when no one will believe her. In both stories, Eva works to build her friendships and figure things out in a satisfying way.
"My very BEST friend in the whole owliverse is Lucy Beakman."
Rebecca Elliot's charming artwork is definitely the highlight. Eva and her friends have big, expressive eyes. The colors remind me of just the sorts of clothes that so many kids pick on their own. The text is simple to read, a bit on the overly cute side, but appropriate for the audience. 

The perfect audience for this short chapter book are kids who have moved beyond Henry and Mudge, but are not quite ready for the Magic Treehouse or the Rainbow Fairy books.

Illustrations ©2015 Rebecca Elliott. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Scholastic. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books