Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Sound of Silence, by Katrina Goldsaito & Julia Kuo -- finding silence within and around us (ages 5-10)

One sign of a wonderful book is that it draws us back into its pages again and again. In The Sound of Silence, Katrina Goldsaito and Julia Kuo help readers think about how we hear silence, how we actively seek out still moments in our world and within ourselves. It's a perfect book for the chaos of today's world.
Young Yoshio walks through the the busy streets of modern Tokyo on his way to school, wearing bright yellow rain boots and carrying a yellow umbrella. As he makes his way through the bustling city, he hears a symphony of urban sounds around him: “raindrops pattering on his umbrella,” “boots squishing and squashing through the puddles.”
“Yoshio listened to the sound of his boots squishing and squashing through the puddles, and the tiny raindrops pattering on his umbrella. The sound of his giddy giggles made him giggle more.”
When Yoshio comes upon an elderly koto player, the sounds delight him. “The notes were twangy and twinkling; they tickled Yoshio’s ears!” He asks her, “Do you have a favorite sound?” Her reply surprises him. To her, the most beautiful sound is ma, the sound of silence.
“‘The most beautiful sound,’ the koto player said, ‘is the sound of ma, of silence.’ ‘Silence?’ Yoshio asked. But the koto player just smiled a mysterious smile and went back to playing.”
Yoshio begins listening for silence, trying hard to hear it at school and at home. But whenever he listens really carefully, he always hears noises all around him. When he finally stops trying to listen (and gets lost reading a book), Yoshio hears the silence that the koto player was describing.
Goldsaito and Kuo work together beautifully--combining lyrical descriptions with detailed illustrations to help readers think about where we can find silence in our busy lives. My students noticed how well the illustrations help them think about the author's message. They could relate to the importance of finding quiet moments in between sounds and within themselves.
“Suddenly, in the middle of a page, he heard it. No sounds of footsteps, no people chattering, no radios, no bamboo, no kotos being tuned. In that short moment, Yoshio couldn’t even hear the sound of his own breath. Everything felt still inside him.”
One student said that Kuo used the bright yellow of Yoshio's book to help readers focus hard on him, just the way Yoshio was trying to focus on the sound. When Yoshio gets lost in his book, the color around him fades away.

Definitely explore the site WeDokiDoki that Katrina and Julia developed to go along with the book. "Doki doki is the sound your heart makes when you see someone or something you love." This site collects sounds and matches them with snippets of the story, music and simple illustrated GIFs.
From the WeDokiDoki site: "Tsuru Tsuru. Yoshio listened as everyone at the table slurped their noodles. The louder the slurp, the more delicious the noodle."
If you're looking for a respite from the cacophony that surrounds us so much of the time, seek out this book. Talk with your children about how they find that stillness within themselves, how they notice moments of peace around them. This is a book I've been returning to each week, finding new details and new moments each time I share it with a child. A true delight.

Want to read more? Check out:

Illustrations © Julia Kuo 2016. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Little Brown. 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.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, November 28, 2016

Eric Dinerstein: Interview about What Elephants Know, Nepal & environmental activism

My students are responding What Elephants Know, by Eric Dinerstein, as an adventure story, a call to action and a window to a different part of our world. They talk about how this transports them into the jungles of Nepal. I feel so fortunate to have been able to spend time talking by phone with Eric Dinerstein, learning more about his work as a scientist and his time living in Nepal.
Eric Dinerstein is Director of Biodiversity and Wildlife Solutions at RESOLVE. For much of the last 25 years, Eric was Chief Scientist at the World Wildlife Fund. Beginning in 1975, he conducted pioneering studies of tigers in Nepal and led conservation programs for large mammals such as greater one-horned rhinoceros and Asiatic elephants.

Mary Ann: First off, please help us--how do you pronounce your last name?

Eric: Dinerstein is like dinner-steen.

Mary Ann: How did you first come to know the region of Nepal where What Elephants Know takes place?

Eric: My introduction to what is called Bardia was in 1975 when I joined the Peace Corps and was sent to Nepal. I knew so little about Nepal. All I thought of was mountain climbing in the high Himalayas. I found out that the Bardia district was in the lowlands of Nepal, with hot steamy jungles. They say that humidity was invented here, in this monsoon environment.
map of Bardia district of Nepal
Before 1960, this hot, steamy lowland area was overrun with mosquitoes that caused malaria. So it was avoided by most people except the Tharu, who were immune to the deadly disease because they had lived there for generations. As treatments for malaria improved, people from other regions began to move into this area because it was a fertile jungle and they could make it into farmland.

This novel takes place in 1975, as the first signs of development were occurring. As people settled this region, conflicts with wildlife increased. Wild animals’ habitat disappeared as farming spread. Poachers further threatened wild animal populations.

Mary Ann: What inspired you to focus on a young boy who wanted to be an elephant driver?

Eric: When I first lived in Nepal in the Peace Corps, we didn’t have elephants. All of our research was done on foot. When I came back with the Smithsonian to study in Chitwan National Park, we used elephants for our research. There was a government elephant center near us, and an elephant breeding center. I spent five years in the company of drivers. As I started to think about the story, I wondered if I could create a character who could be attuned to the natural world. It helped learning so much living around elephant stables. I wanted to infuse my book with that, but also to make it universal--how you find your way in the world.
elephant driver in Nepal (source: Pixabay)
Mary Ann: What do you want kids to know about elephants today?

Eric: I am noticing a quiet revolution in the West, against elephant captivity and keeping animals isolated in zoos. Elephants are social animals. Moving elephants to sanctuaries and out of zoos is the right thing to do. Elephants should not be kept isolated. Elephant camps in Asia are different because they are kept in larger, social groups. In Hindu countries, elephants are tremendously important so they are treated kindly and with great respect. As a subba-sahib once told me,
“Don’t ever mistake these elephants as domesticated. They’re still wild. They’re just so gentle and accepting that they let us ride them.”
Mary Ann: What advice do you have for kids who want to make a difference with wildlife conservation?

Eric: The poaching crisis for elephants, rhinos and other large animals is significant. Kids need to learn about this, but the pictures are really gruesome. Local nature clubs can make adults aware of their concern--writing letters to press adults to do more. Three crucial steps can help young people take action:
#1: Awareness -- learn all you can about animals you care about.
#2: Connect -- reach out to nature clubs across the world.
#3: Advocate -- together, call for change
Mary Ann: Thank you so much for taking the time. I hope you continue to inspire young readers with your stories.

Special thanks to Armin Arethna and Emma Coleman, children's librarians at the Berkeley Public Library, for their help interviewing Eric.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Highly Illustrated Fiction: Supporting Developing Readers -- presentation at #NCTE16

Many of my students are drawn to books with lots of illustrations. I've often wondered how these books appeal to readers, especially those who are developing their reading skills. They certainly love the humor conveyed in pictures, but I think it's more.

Illustrations support our developing readers, giving them a moment to rest during the hard work of reading. They provide support as readers build a picture in their mind. A mentor of mine compared illustrations to a rock you can land on as you make your way across a stream. No wonder elementary school kids seek them out!

I'm excited to lead a conversation with four authors & illustrators at this week's annual convention of the National Council of Teacher of English. We'll talk about their craft as writers and illustrators, focusing on the way they use a combination of illustrations and text to tell their stories. I hope you can join us.
Abby Hanlon writes and illustrates the Dory Fantasmagory series. I absolutely adore Dory's energy and spirt. Abby fills her pages with childlike drawings that help convey they story and Dory's imagination.

Nick Bruel fills Bad Kitty with snarky humor that gets my students laughing and asking for more. What more could I want in a book? With swift pacing, lots of visual humor and high energy, Bad Kitty stories are a big hit in our library.

Maggie Stiefvater and Jackson Pearce tap into kids' love of animals and magic to bring us the character of Pip Bartlett who can talk to magical animals like unicorns, Fuzzles, Griffins and more. I love the way that Pip uses her knowledge and imagination to save her town from impending disaster.

Here is a booklist with recommendations for students who like lots of illustrations to help bring stories alive. These are not graphic novels, but rather hybrids that combine text and illustration.
click for printable PDF version
I really see illustrated fiction as appealing to students along a continuum, from early chapter books through much longer fiction. I hope you find some books here to engage your readers. Come join us for the conversation!

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Berkeley's Mock Newbery Book Clubs -- bringing 500+ readers together!!!

This year for the first time, every elementary school in Berkeley Unified School District is launching a Mock Newbery Book Club. The American Library Association awards the Newbery Award each year to the most distinguished children's book written by an American author. Kids know this award and have been so excited to add their voices, taking part in mock elections.
We thought many 4th and 5th graders would be interested, especially after the success of Emerson’s Mock Newbery Book Club these past couple of years — but we had no way of predicting the enthusiasm that burst forth at the schools. Over 500 students have joined the book clubs across the district, enthusiastically reading and sharing the best new books of the year.
Library staff, literacy coaches, and teachers are all working together to host book clubs--each site has two leaders who support each other. Children's librarians from Berkeley Public Library are coming to support several of our schools. Our goals are:
  • Honor students’ voices and their choices about reading, developing their thoughtful engagement and discussion of books;
  • Develop students’ identity as readers who enjoy sharing books with friends; and,
  • Harness kids’ enthusiasm so they could help create “book buzz” about brand new books
Earlier this month, we announced our final nomination list. Students helped us narrow down a potential list of 17 books, down to a manageable list of ten nominations. We welcome all 4th and 5th graders to come share books they've been reading. In order to vote in January, we ask that students read at least 5 nominated books.
As we've told our students, there are many many outstanding books written each year. These are the ones we are coming together to discuss--but if there's another great book, please share it with us. We want to know what you're loving!

If you want to know more about the process for hosting a Mock Newbery book club, please see two articles I wrote this summer with my public library friend and collaborator Armin Arethna:
I want to give special thanks to Berkeley Unified's library director, Becca Todd, for her amazing coordination of this effort and cheerful rallying of all the leaders. I also want to give special thanks to the donors of our Berkeley Public Schools Fund grant, the local PTAs and many publishers for helping provide books for our eager students. We could not have reached the number of readers without their support.

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.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

What Elephants Know, by Eric Dinerstein -- an adventure, a call to action, a window to our world (ages 9-12)

Fourth & fifth grade students across Berkeley are telling me that What Elephants Know is the best book they've read all year. They feel like they're right alongside Nandu as he rides his elephant Devi Kali into the jungle of Nepal. Kids are responding to this as an adventure story, a call to action and a window to a different part of our world.
What Elephants Know
by Eric Dinerstein
Disney-Hyperion, 2016
Audiobook narrated by Kirby Heyborne
Recorded Books, 2016
Your local library
ages 9-12
*best new book*
Nandu dreams of becoming a mahout, or elephant trainer. Orphaned as a baby, Nandu has been raised by Subba-sahib, the head of the king's elephant stable in the southernmost part of Nepal. As the story opens, King Birenda comes to their stable for his yearly tiger hunt. Nandu joins the hunt determined to make his father proud; but when he realizes that the king will shoot a mother tiger with young cubs, Nandu interferes.

Perhaps because his royal hunt was ruined, the king decides to shut down the elephant stables. And so Subba-sahib sends Nandu away to boarding school to better prepare for the changing future. Nandu is devastated without the support of home, especially his elephant Devi Kali and his best friend Rita. This is even harder as he faces taunting and discrimination from other students.

Readers are drawn into this world, identifying with Nandu as he struggles to save the elephant stables and home he loves. Dinerstein, the former chief scientist for the World Wildlife Fund, lived near the national parks of Bardia and Chitwan in Nepal for many years studying tiger populations. He brings an intimate knowledge of this region to this story. Yet the story does not come across as didactic or informational; Dinerstein successfully keeps the focus on Nandu's coming of age and discovery of his own power.

My students relate to Nandu's experiences of prejudice and his determination to help animals, both threatened wild species and an ill-treated elephant. Baba, a Buddhist holy man, helps give Nandu perspective:
"A question I sometimes ask myself: ‘When to act on what you see and when to accept what you see around you? I do not know the answer to this question. What I do know, Nandu, is that you had the courage to act.’" (p. 175)
My students and I did not have any prior knowledge about this area, and so I prepared this short slideshow to help show them where the story takes place. I hope you like it.

I especially love the audiobook for What Elephants Know. As Audiofile Magazine writes in their review:
Narrator Kirby Heyborne immerses himself in the character of Nandu...(His) earnest voice and brisk pace deposit listeners into the midst of each episode. He exudes Nandu's respect for Subba-sahib and the elephants. When needed, he punches out Nandu's thoughts--be it indignation at schoolyard bullies, warning cries to a tigress, or enthusiasm over mutual interests with his teacher.
Nandu's story has stayed with me, drawing me to learn more about this part of the world. As I wrote to several friends when I recommended this book, I wish I could buy a copy for every fourth & fifth grade classroom. Please seek out this special book.

Many thanks to Eric Dinerstein for helping me make sure the images accurately portrayed Nandu's world. And special thanks to my reading friend Armin Arethna for sharing her love of this book. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Disney-Hyperion. 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.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Choose Kindness. Teach Empathy. Listen Actively.

I've spent much of the past week stunned and saddened by the presidential election, but I've also been reflecting on what we can do to make a difference. What messages are we sending to children about the way we behave? How do we treat each other? And what role do books and stories play in this process?

Stories help us see into the lives of other people, as well as into our own lives. New research shows that reading fiction improves empathy. We connect to characters; we feel their pain and delight in their joy. Sharing stories brings us closer together, in classroom communities and at home. It's more than stories, though--it's the conversations that stories can start.

Choose Kindness. We can actively shape the conversations by choosing books that focus on kindness. In my experience, though, kids don't like stories which are just supposed to teach a lesson. They want stories that grab their attention, help them see the world in a new way.

RJ Palacio's book Wonder remains one of my students' favorite books, especially as an audiobook (see my full review).  Auggie feels like an ordinary kid, but he knows that others don't see him that way. Readers are able to see life from a completely different perspective, and kids can see the impact of choices that they make.

Teach Empathy. Through conversations we have about stories, we are able to talk with children about what it means to understand someone else's feelings. We must then bring the conversations into their own lives, asking children to think about when they've noticed someone else thinking about another person's feelings.

Flocabulary has a terrific song & video my 4th grade students have been loving: Building Empathy. We are starting each library session singing this chorus:
I got empathy, I got empathy,
If you need a friend, you can count on me.
I put myself in other people's shoes,
To understand their thoughts and their moods.
Young children think best in concrete examples. Stories like The Sandwich Swap help young children think about examples in their own lives. Ask children about when they've seen other kids making a difference? For more picture books to share and start a conversation, I highly recommend this list put together by the Association for Library Services to Children:
ALSC booklist: Unity. Kindness. Peace.
Listen Actively. Children want to be listened to. Heck, all of us want to be listened to. But how can we listen to each other if we're all clamoring to be heard?

It's imperative that we listen to each other, especially to folks who have a different point of view, a different life experience. My biggest concern with society today is that we are isolated in different bubbles. We work hard to listen, but we are only listening to friends who share our opinions.

Active listening is the most important tool we can use at home, at school, in our political discourse. The Center for the Greater Good, based in Berkeley, describes active listening as expressing "active interest in what the other person has to say and make him or her feel heard." It is their number one advice in how to cultivate empathy.

Thank you, friends and readers, for your support and for sharing stories with children. Your work makes a difference.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Honoring #VeteransDay with Good Night Captain Mama / Buenas Noches Capitán Mamá, by Graciela Tiscareño-Sato (ages 4-8)

As we get ready to celebrate Veterans Day, I wonder about how we can make this meaningful for young children. In my community, I want to honor families who have a family member serving in the Armed Forces. I highly recommend Good Night Captain Mama / Buenas Noches Capitán Mamá, by Graciela Tiscareno-Sato--a bilingual story that provides an important view of women and mothers serving in the military.
Good Night Captain Mama / Buenas Noches Capitán Mamá
by Graciela Tiscareño-Sato
illustrated by Linda Lens
Gracefully Global, 2013
Your local library
ages 4-8
When young Marco asks his mother why she is wearing a uniform as he is going to bed, she explains that it is her flight suit. As she puts him to bed, Mama tells Marco about her job as an aircraft navigator and what each patch on her uniform represents.
"What's this?" he asked, pointing to a square shape on her shoulders. "That's my rank. I am a Captain," Mama told him. "You're a Captain? Like the captain of a ship?" asked the little boy. "Yes, something like that sweetheart," she said with a smile.
The conversation keeps the information grounded in a child's perspective, and the gentle tone emphasizes the mother's love for her son. The patches show different aspects of serving in the Air Force, providing an effective frame for the story. As the story wraps up, Marco wears his mother's patch to bed, thinking of her and her team.
Graciela and crew on wing of KC-135R
Graciela & her son
Graciela Tiscareño-Sato based this story on her personal experience flying in the Air Force and her young son's curiosity about her uniform. I love that young readers are able to see a mother serving as a captain in the military, especially honoring a Latina flight navigator. This brings a personal, immediate connection to our celebration of Veterans Day.

I'm looking forward to reading Graciela's new book, Captain Mama's Surprise / La Sorpresa de Capitán Mamá. In this story, Marco visits his mother's KC-135 aerial refueling tanker on a field trip with his second grade class.

Here are a few other stories you might want to share this week as you honor Veterans Day:
Many thanks to Graciela Tiscareño-Sato for sending me a review copy. 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.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books