Thursday, May 25, 2017

Funny Girl: Terrific collection of stories to make you laugh (ages 9-13)

Laughter and happiness is so important to share and foster with our children. Children love reading funny books and they thrive when adults can share their joy. And yet how often do we promote truly funny books, much less read them aloud with our kids? A terrific new collection fills this need: Funny Girl, a selection of 28 short stories, personal memoirs and comics that will tickle your funny bone.
Funny Girl
edited by Betsy Bird
Viking / Penguin, 2017
Amazon / your local library
ages 9-13
Betsy Bird, an outstanding children's librarian and blogger, has collected women writers and comedians to share their humor and advice to young readers. As television comedy writers Delaney and Mackenzie Yeager explain in their opening entry, "Joke-telling is the greatest superpower a gall can posses." Being a comedian takes confidence--a combination of audacity and courage to put yourself out there.

Short personal essays are among my favorites. In "One Hot Mess," Carmen Agra Deedy shares about the time her mother set a bathtub on fire to get rid of the germs, unwittingly melting the fiberglass tub in their new apartment. One of my students loved Ursula Vernon's story "Grandma in Oil Country." She loved the outrageous, over-the-top situations and the silly illustrations. Just look at the note that Maya wrote:
"SUPER FUNNY!" writes Maya about
Ursula Vernon's "Grandma in Oil Country"
The short format is great for these funny stories because they get to the humor quickly. There are plenty of relatable situations, helping readers laugh at the crazy things in their own lives. I appreciate the diverse range of authors. In "Brown Girl Pop Quiz," Mitali Perkins draws on her experiences  and shows how "all of the above" so often applies to our multiple identities.

The collection ends with short biographical entries for each author. With this great range of stories, you're bound to find new authors you'd like to explore. I was so excited talking with Maya about this story that I grabbed some other books by Ursula Vernon. I think she'll have fun with the Hamster Princess series:
Funny Girl editor Betsy Bird blogs at Fuse 8 and is a good friend and colleague. I have purchased this review copy for our home collection, as gifts and for our school 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.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, May 22, 2017

Real Friends, by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham: navigating the stormy seas of friendship (ages 8-12)

As parents and teachers, it can be hard to watch our children navigate the difficult waters of friendship. I have a clear memory of watching my oldest daughter wander the playground by herself in kindergarten, just watching other children play. It can be hard to give our children advice, and even harder still for children to figure out what's really going on.
Real Friends
by Shannon Hale
illustrated by LeUyen Pham
First Second / Macmillan 2017
Amazon / your local library
ages 8-12
*best new book*
Real Friends, Shannon Hale's graphic novel memoir, focuses on the trouble she had figuring out friendship issues throughout elementary school. The format is perfect for this audience -- blending images, short text and visual storytelling to help young readers see just how hard these friendship issues really are and understand some ways through them.

Shannon struggles with anxiety from the beginning, not wanting to leave her mother's side. Making a best friend makes her early school years happy, but when this friend moves away Shannon is left feeling all alone. As social groups at school become clearer and the popular group asserts itself, Shannon copes with feelings of inadequacy. She compares herself to other girls and feels resentment as they leave her on the edges of their group.

If you'd like, check out this book trailer to get a sense of the energy and flow between Hale's story and Pham's artwork.


I am so very glad that Hale chose to write this memoir as a graphic novel. So many more students will read and relate to her story precisely because they'll try it. Pham's artwork is full of energy and she excels and communicating the emotional upheaval that Shannon goes through. I especially love the way she brings Hale's metaphors to life, whether it's her older sister turning into a savage bear or the queen bee at school holding forth with her royal court.

This is a book that will be enjoyed by a wide range of young readers--girls and boys. Many students struggle with friendship issues, and graphic novels have broad appeal. I especially appreciate what LeUyen Pham told the School Library Journal:
"I know as many if not more boys who have read books from Raina Telgemeier or Jenni Holm, without questioning whether it’s written for them. A good story is a good story, and especially books that are reveal the navigations of elementary school relationships are necessary for either boys or girls."
Young readers will appreciate how nuanced and flawed Shannon is--she doesn't show herself as a perfect friend--but I wonder if they'll yearn for more fully developed secondary characters. I do know that my students will appreciate how Hale does not preach or lecture about how to be a friend, but rather she shows how you can work at being a good friend. As she writes in her author’s note:
“If you haven’t found your ‘group’ yet, hang in there. Your world will keep growing larger and wider. You deserve to have real friends, the kind who treat you well and get how amazing you are.”
I have purchased this review copy for our home collection, as gifts and for our school 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.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Dory Fantasmagory -- terrific series for family listening (ages 4-9)

Are you looking for a chapter book to share with your family that works across a range of ages? Hook them with the humor of Dory Fantasmagory. This audiobook will have the whole family laughing along with charming six-year-old Dory and her siblings.
Dory Fantasmagory
by Abby Hanlon
narrated by Suzy Jackson
Dial Books / Penguin, 2014
Recorded Books, 2015
preview on Google Books
Amazon / your local library
ages 4-9
Dory (called Rascal by her family) wants to play with her big brother and sister, but they just complain that she's a pest. Her brother and sister tell her that a witch, Mrs. Gobble Gracker, is going to kidnap her if she isn't careful. While they want to scare her, they just end up encouraging her. She is full of playful imagination, whether it's talking with her imaginary friend or pretending to be a puppy dog.

Abby Hanlon knows just how to balance outrageous humor with empathetic characters. She taught first grade for many years and Dory's voice rings true. Whether it's when Dory declares that time-out is too much fun, or it's how she wants to stay in her nightgown all day instead of getting dressed for school--you'll find something to laugh at.
"It's Luke. 'Mom said you can come out of time-out now.'
'No thanks,' I say, and shut the door. Time-out is turning out to be way too much fun."
Narrator Suzy Jackson captures Dory's 6-year-old voice, with a full range of enthusiasm and emotions. Families will recognize themselves in Dory's attention-getting strategies, her mom's exasperation or her siblings' bickering. As the AudioFile review puts it,
"Jackson mirrors Dory's boundless energy as she pesters her older siblings with endless questions, irritates her mother to the extreme by pretending to be a dog at the pediatrician's office, and rattles off a list of terrible things Mrs. Gobble Gracker might do when she whisks Dory away."
Dory was a favorite read-aloud with our first grade classes this year--students came to the library asking for more Dory books! Listen to the full series, for a real treat:
1. Dory Fantasmagory
2. Dory and the Real True Friend
3. Dory Dory Black Sheep
I'm happy to join friends Alyson at Kid Lit Frenzy and Michele at Mrs. Knott's Bookshelf in celebrating the #Road2Reading. As they write,
"All journeys have a starting place. This is a weekly place to find books and tools that you may use with readers at the start of their reading journey."
I'd like to give special thanks to the community at Emerson for going with me on this #Road2Reading, especially showing me the power of audiobooks. I listened to the audiobook on Tales2Go. 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.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Friday, May 12, 2017

Congratulations! Margarita Engle named Young People's Poet Laureate (ages 5-14)

I am so happy to celebrate poetry this beautiful Friday morning. Many congratulations to Margarita Engle on being named Young People's Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. This award "recognizes a career devoted to writing exceptional poetry for young readers" and Margarita embodies all that this award stands for.
Margarita Engle has written so many books -- these are just a few of my favorites. Much of her verse highlights her Cuban-American ancestry, influenced by her childhood summers spent visiting her mother's homeland. Her poetry also reflects her background in botany and is filled with vivid descriptions of setting. As Henry Bienen, president of the Poetry Foundation, said,
“Margarita Engle’s passion, knowledge of nature, and curiosity about the world make her work fascinating to children and adults alike.”
Here are just a few of her books that I love to share with children:
Bravo: Poems about Amazing Hispanics
Drum, Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music
Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings -- A Memoir
The Wild Book
In honor of this, I'd like to share two poems Margarita wrote as part of her long collaboration with Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong.
In "Discovery," which is part of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science, Engle captures the quiet waiting of explorers and the joy when you finally find the treasure you were looking for. Much of her poetry is also available in Spanish translations -- as it is here. Share this poetry video with students to show how photographs can combine with poetry reading to bring it alive.

Many thanks to Sylvia Vardell for sharing this via Poetry for Children.

Much of Engle's work speaks directly to teens. In "Who Am I?" she captures the confusion created with forms and tests that ask students to categorize themselves. This powerful, accessible poem kicks off the terrific collaboration in Just You Wait: A Poetry Friday Power Book, with prompts to encourage students to write their own poetry.
I am thrilled that Margarita has been awarded this prestigious position. She does so much to encourage the love of poetry in our children. Bravo!!!

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Audiobooks on the #Road2Reading: Sharing student stories

I’ve seen first-hand how audiobooks bolster students’ confidence and reading skills. They enjoy reading, and this makes them want to read more. This volume and positive attitude is essential to their success. I don’t differentiate reading and listening to a book. They’re the same thing. One supports the other.
When he was in 3rd grade, Shondrick struggled with reading fluently and became easily frustrated. His teacher suggested that he used some of his reading time to listen to audiobooks. After listening to Horrible Harry, he proudly told me, “I just read it faster on my own!” Rereading the book he just listened to built his confidence, helping him integrate vocabulary and fluency skills.

Audiobooks can build on young readers’ feeling of success, especially if they listen on a consistent basis. Here are a few recent comments from 3rd graders:
  • “They (narrators) read the book really fluently so it’s easy to understand what they are saying. They are really expressing the story, they don’t just talk.”
  • “Sometimes you forget real quick about a story. When you read you have so much in your head, when you listen it’s easier.”
  • “Even if you aren’t reading the book at the same time, you’ll want to go grab the book later because you have a taste of it.”
  • “The sound effects help you envision what’s going on – you get a picture in your head of the story.”
These students listen during reading time in the classroom and at home using Tales2Go, a streaming audiobook service that Berkeley Unified School District provides. They listen on Chromebooks in the classroom, save a bookmark for listening later, and then listen on personal devices at home (phones, tablets, or computers).

My 3rd graders love to read series like I Survived and Goosebumps. This is because series build their reading confidence, immersing them in a predictable world with engaging stories and familiar characters. Here's a selection of my 3rd graders' favorite audiobooks:
I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, by Lauren Tarshis
Horrible Harry and the Missing Diamond, by Suzy Kline
Revenge of the Living Dummy (Goosebumps), by R.L. Stine
Toys Go Out, by Emily Jenkins
EllRay Jakes Is Not a Chicken, by Sally Warner
Some of my students actively choose to listen and read to a story (paired listening/reading), while others prefer just listening. I find that this is partially a personal preference and partially dependent on choice of book.

Children’s listening comprehension is typically two years above their reading comprehension, meaning that we can understand more complex stories than we can read. If a child wants to read a complex book and their eyes can’t keep up, trying to read and listen will just frustrate them. Just listening will allow them to focus on building a story in their mind, understanding the vocabulary, plot and character development.

I'm happy to join friends Alyson at Kid Lit Frenzy and Michele at Mrs. Knott's Bookshelf in celebrating the #Road2Reading. As they write,
"All journeys have a starting place. This is a weekly place to find books and tools that you may use with readers at the start of their reading journey."
The formal research about the impact of audiobooks on children’s reading development is important (see this post for more details), but my personal experience lets me understand this more deeply. This post comes from a webinar I gave yesterday; come listen to the whole webinar if you'd like to learn more:
Preventing the Summer Slide with Audiobooks
via EdWeb.net, sponsored by Tales2Go
I'd like to give special thanks to the community at Emerson for going with me on this #Road2Reading, especially showing me the power of audiobooks. I'd like to thank Tales2Go for helping us reach so many students and for inviting me to participate in this webinar.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Audiobooks: Benefits as children develop reading skills

What happens when we read a book? In early elementary years, there is greater emphasis on decoding skills. But the importance of broader comprehension skills is crucial in these early years and plays an even more important role as students transition into late elementary and middle school. How does the work we do as teachers support students developing their understanding of what they read?
Simple view of reading (based on Gough & Tunmer, 1986)
Listening comprehension plays a crucial role in developing students’ ability to understand what they read. As Hogan, Adlof and Alonzo (2014) explain, this ability to understand what you hear is an essential underpinning to building a mental model. Vocabulary recognition, background knowledge and story structure familiarity are all part of this process. The question becomes: if these are the elements that impact comprehension, how do we support students developing and maintaining these skills?

Audiobooks allow children to focus on the key skills of understanding words and the overall story, and this helps develop their deeper comprehension skills. This happens when children listen to audiobooks on their own, not just when they listen and read. As a third grader told me last week, “The audiobook reads the book really fluidly, so it’s easy to understand what they’re saying. They’re really expressing the story. They don’t just talk.” One of her classmates added on, saying,
“When you read you have so much in your head. When you listen it’s easier.”
In 2015-16, WestEd conducted a research study in Berkeley that examined the impact of audiobooks on literacy skills for 2nd and 3rd graders. Students listened to a selection of stories each week, without reading the books at the same time. They were just listening and enjoying the stories. The results were clear and remarkable.

Students who listened to audiobooks on a regular basis, developed stronger reading skills -- attaining 58% of their annual reading gain in just 10 weeks. Students who listened to audiobooks increased their reading comprehension skills three times more than their counterparts. Their vocabulary gains outpaced their control group counterparts by seven times. All of this made students want to read more. We see this in their increase in reading motivation by four times, relative to their control group.
Results from WestEd (2016). How Listening Drives Improvement in Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension.
As a teacher and librarian, this study confirms exactly what I’ve seen with my own eyes. When students listen to audiobooks, they are more engaged, they understand stories better and they WANT to read more. This is because audiobooks help them develop their vocabulary, give them access to more complex text and help them create a fuller mental picture of stories. The power of this study is remarkable. It shows that listening to audiobooks provides essential support to the development of reading comprehension.

If you'd like to learn more about audiobooks, I'd like to invite you to listen to a free webinar: Preventing the Summer Slide with Audiobooks. The webinar will broadcast live on Monday, and it will also be available as an archive. I will share this research, my own experience, and ways school libraries can take action.

Preventing the Summer Slide with AudiobooksMonday, May 8, 2017 @ 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm EDTvia EdWeb.net, sponsored by Tales2Go
This live, interactive session is designed for PreK-12 librarians as well as reading coaches, ELL specialists/teachers, Title I teachers and administrators, district librarians, and classroom teachers. Join us to learn how to prevent the summer slide with audiobooks!

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Works cited:

Gough, Philip B. and William E. Tunmer (1986). Decoding, Reading, and Reading Disability. Remedial and Special Education. 7(1): 6-10.

Hogan, Tiffany P., Suzanne M. Adlof and Crystle Alonzo (2014). On the importance of listening comprehension. International Journal of Language Pathology. 2014 Jun; 16(3): 199-207.

WestEd (2016). How Listening Drives Improvement in Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension.



Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Harlem Charade, by Natasha Tarpley -- intriguing mystery & outstanding audiobook (ages 9-12)

Mysteries are great fun to read -- the suspense keeps you turning the pages. You have to read a mystery pretty carefully to pick up on the clues. Pretty soon someone is whisper-shouting, "I got it! I know who did it!" Many of my students love complex mysteries, where many threads come together in the end.

The Harlem Charade, by Natasha Tarpley, is an intriguing mystery my 4th and 5th graders are thoroughly enjoying. I highly recommend the audiobook, with narration by one of my favorite narrators.
The Harlem Charade
by Natasha Tarpley
narrated by Bahni Turpin
Scholastic, 2017
preview on Google Books
Amazon / Your local library
ages 9-12
*best new book*
A school project brings 12-year-olds Jin and Alex together, but they are initially wary of each other. Jin spends most of her time in her Korean grandparents' bodega; although she likes to observe and collect information quietly, she longs for adventure. Alex is strong-minded and assertive, yet she hides the fact that her parents are wealthy.

When Alex and Jin meet Elvin and learn that his grandfather has been attacked, they set out to help their new friend. These three begin to trust each other and learn that they'll need each other's help to figure out who attacked Elvin's grandfather. As they dig deeper into the mystery, they discover that Elvin's grandfather was a member of a Harlem artists' group in the 1960s that was committed to representing and creating a voice for the community. A real estate mogul is threatening to convert much of the community to a theme park in a bid for redevelopment.

Tarpley creates a complex mystery that pulls readers in deeper and deeper, winding many threads together. While one might argue that some coincidences enable her to move the plot forward at some key points, the diverse characters, textured setting and intriguing suspense lead to a richly drawn novel. It will automatically draw comparisons to Blue Balliett's Chasing Vermeer, but it also makes me think of Carl Hiaasen's Hoot, with its focus on community activism.

Narrator Bahni Turpin conveys these complex characters, showing how their lives intersect. I know it's cliche, but she really does bring them to life. As the Audiofile Magazine wrote,
"Turpin excels at accents and emotions... She ensures that listeners comprehend the story's historical figures and quick-paced, suspenseful events."
I finished this book wanting to learn more about the art world of Harlem in the 1960s and the exhibit at the Met called "Harlem on My Mind." Tarpley effectively conveyed how important art and local voices are to creating a vibrant community. This message is both timely and persuasive for readers just beginning to understand larger political events and social pressures.

I listened to the audiobook on Tales2Go. 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.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Audiobooks for Summer Reading: Research + Recommendations

I have seen the power of audiobooks throughout my professional and personal life. They engage readers, help them build mental images of stories, and develop children's vocabulary. I am excited to share my experiences and recommendations, along with a survey of current research on the impact of audiobooks, in an upcoming EdWeb webinar:
Preventing the Summer Slide with Audiobooks
Monday, May 8, 2017 @ 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm EDT
via EdWeb.net, sponsored by Tales2Go
Reading during the summer is essential, as the vast majority of parents and children know. Yet still, many students only read a handful of books during this 3 month break. The result is that they lose many of the gains they've made during the school year. This impacts students across the board, but has a especially significant impact on low-income students.

Listening to professionally narrated audiobooks is a great way to prevent the “summer slide.” In this edWeb webinar, I will present research findings from a 2016 study looking at the effect of adding a listening component to literacy instruction—in school and at home. I will specifically address its impact on student vocabulary, reading comprehension and motivation to read. I will put this in a broader context of reading develop, examining reasons why listening comprehension is key to developing strong readers.

I will also share my experience watching students use audiobooks on a regular basis and consider the importance of providing year-round digital access to audiobooks. Finally, I will share recommendations of some of our favorite audiobooks for summer listening.

This live, interactive session is designed for PreK-12 librarians as well as reading coaches, ELL specialists/teachers, Title I teachers and administrators, district librarians, and classroom teachers. Join us to learn how to prevent the summer slide with audiobooks!

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Growing little gardeners: picture books to encourage young children in the garden (ages 3-8)

The sun shone brilliantly on today, making me wish I were out in the garden. My children loved digging in the dirt when they were young. Is that something you enjoy doing with your kids?

Check out these favorite picture books to share about gardening, and share your excitement with your children. All feature a diverse range of kids. Several are new in paperback this spring.
In Anywhere Farm, Phyllis Root uses upbeat rhyming text showing all the places we can grow our vegetable garden: “Plant a farm in a crate! / Plant a farm in a cup! / In a box on a balcony / ten stories up! / Plant a farm in a truck! / In a box on a bike! / Plant an anywhere farm / anywhere that you like.” Illustrations by G. Brian Karas emphasize how children in an urban community comes together to help create a neighborhood garden. "Anybody can do it. / You've showed it's not hard." (Candlewick, 2017)

It's Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden (by George Ancona) chronicles a year in the life of a school garden, from spring planting all the way through preparing for winter. Color photographs show students composting soil, watering plants, and sampling the edible delights. The garden at Acequia Madre Elementary School will inspire you to make the garden an outdoor classroom for your children. (Candlewick, 2013)

In Lola Plants a Garden (also in Spanish), Lola wants a garden just like in her favorite nursery rhyme "Mary, Mary, quite contrary." Anna McQuinn's simple text and Rosalind Beardshaw's joyful illustrations make this a great choice to read aloud to preschoolers, or for first graders to read independently: "Lola and Mommy make the garden. The seed packets mark where the flowers are planted." (Charlesbridge, 2014)

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt (by Kate Messner and Christopher Neal) explores a garden above ground and below, as it transforms from early spring through late autumn. A child and her grandmother garden for long hours above ground, while below ground animals of all shapes and sizes forage for food and maintain the soil in their own parallel efforts. "Up in the garden, we pick cukes and zucchini, harvesting into the dark...Down in the dirt, skunks work the night shift. They snuffle and dig, and gobble cutworms while I sleep." (Chronicle Books, 2015)

The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Candlewick, Charlesbridge and Chronicle. 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.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Stephen Curry & #NBAPlayoffs2017: biographies for young readers (ages 6-10)

With NBA basketball playoffs in full swing, you may want to build on young fans' excitement with these biographies of our local favorite star Steph Curry.

When my students choose sports books for themselves, I really encourage them to look inside and see if the text seems right for them. Here are three books that work well for developing readers--shared from easier to more difficult.
Stephen Curry (Pebble Plus Famous Athletes), by Mari Schuh, is a great choice for beginning readers, with simple text and just three or four short sentences per page. Our first graders can read many (but not all) of this, and our second graders are finding it perfect for this time of year. The font is large and the background is plain, helping young readers focus on each word. The information is limited, so readers may leave this wanting to read more. See preview at Google Books.
"Basketball star Stephen Curry was born March 14, 1988. He grew up watching and playing basketball. His dad played in the NBA. Stephen watched his dad's games."
Amazing Athletes is a very popular series with our 2nd & 3rd graders, and they love this Stephen Curry book by Jon Fishman. As you can see in the sample below, this is written with fuller paragraphs. The layout and design make this easy for readers who are developing confidence to tackle. Full color photographs and captions complement the exciting text. This biography focuses more on his early years & college playing than Curry's difficult beginning of his pro career.
"Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors were losing to the Dallas Mavericks on February 4, 2015. Dallas had been hot since the opening tip-off... Golden State coach Steve Kerr didn't panic. He knew that with Stephen on the team, the Warriors would never be too far behind to catch up."
For readers ready to learn more about Curry's career and training style, search out Stephen Curry (Sports All-Stars), by Eric Braun. With more complex sentences and longer paragraphs, this biography works best with confident readers in 3rd or 4th grade. Just look at its opening. The writing is engaging, but definitely more complicated than the other two books.
from Stephen Curry
(Sports All-Stars)
"Maybe when the 2015 National Basketball Association (NBA) playoffs began, there were still doubters. Stephen Curry was too small. He wasn't athletic enough. He would never be one of the greats. Curry had heard those doubts all his life."
I especially found it interesting to read about Curry's practice techniques. When he was recovering from multiple injuries, Curry started trying unusual training methods to help him improve his ball handling and focus.
"Many fans have seen Curry dribble two basketballs at once before games. The ritual is about more than improving his skills or giving fans a good show... This kind of practice mimics what a point guard has to do during a game--dribble, watch the defenders, set up a play, and more--all at the same time."
Supporting readers along their road to reading is especially important. This post has been inspired by my friends Alyson Beecher and Michele Knott, whose weekly series #Road2Reading celebrates books for early readers.
The review copies for Sports All-Stars were kindly sent by the publisher, Lerner Books. The review copies of the Pebble Plus and the Amazing Athletes books came from our school 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.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Are You An Echo? Discovering the beauty of Japanese poet Misuzu Kaneko (ages 7-12)

Empathy -- it's a vital quality to develop for all of us. How do we reach outside of ourselves to imagine being in someone else's shoes? How do we take someone else's perspective? Misuzu Kaneko's beautiful poetry is a shining example of how poetry can help us stop for a moment and think about the world from a different point of view.
Are You an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko
Poetry by Misuzu Kaneko
Narrative by David Jacobson
Translation and editorial contributions by Sally Ito and Michiko Tsuboi
Illustrations by Toshikado Hajiri
Chin Music Press, 2016
Amazon / Your local library
ages 7-12
This striking collaboration shares the story of how Misuzu Kaneko's poetry came to be discovered long after her death; moreover, it brings her poems to an English-speaking audience for the first time. In 1966, a young Japanese poet discovered a poem that struck him with its empathy and simplicity, yet he could find no other poems by this author -- who was she? Did she write other poems?
BIG CATCH
 -- by Misuzu Kaneko

At sunrise, glorious sunrise
it’s a big catch!
A big catch of sardines!

On the beach, it’s like a festival
but in the sea, they will hold funerals
for the tens of thousands dead.
Linger for a moment on this poem, and ask young readers to think about this poet's message. Why would the fish hold funerals? How does this shift readers' thinking?

Although Setsuo Yazaki began searching in 1966, it wasn't until 1982 that the curious poet uncovered more of Misuzu's poetry. Her brother still had her diaries, which contained the only copies of her poems that still remained. Finally, Setsuo began to discover more about Misuzu's life.

Born in 1903, Misuzu lived in a small fishing village in western Japan where her mother managed a bookstore. "To Misuzu, everything was alive, and had its own feelings." Her wonder and curiosity encourages young readers to think about the natural world with fresh perspective. By interspersing Misuzu's poems with the story of her life, the authors help young readers focus on the poet's work as well as her life.
"Snow on top
must feel chilly,
the cold moonlight piercing it."
After a short, unhappy marriage, Misuzu took her own life at age 26 in 1930. Jacobson conveys her suicide sensitively and straightforwardly. I especially appreciate how this lets young readers feel empathy for Misuzu without sensationalizing her tragedy.

The second half of this picture book shares fifteen more of Misuzu's poems translated into English, along with their original Japanese versions. Children will enjoy lingering over poems; teachers will want to use them as mentor texts for children as they explore writing their own poetry.

My own grandmother used to encourage me to think about different subjects in school as "mental gymnastics," helping me stretch and work my mind in new ways. I wonder if Misuzu's poetry might help us be more limber, more nimble in our emotional interactions with the world. Isn't that what empathy is at its root?

Many thanks to Betsy Bird for first bringing this unique picture book to my attention. Illustrations © Toshikado Hajiri, narrative © David Jacobson, and translations © Sally Ito & Michiko Tsuboi, shared with permission from the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Chin Music Press. 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.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Friday, April 21, 2017

Celebrating Arab American Heritage: three favorite bilingual picture books (ages 5-9)

"Ms. Scheuer, do you have a book written in Arabic?" -- Ghalla, 4th grade
In our school district, Arabic is the third most common language spoken at home. I strive to share books with students that reflect their culture and heritage. April is National Arab American Heritage Month and we celebrate this in our library by sharing books that reflect many experiences from the Arab world. These three bilingual picture books are especially beautiful and moving.

In Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad, by James Rumford, Ali lives in modern Baghdad, loves playing soccer and dancing to loud music. Most of all, he loves the way it feels to practice calligraphy: "writing the letters of my language ... gliding and sweeping, leaping, dancing to the silent music in my head." This moving story tells of how Ali is inspired by the master calligrapher Yakut, who found solace practicing his art during times of war.

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family's Journey, by Margriet Ruurs and Nizar Ali Badr, will amaze young readers with its artwork, constructed entirely by arranging stones but its story is what will stay in their hearts. Ruurs and Badr work seamlessly together to tell the story of a young girl whose family must flee Syria. When the bombs started falling too close to her home, Rama and her family join "the river of strangers in search of a place,/ to be free, to live and laugh, to love again." As the Kirkus Review says,
"Each illustration is masterful, with Badr's placement of stones as careful as brush strokes, creating figures positioned to tell the whole story without the benefit of facial expressions: dancing, cradling, working; burdened, in danger, at peace."
Time to Pray, by Maha Addasi, captures the experience of a young girl traveling from her suburban American home to visit her grandmother. On her first night, Yasmin is awakened by the muezzin at the nearby mosque calling the faithful to prayer. She is too tired to get up, but she watcher her grandmother prepare for prayer. This gentle story shows the bond that grows between Yasmin and her grandmother, and the special place that prayer and rituals have bringing them together.

All review copies came from our school library collection. I want to send special thanks to our PTA and my colleague Zoe Williams for help selecting and developing our collection of books that honor the experience of Arab Americans. 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.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Funny & easy: two beginning reader series (ages 4-6)

Beginning to read is a daunting task -- kids and parents feel the pressure. Please know that sharing books together is the most important thing. Model reading, talk about books, invite your children to try with you. Above all, try to make it fun. That's why I love these two series of books for beginning readers--they're silly, they have good stories, and they use just a few words on each page.
The Adventures of Otto:
Go, Otto, Go! // Swing, Otto, Swing! // See Pip Point
by David Milgrim
preview on Overdrive (with read-along narration)
Simon Spotlight, 2016
Amazon / Your local library
ages 4-6
Otto is a lovable robot, trying to figure out how to get along here on Earth. He tries to build a robot to fly home: "Work, Otto, work." Milgrim does a terrific job using only two or three words on a page to convey what's happening, with repetition that flows naturally. 
"Work, Otto, work"
Otto always ends up getting in trouble, bringing lots of giggles to young readers. In Swing, Otto, Swing, he tries to fly from tree to tree like his monkey friends. Somehow, it's much harder than it looks.

If you like the goofy adventures of Otto, you might also like Big Dog and Little Dog beginning readers by Dav Pilkey. These two goofy friends get into all sorts of mischief.
Big Dog and Little Dog // Getting in Trouble // Making a Mistake
by Dav Pilkey
Green Light Readers / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1997
Amazon / Your local library
ages 4-6
Big Dog and Little Dog want to play, like any two friends. "But there is nothing to play with. What will they play with?" They start playing with the couch, but that soon turns into a game of tug-of-war. Uh, oh. They keep just getting into trouble! Pilkey uses simple sentences and bold drawings that move the action along.

If you have a dog that's ever met a skunk, you'll laugh as these friends find out just how awful a skunk can smell. "Big Dog thinks it is a kitty. Sssssss. But it does not smell like a kitty." These relatable situations are perfect for young readers.

I'm happy to join friends at Kid Lit Frenzy and Mrs. Knott's Bookshelf in celebrating the #Road2Reading. As they write, "All journeys have a starting place. This is a weekly place to find books and tools that you may use with readers at the start of their reading journey."

The review copies for The Adventures of Otto were kindly sent by the publisher, Simon & Schuster. The review copies of Big Dog and Little Dog came from my 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.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley, Marjory Wentworth, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (ages 8-13)

"A poem is a s small but powerful thing. It has the power to reach inside of you, to ignite something in you, and to change you in ways you never imagined." -- Kwame Alexander
As Kwame Alexander writes in his preface, poetry can pack a powerful punch, touching our deepest feelings, helping us notice everyday details in new ways. In this dynamic collection, Alexander and fellow poets Colderley and Wentworth honor 20 of their favorite poets. Their original poems dance and spin with the poets they admire, inviting readers join the celebration.
Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets
by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley, and Marjory Wentworth
illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Candlewick, 2017
Amazon / Your local library
ages 8-13
*best new book*
Every page radiates with life, love and joy, as Alexander, Colderley and Wentworth pay tribute to their favorite poets, ranging from Rumi to Emily Dickinson to Maya Angelou. By selecting such a wide range of poets, they provide many ways in for young readers. There is no one right way to write or read a poem, and this collection lets us find different entry points, "stepping-stones" to wonder, to read, to write.

Alexander begins with "How to Write a Poem," celebrating Naomi Shihab Nye, asking readers to "let loose your heart -- raise your voice." He introduces the metaphor of dance, suggesting that a poet's many voices dance together to find their inner truth.
"How to Write a Poem"
Some young readers may want to emulate poems that notice the details in everyday life. Wentworth spins memories of early morning routines in her poem celebrating Billy Collins: "When you first wake up, notice / how your mother's voice, calling / you to breakfast, sounds like a fire alarm." Colderley celebrates Basho with "Contemporary Haiku:"
"Desks in tidy rows
Notebooks and texts neatly stacked
New year begins soon."
I love this idea that our voices dance together in poetry--with give and take, rhythm and movement. The poet's voice responds to an idea that inspires him; the illustrator adds her own rhythm; the reader jumps in, creating her own spin on the initial idea. One of my favorite poems is "Hue and Cry," celebrating Gwendolyn Brooks:
"Bronzeville lady
Way past cool
Voice like butter
Melting blues"
"Hue and Cry"
Ekua Holmes' mixed-media illustrations bring each poem to a new level, adding her own deep, resonate colors and images, inviting readers to pause and wonder and stay awhile on each page.

Enjoy listening to this radio interview with Kwame Alexander on NPR. As he says, "I think poetry is a way of helping us at least begin to understand ourselves better and eventually each other."

Alexander is definitely a "hopeful romantic," spreading his joy and love of life with readers everywhere. For that, I am truly grateful.

Illustrations © Ekua Holmes 2017, poetry © Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth 2017, shared with permission from the publisher. 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. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems, by Bob Raczka -- delightfully fun wordplay (ages 8-12)

I love sharing the way poets play with words to make us laugh, think and look at things in a new way. My students especially respond to concrete poetry, where the words are arranged to create images. Wet Cement is an outstanding, fresh collection of concrete poems, definitely worth seeking out.
Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems
by Bob Raczka
Roaring Brook / Macmillan, 2016
Amazon / Your local library
ages 8-12
Bob Raczka writes that poems are like "word paintings," using words to create pictures in our minds. Concrete poems takes this a step further, creating a visual art form with words.
"In concrete poems, or shape poems...the poet arranges words in the shape of the thing the poem is about or in a way that emphasizes the poem's meaning."
This outstanding collection of concrete poems makes me laugh and smile at Raczka's inventive use of words and letters. He not only creates the poem in new shapes, each title is its own shape poem, with a clever arrangement of the letters. I love the way he uses the "L" to create the hands of a clock in this poem:
"The clock on the wall says it's five 'til three but
the kids in my class say it's five 'til free."

Raczka's wordplay is accessible and inventive, inviting readers to think of words, letters and shapes in a fresh new way. As students what they thing the "t" in "takeoff" is doing all by itself on the page--what does it make them think about? And why did Raczka choose the phrase "Wright on course"?
"Wright on course, headed for heaven. One two three four five..."
These poems give us a moment to play with text, to think about how words create visual art and to laugh at the inventive ways we can arrange words and letters on a page. I love the idea of turning this over to kids, asking them to see how they might play with letters and words to create different shapes. After all, as Raczka shows us, the word "try" is certainly embedded in the word "poetry."

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Roaring Brook / Macmillan. 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.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, April 10, 2017

A Boy Called Bat, by Elana Arnold -- friendship & bonding with a pet (ages 6-10)

Our students have been eagerly reading A Boy Called Bat, drawn in by the adorable cover. Many students relate to the bond that Bat feels for the baby skunk, but it is about much more.

I love how this quiet book shows how a pet can help children form relationships, take responsibility and feel a sense of empathy. Even more so, I love how it shares the story of an autistic boy whose neurodiversity is just part of who he is.
A Boy Called Bat
by Elana K. Arnold
illustrated by Charles Santoso
Walden Pond Press, 2017
preview book through Overdrive
Educator's guide
Amazon / Your local library
ages 6-10
*best new book*
Third-grader Bat got his nickname because it's his initials; his full name is Bixby Alexander Tam. Like his namesake, Bat has super-sensitive hearing. Also, he sometimes flaps his hands when he's nervous or excited. Adult readers may recognize that Bat is on the autism spectrum, but this is not labeled--rather, just part of his character.

Bat knows more than anyone in his class about animals. He loves reading his animal encyclopedia and wants to be a veterinarian when he grows up, just like his mom. He is observant and notices a lot of details. He is great at a lot of things, but Bat is not great at making friends.

When his mom brings home a newborn skunk, Bat immediately connects to the kit and eagerly takes care of it. Soon, he's determined to prove that he's responsible enough to keep it as a pet.
"A nose peeked out--a tiny pink nose--and then two slanted-closed eyes, a forehead covered in downy fuzz, little ears still curled tight against its head.... 'It's a kit,' Bat said, enchanted by the tiny creature, wanting so badly to hold it. 'A baby skunk.'"
Bat struggles at home, especially with his parents divorce. The disruption in his routine when he has to spend the weekend at his dad's is very hard for Bat, especially being away from his new pet. And he struggles making friends at school. Elana Arnold develops his character in a sensitive, thoughtful way--helping readers see the nuances without labels or stereotypes.

A Boy Called Bat would make a terrific read-aloud at home or school. It would lead to some heart-felt conversations about how people react to things differently. An excellent educator's guide is available to download for free. Elizabeth Bartmess, a writer and autistic advocate, reviewed this guide. I especially like the way it helps readers think about Bat's character.
from the educator's guide for A Boy Called Bat
I have already purchased several copies as gifts for friends. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Walden Pond Press / HarperCollins. 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.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, April 3, 2017

Dad and the Dinosaur, by Gennifer Choldenko -- finding courage together (ages 4-8)

I've been thinking about courage lately, what it takes to face our fears and how we can help children when they feel overwhelmed. I've certainly felt completely afraid of both real and imagined things--sometimes so that I could hardly move. I love how Gennifer Choldenko's newest picture book, Dad and the Dinosaur, normalizes this fear, and lets us know that we can move forward.
Dad and the Dinosaur
by Gennifer Choldenko
illustrated by Dan Santat
G.P. Putnam / Penguin, 2017
Amazon / Your local library
ages 4-8
Nicholas is afraid of so many things, but his dad isn't afraid of anything. "Nicholas tried to be brave like his dad, but he needed help ... big help. He needed a dinosaur." This small toy dinosaur travels everywhere with Nicholas, in his pocket, tied to his swimsuit, tucked inside his soccer socks.

Gennifer Choldenko and Dan Santat are a terrific team here, showing Nicholas's courage as the dinosaur helps make him strong. Just look at how the dinosaur helps him score the winning soccer goal when he played against the goalie they called Gorilla:
"But no worries. Nicholas had his dinosaur and his dinosaur was fearless. He kicked the ball so hard it shot past Gorilla's oven-mitt-size hands straight into the net."
Part of me expected the story to take the "tough love" approach when Nicholas loses his dinosaur. As an adult, I know that he really has the courage inside him to survive without his toy. And yet, Choldenko takes a different route--showing how accepting and supportive his dad is.
"'Where are you two going at this hour?'
'It's guy stuff,' his father answered as they walked out the door."
By taking his son to go find his dinosaur, Nicholas's dad sends the message that he believes in him. This acknowledges the child's reality and lets him overcome his fear in his own way. Best of all, it creates a bond between father and son, a trust that will help Nicholas keep finding courage in his own way.

Santat's illustrations seamlessly move between the real and the imaginary, showing the dinosaur as part of both in a very real way. Young readers will love the way the dinosaur looms larger than life, boosting Nicholas's courage. It will be fascinating having kids compare this new book to Santat's Caldecott winning The Adventures of Beekle.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Penguin Random House. 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.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Friday, March 31, 2017

Being Your Best at Soccer & Basketball -- two great nonfiction sports books (ages 8-10)

It's no secret that I don't follow many sports. My favorite outdoor activity is going for long walks--not exactly a team sport! But I do know that many kids love sports and seek out sports books in our libraries, and so I make a special effort to seek these out.

A new series presents the rules & techniques of favorite sports, along with an overview of legendary teams and players. I particularly like the way these books show girls and boys, men and women playing these sports--with a notably diverse range of players.

Being Your Best at Soccer
Being Your Best at Basketball
from the series: True Book Sports
by Nel Yomtov
Children's Press / Scholastic Library, 2017
Amazon / Your local library
ages 8-10
Every day if you look out at our school's playground, you'll see kids playing soccer and basketball. They learn the basics from an early age. Many kids will come to reading this book with a solid background knowledge of the terms, content and structure. This means that tricky vocabulary words are easier to tackle because they know the context.

These books use clear language to explain the basics of soccer and basketball, often illustrating concepts with labeled photos or diagrams. Kids probably know what gear they wear for soccer; reading it helps them become familiar with how nonfiction concepts are developed in writing.
"A player can make a chest pass standing still or moving.
Grip the ball with both hands, elbows tucked, at chest level."
Teachers can use this to model how writers expand upon an idea. This can be very difficult for kids to get used to in their own writing. They can also show how the author organizes ideas into different sections. But really, kids will just enjoy reading these high-interest books.

Look for these books in both paperback and hardcover. They'd be a great addition to home, classroom or school libraries. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Scholastic 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.


©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Martina & Chrissie: The Greatest Rivalry in the History of Sports, by Phil Bildner (ages 6-10)

Do rivals need to be enemies, or can friends compete and support each other? As our political leaders in Washington struggle with their dysfunctional rivalries, I think we must strive to look for other role models of constructive competition.

I love the new informational picture book Martina & Chrissie for its vibrant, exciting look at two sports rivals who pushed each other and were also very good friends.
Martina & Chrissie: The Greatest Rival in the History of Sports
by Phil Bildner
illustrated by Brett Helquist
Candlewick, 2017
Amazon / Your local library
ages 6-10
*best new book*
In one way, you can read this picture book as a typical sports biography that traces Martina & Chrissie's childhoods and rise to fame. On the other hand, you can read it as a persuasive story--where Bildner is challenging you to think about what makes a great (as in best) rivalry, and why these two women deserve top billing.

Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert rocked the tennis world from the mid-1970’s till 1990. Evert was a focused tennis champ who achieved fame as a teenager. On the court, she was determined and fierce. Martina Navratilova grew up in Czechoslovakia and was also a teenage national champion; however, her style of play was very different. Where Chrissie was calm, Martina was super-charged with emotion. While Chrissie won many of their early matches, Martina improved her play and began beating Chrissie.

Bildner creates excitement throughout the story, building tension the way a sports commentator does.
"Martina had this lefty serve that was wicked, wicked. And she loved to rush the net: serve and volley, seve and volley, serve and volley.
Guys, Martina OWNED the net."
Combine this with Helquist's up-close illustrations, and readers are drawn right into the play-by-play excitement of a tennis match.

This book rises above many picture book biographies because the author's message is so clear and persuasive. Martina & Chrissie "weren't the type of women who did what they were supposed to do." They were good friends who practiced together, but they were also intense rivals. By supporting and challenging each other, they made each other better players.

To learn more, check out these reviews and resources:
The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Candlewick. 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.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas -- Powerful reading, important & poignant (ages 13 and up)

Many of the teens I talk with are much more politically aware than I was at their age. They are committed to addressing issues about racial and gender inequalities, about police brutality and racial profiling.

Teens are seeking out novels that grapple with these issues--and we adults need to read and share these novels, engaging with kids on their terms. The Hate U Give, by debut author Angie Thomas, has skyrocketed to the NYTimes bestseller list--and I hope it stays there all year, reaching as many readers as it can. This is a powerful, important book--one that needs to be in every middle and high school library.
The Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas
Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins, 2017
read an excerpt
Amazon / Your local library
ages 13 and up
*best new book*
Sixteen-year-old Starr navigates through two very different worlds: her home in a poor black urban neighborhood, and the suburban, privileged private school she attends. Her life changes dramatically when she witnesses the unprovoked police shooting of her best friend Khalil.

In the midst of coping with her intense personal grief, Starr must also figure out how to react when Khalil's death becomes national news. As violence erupts, Starr and her family are caught in the middle. Throughout this powerful novel, Thomas shows how the personal is political, especially for teenagers becoming explicitly aware of social issues around them.

Thomas writes explicitly about issues of race and class, creating both an authentic teen voice in Starr and exposing the systemic racism that impacts all of us. The police interview Starr, but will her courage and honesty coming forward make a difference? How will she react to the racism of her white friend Hailey, who writes Khalil off as a drug dealer? And yet, Thomas shows throughout that teens can be resilient and support each other.

Like her heroine Starr, Thomas draws inspiration from music and personal experience. Tupac's music and activism resonates throughout, even giving the title from his saying "Thug Life". I love this interview, especially how Thomas wants to show that her characters are like roses that grow in the concrete--how they might grow up in bad situations, but they're still shining.

While some reviews suggest this is for older teens, I firmly believe that The Hate U Give will resonate with many 7th and 8th graders. Kids read the news, they actively participate in social media. They see police killings in the news, whether it's on BuzzFeed or Twitter or the New York Times.
As one young teen told me,
"We are aware of the news. We have a right to know what's happening and shouldn't have these issues sugar-coated." 
Young teens need to have space to process these events, to think about the impact on different communities, to feel their voices heard. Fiction can create this space.

Teens are going to pass this book from kid to kid. But it is also an important book for all adults to read--precisely because it can help us see the world through a teen's eyes. Starr's narration is immediate and intense, dramatic and passionate. Seek this out and then pass it on.

I purchased the review copy for my home library, and will purchase several more copies to give to teens and teachers I know. 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.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books