Sunday, January 29, 2017

Expect Resistance: We Welcome All Immigrants (booklist for ages 5-10)

I find myself swimming in a sea of anger, concern and doubt--reading the news about Trump's abuse of executive privilege, banning refugees, Muslims and more from entering the country. I am heartened by the response from around the nation, and feel compelled to add my voice. My teens marched in the Women's Marches, and my daughter's sign sums up my feelings:
"Respect existence or expect resistance." I'm so proud of my daughter for demanding to be heard, focusing on the positive, staking her claim. Respect, reflect, resist. This is not the time to sit idly by.

Our actions as parents, teachers, and friends matter. I believe deep in my heart that books can change lives, that stories bring awareness and empathy, that feeling heard leads to wanting to listen. I am proud to work for a school district that protects all students' rights to attend public school, and has a board policy protecting undocumented students.

Here are some books I recommend sharing, that help readers understanding the experience of children who had to migrate for their safety and well-being. This is a mix of picture books and novels; some are better for younger children (ages 5-8) while others are suited for older children (ages 9-10).
  • Drita, My Homegirl, by Jenny Lombard -- this short novel brings readers into the life of a young girl trying to make new friends after she flees from her war-torn home in Kosovo
  • Enchanted Air, by Margarita Engle -- memoir told in verse, about a growing up with a family torn in two when the US broke relations with Cuba during the Cold War
  • From North to South, by Rene Colato Lainez -- a moving picture book about a young boy's trip to visit his mother, after she is sent back to Mexico because she did not have the proper immigration papers
  • Home of the Brave, by Katherine Applegate -- a spare, moving novel in verse about Kek, a young Somali refugee, as he tries to adjust to his new life in Minnesota
  • The Journey, by Francesca Sanna -- a picture book that captures the current refugee crisis, as it shows a young child's escape from a war-torn home by boat, based on a compilation of immigrant interviews
  • Mama's Nightingale, by Edwidge Danticat -- important, poignant picture book of a young girl's grief and coping when she is separated from her mother who has been taken to an immigration detention center
  • Migrant: The Journey of a Mexican Worker, by Jose Manuel Mateo -- powerful picture book for older readers, telling the story of a boy who immigrates to the United States. One long illustration folds out, reminiscent of ancient Mexican codices.
  • My Two Blankets, by Irene Kobald -- sweet picture book sharing the experience of a young girl immigrating to a new land, struggling to make sense of the language and make friends in a new place
  • The Only Road, by Alexandra Diaz -- a middle grade novel, following two cousins who flee gang-infested Guatemala, crossing Mexico by foot, bus, and train before finally reaching the United States
  • The Red Pencil, by Andrea Davis Pinkney -- a powerful novel in verse about a Sudanese girl who must flee her home when it is attacked during the Sudanese Civil War
Thank you for sharing and standing strong. We must use our voices to say that all are welcome. We will not stand for rules that discriminate immigration policies based on religion or race. We will not separate families. We will protect our students. 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, January 20, 2017

Excitement builds across Berkeley -- final Mock Newbery meetings

It has been so exciting to see the excitement building across Berkeley. We are having our final Mock Newbery meetings at each of our 11 schools. Every school has a group of excited, enthusiastic kids, with 30 - 65 students coming during lunchtime to talk about the best books of the year. They are having engaging, thoughtful discussions as they consider what makes an outstanding book.
Teachers and principals are noticing the book buzz. Here's what one veteran teacher wrote:
"Thanks, everyone! I am a true fan and promoter of Mock Newbery Club. The initial data is just coming in, but this model has improved student reading skills and scores." -- Becky Lum, 5th grade teacher
It's hard to convey the passion that students and teachers have been sharing. The look on their faces, the way they eagerly raise their hands to contribute, the variety of kids coming to meetings, their thoughtful comments about books' characters, themes and language. Here's a little video montage of one of our meetings, just to give you a sense:
The 2017 Newbery Committee, 15 librarians from across the country, starts its meetings today in Atlanta. They'll deliberate and consider these and many many more books -- carefully talking about what makes a distinguished book for children.

Join the excitement, and watch their announcement on Monday morning: The awards will be live streamed from the I Love Libraries Facebook page.
I am so grateful for the support from all of my colleagues in Berkeley. Together, we are making a huge difference in kids' lives. Many many many thanks.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, January 16, 2017

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy -- powerful role model for all kids (ages 6-10)

Young students throughout Berkeley march each year in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., leaving campus and walking through the community holding signs proclaiming "Peace" "Love" and "I have a dream of equality." Alongside biographies of MLK, we study other figures who stand up for their values. A favorite new picture book is I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark -- it is a perfect way to honor this day of service, this day of protest.
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark
by Debbie Levy
illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley
Simon & Schuster, 2016
winner of 2017 Sydney Taylor Book Award
Your local library
ages 6-10
*best new book*
Throughout her life, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has fought for the things she cares about, pushing back against bias, racism, sexism. This is a timely book to share with children, that will lead to many conversations about how we can protest for the things we believe in.
"She has objected. She has resisted. She has dissented.
Disagreeable? No. Determined? Yes.
"She didn't get what she wanted...
Ruth was learning that sometimes life was like that."
Young readers notice how Ginsburg draws strength from her personal struggles and how she has felt the sting of prejudice herself. Ginsburg was pushed to write with her right hand, even though she was left-handed. She was required to take sewing and cooking classes, even though she wanted to take shop. She noticed signs that excluded Jews and blacks, and realized how unfair those practices were.

I especially love the interplay between words, pictures and story in this picture book biography. Kids love passionately declaring their positions, and Levy uses powerful, stirring action words: objected, resisted, protested, persisted. Baddeley incorporates these into her illustrations with bold graphic design.

Levy ends this biography with a look at Ginsburg's work serving on the Supreme Court, standing up for "fairness and equality." Above all else, Ruth Bader Ginsburg shows how disagreeing with others in a logical, well-reasoned, persistent way can help change minds.

I Dissent has been awarded the 2017 Sydney Taylor Book Award by the Association of Jewish Libraries. This is one of the best picture book biographies I have read this year. The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Simon & Schuster. 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, January 12, 2017

Ghost, by Jason Reynolds (ages 9-14) -- a strong favorite in our Mock Newbery discussions

“When I first picked it up, I thought it was a biography because it was so real.”--Sam, 4th grade
Kids across Berkeley are responding to Jason Reynolds' new book Ghost, talking about how it feels so real to them that they imagine themselves being right there with Ghost. This is definitely one of their favorite books, as we head into our Mock Newbery discussions--one that will stay with readers for a long time.
by Jason Reynolds
Atheneum / Simon & Schuster, 2016
audiobook narrated by Guy Lockard
preview on Google Books
Your local library
ages 9-14
*best new book*
Castle Crenshaw, who calls himself Ghost, is a kid my students can relate to. Some students know what it's like to have so much "scream inside" that they can't control it; others relate to working and struggling to join a team, but then having a bad decision almost cost you everything.

Jason Reynolds brings readers right into the story with his conversational tone. You can imagine being right inside of Ghost, in his head as he's watching a track team practice, eating sunflower seeds, thinking about how he could run faster than any of those kids on the track. Reynolds hooks readers just a few pages into the book when Ghost shares when he discovered he could run so fast -- the night his father shot at him in a drunken rage, as Ghost and his mother ran for their lives.
"I really loved the beginning. It was pretty tough, but it hooked me in. When he got into the track team, it relieved me. He still made some terrible choices, but he gets through them."--Rosa Parks 5th grader
Some students noted how Ghost is a complicated character--and they were very engaged by his struggles to figure out how to fix the problems he created. Many noted how much they liked seeing Ghost change and grow during the story. They definitely responded to the pacing, talking about how they couldn't put this book down--staying up all night to finish it. And the ending, oh my.
"The ending was hard. It was so good that I hurt because it was over."--Sakura, 5th grade
I have been particularly impressed by how 4th and 5th graders responded to the difficult topics of domestic violence and poverty. Reynolds helps kids think about these issues, and he creates space for acknowledging what it takes to keep going through these difficulties. He crafts a story that is full of hope and warmth, humor and relationships, even though it is also a story of struggles and bad decisions.

I absolutely agree with my friend, school librarian Eric Carpenter, who wrote on the blog Heavy Medal:
"Its spare prose creates the most authentic voice I’ve ever encountered in a contemporary piece of middle grade fiction. I can’t remember the last time a realistic, modern character sounded and acted so much like the students at my school...

Let’s think about Castle. What he wants more than anything else is an identity that is anything but a victim. He seems himself as a basketball player but won’t try playing. He is obsessed with world records because to him the record holders gain new identities by accomplishing crazy feats."
Ghost will certainly stay with my readers. I've noticed how this book appeals to a really wide range of kids, regardless of background or interests. Sporty kids love it; introspective thinkers love it. Here's how one reader summed it up:
"I liked how he eventually figured it out and solved (his problems), and helped himself even if he's the one who hurt himself. I liked how he kept working from nothing."--Rosa Parks 5th grader
Will this win the Newbery? It's definitely one of the best books I've read this year. But some may find the language too colloquial, and want to have more figurative language. It depends on how you balance the different elements, which you place more importance on. All I know is that I'll be sharing this with students for years to come. And it will be a book that stays with them in their hearts. That's what matters in the end.

I want to send special thanks to the whole team in Berkeley who's been supporting our Mock Newbery project, especially our library director Becca Todd. The review copy came from my public 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, January 9, 2017

One Last Word: Wisdom of the Harlem Renaissance, by Nikki Grimes -- powerful, resonate poetry for today's youth (ages 11-16)

Nikki Grimes' poetry exudes warmth and hope, while acknowledging the trials and tribulations that life brings our way. In this outstanding new collection, she shares poetry from the Harlem Renaissance and builds her own verse from it -- creating powerful, resonate poems that speak directly to today's youth.
One Last Word: Wisdom of the Harlem Renaissance
by Nikki Grimes
illustrated by Cozbi Cabrera and others
Bloomsbury, 2017
preview at Google Books
Your local library
ages 11-16
*best new book*
Grimes finds "fuel for the future" in the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance, pairing short poems from that era with her own original poems. She creates a multitude of contemporary voices, mostly of teens grappling with their hopes and dreams and struggles. In her opening poem, the young narrator asks, "How can I stay strong / in a world where fear and hate / wait outside my door?" Her teacher suggests that she seek out the poems of the Harlem Renaissance for inspiration and advice.

Grimes then uses a selection of poems from this era to build her own poems. Using the Golden Shovel poetic form, she takes a key "striking line" from a poem and ends each line of her poem with one word from this striking line. Thus, her modern poems are intimately linked with the original. Each pair of poems is accompanied by a full-color illustration by leading contemporary African American children's artists, adding to the artistic interpretation of these resonate themes.

Grimes spins classic poems to reflect modern sensibilities. Countee Cullen begins his poem "For a Poet" with the line, "I have wrapped my dreams in a silken cloth." From this, Grimes creates a modern character who uses poetry to hold and protect her secrets, as she navigates her urban neighborhood. Frank Morrison illustrates this poem, showing a young black girl walking past a graffiti-covered wall, with her nose buried in her journal. The result will resonate with my students, helping them imagine themselves in these pages.
"Dream-killers daily stalk the streets you and I
travel, trying to trip us up, but we can give them the slip. I have
learned to protect my heart-songs. I keep them wrapped..."
Grimes' poetry will resonate with the experience of today's teens. She tackles difficult issues head-on. In "Crucible of Champions," based on the poem "Life and Death" by Clara Ann Thompson, Grimes' character Jamal speaks directly about the violence and brutality that has led to the "Black Lives Matter" campaign:
"The evening news never spares us. Tune in and we
hear: if you're a boy and you're black, you live
with a target on your back. We each take it in and
shiver, one sharp-bladed question hanging overhead: how
Long do I get to walk on this earth? The smell of death is too intense,
And so we bury the thought, because the future is
ours, right? We get to choose? Well, we choose life."
Beginning with an introduction to both the Harlem Renaissance, Grimes provides both historical background and a personal connection to this era. Born in "the very Harlem from which many of their careers were launched," Grimes was well aware of the impact that poets like Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar had. She helps young readers see the way that these writers reflected racial pride during this era.
"Through the decades, this literature has reminded readers, of all races, how vital it is that we define ourselves, set our own paths, celebrate our own capabilities, and determine our own destiny, no matter what obstacles are placed in our way."
Grimes acknowledges the weight of injustices and racial bias, but her voice rises strongly through this collection filled with hope and the assurance the poetry will help readers stand tall. "The past is a ladder / that can help you / keep climbing."

Illustration © Frank Morrison 2017, poetry © Nikki Grimes 2017, shared with permission from the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Bloomsbury Children's Books. 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, January 6, 2017

The Storyteller, by Evan Turk -- the power of stories, providing a glimmer of hope (ages 6-10)

"There is a unique kind of magic that comes from hearing a story told. With only the power of a voice, an entire world can be created." -- Evan Turk, author's note to The Storyteller
In his enthralling new picture book The Storyteller, Evan Turk celebrates the way stories bring hope and inspiration to people young and old. Read aloud this wonderful picture book with children ready for a longer, more complex story. Our 3rd graders loved it and we had a fascinating conversation about the author's motifs, artwork and messages.
The Storyteller
by Evan Turk
Atheneum / Simon & Schuster, 2016
Your local library
ages 7-10
*best new book*
A thirsty young Moroccan boy searches through a busy, chaotic city for a drink, but no one has any water to share. As he walks home, an old storyteller calls out to him, assuring him that his thirst will be quenched if he listens to a story.
“At that same moment, in the hot, dry south of the kingdom, a thirsty young boy made his way through the clamor and smoke of the Great Square to look for a drink, but no one had any water to give.”
The storyteller spins a tale of the terrible drought and how one family always had enough water to share. The young boy is enthralled, and by the time the old man has finished speaking, the boy's cup is miraculously filled with cool water. Day after day, the boy returns to hear more stories--and Turk masterfully layers each story within a story, linking themes, motifs and stories together.

The boy returns each day to hear another installment of the storyteller's tale. At first, my students were a little confused how the storyteller told a story about an old woman telling a story about another woman stealing a bird--but as we talked about it, they started nodding and whispering to each other about things they noticed. Look below and notice the old storyteller on the left telling the young boy the story -- it almost spins out of his hands. And notice how the border encircles the the old woman on the right carrying the bundle of cloth--for she is the center of the new story.
“The next morning, the boy awoke at dawn and ran to meet the storyteller at the fountain again. ‘Would you like to hear the story of the Glorious Blue Water Bird?’ he asked.”
Turk was inspired by many things as he created this story: the storytellers of Morocco, or hlaykia, who tell stories in the public squares; the traditional carpet weavers in Morocco, who pass on stories through their artwork; local artists in Ait-Ben-Haddou, an ancient fortified village in southern Morocco. Turk shows in this video the way he created the vibrant jewel-toned blues and warm golden-sand browns in his artwork, using a technique he learned from these Moroccan artists. In turn, he was inspired by the Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, who used many jewel-toned colors and geometric patterns in his portraits.

This is a book that will benefit from many repeated readings, just like traditional stories benefit from being passed on from storyteller to storyteller. Readers will notice new details each time they share the story, whether it's the way the bird symbolizes hope (echoing the story of the phoenix), or the way the blue of the water slowly fills the patterns as the stories take hold. Other readers notice that the boy starts out quite alone with the storyteller, but that he's surrounded by community by the end of the story -- because stories bring people together.
"'...And that,' said the storyteller, 'is the story of how, not long ago, a young boy saved Morocco from the desert.'"
I just wish you could have watched my students whisper to each other as they realized that the young boy turned into the storyteller by the end of the story. There was a quiet buzz that went through the room, as they noticed the different people in the crowded square, and recognized the power of the storyteller to banish the djinn to the desert.

If you are interested in learning more, you'll definitely want to check out these resources:
Illustrations © Evan Turk, 2016, shared with permission from the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Atheneum / Simon & Schuster, and we have purchased additional copies for our 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, January 3, 2017

Who Will Win the Newbery Medal? Kids in Berkeley build excitement & community around books

I'm so excited that kids in Berkeley have loved joining our Mock Newbery book clubs. We've started one in every elementary school in Berkeley, with 50 kids are joining at each school. That means we've got close to 500 kids reading the best books published this year, building community and spreading book buzz!

In their special issue leading up to the ALA Awards, Publishers Weekly (PDF version here) highlighted three mock Newbery programs across the US. They wrote about how this award, like the Grammys and Oscars, makes headlines and creates bestsellers -- and how our students are "in the thick of it," predicting and analyzing potential winners. I just love the way that Shannon Maughan captured the essence of our project.

Our project, like many others, was inspired by Heavy Medal and other mock Newbery book clubs that librarians hold with each other. We want to share this experience with our kids, and as teachers and librarians, we bring special attention to the impact this has on young readers. As I told Maughan,
“It’s exciting to talk about the best books of the year... We wanted to target all readers—especially readers of color—to let them know that their voices matter and their opinions about books matter. We wanted them to know that adults in their lives are listening to them. It’s not just ‘Which book did you like best?’ but we go deeper and explore bigger ideas in our discussions.”
Berkeley students record their ideas for their mock Newbery
It has been amazing to watch the response at each elementary in Berkeley. Kids love getting to choose to join a book club, getting to choose which of the nominated books to read. Parents are telling principals that their kids are reading more than ever. Librarians are noticing that these great books are circulating even more than popular mainstays like the Wimpy Kid. Even the principals across the district have formed their own book club, reading these books and sharing their thoughts with each other.

Maughan noticed four important elements that each mock Newbery project leader talked about:
  • Collaboration -- Every mock Newbery leader talked about partnerships within their schools and communities that help them launch these programs. Collaborators help figure out how to purchase enough books, help lead meetings, and help talk about which books to put on the final list.
  • Social Media -- Teachers and librarians across the country are using social media to talk about books, whether it's through Goodreads, the #nerdybookclub, Twitter talks or NerdCamps. This has been a huge support to me.
  • Inclusiveness -- Mock Newbery programs are especially powerful when they reach out to all students, especially those who are not yet confident readers. Spreading "book buzz" creates excitement for all readers, and this engagement is a huge piece of increasing students' reading abilities and enjoyment.
  • Early Planning -- All of us start the year promoting our mock Newbery book clubs. This helps build excitement, and it enables kids to read enough books so that they're familiar with the best of the year by the time the January Newbery announcements come out.
The excitement is already building in Berkeley. Some kids are passionate about one book, and are trying to persuade their friends that it's absolutely the best. Others are making connections between books in wonderful ways. Just look at the joy and excitement in this poster, where students shared their thoughts about The Girl Who Drank the Moon:
"Best book ever!! PS: I want to drink the moon too!"
I am so honored to share teaching ideas with my cross-country colleagues Cathy Potter and Jason Lewis, plus many many others who inspire us. I love the way Jason sums up the reaction of his kids last year to the announcement of the Newbery Award:
“When they announced books that the kids knew, the excitement was unbelievable. To see the expressions on their faces—it was perfect. It just makes everything you’re doing worthwhile.”
I want to honor and thank Berkeley's terrific district library coordinator, Becca Todd. We have had so much fun creating this project together. I am so grateful that Armin Arethna, Berkeley Public Library children's librarian, has been my teammate all through this project. And most of all, I want to honor and thank all of the librarians, literacy coaches, teachers and principals who have helped spread this book buzz throughout the kids of Berkeley.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books