Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Dreams for my daughter: Build your dream and soar!

How do you bundle all of a parent's dreams and love for a child together in one book? How do you help children see all their potential? Two new picture books do a lovely job of just this, and I'll be bringing them with me this weekend to celebrate my daughter Katy's college graduation.

by Carole Boston Weatherford
illustrated by Brian Pinkney
Atheneum / Simon & Schuster, 2021
ages 4-adult

This love letter from mother to daughter captures a mother's love and hopes, inspiring her daughter to follow her dreams, no matter what challenges life may bring. "Your voice is my heart song... I look on as you hit your stride... I marvel as you follow your own compass." Carol Boston Weatherford's words speak to me, reaching right into my heart. I'll be reading this to Katy this weekend, for sure! "In the stands, I cheer.. You are my champion and I am yours. / You are braver than you think. / From writing rhymes and painting rainbows to building robots, / your gifts amaze me." Brian Pinkney's illustrations overflow with joy, love and warmth, drawing on a young Black girls' experiences and connecting to universal feelings.

Someone Builds the Dream
by Lisa Wheeler
illustrated by Loren Long
Dial / Penguin, 2021
ages 4-8

Building homes, bridges, any project starts with an idea, but it takes so many different people to make them actually happen. This picture book celebrates all of those people, from the designers to the scientists to the carpenters and welders. We need to recognize not just the folks who dream up the plan, but also those who put it in action. "Someone needs to raise the tower. / Someone has to build the dream." This picture book will appeal to all the kids out there who love building things, but it will also pull in the dreamers and designers. 

Lisa Wheeler's text is a joy to read aloud, flowing with natural rhythm and delightful rhymes. Loren Long's illustrations honor so many types of workers, and I especially appreciate how diverse (in so many ways) the workers are. I'll read it this weekend, and think about how "it takes a team to build a dream, / a skilled, hard-working crew." And I hope my daughters find a place to dream, to work with a team, to be their best selves.

Reading with Molly & Katy
Katy's college graduation has me thinking over the past 22 years (gasp) and how much I'm holding her in my heart. Throughout Katy's life, books have brought us together and shaped many of our memories. 

As a tiny infant, Katy spent time in the NICU and my best friend read Winnie the Pooh stories, making us all smile and bringing us hope and strength. That silly old bear has always made me feel like things would work out okay, no matter how much we bumble about. 

We loved reading together, whether it was Sandra Boynton's fabulous board books (Hippos Go Berserk! is her definite favorite) or Silly Sally (which I think I still have memorized). 

Here's to Katy, a wish that she follows her dreams, surrounds herself with friends, and celebrates her best self. She's an amazing young woman!

Katy, class of 2021

The review copies are 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. 

 ©2021 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Saturday, September 25, 2021

In My Feed: interesting articles & blogs to share (September 2021)

 As the fall weather starts changing (yes, we do have seasons here in California!), some "best of the year" lists are starting to show up in my feed. I always have fun seeing what books other folks highlight as their favorites. We've got the longest for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature, and different Mock Newbery lists. Want to get in on the fun yourself? Nominations for the CYBILS Awards start on October 1st.

image credit: SLJ

Longlist for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature

The National Book Foundation has announced the 2021 longlist for its Young People’s Literature award. Five finalists will be named on October 5th, and the winner will be announced during the awards ceremony on November 17th. I love the diverse range of books included in this year's longlist. I'm particularly excited to see The Legend of Auntie Po. You can read reviews of the nominated books in School Library Journal or in Kirkus.

Mock Newbery lists: a quick roundup

The Newbery Award creates excitement every year, and bookclubs throughout the US sponsor Mock Newbery groups. I have fun seeing what different groups nominate as their picks for the best of the year. Check out Berkeley schools Mock Newbery, SLJ's Heavy Medal blog (here are their early favorites), and Anderson's Bookshops Mock Newbery list. Remember that to be eligible for the Newbery, a book must have been published in the US during the 2021 calendar year, and must have been written by an American author. 

New Latinx books

As you know, I'm always seeking out new book recommendations. Rich in Color gives great recs -- I'm looking forward to checking out these four new Latinx books they are loving this year. Blogs like this help me keep my eye on what other readers, writers, teachers and librarians are suggesting, and give a balance to more traditional reviews from SLJ and Kirkus. I'm especially looking forward to reading Fat Chance Charlie Vega ("a sensitive, funny, and painful coming-of-age story with a wry voice and tons of chisme") and Fire with Fire (with two sisters who "will do whatever it takes to save the other... (but) are playing with magic that is more dangerous than they know").

How movement and gestures improve read alouds

Although reading may seem like a brain-centered activity, I've found it so helpful to encourage children to respond with movement and gestures when I'm reading aloud to them. This article in KQED's Mind/Shift clearly explains the importance of specifically asking learners to engage with physical movements during thinking and learning time. "Physical activity improves students' focus, retention, memory consolidation, creativity and mood." This includes movement breaks, but it also includes purposeful movement during learning time. When you're reading aloud to children, try asking them to incorporate specific gestures as they hear or think about certain things: use the ASL sign for empathy when they are connecting to how a character feels, use the ASL sign for movie if they're getting a movie in their head. or use the ASL sign for ask if they are thinking of a question they'd like to ask.

What's in your feed these days? Drop me a note, and let me know if you find any of these articles interesting. 

©2021 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Celebrating Latinx & Hispanic heritage with teens (ages 13 and up)

We're celebrating Latinx and Hispanic Heritage Month at Albany High School, and I'd love to share some of the books that the teens at our school are excited about. Check out the wide range of books below -- these are all ones that our students are checking out, sharing with each other and recommending. Definitely teen tested!

Realistic fiction
Furia, by Yamile Saied Méndez
Here the Whole Time, by Vitor Martins
Juliet Takes a Breath, by Gabby Rivera

Fantasy & Sci-Fi
Cemetery Boys, by Aidan Thomas
Dealing in Dreams, by Lilliam Rivera
Lobizona, by Romina Garber

Citizen Illegal: Poems, by José Olivarez
My Beloved World, by Sonia Sotomayor
My Corner of the Ring, by Jesselyn Silva

Graphic Novels
Juliet Takes a Breath, written by Gabby Rivera; illustrated & adapted for comics by Celia Moscote 
Suncatcher, by Jose Pimienta

I especially appreciate the wide range of experiences represented in these books. As David Bowles explains in his essay "Latinx Primer for Non-Latinx Folks," the terms Latinx and Hispanic are umbrella terms that include a broad range of experiences. Some students are specifically drawn to stories that represent experiences similar to their own -- one student was very excited to read Henry Barajas' graphic novel about his grandfather, an activist who co-founded the Mexican, American, Yaqui, and Others (M.A.Y.O.) organization in Arizona. Another student was particularly drawn to Here the Whole Time, a coming of age LGBTQ story set in Brazil.

Other students love the fantasy and sci-fi recommendations that draw on heritage from Latin America, but take us into our imaginations. I'm reading Lobizona right now, a werewolf story that draws on Argentinian folklore and is also questioning gender roles, and I'm loving it. 

Enjoy sharing these recommendations with your teens. All of the review copies are from the Albany High 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. 

©2021 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books 

Monday, September 20, 2021

2022 Berkeley Mock Newbery Book Clubs (ages 9-11)

Across Berkeley, students, teachers and families are joining this year's Berkeley Mock Newbery Book Clubs. Every elementary school has invited 4th & 5th graders to participate in these book clubs, talking about the best books published this year.

I'm so excited that the Berkeley Mock Newbery tradition is continuing. Each winter, the American Library Association awards the the Newbery Medal to the author of the most “distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” In Berkeley, 4th and 5th graders form their own Mock Newbery book clubs, considering some of the books which the actual Newbery Committee is likely to consider. 

Which book will the students pick this year? Here are the nominations:

2022 Berkeley Mock Newbery Nominations

Amari and the Night Brothers, by B.B. Alston
Egg Marks the Spot, by Amy Timberlake
Fast Pitch, by Nic Stone
The Legend of Auntie Po, by Shing Yin Khor
The Lion of Mars, by Jennifer L. Holms
The One Thing You'd Save, by Linda Sue Park
Sisters of the Neversea, by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Starfish, by Lisa Fipps
Stuntboy, In the Meantime, by Jason Reynolds
Too Bright to See, by Kyle Lukoff
Yusuf Azkeem Is Not a Hero, by Saadia Faruqi

The Newbery Award is given every year to an American author. The award specifically states that any type of literature may receive this award, as long as it is created specifically for children ages 0-14. The 2022 Newbery Award will be announced on January 24, 2022. The Berkeley Mock Newbery nominations are not an exhaustive list, but are selected by Berkeley's school librarians to "to reflect the diversity of our community and spark joy and a love of reading." 

Berkeley has held a Mock Newbery book clubs across the whole district every year since 2016. What a great tradition to keep going! Although I've moved to neighboring Albany High School, I'm excited to read some of their selections for this year. 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. 

©2021 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Wishes, by Mượn Thị Văn: Opening our readers' hearts

Personal stories, especially picture books, have an incredible power to open readers' hearts. In her beautiful new book Wishes, Mượn Thị Văn draws on her personal experience fleeing Vietnam with her family in search of a safer home. She prompts readers to ask, if you had to leave everything you knew and loved behind, what would you wish for?

by Mượn Thị Văn
illustrated by Victo Ngai
Orchard / Scholastic, 2021
Amazon / your local library / Overdrive
ages 6 and up

As a young girl and her family pack in the middle of the night, they say a tearful goodbye to her grandfather and others who will stay behind. They make their way to board a small boat, and then begin a dangerous journey across the ocean, searching for a new life. Văn structures the story as a series of wishes. As the family waits in line with other refugees, "the boat wished it was bigger." 

"The boat wished it was bigger."

Mượn Thị Văn uses spare, poetic language and lets Victo Ngai's beautiful, cinematic imagery convey much of the story.  This combination encourages readers to pause and open their hearts, both to the fear this young family faces and their hope of finding a better life. This picture book helps readers hold profound loss, resilience and hope all at once.

Văn's family fled Vietnam when she was a baby -- her family's experiences as migrants and refugees is the inspiration for this story. As Văn says, "Every line of text is grounded in my family’s experience as refugees. I wanted the reader to be able to see, and feel, the story from the inside." This video introduces both author and artist, and conveys their personal connections to this story:

This is a picture book we'll be sharing in our high school. We'll use it to start a unit of study for Thi Bui's memoir, The Best We Could Do. Not only will this help our students start understanding the experiences of a refugee family, but it will do this by encouraging them to open their hearts. I would encourage you to share this widely, with children ages 6 and up. It is truly a picture book that will speak to a wide range.

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

©2021 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Red, White and Whole: Finding your path, caught in the middle (ages 10-14)

How do our children navigate feeling caught between two cultures, two groups of friends, two identities? In the new novel-in-verse Red, White and Whole, thirteen-year old Reha struggles to figure out her own path, acutely aware that she must juggle between her home life, filled with Indian family, friends and traditions, and her school life. When Reha's mother is diagnosed with advanced leukemia, Reha must figure out how to draw strength from both sides of her life and chart her own way forward.

Red, White and Whole
by Rajani LaRocca
Quill Tree / HarperCollins, 2021
Amazon / your local library / Overdrive
ages 10-14

Reha lives "two lives. One that is Indian, one that is not." At school, she studies hard, spends time with her best friend Rachel, and tries to blend in even though she feels like she's swimming "in a river of white skin." Weekends are filled with samosas and sabjis, family and her best friend Sunny. As she begins her story, she realizes that both places are filled with friends, laughter and music, "but only in one place do I have my parents." Even though she tries to be a dutiful daughter, Reha chafes at the differences between what her parents allow her to do and those of her friends.

But when her Amma becomes sick, diagnosed with leukemia, Reha doesn't know how to keep going, how to make sense of it all. Her mother's sister tries to be supportive, but sheis far away in India. Reha stays with family friends, but they live far away from her school. How can she and her father keep going with everyday life when Amma is barely hanging on?

I appreciate the way author Rajani LaRocca evocatively captures these struggles, conveying Reha's emotional journey and creating a real connection between the reader and her story. She infuses the story with hope and humor, and yet she also gives readers space to reflect on important issues. As Reha copes with her mother's illness, she ultimately grows and claims her own place in the world. I think this will appeal to a wide range of readers who are drawn to personal stories.

The review copies 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. 

©2021 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, September 6, 2021

Chronicling the events of 9/11: In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers, by Don Brown (ages 12 and up)

As we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I wonder how the teens I work with think about it. The events of September 11, 2001 are certainly etched into my memory—but today's teens weren't even born when these attacked happened. Does 9/11 feel far away and removed to them? Do they wonder what it was like to live through those traumatic times? 

In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers brings readers right into the moment the towers were struck and the devastating, chaotic aftermath. Don Brown masterfully create an accessible and immersive chronicle that's presented in a graphic novel format. Powerful and riveting, this will appeal to teens wanting to know more about this tragedy.

In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers:
The Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Days, Weeks, Months, and Years after the 9/11 Attacks

by Don Brown
Etch / Clarion Books / HMH, 2021
Amazon / your local library / Overdrive
ages 12 and up

Beginning with the attack on the World Trade Center, readers are put right at ground zero. Brown bases his chronicle on firsthand accounts of survivors. Their direct words are used throughout the book, creating the sense that these people are talking directly to the reader. Moving quickly from the explosion, Brown captures the immediate aftermath, with claustrophobic images of survivors trapped in the rubble, exhausted first responders, and the immensity of the task. 

The Google Books preview below helps you see how effective the graphic novel style for conveying this information:

The story continues beyond the initial attacks, as Brown shows the American response to the attacks, including war in Afghanistan, interrogation of political prisoners, and a rise in Islamaphobic incidents in the US. He concludes with an informative afterward and extensive bibliography.

Hand this to fans of graphic novels, and show them how powerfully this format can be used to convey factual information. As with his other nonfiction, Don Brown masterfully captures the humanity and urgent fight for survival, bringing readers right into the scene.

The digital review copy came from the publishers, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 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. 

©2021 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, August 29, 2021

The Fox and the Forest Fire -- sharing about a disaster with young readers (ages 5-9)

As California's skies fill with smoke and our forests burn, I wonder how you talk with children about wildfires and other natural disasters. The Fox and the Forest Fire, a new picture book, shares this experience with young children better than any other book I've read, creating empathy and understanding in a gentle but powerful way.

The Fox and the Forest Fire
by Danny Popovici
Chronicle, 2021
Amazon / your local library / Overdrive
ages 5-9

After moving to a new home in the woods with his mother, a young boy works to adjust to his new home. At first it's too different, but he gradually discovers how much fun he can have: studying bugs, building dams, playing in the river. He even makes a new friend -- the fox we see on the book's cover. 

One day, a forest fire suddenly changes everything. The boy sees "a plume of smoke off in the distance." Hurrying to warn his mother, he "wonders if we will ever see our home again." He and his mother pack up to evacuate, and the animals flee for safety. Popovici's artwork conveys the worry and fear, but the resolution shows that the family and the forest will rebuild. 

I appreciate how this picture book honors the resilience and courage of families (and animals) caught in the path of a wildfire. By focusing on the relationship between the young boy and the fox, he creates empathy as readers grow to know the boy's forest home and feel distraught seeing it burn. Ending on a hopeful note helps readers think about how we can change and grow from these disasters.

Popovici writes in his author's note that he was a forest fighter for three seasons. He knows first hand about the destructive power of fires, and the way a forest can grow back after a fire. In an interview with author Jena Benton, Popovici explains,

"I was a wildland firefighter in the early 2000’s for three seasons. It was an unforgettable experience as I got to be a part of the wilderness very few people get to see. When you’re out there you feel like you’re doing good for the animals and plants that call it home. Wildfires are all too common these days, and it’s a huge strain on the local ecology. 

As I wrote in my book, a naturally occurring fire can benefit a forest, but what we’re collectively experiencing these days are not naturally occurring fires. In 2017 a fire raged through the Columbia Gorge here in Oregon and Washington and the smoke was the heaviest I’d experienced within the city. I knew in my heart that the way we’re treating the planet, these fires are only going to get worse and effect more and more people each year."

The review copies 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.

©2021 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Inspiring Young Environmental Advocates: 6 middle grade novels (ages 9-14)

Environmental issues impact and threaten our lives in so many ways--from raging fires to supersize storms. Here are six novels that tackle some of these issues, whether it’s through showing characters fighting to protect endangered species or setting survival stories in the wilderness impacted by changing climates. 

by Katherine Applegate 
Feiwel & Friends / Macmillan, 2021
Amazon / your local library (scheduled to be published on Sept. 7, 2021)
ages 9-12 

Eleven-year-old Willodeen feels a connection to all kinds of animals, and has an adorable hummingbear (a cross between a hummingbird and a polar bear) as a pet. But Willodeen believes that all animals play an important role keeping nature in balance -- even the detested screechers. As her community struggles with environmental disasters (from the fire that killed Willodeen's parents to the disappearance of hummingbears), Willodeen has to overcome her intense shyness and figure out how to speak up for the animals she loves. I especially appreciate how Applegate mixes gentle fantasy with an important environmental message and creates a character I connect with so strongly (my 9-year-old self wants to be Willodeenn!)

Paradise on Fire
by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Little, Brown, 2021
Amazon / your local library (scheduled to be published Sept. 14, 2021)
ages 10-14

Addy joins five other Black city kids to spend a summer on a mountain ranch to take part in a summer wilderness program. As a young toddler, Addy barely escaped a tragic apartment fire that killed her parents, and now she's obsessed with maps and escape routes. Her Nigerian grandmother thinks that getting away and spending time in nature would be good for her. Addy, who's full name means "daughter of an eagle," quickly takes to life in the woods and learns how to read and draw topographical maps. But on one of their last days, the group of kids leave the only skilled woodsman behind and head out for an overnight camping trip. In the middle of the night, a forest fire erupts and they flee down the ridge, heading toward the creek they know is below. Addy's narrative focuses on survival and her escape is heart-poundiogly realistic, although I was left in the end not feeling like I got to know the other characters.

Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers
by Celia C. Pérez 
Kokila / Penguin, 2019
Amazon / your local library / Overdrive
ages 9-12

Four awkwardly mismatched middle school girls find themselves creating a secret club, joining forces to disrupt the status quo in their small Florida town and convince the local social club (the Floras) stop using an unethically made feathered hat in its annual pageant. All throughout middle school, I felt socially awkward and on the outside, so the idea of joining a secret group of kids who are challenging the system appeals to me so much. Each of these girls brings her own unique perspective and story, wrestling with her own challenges, and adding to the adventure in important ways. When the girls take up the protest, supporting Cat and her dedication to protecting birds, they must face issues of race and class that emerge.

by Sara Pennypacker
illustrated by Jon Klassen
Balzer & Bray / HarperCollins, 2017
Amazon / your local library / Overdrive
ages 9-13 

A boy. A fox. Inseparable, until they are suddenly torn 300 miles apart. Told in the alternating voices of Peter and Pax the fox, this is a story of the friendship between a child and an animal, a story full of love, loyalty and determination, a story about how grief, war and anxiety can take deep root but how friendship can help you find peace within. Here are the notes I wrote to myself when I first read it: "I've just finished this and, oh my, how the themes are vibrating in my mind and soul. Loyalty, friendship, family, anxiety, fear, determination, grief, war, peace within. Cannot wait to talk with my students about this. Incredibly powerful story." Pennypacker wraps many complex emotional issues into this story, but at its heart it's about our connection to animals, the environment around us, and our found family. I'm excited that the sequel, Pax: Journey Home, is being published in September.

Same Sun Here
by Silas House and Neela Vaswani
Candlewick, 2012
Amazon / your local library / Overdrive
ages 9-13 

Pen-pals River and Meena reveal their "own true selves" to each other through the letters they write, their friendship slowly develops as they share their hopes and frustrations, discovering how much they are alike despite their differences. Meena has just moved to New York City from India, while River has lived all his life in a small coal-mining town in Kentucky. They both have been raised by their grandmothers for much of their lives, and they both love the mountains-- River loves the Appalachian Mountains, and Meena misses the mountains in Mussoorie, India. I especially appreciate the way that they encourage each other, as River becomes an environmental activist protesting coal mining in his community, and Meena joins her school's theater program.

by Carl Hiaasen
Random House, 2002
Amazon / your local library / Overdrive
ages 9-13

In this 2003 Newbery Honor book, Roy and his two new friends set out to solve the mysterious vandalism at a nearby construction site. When they discover that this is also a nesting ground for small burrowing owls, they try to protect the endangered owls and block construction. Hiaasen's story is full of his classic offbeat humor, blockheaded adults, and kids who are determined to disrupt the corruption and compromises of the adult world.

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

©2021 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Reclaiming mythology & California history: The Legend of Auntie Po, by Shing Yin Khor (ages 9-14)

Attention comic book lovers: come explore a 19th century California logging camp and listen to a young Chinese girl spin stories and tall tales envisioning a better future. The Legend of Auntie Po, by Shing Yin Khor, explores the struggles of the Chinese in California in the years following the Chinese Exclusion Act, balancing important historical details with a compelling, heartfelt, magical story.

The Legend of Auntie Po
by Shing Yin Khor
Kokila / Penguin, 2021
Amazon / your local library / Overdrive
ages 9-14

Mei helps her father cook and feed dozens of hungry men in a Sierra Nevada logging camp, in 19th century California. She dreams of a better life and chafes at her limited opportunities, knowing that her white friend can go to university and get married. Mei loves reading and telling stories--at night, she enchants anyone who will listen with her stories of Auntie Po, a Chinese woman who "stood taller than the tallest white pine" and ran a logging camp with her "loyal blue buffalo Pei Pei." Adult readers may recognize much of Paul Bunyan, I'm not really sure that young readers will know those stories.

Even though the logging boss declares his loyalty to Mei's father, he cannot protect him against anti-Chinese discrimination. When the logging company caves to pressure, the White camp boss dismisses all of the Chinese workers, including Mei's father. The story weaves together the real-world struggles Mei and her father face with the tall tales of Auntie Po's heroic adventures.

I especially appreciate the way Khor draws readers into the story with this graphic novel, creating a visual sense of the logging camp, yet really focusing on the character's feelings and struggles. Young readers often find it hard to feel a part of history, and this story will bring them into an important perspective that is often left out of the history books. Take a look at this preview from Google Books and see for yourself:

The review copies 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. 

©2021 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, August 12, 2021

In My Feed: interesting articles & blogs to share (August 2021)

My feed this month has been full of speculation about Covid-19, but I'd like to take a break from all that to focus on some reading-related posts. Let's start with something fun: a Buzzfeed quiz on bookwork habits. Then we'll move onto Time's new list of 100 Best YA

illustration by Colin Verdi for TIME 

Just for fun: Buzzfeed Quiz

How Many Of These Bookworm Things Did You Do As A Kid? -- I admit it, I have tried walking and reading, stumbling and running into things way too many times. How about you? What bookworm things can you fess up to doing?

100 Best YA Books

Time Magazine's 100 Best YA Books of All Time is a fabulous list of classics and brand new titles. You'll definitely see classics on there (Little Women, Lord of the Flies) and some popular best-sellers (Hunger Games, The Hate U Give). I especially appreciate the range of stories and voices included here.

Age-Appropriate Discussions about Race

In KQED's Mind/Shift, veteran educator Dr. Sonja Cherry-Paul talks about how to have age-appropriate discussions about race. Scholar Dr. Ibram X. Kendi wrote "Stamped from the Beginning" as a definitive history of racism in America, and Jason Reynolds remixed this for teens as “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You.” Now, we have “Stamped (For Kids): Racism, Antiracism, and You,” an adaptation aimed at 7- to 12-year-olds. I found it particularly interesting how Dr. Cherry-Paul suggested taking into account younger children's development when you're talking about these tough topics. 

Broad strokes of nuanced ideas will do the trick for young learners. Instead of focusing on small details, concentrate on big picture ideas and how to stoke sustainable interest. “I just had to remind myself that ‘Stamped (For Kids)’ is a start and not an end to the kind of reading that students should have access to across their lives about race and racism. And if I've done my job well, they'll want to read more,” says Cherry-Paul.

Ten Ways to Make Storytimes Interactive

Are you looking for ways to keep young listeners engaged as you read stories with them? Check out author Abi Cushman's post in Nerdy Book Club. Whether it's choosing stories with built in guessing games (like Cushman's new book Animals Go Vroom!), or books that get kids moving -- Cushman shares her favorite ways to engage young kids during storytime. 

What's in your feed these days? Drop me a note, and let me know if you find any of these articles interesting.

©2021 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Reading tips & strategies: Playing with the sound of words (ages 2-8)

As your children are getting ready to read or developing their reading skills, it's great to play with the sound of words. Each word is made of small blocks of sounds. In order to learn to read, we need to be able to break words into the smaller parts. Focus on these sounds (not letter names) and play with these sound parts. As Reading Rockets explains:

As the foundation for all written words, letters are important because they are the symbols for the small actions your mouth makes as you say words. What's equally important, however, is that your child learns the sound associated with each letter. These individual sounds are called phonemes, and children who know about the connection between a letter and its phoneme have an easier time learning to read.

Parents can help children get ready to read by playing with the sound of words. Play some of these silly games as you're at the store or cooking dinner. 

image from PBS Kids for Parents

Play with rhymes:
Rhyming games help children recognize how parts of words can be similar. You can sing songs or read stories with rhymes. But you can also play guessing games with everyday objects. Maybe it's a version of "I spy" using rhyming: "I spy something that rhymes with bear.

Be silly with nonsense words: Kids love-love-love being silly. Encourage this, and use nonsense words that play with small sounds of words. These types of words help kids learn to blend together words, using these sound chunks. Maybe if you sneeze, try saying "achoo-a-boo-boo-boo!" Do you see how that helps emphasize that small part of the word?

Listen for sounds: Help your child listen for beginning sounds in words and then play with them. Can they make this even sillier: Silly Sally sings songs all Saturday -- by extending all the sss's? What about Mommy makes mud pies? This sort of goofy playing actually helps children realize that the beginning sounds are important parts of words.

Swap sounds around: For a more advanced game, try removing or swapping sounds. What is ‘beat’ when you take away the T sound? Bee! Maybe they can use this to make up silly nicknames for their pets or stuffed animals.

Read more ideas on PBS Parents at How to Start Playing On-the-Go Literacy Games.

Playing with language and words will help children develop their confidence and phonics skills. How do you help grow your readers? Send me a note, and let me know what works for you! 

©2021 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Fast-paced, exciting science fiction: 5 favorites for tweens & young adults (ages 12+)

Science fiction stories continue to captivate tweens and young adults--providing an avenue to escape our world, feel a rush of adrenaline, and wonder about what the future might hold. Here are five fast-paced sci-fi stories I highly recommend for tweens and young adults.

Nyxia, by Scott Reintgen: Emmett is one of 10 teens who sign onto Babel Communication's space exploration project, heading out into space to mine a rare substance, Nyxia. As the teens are put through a brutal competition to see who is best suited for the task, they discover secrets about the corporation and one another. Readers in my high school have loved this fast-paced story and can definitely think it should get made into a movie.

Once and Future, by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy: This exciting story takes King Arthur's timeless hero's journey wielding Excalibur, sets it in outer space, and casts a teenage girl as Ari, the reincarnation of King Arthur. As Ari wrestles with her power and duty as "the one true king," she embarks on a dangerous quest to save her family and battle a power-hungry corporation from dominating the universe. I especially appreciate the way this stories re-envisions a classic with a racial diverse queer and trans ensemble of characters.

Want, by Cindy Pon: Set in a futuristic Taiwan where the ultra-rich wear suits and helmets to keep the pollution at bay, Jason Zhou and his friends decide to take down a corrupt, murderous CEO as they agitate for cleaner air. Jason poses as a young gambler and playboy, kidnaps the CEO's daughter and breaks into the corporate headquarters. Teens have liked the fast-pacing, immersive descriptions and social commentary -- and they quickly ask for the sequel, Ruse.

War Girls, by Tochi Onyebuchi: In a post-apocalyptic Nigeria ravaged by nuclear war, child soldiers fight to reclaim the future. The novel alternates between Onyii, an air pilot captain who agrees to fight for the Republic of Biafra, and her younger sister Ify, who has been kidnaped by the Nigerians. Intense action scenes pull readers into this complicated political drama that highlights the arbitrary nature of war.

The Last Cuentista, by Donna Barba Higuera: I have yet to read this new sci-fi novel, but I'm so excited (it publishes in October). When Petra wakes hundreds of years after escaping the destruction of Earth, she discovers that she's the only person who remembers Earth and humanity's past. The Collective has taken over and purged everyone's memories. Petra's plan: share cuentos with other children, stir their memories, and come up with a plan to escape. Kirkus starred review sums it up: "With poetic use of startling imagery and unabashed nostalgia, Higuera spins a tale that crosses the depths of space, interweaving Mexican folklore with a mystical strand of science fiction."

The review copies came from both my public library and 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. 

©2021 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, August 9, 2021

New beginnings: 5 books about feeling nervous about the start of school

As summer ends and the new school year begins, it's important to recognize just how big this transition is for kids (and families, too!). So many feelings come with these transitions, no matter how old we are. Share these 5 books, name some of the feelings the characters are going through, and talk about how they're coping. 

Becoming Vanessa, by Vanessa Brantley-Newton: Vanessa is nervous about her first day of school, and plans the perfect outfit -- feather boa, tutu, shiny shoes, her special hat. But frustration takes over when other kids don't appreciate her special outfit and writing her name is hard work. I especially appreciate the way Vanessa discovers the special meaning of her name and realizes that how she feels inside will make her shine.

El Cucuy Is Scared, Too!, by Donna Barba Higher: Ramón can’t sleep -- everything is different in his new house. He is nervous for his first day at a new school. It turns out that El Cucuy, the monster who lives in Ramón’s cactus pot, is scared, too! Kids will laugh at the way Ramón and El Cucuy remind each other about how strong and brave they are, defusing their fears. El Cucuy is a scary Mexican legend, but portrayed here in a cute way to encourage laughs alongside the shivers.

The Day You Begin, by Jacqueline Woodson: "What did you do last summer?" can be a loaded question. As children share about summer travels, Angelina remembers the days spent at home caring for her little sister, and feels very alone at school. In this gentle, beautiful story, Woodson speaks directly to readers, encouraging all of us to find friends who will listen to our stories, a new friend who "has something a little like you--and something else so fabulously not quite like you at all." 

My First Day, by Phùng Nguyên Quang and Huy'nh Kim Liên: A young Vietnamese boy sets out alone in a wooden boat across the Mekong Delta, heading to his first day of school. Captivating illustrations and beautiful, poetic language will make this a delight to read aloud. I especially appreciate the metaphors that encourage readers to see how similar our feelings can be, even though our experiences may be vastly different.

School's First Day of School, by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson: Have you ever stopped to think if the school might be nervous about the new year? Even though Janitor says, “Don’t worry--you’ll like the children,” school does worry. Young readers will appreciate the way this picture book brings a fresh angle to the familiar story, sharing warmth and empathy, and helping all of us consider a new perspective. 
The review copies came from both my public library and from Penguin Random House Publishers. 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. 

©2021 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Neon Words: Developing the writer's craft and creativity (ages 12 & up)

I am continually delighted by the number of high school students who tell me how much they enjoy writing, how they spend time writing in journals, writing poetry, writing stories. Do you have a burgeoning writer in your life? Hand them Neon Words, and inspire them to find new ways to develop their craft and creativity.

Neon Words: 10 Brilliant Ways to Light Up Your Writing
by Marge Pellegrino and Kay Sather
Magination Press, 2021
ages 12 and up

Each writer approaches their craft with a different perspective, but one thing that makes writing sparkle is a personal connection. Pellegrino and Sather take readers through different writing exercises and techniques, but they shine most as they speak directly to the reader in an approachable voice. Instead of coming across as English teachers setting a task before students, Pellegrino and Sather come across as "real writers" who are sharing their own experience with young writers.  

Chapters focus on different strategies and exercises young writers can try, and the authors spend as much time showing students examples from their own writing as giving directions. "Make It Personal" talks about the importance of having a personal journal, and shows writers how to combine simple drawing with similes to stretch associative connections and wordplay. "Look Who's Talking" shows writers how to play with dialogue and point of view, strengthening their skills and noticing the way dialogue can carry a scene. Here's one strategy shared in the chapter "Switch It Up":

(click to enlarge)

I especially appreciate how these short chapters encourage young writers to try out different strategies, to play with writing instead of focusing on a finished piece. My grandmother used to talk about "mental gymnastics" -- and I really see the same here. Writers need to flex their creative muscles to become more flexible and learn different moves. As they tell young readers and writers,

"Just remember: You're the boss. These pages hold only suggestions. So improvise! Use the ideas to get yourself started... Get ready to be surprised by where your words will take you."

Marge Pellegrino is the author of Journey of Dreams, a very memorable immigration story. She is a writing teacher and mentor whom I admire greatly. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases if you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site.

©2021 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Blue Floats Away: Growing up is full of surprises (ages 3-7)

Growing up is full of surprises, and how you see it depends on your perspective. Want to engage in a lively discussion? Ask a group of 4 year olds what makes them big kids, compared to the babies and toddlers in their lives. Not only are they bigger, they also can do many things all by themselves. This growth is exciting, but it also can come with frightening changes. Blue Floats Away captures these feelings, and shares a lesson on the water cycle too.

Blue Floats Away
by Travis Jonkers
illustrated by Grant Snider
Abrams, 2021
Amazon / your local library
ages 3-7 

Little Blue is an iceberg, happily attached to his parents -- and yet, one day, "Blue was suddenly on his own, floating away," unsure if he'll ever return. As Blue floats into his new life, he discovers new and beautiful things. Soon, though, Blue realizes that he's changing -- and the reader sees Blue melting and then turning into a cloud. Blue does make it home, but he's transformed into something new. The author's note explains about how the water cycle works, helping young readers see the science underpinning this story.

As we head back to school, many kids are going to be nervous about the separation and growth they're experiencing, especially if they're heading to a new school. Travis Jonkers captures the full range of emotions young kids go through as they wrestle with these changes. I especially appreciate how we can read this story in so many different ways -- on an emotional level, as a lesson about the water cycle, or as an introduction to global warming. The spare text and bold colors will make this captivating as a read aloud.

My oldest daughter struggled with separation anxiety in preschool (lots of tears) -- and yet she's now happily living across the country! Enjoy your little ones while you can. They do grow up so fast. The review copies came from my public library. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases if you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site. 

©2021 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

In my feed: interesting articles & blogs to share (July 2021)

As I relaunch my blog, I'd like to share out interesting articles and blogs that catch my eye. These may be specifically about reading, literacy and books, but they may also be about other topics.

Summer Freedom Reading!
via the Jane Addams Peace Award newsletter

Summer Freedom Reading!
 (Jane Addams Peace Award newsletter). Explore this great themed list that focuses on different aspects of freedom. "Summer for some means more freedom, not having to follow a school schedule. For some this freedom may coexist with the stress of unstructured time. For some, summer means more reading time." 

Problem: Christian Robinson is Collaborating with Target and I Want to Buy Everything (100 Scope Notes blog) -- me too, Travis, me too!! I especially love the molecule PJs. Do they come in adult sizes?? In the meantime, you can download digital wallpapers designed by Christian Robinson. 

Great Books on the Outdoors for Curious Kids (Kirkus Perspectives) -- Vicky Smith, a longtime editor at Kirkus, shares a great suggestions of new books that encourage kids to explore the outdoors. I've just put several of these on hold at my public library. I can't wait to look through The Fungarium, a fascinating oversized book written by Ester Gaya and a team of mycologists from the Royal Botanic Gardens. 

#FactsMatter: Nonfiction Graphic Novel Series for Tweens and Teens (SLJ's Teen Librarian Toolbox) -- I love the way these comic books convey fascinating information. I definitely recommend the series highlighted in this blog post. My personal favorite is Maker Comics: Bake Like a Pro

Oh Flock! Clever Cockatoos Are More Culturally Complex Than We Thought (NPR) -- I'm fascinated by animal research, especially focusing on animal behavior. What's interesting about this discovery is that these cockatoos are teaching each other strategies for dumpster diving. Cockatoos that live near each other use different strategies than cockatoos in different neighborhoods. It's fascinating to explore the social nature of learning!

What's in your feed these days? Drop me a note, and let me know if you find any of these articles interesting.

©2021 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Reading tips & strategies: July 2021

 Each reader is different, but we all share a desire to explore, engage and discover stories around us. As part of relaunching my blog, I'd like to share quick suggestions of reading tips and strategies. I truly believe that we discover the magic of reading by getting recommendations from trusted friends in our lives. Think of me as your own personal librarian.

image from Reading Rockets

Comprehension: Understanding what you read

Comprehension is the real goal of reading -- it's understanding what we read, and connecting it to our broader understanding of the world. But how do strong readers do this? How can we help our children strengthen these skills? Reading Rockets sets out a few good tips in its series Reading 101: A Guide for Parents. Try these:

* Draw on prior knowledge: Before you read, do a picture walk and talk about what you know already. What connections can you make, just from looking at the title, cover and some of the pictures?

* Form mental images: Do you see a movie in your head as you read? Good readers often form mental pictures as they read, and this helps them put together the action or ideas in a story.

* Summarize & retell: Talk about what you see as the important parts of the story. Who are the main characters, and what problems are they facing? Talking through this will help your child learn to weed out unnecessary information.

Making Reading Relevant: Read, Learn and Do!

Reading can make our real-world experiences more meaningful, whether it's learning about something in our natural environment or getting inspired to draw & create artwork. Look at this short post from Colorín Colorado, a wonderful resource supporting families of English Language Learners. 

Are storms coming to your area this summer? Read a story like The Buffalo Storm, by Katherine Applegate. Pair it with a nonfiction book like Magic School Bus: Inside a Hurricane or National Geographic's Storms! Then get prepared for storms coming your way -- put together a storm kit with flashlights and extra batteries. Brainstorm a list of how to keep calm and be prepared -- maybe practice with stuffed animals who are scared of lightning.

Making reading meaningful and relevant will help children develop their confidence and comprehension skills. How do you help grow your readers? Send me a note, and let me know what works for you!

©2021 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Wonder Walkers & If You Come to Earth: Inspiring a sense of wonder about our world (ages 4-8)

Are you looking to inspire a sense of wonder about the world around us, tapping into children's innate sense of wonder? Two new picture books lead to wonderful musings about our world: Wonder Walkers, by Micha Archer, and If You Come to Earth, by Sophie Blackall. Both of these let you get away from your everyday world, and look with fresh eyes on everything around us.

Wonder Walkers
by Micha Archer
Nancy Paulsen Books/ Penguin Random House, 2021
Amazon / Your local library
ages 4-8

As two children head outside for a "wonder walk," they ask each other questions about the world around them, making connections to their own experiences. Together, readers will ponder with this pair questions such as: “Is the sun the world’s light bulb?” “Are trees the sky’s legs?” “Is dirt the world’s skin?” “Is the wind the world breathing?” Revel in the vibrant illustrations, and maybe venture out on your own wonder walk. 

"Do mountains have bones? Are forests the mountain's fur?"

I especially appreciate Archer's spare poetic language, letting readers (young and old) sit with these deep questions. This will make a lovely bedtime book, to end the day wondering about the world around us. Teachers can also use it as a springboard for exploring the power of personification, analogies and other literary devices. But really, it just makes me want take a walk with a young person and see what they notice in our world.

If You Come to Earth
by Sophie Blackall
Chronicle Books, 2021
Amazon / Your local library
ages 4-8

"If you come to Earth, there are a few things you need to know..." and so begins the young narrator's musings about how to describe our world to an alien from outer space. And yet, how do we really describe our whole world to someone? How do we capture all the different places in it, all the different ways people live and what they do every day? Quinn, the young narrator, writes of the great diversity of life on Earth. I especially love the detail in each page -- you'll spend time exploring faces full of expression, families of all shapes and sizes picnicking together, of children in class together and adults getting ready for work. 

"We live in all kinds of homes."

Blackall truly celebrates the diversity in our world, making each reader feel part of this special book. Spend time looking closely at all the different homes people make for themselves. Talk gently about what it means not to have a home. Blackall doesn't ignore difficult things in our world, but gently acknowledges that they are part of life too. 

I hope you enjoy spending time with these wonder-inspiring picture books. The review copies came from my public library. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases if you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site. 

©2021 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books 

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Firekeeper's Daughter, by Angeline Boulley: suspenseful mystery immersed with Ojibwe culture, setting and identity (ages 14+)

Do your teens crave an immersive mystery that also raises important social issues about identity, community and drug addiction? I highly recommend Firekeeper's Daughter, Angeline Boulley's groundbreaking debut novel. In this suspenseful mystery, Daunis Fontaine, an Ojibwe teen living in the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan, witnesses the shocking murder of her best friend and gets thrust into an FBI drug investigation. 

Firekeeper's Daughter
by Angeline Boulley
Henry Holt / Macmillan, 2021
ages 14+

Eighteen-year-old Daunis has always felt like an outsider--whether navigating the Ojibwe and the white sides of her family, or making a place for herself as a girl playing on the boys' hockey team.  When her best friend is murdered, Daunis reluctantly agrees to help the covert FBI operation investigating a series of drug-related deaths. At first, she's excited to be part of this investigation, but soon she realizes that the deceptions are striking close to home, and Daunis must decide how she can best protect her community and what it means to be a strong Anishinaabe Kwewag (Native American woman). 

I especially appreciate how skillfully Boulley weaves together rich character development, a brisk plot with plenty of twists and turns, and immersive cultural setting. I was immediately drawn into Daunis's character as a strong, hockey-playing teen who wants to combine traditional medicine with modern science, and who celebrates the Ojibwe traditions as well as challenges preconceived notions about Native people. 

One aspect that really stuck with me is how fiercely Daunis wants to protect her community. She talks several times about how decisions that Native communities make are taken looking forward for several generations, because they see themselves as stewards of their communities and the land, not just for right now but for future generations. Boulley deals with tough topics like drug use, rape, and murder, but she balances these dark topics with Daunis's strong determination and the support she gets from several different women in her family.

I'm excited that the Obama's production company, Higher Ground, will adapt Firekeeper's Daughter for a Netflix TV series.

The review copy came from my public library, via OverDrive. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases if you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site.

©2021 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books