Friday, November 28, 2008

It's Time to Vote

Voting for the President and Vice President books for the Emerson library is now open.

The poll which you see to the left will be open for your vote until December 8. Anyone is welcome to vote. You do not need to be a student at Emerson School. Please vote only once, however, just to keep the election honest.

Before you vote, carefully consider the various candidates. There is information about each party and their candidates posted below. All of the postings include links for more information.

Let your voice be heard.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


The Democats have selected The Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket as their presidential candidate. Their vice presidential candidate is Dr. Seuess' The Cat in the Hat. Here is what they have to say about their candidates.

"The Series of Unfortunate Events is a great set of books. The series is full of excitement, drama, and mystery. The expertise of Lemony Snicket's style overflows into these truly wonderful novels. Will these three orphans escape the claws of a villain beyond thought? Will all unhappy endings finally take a turn for the better? Find out inside this fantastic series."

"The Cat in the Hat (published in 1957) is about two children and a fish that are having a dreary day in the house. Then the Cat in the Hat comes and he gets into a big mess. Then they are having so much fun that they forget about the mess. Suddenly they think that they are going to get into trouble. Will the Cat in the Hat clean the mess? Will the dreary day go on? Find out in The Cat in the Hat."

"Dr. Seuss is a a great author because he uses his creative imagination, mind and good attitude, and his knowledge, experience, expertise, and love of children in his great books. His books are great because they are fun for children to read and they nudge at the truth of the real world while still being fun, creative and imaginative. He was born in 1904 and died in 1991. His Dad owned a zoo and that is probably why his books sometimes star zoo animals. To wrap this up, Dr. Seuss is a great author and VOTE FOR HIM!"

Learn more about the presidential candidate at the Lemony Snicket Official Website.

For more about the Vice Presidential candidate read and listen to this report from National Public Radio.


The Indipulicrats worked hard to represent all facets of the population when they selected their name which combines Independents, Republicans, and Democrats into one inclusive title.

Here is what they have to say about their book candidates.

"You should vote Indipulicrats for President because they are cool. We have two great books running--Holes by Louis Sachar and Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish.

is a great book for the teenage reader of fiction.

Amelia Bedelia is a great book if you are beginning to read or if you like a good laugh. It is really funny.

Holes is about a boy named Stanley who is in trouble with the law for stealing some Air Jordans! Then he is sent to Camp Green Lake where he has to dig, dig, dig. It is torture there. Then he escapes.

Amelia Bedelia is about a funny woman who sees directions differently. Then she really gets crazy. She is weird, weird, and, did I say, weird.

So vote Indipublicrats."

The Indipublicrats have also created a list of their cabinet members.

Secretary of State--The BFG by Roald Dahl
Secretary of the Treasury--Brisngr by Chrisopher Paolini
Secretary of Defense--The Hardy Boys by Franklin W. Dixon
Attorney General--Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke
Secretary of the Interior--Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop
Secretary of Agriculture--The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Secretary of Labor--Otis Spofford by Beverly Cleary
Secretary of Health and Human Services--The Fairy's Return by Gail Carson Levine
Secretary of Transportation--Warriors by Erin Hunter
Secretary of Energy--Mackinaw City Mummies by Jonathan Rand
Secretary of Education--Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
Secretary of Veteran's Affairs--The Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Secretary of Homeland Security--Alex Rider by Anthony Horowitz

More information about the presidential candidate can be found at the Louis Sachar website.

Take a look at the vice presidential candidate here.

Monday, November 24, 2008


The Bookocrats have their nominees ready for your consideration.

President: The Kid Who Ran for President by Dan Gutman

"The Kid Who ran for President is very funny and will teach you about how much work you have to do to run for president. Who knows? You could run for president like Judson Moon, the main character in the book. Find out at the end of the book if he will get elected or not."

"Dan Gutman was born on October 19, 1955, in New York City. As a young baby he moved to Newark, New Jersey, where he grew up. He originally wanted to a be a psychologist, but he found that it was not for him. He wanted to move to New York and decided to be a writer. After awhile he tried writing magazine articles but they were not successful. In 1982, Pac-man came out and he started a video game magazine. Soon he began writing books for kids. He lives in Haddonfield, New Jersey."

Vice President: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

"Where the Wild Things Are is a classic children's picture book. The main character, Max, puts on his wolf suit and amazing things start happening. His room turns into a forest! This is a true blue children's book. Read it to find out what happens."

To learn more about the presidential candidate you may visit Dan Gutman's home page.

The vice presidential candidate invites you to learn more at this site.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


The READ-publicans have nominated their top choices for library president and vice president.

Eragon by Christopher Paolini for President

"Eragon is a great book and is not the junk some people think it is. Eragon is the story of a boy who finds a mysterious blue "stone" in a wilderness mountain range called "The Spine". The blue stone turns out to be a dragon egg and Eragon becomes a rider in an amazing adventure never imagined for a poor farm boy. What makes this book the more impressive is that Christopher Paolini, the author, was only fifteen years old when he wrote the book. The series continues in Eldest and later in Brisingr. The fourth and final book is yet to come."

For more information on Eragon and Christopher Paolini visit the official website.

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss for Vice President

Learn more about Green Eggs and Ham here.

The READ-publicans have also compiled a list of potential cabinet members in the Eragon/Green Eggs and Ham administration.

Secretary of State: Snow Falling in Spring by Moyling Li

Secretary of the Interior: Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation by John Ehle

Secretary of the Treasury: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Secretary of Defense: The Warriors series by Erin Hunter

Secretary of Education: Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

Secretary of Energy: Pendragon by D J MacHale

Secretary of Transportation: Olive the Other Reindeer by Vivian Walsh

Secretary of Health and Human Services: Garfield by Jim Davis

Attorney General: Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler

Secretary of Agriculture: The Yellow House: Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin Side by Side by Susan Rubin Goldman

Secretary of Labor: The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson

Secretary of Homeland Security: Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat by Lynne Jonell

Head of the Environmental Protection Agency: The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry

More information on the Secretary of Defense--Warriors

"Warriors is the exciting tale of a kitty pet named Rusty who dreams of life living in the forest. One day Smudge, his friend, dares him to go into the forest. As Rusty enters the forest a whole new life opens up in front of him and soon he becomes a warrior of a clan. His dreams come true. Follow him in this exciting series."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Election of the Year--Coming Soon!!

No one seems to have been able to fight the urge to get involved with politics this year. In an attempt to keep our students from arguing the pros and cons of Obama and McCain, it seemed to be a good idea to have our own election. Over the past several weeks, fourth and fifth grade classes have gone from the primary process to being almost ready for our own election. The difference from earlier elections is that they are creating their own parties to run books for President and Vice President of the library.

We began with nominations for each position. The students worked to define the eligibility requirements for president, settling on candidate being a work of fiction of at least 150 pages that is suitable for upper elementary and middle school students. The nominee can be a single book or a series. The nomination lists were long--much like the national presidential process which seemed to begin with everyone but me throwing a hat in the ring. We had repeated votes (primaries) to eliminate candidates until we came to one winning candidate. Much like the Clinton and Obama battle. it was not always easy to get a consensus for a final candidate. Students gave brief speeches supporting their favorites and some heated, but really quite logical and generally civil, discussions ensued. Not everyone was always happy with how things went. Feeling that they were being disregarded throughout the process, we have had threats of walk-outs by part of at least one party.

Unlike human candidates, books rely on their supporters for a voice, so the presidential candidates did not get to select their vice presidents. Instead, we did another nomination and elimination of candidates. For our purposes, the VP has to be a picture book or easy reader. There was much discussion about a good book versus a recognizable name that might be more electable.

Then there was the selection of a good party name. Some great names were discussed (and some pretty ridiculous ones as well) and the names were slowly winnowed away. There was a desire to appeal to the masses and to cross existing divisions for a party name that appeal to voters and represent a united front.

The parties are currently busy making posters and other advertising. They will have short statements about their candidates and the authors behind those candidates. They are also selecting their potential cabinet.

You, the readers of this blog, will have the opportunity to join the students of our school in voting for the winners. In the coming week, information about each of the candidates along with the cabinet selections will be posted on this blog. A poll will be added to the blog so that you may vote for your favorite party and its candidates. It will be a tough decision since each party has put a lot of thought into picking the very best candidates for this prestigious position. Please consider all that you read about the candidates and vote wisely.

Until the actual election, feel free to leave your comments. Let's get a healthy discussion going here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What Have I Been Doing?

One of the problems that I am discovering with keeping a blog is that it takes a lot of time to write and edit posts. Another thing that bothers me is that I have no idea how many people read this blog so I have no idea if anyone at all has missed seeing new entries for the past couple of weeks. (If you do read this blog sometimes, please leave a message just so I know you exist out there in cyberspace.)

When I could not find time to write for the past two weeks it was almost always work related--or least related to exhaustion caused by work related activities.

Way back on November 8, I spent the entire day taking advantage of a unique opportunity offered to educators lucky enough to live in the Ann Arbor area. I was one of 50 or so people, including four others from the school, who spent the day learning about the Arab-American community in and around Detroit. Thanks to the University Musical Society (UMS) and their education programs, we all spent 12 hours immersed in Arab culture. Ask me about the day which included a visit to an Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church, some basic Arabic language lessons (plus some children's songs), talks about being a Christian in the Arab World and and Arab Detroit, a tour of the Arab American National Museum--a must see for anyone who has the chance to see its well-planned and informative displays, a lesson in calligraphy, a hands on mosaic project to share with students, some energetic dancing, a tour of a fabulous sweet shop where we tasted sweets straight off the grill, a trip to a market filled with Arabic foods and spices, and a tour of the Islamic Center of America Mosque. Don't forget the food! We ate so well--breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I think there are people who may soon start avoiding me because I can not seem to quit talking about all we did and saw and learned in that one very full day.

Yes, I was tired when I got home from that long day, but I was still eager for the next day. Sunday morning I was ready to go to the bookstore where we held our annual library fundraiser/book fair. One of my favorite pastimes is shopping for books, so I enjoyed the time searching for books to buy for the library, as well as a few for myself. However, the real fun began when people from the school community began to come to the store. There were familiar faces everywhere. Every year I look forward to this event, with the highlight always being the moment when I come upon a group of students discussing their favorite books and making recommendations to people from other classes, people of all ages who may have never talked together at any other time. Then there are the students and parents who come to me for reading ideas and I can get excited over and over again for a favorite title that I read long ago or one I have just discovered. It was a wonderful evening, even if the year's first snow made it hard to go outside in the cold when the last books had been paid for and boxed for delivery to school on Monday morning.

The fun didn't end then. On Wednesday, the library played host to math man and author Greg Tang. A wonderful melding of luck and research brought Mr. Tang to our school where he talked to students in every grade and then came back for a parent presentation in the evening. Mr. Tang probably started thinking about math long before he completed degrees in economics at Harvard, but his books came out of thinking about how people use basic skills for working with numbers and working with young math users. He looks for ways to make math fun and easy. He taught the students (and the adults) some fun games to play and tricks to make adding, subtracting, multiplication, and division easier and faster while making the principles behind his ideas make sense. In short, he was great. Don't believe me? Ask the students of all ages who are still playing his games, testing each other on how to multiply any number by 11, and telling me that things are making more sense every day. Read more about Greg Tang and his books at his website. If you are like me, you will be seeing math in a new light.

One more exciting opportunity for learning came just yesterday when I attended another UMS sponsored event. (Check out their site to learn about other offerings that those of you who do not live in the area will surely envy.) This was a "book club" to discuss a fascinating book by Sandy Tolan called The Lemon Tree. The book is the true and well-researched story of two people who have lived in the same house and picked lemons from the same back yard tree. One is a man who was born in the house in a town in Palestine and forced to move out with his family when the state of Israel was created. The other is the woman whose Jewish family left Bulgaria right after the Second World War to seek a safe homeland and settled in the same house in a city now called Ramle, Israel. Through their two stories, the book gives a balanced and insightful look into the continuing conflict. The book club began with a slide show about the book that you can view here and perhaps get inspired to read the book yourself. The panel for the discussion included several women from Zeitouna which is a group of women from the Ann Arbor area who have been meeting for about six years to discuss the Israel/Palestine conflict. They are a special group in many ways, but primarily for their ability to make their differences into strengths. You see, half of the women have close ties to Palestine and half are Jewish women, many of whom have lived in Israel. They do not try to make changes in the world, only to understand the stories that they each have to tell. Learn about the Zeitouna mission and their film Refusing to Be Enemies and you will probably be as interested and impressed with them as I am.

So, it has been a busy couple of week. I promise to do better in the coming weeks--just as soon as I finish cataloging all the books we got from the book fair, writing thank you notes to the generous people who donated so many books to the library, and thinking on the many things that I have been learning recently.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Wacky Wednesday--Joke of the Week-#010

Susie: Mom, how old is our car?

Mom: It's a 2004, so it is four years old.

Susie: What style is it?

Mom: It's a hatchback.

Susie: What company made it?

Mom: Susie, why are you asking all these questions about our car?

Susie: Today the teacher told us we have to write an autobiography.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Quote of the Week--#011

"A child develops individuality long before he develops taste."
Erma Bombeck
The individuality of your preferences for reading are an interesting way to let others know who you are and what you think. Keep reading what you like and let others try to understand exactly what that says about you. If you skip from one kind of book to another, you keep folks confused. That is half the fun of it.

Some Great Non-Fiction for All Ages

Non-fiction is rarely thought of as a relaxing afternoon's read, but these books could prove that concept wrong. Any of these books, and so many more that are out there, is as interesting and enjoyable as a good novel with the added advantage of offering a chance to learn something new. Non-fiction: It's not just for report writing any more.

Sandy’s Circus: A Story about Alexander Calder by Tanya Lee Stone is a good representative of the popular practice of biographies in a picture book format. By focusing primarily on the youth and early work of Alexander Calder, the author increases the book's appeal to younger readers. The pictures are inviting and do a good job of conveying the energy and whimsy of Calder’s circus people. This is a good start for aspiring artists or those who are writing a report.

The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West by Sid Fleischman makes it immediately clear that this is a biography that, like Twain, may take some liberties with the truth. The end result is a light and airy read with plenty of personality, though I suspect that Flesichman’s respect for Twain results in a character with a little more charm than the original. The text is peppered with quotes from Twain’s shows and illustrated with photos and other memorabilia. Students in grades four through eight will find much to enjoy in this friendly biography.

This is Your Life Cycle by Heather Lynn Miller uses the format of the old TV show “This is Your Life” to teach about the life cycle of the damsel fly. Even second to fifth graders who have never heard of that old show will enjoy the humor of the presentation while gaining a more clear understanding of insect life cycles.

Duel! Burr and Hamilton’s Deadly War of Words by Dennis Brindell Fradin contains much more information than its picture book format might suggest. If you are like me and want to know more about the people and the problems of American history, this is a good place to start. The famous duel was not a new argument and it seems both men had some right to be angry while neither is free of blame for the problems that brought them to face off in a field.

The Night Olympic Team: Fighting to Keep Drugs Out of the Games by Caroline Hatton takes the reader to the basement laboratories at the Salt Lake City Olympics as scientists scramble to find new tests for drugs that athletes might use. Since the use of drugs has become such a part of sports around the world, this is a very pertinent subject. The author worked in those labs at Salt Lake so she knows her stuff. I was glad to see the clear explanation about why performance enhancing drugs are banned and their effects on the human body.

Where Does Pepper Come From? And Other Fun Facts by Brigitte Raab offers creativity, facts, and ideas for research in one attractively illustrated package. Starting with a question that needs some research for an accurate answer, this book first offers a creative and humorous suggestion for an answer. The correct answer is offered in a few short sentences on the next. Here is an opportunity to laugh and learn that will appeal to kindergartens through fifth graders.

Sisters and Brothers: Sibling Relationships in the Animal World by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page contains Jenkins’ trademark collage-style illustrations and interesting facts about nature. Look here for information about animal child-rearing, quirks of birth order, and other idiosyncrasies of families in the wild. Any title by Steve Jenkins is a good bet for learning about nature from a new angle. You can't beat his pictures.

Lady Liberty: A Biography by Doreen Rappaport is the most interesting and eye-pleasing book I have found about the Statue of Liberty. The biography of the statue is told through biographical sketches of the people who had something to do with the creation and erection of this powerful symbol. The illustrations are clear and bold, carrying the sense of the immensity of the statue itself.

Close to the Wind: The Beaufort Scale by Peter Malone is much more than a story of the common sense measure of wind speed. It is a story of sailing in the 19th century presented through imagined diary entries along with facts about the realities of survival at sea. The importance of the Beaufort Scale becomes clear as the weather at sea changes and the sailors must respond appropriately.

The Whale Scientists: Solving the Mystery of Whale Strandings by Fran Hodgkins is just one of many in this informative series about scientists working with wild animals. Look for all of them for upper elementary and middle school students interested in a science career. This particular title discusses the whaling industry, whale genealogy, and the current research on whales that seem to beach themselves for no apparent reason.

Eggs by Marilyn Singer goes beyond where most books about end by looking at all of the world’s creatures that lay eggs from birds to the platypus, insects to snakes, and more. The introduction talks about all aspects of eggs including fertilization, hatching, and rearing the young. The illustrations are soft yet detailed. Facts are presented amidst the illustrations in a way that will inspire further investigation.

One Well: The Story of Water on Earth by Rochelle Strauss comes with a clear agenda. Water conservation affects the whole world, it states, because essentially we all share the same well, the same limited amount of water. The author talks about everything that uses water, the water cycle, the abuse of water, and the rescue efforts that are currently under way. I wish that the illustrations were better, but the message is well worth sharing.

Wild Tracks: A Guide to Nature’s Footprints by Arnold Arnosky is just what the budding tracker needs because it contains life-size footprints of animals likely to be found in the woods of North America. There are just enough facts to keep things interesting without detracting from the tracks that will be the top priority for most readers.

Frogs by Nic Bishop is yet another collection of this Michigan author/photographer’s amazing work. He must spend hours and hours just waiting for a frog to leap to get the perfect picture. The facts that are added to every illustration are well presented to provide a wealth of information. Look for Bishop’s Spiders and anything else you can get your hands on by him.

Good Reads for Middl School

Young Adult literature grows every day. There are so many new titles that it is overwhelming to try to keep up with them. Here are few that I have read and enjoyed recently.

Houdini: The Handcuff King by Jason Lutes and Nick Bertozzi is a fictional biography of Harry Houdini in graphic format. The illustrations are all done in shades of gray and black but manage to capture the feel of the times, like an old fashioned photograph. The story shows the bravado and trickery used by Houdini as a part of his showmanship. Drama and energy are apparent throughout the story.

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd is told in the voice of an autistic boy who lives with his parents and older sister in London. When a rarely seen cousin comes to visit before reluctantly moving to the United States with his mother, the family agrees to visit the London Eye Ferris wheel. The cousin eagerly accepts a ticket from a strange man who approaches the children as they wait in a long line. He goes off to ride alone. Although the narrator and his sister are sure they see their cousin get on the Ferris Wheel, he never gets off when the ride comes to a stop. Using the kind of thinking that often is a part of autism; the narrator is able to solve the mystery before the police can crack the case.

The Buddha’s Diamonds by Carolyn Marsden and Thay Thap Niem is written in a style which evokes Buddhist writings more than a contemporary young adult novel. Set in post war Vietnam, the story is of the dilemmas and guilt a boy faces when his family home and fishing boat are destroyed by a storm. Not surprisingly, there is a strong message included with the story.

Uprising!: Three Young Women Caught in the Fire that Changed America by Margaret Peterson Haddix is the well-researched and well-told story of three young women from varied backgrounds who are drawn together by the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Two of the young women work in the sweatshop and participate in the strike there. The third is the daughter of one of the owners of the factory. Through their three voices a balanced and interesting record of the factory and the famous fire is given life.

Peeled by Joan Bauer has the requisite cute boy as required by the laws of good young adult girl books. It also has a good story and a faith in the power of journalism. A girl in an apple farming community sees the town’s identity being threatened by a developer who is buying up farm land to create expensive suburban housing. Using her role as a high school newspaper editor, she is able to let the community know what is happening.

The Dead and the Gone and Life as We Know It by Susan Beth Pfeffer are two looks at a world sharply changed when an asteroid hits the moon, throwing it out of orbit. The first title is told as the diary of a girl living in rural Pennsylvania. The second is seen through the eyes of a Puerto Rican boy living in one of the rougher sections of New York City. Both stories are frighteningly believable. While neither actually portrays the end of the world, they are not very optimistic.

Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow by James Sturm and Rick Tommaso is a graphic novel that offers insight into life as a sharecropper in the South. The narrator wanted to play baseball like the great Satchel Paige but Paige quickly ended that dream with one well directed pitch. So the narrator went back to the farm and a life shaped by Jim Crow and segregation. When Satchel Paige comes to town for an exhibition game, the narrator and the town feel somewhat vindicated by another well-directed pitch.

Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam by Cynthia Kadahota is a new twist on dog stories. Cracker is a young boy’s beloved dog but the family must move to an apartment with a no-pets allowed policy. So Cracker is volunteered to the Army and, after training, is sent to Vietnam to defend his keeper. The story gives a feel for the love between boy and dog as well as the trust and faith between soldier and dog. A strong story of the realities of Vietnam without too much blood and gore is integral to the story. Kadahota’s master storytelling in this book is as evident as it was in her award winning novel Kira, Kira, though the story is very different.

100 Cupboards by N. D. Wilson is being hailed as the new Harry Potter. This does not mean that it is about a school for wizards. Instead, Henry in this book is sent to the farm of relatives where he finds 100 little cupboards hidden behind the attic wall. When he opens their doors he is transported to different times and places, even different worlds. At other times they release their good or evil into the world.

Charlie Bone series by Jenny Nimmo is very similar to Harry Potter in the first story line. Charlie gets sent to a school for wizards and magic and then has many adventures. Some die-hard Potter fans may find it too similar, but the stories have their own power and magic. In fact, some folks like them better than the famous works by J. K. Rowling. These can be read by folks as young as fourth grade and enjoyed by everyone, including adults.

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate will surprise those readers who think of Applegate only as the author of the Animorphs series. Written in free verse, this book offers a compassionate view of immigration and references to the atrocities faced by the people of Sudan.

I talked about Twilight by Stephanie Meyers in an earlier blog post. Go here to read that post.

Novels for Grades 3-6

Some of the best novels in the library fall into this category. Readers in grades three to six get special attention from authors and publishers. There are so many from which to select. Don't limit yourself to the popular, often overdone, series that fill so many bookstores and school book orders. Look a little harder and find some real gems like those on this list.

Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech carries on where Love That Dog ended. It amazes and pleases me to this day that kids get so quickly involved with a novel that at first glance seems too unusual to be enjoyable. Hate That Cat will have that same effect. It is again written in free verse and tells the story of a young boy whose teacher insists that he write some poetry. The poems that are referenced are included at the back of this slim volume. The story is filled with emotions that ring true and a story that is sure to touch your heart. (Cat lovers should not worry since cat is loved by the end of the book.)

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman has Gaiman’s trademark creepiness. The young hero, known as Bod from his realization that he is nobody, was lucky enough to escape from his home before being murdered with the rest of the family. Just a toddler, he manages to reach a graveyard when the ghosts are out for their evening air. A kindly ghost couple adopts him and he is raised in the graveyard. He grows up in each chapter, adapting to his lifestyle, meeting living beings only rarely, and learning how to survive in this half-way world of his. Always there is the very real fear that the murderer will find Bod and finish his mission. This novel is very different from Gaiman’s Coraline, but just as creepily enjoyable.

Kenny and the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi includes a young rabbit named Kenny, a dragon named Graham, and literate Badger named George. Kenny finds Graham on the hill near his home and soon befriends the gentle giant. The neighbors are not as easily charmed and call for someone to come slay the dragon, perhaps someone named George. There are many literary references but the story is charming, exciting, and satisfying whether or not you understand them all.

Kip Campbell, Funeral Director’s Boy by Coleen Paratore is an unexpected title to say the least--funny and informative book about living about a funeral home. It turns out to be a pleasant story that pays attention to how hard it is to be a little different from everyone else. Jan M., Emerson’s former music teacher, grew up in just this setting, living above her father’s funeral home. Many of the scenes in this book are very similar to memories she has shared with me.

Bat 6 by Virginia Euwer Wolfe is not a new book nor is it read as often as it deserves. The setting is rural Oregon in 1949 where families are trying to put themselves back together after World War II. The girls who tell the story in their many voices are carrying on a fifty year tradition of playing a special baseball game between neighboring towns. One team includes a girl whose family has just returned from a Japanese internment camp. A girl on the other team never really knew her father because he was killed at Pearl Harbor. The girls and their communities watch the fears and angers of the war come to a head on the baseball field. This is a moving book.

Sticks by Joan Bauer is about pool, math, real kids, humor, and family tensions. What more could you want? The just slightly off-beat characters and the surprises of humor make this a great read. In fact, it is so great that you won’t even notice the math and you will want to learn to play pool.

Seer of Shadows by Avi brings New York City in 1872 to life. Horace is a sensitive and hard-working photographer’s apprentice. The photographer for whom he works is a bit of a con artist and tries to get Horace to go along with the scam of a wealthy woman who believes she is being haunted by her daughter’s ghost. The trouble is that Horace sees the ghost. The ensuing story is fueled by adventure, cultural clashes, and some true surprises. I am always amazed at the wide range of Avi’s talents. Read anything by him and you are sure to be entertained but do not expect his books to all be alike in any way.

Fish and A Dog For Life by L.S. Matthews caught my eye with their unusual covers. I confess I bought these books because of their covers. The stories are at least as good as the covers. They are filled with touches of the mystical, strong characters, and a wealth of determination. Fish is the odder story of the two and maybe, therefore, the stronger. A boy and his parents are forced to leave their home due to political strife, drought and famine. The boy finds a fish in the last mud in front of their home and takes it him as a sort of talisman that helps with the many trials they face as they travel to a new place. A Dog for Life tells of two strong boys who offer their dog a good life. In the process one of the boys decides to take the dog across the country to what they hope will be a welcoming home. Descriptions do not do justice to either of these books.

The Magic Pickle by Scott Morse is an appropriately odd graphic novel about a pickle superhero, evil vegetables, and a charming little girl with social issues of her own. To add to the enjoyment are myriad plays on words. Even though the story is a little predictable in places, no one will really care because it such an enjoyable and unusual book.

Under the Watson’s Porch by Susan Shreve is just what the cover blurb says, “a touching story of first love”, but it is also much more. It is easy to imagine a girl finding friendship with this boy who is her parent’s worst nightmare. He has been kicked out of school several times and is not exactly welcomed by the woman who has volunteered to give him another chance. The young heroine of the story finds his strengths as they become good friends with each other and with the young children in the neighborhood. Together they teach the adults some valuable lessons.

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry is very different from Lowry’s serious and dystopian titles like The Giver. It is also different from her friendly young girl books like Anastasia Krupnik. Here Lowry tries her hand at parody and succeeds beautifully. The story harks back to the classic stories of orphans who find happiness in hardship and other “old fashioned” stories. It is stronger than The Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket but has the same tongue in cheek references, including a glossary. If I try to tell the story, I will start laughing too hard and never finish so you will just have to read it for yourself.

My earlier blog posts have included these two titles. Clip on the titles to go to those posts.

Ferret Island by Richard Jennings

The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan

First Chapter Books

One of the most exciting times in any one's life (and equally fun to observe over and over) is when the ability to read takes hold and the wonderful world of literature suddenly opens itself. Ever since Dr. Seuss wrote The Cat in the Hat there have been special books just for those readers who are just beginning to be able to read to themselves. There are increasing numbers of really good stories that fall into this category. Older readers still look for these books and remember them with great fondness. I read new ones eagerly and laugh at the jokes as hard as I would have over fifty years ago when I was just learning to read.

Here are some good titles to consider at the library or at Emerson's Book Fair on November 9.

Bad Kitty Gets a Bath by Nick Bruel is the second in a series about a cat who can be pretty bad. In this book, advice is given on bathing a cat who absolutely does not want anything to do with soap and water. The humor and the cartoon-like drawings are a guarantee that folks of all ages will like this book.

Babymouse series by Jennifer L. Holm and Jennifer Holm is a favorite with girls (and a few boys brave enough to overlook the ever-present pink) who are just learning to read and those who are confident readers who continue appreciate the humor, some of which is quite sophisticated on many levels. The graphic format means that it is easy to grasp what is going on whatever ones reading level. The stories are full of humor and everyday experiences.

Fly Guy series by Tedd Arnold is quite simply a hoot. With very few words Arnold weaves a wacky story of a boy and his fly. The fly can say the boy’s name, Buzz, as well as many other vital words with that zzzz sound. First readers and those who have been reading for 80 years will equally appreciate this humor.

Tornado by Betsy Byars is a good read for those non-so-brave readers who think they want to know what it is like to live through a tornado. While there is a tornado in this book, it is much more about a man telling stories about his favorite dog, Tornado, as the storm blows over. It will be no surprise if this book springs to mind when older readers select some of the many Byars books for older readers.

Houndsley and Catina series by James Howe focus on the friendship of a cat and a dog. The stories are similar to those other well-loved series like Howe’s Pinky and Rex, Cynthia Rylant’s Mr. Putter and Tabby or Henry and Mudge, and Jean Van Leeuwen’s Amada Pig. All of these books are solid stories of friendship and sharing.

Minnie and Moo series by Denys Cazet is one of my favorites, probably in part because I like cows so much. Friendly cows are not all this series has to offer. The stories have lots of humor as Minnie and Moo try to solve some common and some extraordinary problems in their lives. You have to love the illustrations that give these cows personality and charm.

Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker features a spunky young girl with definite ideas about how things should be. Her irrepressible nature gets her into trouble at times, but her heart is pure gold. The stories are realistic and remind me a bit of Ramona Quimby books by Beverly Cleary. They are not technically Early Readers, but will fit the needs of those who have gone just beyond those simplest of stories.

Sticky Burr: Adventures in Burrwood Forest by John Lechner is another graphic novel, a format that kids enjoy. This particular story teaches a little bit of botany and ecology while following the wild adventures of a burr who is not grumpy enough to please the other burrs. Some unexpected adventures lead to a happy ending for one and all.

Don’t forget the old favorite Early Reader authors like Dr. Seuss, Arnold Lobel, and James Marshall as you look among all the other offerings for the perfect titles.