Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Some New Favorites

Just in time for the school's annual book fair, I am offering you a list of some books I have read recently that I am eager to share with others.

Picture Books

What If...? by Anthony Browne (grades preK-2)  is by one of my favorite author/illustrators.  Browne's illustrations are full of interesting details that require careful perusal to find all they contain.  In this book a young boy worries about what he will find when heads to an unfamiliar home and what may be his first ever party without his parents.  This is a great way to deal with this all to common worry in a humorous and reassuring manner.

Shoe Dog by Megan McDonald (grades K-3) has great illustrations that show all the energy of a puppy...in this case a puppy who loves to chew on shoes.

Those Darn Squirrels by Adam Rubin (grades K-3) and all the other titles by this goofy author are filled with humor that very much appeals to kids of a certain age.  The illustrations are as wacky as the stories.

Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads by Bob Shea (grades k-4) made me laugh out loud when I read it in the bookstore.  A kid rides a tortoise into a town in the Old West.  The town is desperate to end the crime spree of the Terrible Toad gang.  The kid admits that he can't shoot a gun, twirl a rope, or stay up past seven, but that doesn't stop him from using his knowledge of dinosaurs to trick those hardened, but not to bright, criminals.  It is much better than I can possibly describe.

Alexander, Who's Trying His Best to Be the Best Boy Ever by Judith Viorst (grades K-3) brings back the same Alexander who had a terrible, no good, very bad day.  In this book he decides that maybe doing naughty but very tempting things like eating an entire box of donuts is ultimately not worth having to pay the consequences so he decides to be the best boy ever.  This is a lot harder on him (and those around him) than he imagined.

Emergent Readers--Grades 1-3

Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold is always a winner.  There are many books in this series about a boy and his pet fly and each one offers simple text, an interesting plot, and lots of humor.

Anna Hibiscus and The Number 1 Car Spotter by Atinuke offer a look at life in Africa through the eyes of a girl (Anna) and a boy (#1 Car Spotter) in stories that will appeal and relate well to any young reader. 

Leroy Ninker Saddles Up by Kate DiCamillo brings a new cowboy hero to the world.  Leroy is a genuinely nice guy but a little confused at times.  He is neighbors with the owners of Mercy Watson who is the star of her own series by the much loved Kate DiCamillo.

The Elephant and Piggie Series by Mo Willems  I know I have suggested these in other posts, but they really are great stories filled with humor and empathy.  The speech bubble format makes them perfect for reading together.

Middle Grades--Grades 3-6

Gabriel Finney and the Raven's Riddle by George Hagen is a marvelous fantasy adventure that has a young boy joining forces with an orphaned raven to save the boy's father (and the world) from evil ravens and the humans who have joined forces with them.  I especially like all of the riddles and puns that make good ravens laugh.

Unlikely Friendships for Kids by Jennifer S. Holland is a series of non-fiction that simplifies the series that Holland originally published for older students and adults.  Each of these small books contains several stories about surprising friendships between animals species.  The stories, all true, include photos of the animals together.  Kids love the stories and the information about these varied species.

Nuts to You! by Lynne Rae Perkins is an environmental tale told through the ideas of a squirrel.  The squirrels admit that they are easily distracted and love games but that does not stop them from banding together to escape chainsaws that are destroying their homes.  The humans do have a heart and peanut butter sandwiches.

Loot by Jude Watson is a rare book because it makes the reader appreciate and like some big time jewel thieves.  There is some humor and lots of excitement as a boy and his long-lost sister try to understand the clues left by their father and find a cursed jewel.

Middle School--Grades 5-8

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier is a delightfully creepy tale of orphaned children in Victorian England, a house that is clearly possessed, and the family that lives in the house.  The children who come to the house must face the horror and save the family from the spell of the night gardener.

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine  gives a view of the integration of Little Rock High School that I had never seen before.  The story takes place the year after the first integration and the city has decided to close the high schools rather than continue integration.  The protagonist, a girl in junior high, is confused about all of this but mostly focusing on finding a friend who accepts her with her real and perceived problems.  That friend is a new girl who is soon accused of being passing as white.  It is not an easy story, but one that is well written and offers new insights.

The Paper Cowboy by Kristen Levine takes the reader back to the McCarthy Era as a young boy tries to deal with family problems while carrying the weight of worrying about who might be a Communist.  The boy is very real and wants to be a cowboy like his those he hears about on the radio, but he also is something of a bully.  The many problems all collide as he learns some realities of life.

Far, Far Away by Tom McNeal begins as a sweet modern fairy tale about a kindly baker and the children who visit him.  Then things go horribly, terrifyingly, surprisingly wrong.  This is not for the faint of heart.

Graphic Works

Laika by Nick Abadzis (grades 4 and up) tells the true story of the first animal in space, the cosmonaut dog named Laika.  It deals with the politics of the time and reflects current feelings about animal rights.

El Deafo by Cece Bell (grades 4 and up) is Bell's story of becoming profoundly deaf at age four and learning to cope and make friends with a huge hearing aid box that is the only way she can hear.  The characters are all portrayed as rabbits with large ears, but the story is truly a memoir.  It is never easy to fit in with differences, but Cece finds that her ugly and embarrassing hear aids also give her some superpowers.

Gaijin:  An American Prisoner of War  by Matt Faulkner (grades 5 and up) is inspired by a story from the author's family.  A teen aged boy with an American mother and a Japanese father is living in San Francisco when Pearl Harbor is bombed.  His father is visiting ill relatives in Japan at the time and can not return home.  The boy is sent to an internment camp.  His mother chooses to go with him.  Not only does the story deal with the harsh reality of the camps but also how difficult it can be to fit in as a mixed-race child.

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier (grades 5 and up). Telgemeier ,who first got a huge following with another memoir (Smile) remembers a family trip and the ebb and flow of relationships with her sister.  She has a remarkable talent for capturing family dynamics.

A few titles for adults
The President's Club:  Inside the World's Most Exclusive Fraternity by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy
My Notorious Life by Kate Manning
The Bone Clocks  by David Mitchell
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wacker

As always, I am eager to hear what others are reading and enjoying.


Saturday, June 28, 2014

More for Middle Grades

This week I put together a personalized list for a girl going into sixth grade.  She is an eclectic reader so I collected titles from previous lists and added a few more.  Not one to let a list got to waste, I am adding those additions, with some modification, here so you can look at them as well.  Some have appeared in times past, but I don't think any have been shared recently.  If you see them repeated, you know that I must have truly enjoyed reading them.

Time Cat by Lloyd Alexander is a great story of time travel and history as seen through the treatment of cats in different time periods from ancient Egypt to the American Revolution. A boy wishes out loud that he could have nine lives like his cat.  The cat replies that he does not have nine lives but can travel to nine time periods and thus there travels begin. 
Gilda Joyce detective series by Jennifer Allison features a daring clever girl who solves light mysteries while struggling with the kinds of issues that face middle school girls.  I like the travel, the humor, and the insight into the lives of girls. 

The Naked Mole Rat Letters by Mary Amato features a young girl who is worrying that her father, with whom she lives, is going to get married while also worrying that he never will remarry. She finds odd letters coming to her father from a scientist who studies naked mole rats and tries to decide.  The scientist turns out to be a woman who is also a love interest for the father.  This is a clever and pleasant novel.  Besides, I find naked mole rats to be fascinating creatures.

Fever, 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson is historical fiction at its finest as it looks at the life of a girl living in Philadelphia when the yellow fever epidemic comes to town.  She must decide whether to save herself by leaving the city she has always called home or stay and care for others.  This is a great favorite both boys and girls in the middle grades, many of whom go on to read the non-fiction book about the same time called, An American Plague:  The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793  by Jim Murphy.  This is also a good starting point before going on to the more difficult topics  and mature writing found in other titles by Laurie Halse Anderson.

There are several good books by Joan Bauer that many middle grade readers will enjoy.  These include Peeled which is about a budding journalist in a high school that cares deeply about the apple orchards of the community when it comes to electing a queen of the Apple Festival but, with the rest of the area, do not see the threats from growth and development that are threatening the apple orchards.  Another good title is Sticks which is about a young boy who wants to be a pool champion and the interesting friends who help me. This is a great book for those kids with a mathematical bent as there are diagrams of the math involved in making a good shot on the pool table.  It is also good for those who care nothing about math but like quirky characters and interesting story lines.  Almost Home is about a mother and daughter who set up a friendly, homey restaurant in their new home town. 
The Return of the Twelves by Pauline Clarke was introduced to me when my children were young and we all were entranced by the story.  In modern England a family moves into a house on the moors near where the Bronte family once lived.  While exploring their attic they discover a box filled with small, tin soldiers, just like those that the Brontes had described in great detail as toys come to life.  Suddenly, these soldiers are seen moving and talking to each other.  When the children gain the confidence of the soldiers, they learn that these little men want to get to the Bronte museum and they want to march there by themselves.  Can the children help the twelve soldiers without being discovered by adults?  This is a great fantasy with literary underpinnings.

Getting Near to Baby by Audrey Couloumbis does the seemingly impossible by taking a very sad situation of two girls who are sent to stay with a childless aunt when their younger sister dies and their mother is overcome by the grief and mixing that with the humorous observations of the girls as they confront their confused aunt.  The girls climb on the rooftop to get near to baby and then talk about what is happening around them. It is a rare book that can make me laugh and cry in the same chapter, sometimes on the same page, but this is such a book. 
Toby Alone by Timothee de Fombelle has one of the least interesting covers I have ever seen and that drives me crazy because this environmental fantasy is well worth reading.  Toby is a small boy whose entire universe is in a tree.  There is an entire society there but things are going very wrong as greedy people come in and destroy homes, perhaps even the tree.  Toby must go in search for his father far beyond the area that they call home.  Along the way he learns about the disaster that seems to be about to befall the entire tree civilization.  Readers will be happy to learn that there is a sequel.

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper is an honest and moving look at the life of a girl with severe physical disabilities which not only confine her to a wheel chair but also wrack her body with spasms and leave her unable to speak.  As a result she has always gone to special education classrooms and no one realizes how brilliant she is until one caregiver realizes that she can communicate.  With help, an artificial speech machine is acquired and the young girl begins competing in Quiz Bowl type  events against other schools.  What happens next is exciting and heart wrenching. 

Tuesdays in the Castle by Jessica George begins a series about a royal family living in an enchanted castle that communicates with each of the children in special ways.  One thing it does is sprout new rooms and hallways that send a message.  This is very useful when the king and queen are kidnapped and only the royal children can save them with the help of the castle.

Pandora Gets...series by Carolyn Hennessy is a clever look at mythology and the story of Pandora.  Pandora and her friends behave like modern teen-agers as Pandora learns about each of the miseries found in her famous box, be it greed or envy or something else.  These are light and fun and very popular with girls this age.  These same girls will enjoy the Goddess Girls series by Joan Holub.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanha Lai is written in verse form which just adds to its beauty, though it does intimidate some readers.  Give it a little time, though, and you will be drawn into this story of a young Vietnamese girl who is airlifted out of Saigon and then ends up living in the United States. She writes of the adjustment period, her memories of home, her struggles to fit in, and much more.  Some of it is humorous but most is poignant. 
Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye rings true to me as it tells of a girl who visits her father's family home in Palestine.  The girl herself was raised in mid-America and feels she has been ripped from everything familiar when she is taken half way around the world and must learn about this new home.  Having taken my girls to India to meet their grandparents, though never living there, I can relate to much of the confusion, love, and worry that abound in this book.  I had the pleasure of meeting Nye when she visited our school several years ago.  To have met such a friendly, fascinating, caring woman which makes the book even more special to me.

Bigger Than a Breadbox by Laurel Snyder tells of a girl who goes with her mother to live with the grandmother in another city.  The grandmother gives her a breadbox that has magic in it.  Whenever the girl wishes for something, that appears in the breadbox.  Not knowing of the magic, she wishes first for a pigeon since she misses the pigeons of Baltimore.  It takes several more wishes before she realizes that there is magic.  Then she starts wishes for things that she hopes will make her fit in with the girls at her new school.  Complications arise and many ethical questions have to be answered.  This is a great book for discussion, making it perfect for adult/child book clubs or parent/child sharing.




Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Middle School Reading

There is much talk about Young Adult literature and much out that is great.  It is a bit of a problem to find YA works that do not have more sex and/or violence than some parents want to have shared with their middle school students.  If you are trying to avoid those books that are really directed at high school it does not mean that there are no great books out there for eager and adventurous readers.  Here are a few suggestions.  Some also appeared on my fourth and fifth grade list. They won't be as much of a stretch for middle school readers as they are for those younger readers, but I would hate for them to be missed.

Little White Duck:  A Childhood in China by Na Luc and Andres Vera Martinez is a graphic novel that is a lovely look into life in Mao's China.  Some of the memories are happy and some reveal the harsh realities of life at that time.  It would be good to pair with The House That Baba Built:  An Artist's Childhood in China by Ed Young which is a highly illustrated memoir by this popular artist and author.  Another in the same vein is Drawing From Memory  by Allen Say, though he grew up in Japan rather than China.

Addie On the Inside by James Howe is a companion to the set, not really a series, that began with The Misfits, a book about four middle school kids who do not fit in for various reasons.  They unite to make the school more accepting of differences.  That book was followed by a book about one character, Joe, in Totally Joe.  This book takes another view point for looking at what happens with the original misfits, this time through the eyes of a girl who could be popular but does not want to neglect her friends with their quirks.  The subjects covered in these books include LGBT issues, inter-racial dating, socio-economic issues, intelligence and the perceived lack of it, and other issues that are very real in middle school.

Endangered by Eliot Schrefer is a heart-pounding rescue story that takes place in the Congo.  Sophie is 14 when she returns to the Congo where she was born and where she visits her mother every summer since her parents divorced and her American father moved back to Miami.  Even before she gets to the house and labs where her Congolese mother works with bonobo apes, Sophie has done something her mother has repeatedly told her not to do--purchased a baby bonobo to try to save it from a shady looking man on the street.  Her mother agrees to let Sophie raise the baby as long as she is totally responsible for it.  When war breaks out in Congo while the mother is visiting a rescue center away from home, Sophie takes her bonobo and flees the fighting, struggling to keep both of them alive while searching for her mother.

Take What You Can Carry by Kevin C. Pyle is another graphic work that will challenge any reader.  It tells two parallel stories, one of life in a Japanese internment camp and one of a boy who shoplifts from a Japanese man.  It is a little difficult to follow at times, but the story is powerful.  The juxtaposition of the two stories in which the term "take what you can carry" has very different meanings supports thought and discussion.

Better Nate Than Ever and Five, Six , Seven, Nate by Tim Federle struck my funny bone with their first view of New York City through the eyes of a 13 year old  boy from rural Pennsylvania who has travelled alone to try to audition for a Broadway musical production of E. T.  His awe struck me as very realistic, as are the descriptions of the audition experience and, in the second book, trying to fit in with other, more experienced actors.  The first book hints of Nate's interest in boys and the second book includes an innocent romance with one of the other actors.

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire LeGrand is carried best by its quirky characters who are working to rescue kids who are being kidnapped for retraining whenever they express an interest in thinking for themselves. 

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and Hollow City by Ransom Riggs  come immediately to mind when quirky characters are mentioned.  These are odd stories of a boy facing evil and trying to track down a home that his grandfather visited during World War II.  The home takes in peculiar children who expect to live forever as they are.  I was fascinated by the origins of the characters in the mind of the author who collected old, odd photos and postcards and then created the people in his book based on these mystical, magical, unusual photos.  This story is creepy and intriguing.  It is written for older readers than the others so far on this list, but will appeal to readers who appreciate stories that are a little bit bizarre.

Zero Tolerance by Claudia Mills has an interesting premise that is very much in the news these days.  A student leader in a middle school inadvertently takes her mother's lunch to school one day and discovers that her mother had packed a knife to cut her apple.  Knives are forbidden at school as a part of the zero tolerance policy. The girl immediately takes the knife to the cafeteria supervisor who rushes her to the principal who has no other choice than expulsion.  The question is whether anything can be that black and white and how should school policies be determined.  I am happy that kids are being asked to think about these things.  The story goes down hill when parents and lawyers get too involved and cloudy issues further.

Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein reminded me of The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin since they both involve solving mysteries and riddles.  Mr. Lemoncello offers a more literary bent with myriad references to popular books and library organization.  The premise is that a group of kids get to enter a new library ahead of everyone else and may win big prizes IF they can solve all the puzzles first and not get kicked out for any reason. 

The Last Dragonslayer and The Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde begin a promised fantasy trilogy that features 15 year old Jennifer Strange who runs a magic store until she called to help save magic on earth.  She must seek someone to slay dragons or perhaps do it herself.  Jennifer is a spunky heroine and she deals with a vast variety of quirky, interesting, odd characters both human and magical.

What we Found in the Sofa and How It Saved the World by Henry Clark is good fluff reading if kids are feeling the need to relax a bit.  A couple of kids find a strange sofa by the side of the road and it draws them into wild adventures in a mysterious old house.  The sofa, they soon discover, is a sentient being that survives on dust bunnies.  Inside the house they meet a strange man who convinces them that using the sofa and items found between the cushions they can save their city and the world from evil that is tricking people into flash mobs and regulating a growing coal seam fire that is devouring their town.  While it is fluffy, it also has some parts that require some thoughtful consideration.

The Thing About Luck is the latest book by Cynthia Kadohata.  It tells about Japanese migrant workers in mid-America who work on the combines, specifically grandparents and two children who have worked for the same company for years.  It defines a difficult life as well as the inter-generational relationships.  Has Kira-Kira or Weedflower by this same author.  They are other stories about be Japanese immigrants in the U.S. and struggling to fit in.  Kira-Kira  is the most well known and has won numerous awards.

Counting By 7s by Holly Sloan explores how people cope and adapt in difficult times.  Willow Chase has always been identified as highly gifted, but when she starts a new school she is promptly accused of cheating because she does the standardized testing so quickly and gets a perfect score.  The school sends her to a  school counselor who does not seem to care much about anything.  Also seeing the counselor is a Vietnamese refugee boy who is brought by his sister Mai.  The two girls gradually get to know each other so that when Willow's parents are killed in a car accident, she attempts to live with the Mai and her family. This synopsis just skims the surface of all this book discusses. 
The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson kept me on the edge of my seat from the first heart-pounding rithmatic duel to the last.  Rithmatism is a kind of magic that uses intricate drawings and clever strategies to fight battles between good and evil.  One has to be able to prove as a young person that he or she has the power to be a rithmatist and Joel, the protagonist of this story, did not pass the test.  In a private school that  he is only allowed to attend because his late father was a well-respected chalk maker (a vital force for this magic) and his mother works cleaning and cooking, Joel sneaks into the rithmatic classes to learn strategy that he can never perform.  It remains one of the most exciting books I have read in many years.  This first book ends with a "to be continued" so there is something waiting for us to read.  Sanderson has written many other fantasy and adventure books.  Our library also has the series that begins with Alcatraz Vs. the Evil Librarians which I originally read for its title but found to be a great, light-hearted fantasy series and made me a Sanderson fan.

How to Catch a Bogle by Catherine Jinks is set in Victorian England in the less savory parts of London.  Ten year old Birdie is apprenticed to a bogler who traps and destroys odd, evil creatures who live in houses in the area.  Birdie is a strong girl with courage, skill, and heart.  This has a real feel of the time and place.

Constable and Toop by Gareth Jones transfixed and haunted me.  I loved this detailed story of a young boy who is the son of a coffin maker and can talk to ghosts.  He, and the reader, learn about ghost culture and rules, which, not surprisingly, can be a bit macabre. Included in this story is a creepy uncle who may be Jack the Ripper, quirky ghosts and living beings who delight in the world of Victorian England.

How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Wilson is a memoir written in sonnet-length poems.  They follow ten years of the author's life, ages 4-14, during the 1950s and 1960s.  Her family is African-American and her father is in the military so they move a great deal and experience the world of Jim Crow as well as a life in which they are almost treated as equals.  The poems don't dwell on civil rights, but they are always on her mind.  I think Hannah would especially like this book.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Great for grades 4 and 5

Here is a list that combines ones that I have shared with a couple of families of girls headed for fourth grade.  They are both good readers who will be able to tackle these, though their interests vary.  This is an ages when likes are clearly developing but summer is a good time to encourage exploration, too.  Parents and children need to remember that summer is a great time to get lost in a book.  Reading for pleasure helps develop a real love of books that will last a lifetime. That is my hope for the people who use this list--that they find a book that will change how they view their world or at least inspire them to keep looking for those special books.


Beverly Cleary books like those about Ramona Quimby and her friends are classics of children's literature.  Ramona may have been the first of the now popular genre of realistic fiction about young, strong girls. They are certainly some of the best books in this genre to this day.  Readers are also encouraged to explore some of her other books that include new characters and adventures.

Edward Eager was my favorite author when I was young.  All of them are great tales of simple magic that takes four siblings on adventures that carry them far from any possibility of boredom.  My favorite is still Half Magic, but you can't go wrong with any of Eager's book.
The Moffats by Eleanor Estes is another series of books that I loved as at this age.  I was so taken by the adventures of this family who seemed familiar despite the fact that they lived in a different time and place than I did than I fantasized about meeting them and joining their adventures.

McBroom's Wonderful One Acre Farm by Sid Fleischman is very short but is filled to the brim with interesting characters and clever plots twists.  The McBroom family goes in search of a new farm and ends up buying a farm that is small but so filled with rich soil that plants grow in matter of hours, causing many interesting events and much jealousy from the cranky neighbor who sold the farm to them.

By the Grace of Todd by Louise Galveston drew me in with its interesting cover and intriguing title.  The premise is satisfying to anyone who has neglected to clean their bedroom (or had children who were less than stellar about picking up dirty socks.)  Todd is engaged in issues at school when he realizes that his dirty sock has grown a tiny civilization of its own.  Soon he is dealing with their worship of him as well as school bullies and science fair projects.

The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes is simply the story of the daily life of a young boy.  There is not heart racing peaks and valleys of activity but it is a charming story that will ring true with many readers.

Chomp by Carl Hiassen is a book I know I have mentioned on my blog before.  It is one of the many adventure/humor/nature stories that Hiassen has set in Florida.  This just happens to be my favorite because the characters are so quirky while also seeming very real.

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny--Detectives Extraordinaire by Mrs. Bunny and Polly Horvath has more than detective bunnies.  It also has a girl who has lost her, for lack of a better term, "hippie" parents who have been kidnapped by foxes.  When Madeleine learns she can speak to animals, she enlists the help of novice detectives who are well-intentioned but not always efficient.

Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath has a bit more substance to it than the one above about bunnies.  It looks at the ponderings of a little girl in British Columbia whose parents have been lost at sea.  There is some humor to soften the story as she grows through grief and loss to self-reliance and self-discovery.

Unhooking the Moon by Gregory Hughes is an oddly compelling tale of two children, 12 year old Bob and his ten year old sister Mille, who set off alone to find their uncle in New York City after their widowed father dies.  Bob and Millie are quirky, strong, and determined young people who support each other while challenging their roles in the relationship.  This story requires a reader who can handle some uncomfortable situations.

How to Catch a Bogle by Catherine Jinks takes the reader to a smoggy, dark, Victorian England reminiscent of scenes in the movie  "Oliver" to meet a ten year old girl named Birdie who is apprenticed to a bogler.  Her mentor is a curmudgeonly but caring older man who makes his living trapping and destroying evil creatures called bogles who often live in houses throughout London.  Birdie is a strong character with courage, skill, and heart.  I found this book to be fascinating and great fun.

Ben and Me by Robert Lawson was another of my favorite books in about great four.  It is a novel that makes the audacious and often hilarious claim that Ben Franklin got all of his best ideas from a friendly mouse, the narrator of this book.  I think I learned more American history from this book, include a thirst to learn more, than I did from any history class until college.

Bliss by Kathryn Littlewood starts a trilogy about a bakery where magic is cooked up along with fine pastries.  Readers in my library have been eating up this fantasy adventure with a sweet tooth.

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd will appeal to word lovers of all ages as well as to those who love stories about kids in slightly unique, but very relatable settings.  To regain the magic, a town must solve an old legend and mend some broken hearts. The protagonist is a word collector who reminds me why I love words so much.

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry will appeal to people who have read a variety of genres already, especially tales that follow classic formats of orphan children and/or not so nice adults.  This is a great parody of all those stories as the children of a family decide that maybe they would be happier if they were like the orphans in so many of the stories they love just as their parents wonder if life might be easier without children.  That almost sounds morbid but it is actually hilariously funny.

Wanderville by  Wendy McClure has a deceptively sweet cover showing three kids playing in a field.  It is actually a story based on the lives of children sent West from New York City on the Orphan Train.  The three happy looking children on the cover must first escape from people who are eager put them into enforced servitude on a ranch that gathers as many child workers as they can.  After their escape, these three work to begin a community deep in the woods that will be the focus of promised sequels.

Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes is a beautifully written story of a ten year old girl on a Mississippi plantation in the years just after emancipation.  When Chinese workers are brought in to join the former slaves in working the sugar cane, everyone is fearful of the others.  Curiosity leads young Sugar, an orphan, to get to know these new people and find there commonalities.

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes is another fine example of the quality of the writing Rhodes puts into her novels for upper elementary age readers.  This novel about surviving Hurricane Katrina will give everyone new understanding of the storm and of human relations.

The Secret Box by Whitaker Ringwald starts with young Jax going on a quest to find out about a mysterious box that arrives on her birthday from a woman named Juniper.  The box comes as a birthday gift but Jax's mother immediately tries to make it disappear.  Jax reclaims it and drags her cousins along on what becomes a harrowing trip that may become a matter of life and death.  I like that Jax is one brave, spunky girl nearly as much as I like the tension-easing humor that is sprinkled throughout this tale.

Dragon Breath by Ursula Vernon appeals to those readers who want humor, fantasy, and real-life problems plus lots of graphics.  This series about a dragon who is trying to fit in as the only dragon at a school for reptiles alternates prose and graphic content.  They are great, light summer reads.


How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Wilson is a memoir in a collection of poetry.  It is not an ordinary life that Wilson led.  She is an African-American who grew up in the 1950s and 60s, mostly on military bases.  These sonnet length poems offer a unique look at the times through the author's unique window on her world. They are moving and charming and tell a story that could not have been as well told in any other format. 

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda by Alicia Potter may have the appearance of a picture book at times, but it is actually a fact-filled tale of the woman who traveled to China to fulfill the dream her husband died trying to fulfill.  Mrs. Harkness travels up the Yangtze River to get a baby panda which she tends  through some rather harrowing adventures while bringing it safely back to the United States.  There is an adult book on the same topic, The Lady and the Panda:  The True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back China's Most Exotic Animal by Vicki Croke,  that parents might want to read as kids are reading this.

Unlikely Loves:  43 Heartwarming True Stories From the Animal Kingdom by Jennifer S. Holland offers a lovely selection of short essays for upper elementary through adult readers about surprising friendships that cross animals species.  All are accompanied by full color photographs of the unusual pairs.  There is a new series for younger readers that features just a few of these stories in simplified form.
National Geographic's Weird But True series is appealing to all ages with bright illustrations and photographs to go with little known facts about just about everything.  They are generally one fact per page, making them great for travel and bathroom reading as well as for quizzing parents and siblings.

Summer Reading for Second Grade

It is summer break and parents have been asking for suggestions for their students.  Here are some suggestions that I sent specifically to a young girl going into second grade.  There is a fairly wide range of reading difficulty included in this list so you can find something that fits needs from emergent readers to those who feel comfortable with a bigger reading challenge.  I have included fiction (with a separate section for series books) as well as non-fiction. 

The goal of the summer should be to have fun with reading.  I can not plead enough that you not worry so much about what is being read or even if reading takes place every day as you are about finding something that brings joy.  No one will being reading the classics without a firm foundation and that the secure knowledge that there is pleasure in reading.  Leave books around where they are easy to pick up and read.  Read to children and then stop at the exciting part so they have to finish by themselves.  Just read to your kids, whether they read alone or not.  In addition to inspiring your budding reader, you also get a special time with a very wonderful child.

Let your kids see you read for pleasure.  If mom and dad (I have read a lot of literature that suggests that dad has the greatest influence on encouraging kids to read) read for the sheer joy of it and kids see them doing it, those kids are going to sense that reading is a good idea.  If parents are too busy to read, it doesn't take long for children to get the message that there are more important and more enjoyable things to do than read.

Finally, encourage kids to play outside.  The fresh air and creativity will stimulate areas of their brains that often get neglected and any mental stimulation will make reading (and most of the rest of life) easier and more enjoyable.

Here is the list aimed primarily at readers ages 6 to 8.

The #1 Train Spotter and Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke are very popular with people just beginning to read chapter books by them self. They both have sequels.   The Train Spotter books have a detective bent to them.  Anna Hibiscus is a little easier to read and is the story of a young girl living in Africa.  Her mother is not from Africa which offers opportunities to discuss cultural differences in a pleasant, familial setting.

Ivy and Bean by Ann Barrows has grown into a good sized series about two little girls who were reluctant to become friends but soon find that they have much in common.  They are nice kids with a generous dose of mischievousness in their lives. Their adventures will seem very familiar to most girls aged 6 to 10.

Rabbit and Robot:  The Sleepover by Cece Bell will be an easy read as it is a first chapter book.  It is a cute story about a rabbit and a robot who can't seem to find the perfect thing to do on a sleepover because they have very different personalities and interests.  Of course they eventually find the perfect way to enjoy each other's company.  I found this book to be very enjoyable with some good surprises from the usual friends-getting-along story.

The Pain and The Great One by Judy Blume are great for a first introduction to the humor and real feel of childhood interests for readers not quite ready for Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.  A brother and sister give humor to the complications of deciding who is bothering whom.

Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel is a series that includes both picture books and easy, highly-illustrated chapter books about, you guessed it, a bad kitty.  Luckily the kitty is also pretty lovable and has fun adventures.

Beverly Cleary books like those about Ramona Quimby and her friends are classics of children's literature.  Ramona may have been the first of the now popular genre of realistic fiction about young, strong girls. They are certainly some of the best books in this genre to this day.  Ramona and Beezus and their friends have become a part of our literary culture so I think every child deserves to have exposure to them.

Amber Brown by Paula Danzinger is featured in a growing series.  She fits nicely into the realistic fiction about lower elementary age girls.  Amber's parents divorce in this series which may make them especially relevant for some families.

Bink and Gollie by Kate DiCamillo  now have more than one book.  These quirky friends like each other despite their differences and they have a good time together going on simple, enjoyable adventures.

Kenny and the Dragon by Tony DeTerlizzi is a lovely fantasy of a boy who meets a dragon.  Much to his surprise (he has heard stories about dragons all his life), the dragon is not mean and scary.  How is going to convince everyone that this dragon is not going to destroy their homes?

Edward Eager was my favorite author when I was young.  They may be still a read-aloud for many who are entering second grade, but what a great read aloud these books are.  All of them are great tales of simple magic that takes four siblings on adventures that carry them far from any possibility of boredom.  My favorite is still Half Magic, but you can't go wrong with any of Eager's book.

21 Fairmont Avenue by Tomi DePaola is the first in a collection of stories based on DePaola's life.  If his picture books about his childhood are popular, these are perfect for a second grader who is ready for a little more information and interesting stories, all accompanied with DePaola's familiar art.

My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett is another children's classic that appeals to children of today as much as it did when it was first published in 1948.  This first of the trilogy is the story of a boy saving a baby dragon who is being used by a bunch of wild animals as a ferry.

Clara Lee and the Apple Blossom Dream by Jenny Han brings a multi-cultural twist to the story of a little girl who wants to be her small town's Little Miss Apple Pie.  Can a Korean girl win this coveted title while still honoring her own culture?

Sadie and Ratz by Sonya Harnett tells of a little girl whose hands keep getting her in trouble, especially around her little brother.  She names those hands Sadie and Ratz so they can take the blame when things go wrong.  This is an early chapter book and a great way to start the summer reading.  Just thinking of this book makes me smile.  Parents will enjoy it as much or more than the young reader.

The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes is simply the story of the daily life of a young boy.  There is not heart racing peaks and valleys of activity but it is a charming story that would make a good read aloud for those who are just beginning to read chapter books.  More accomplished readers will enjoy it by themselves.

Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins appeals to the child in me.  I love stories where toys come alive and the toys in this story are interesting things like a stingray, a buffalo, and a ball known as Plastic.  The format of being a collection of stories is also a good introduction to the joys of short stories and they are easy to read in a single setting.  There are more books in this series awaiting your eager reader.

Lady Lollipop and George Speaks by Dick King-Smith are two of his easier to read books. Lollipop is a pig that is presented to a very spoiled princess.  The pig and her dedicated swineherd help teach the princess some social graces.  George, in the other book, is a new born baby brother who swears his older sister to silence when he reveals that he can already talk and make some interesting comments about the world around him and the oddities of adults.

Ling and Ting:  Not Exactly the Same  by Grace Lin tells of identical twins who prove that they are not identical in all ways.  They are charming little girls so it is no surprise that there are more books about them.  The books are easier reads and good for readers who are not sure they really want to tackle a more difficult book.

Ruby Lu:  Brave and True by Lenore Look is different from other young girl stories because Ruby is Chinese-American who goes to Chinese school and deals with other cultural issues.  She is also a very typical young girl who deals with school, friendships, and other issues that will be familiar to everyone.

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald has long held a reputation for being a great read-aloud as well as a book that kids love to read and re-read.  Mrs.  Piggle-Wiggle is a sweet, grandmotherly woman who has a cure for common childhood ailments like bossiness or not be able to share.  There is enough fun in these stories that they never seem preachy.  Each chapter tells its own story about children who are cured of their ailments in a pleasant and funny manner.

Akimbo and the Elephants by Alexander McCall-Smith is just one of the books in this series about Akimbo, the son of a game warden in Kenya.  Akimbo wants to help his father which leads to some harrowing adventures as he battles to save animals. Yes, this is the same McCall-Smith who writes The Ladies Number One Detective Agency and other books for adults.

Tales for Very Picky Eaters by Josh Schneider is a beginning chapter book that details a father's attempts to get his son to try new foods.  Each new food option is more ridiculous than the one that came before.  I promise that parents will hear about the amazing ideas that are presented.  This is a very early chapter book.  If you have a picky eater in your family, this is an especially great read.


A-Z Mysteries and Calendar Mysteries by Rob Roy are good, short mysteries for newly independent readers.  There is enough mystery to keep the reader guessing while being short enough that they do not require a huge time commitment.  As you can guess by the series titles, there are several books available.

Andrew Lost  by  J. C. Greenberg is a series with a concept that will appeal to many readers.  Andrew creates a machine that accidentally shrinks him and his friend Judy down to an almost microscopic size.  Each, beginning with On the Dog, takes them on a new adventure.  The great part is the quantity of interesting scientific facts that are worked into the simple text and black and white illustrations.

The Bailey School Kids by Debbie Dadey find all kinds of creatures from aliens to witches behaving in amazing ways.  They are great fun.

Cam Janson by David Adler is a young girl detective with a knack for solving mysteries.  There are two levels of these books so an emergent reader can begin with the easier ones and then move easily into those for a more advanced reader.

Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown has grown to be a series so kids can keep following this the adventure of this happy young lad who was accidentally flattened until he is the thickness of a piece of paper.  What child doesn't want to imagine be a kite or getting mailed to visit relatives?

My America by Mary Pope Osborne is a series of historical fiction written in diary format.  This form appeals to many readers.  Some readers are less than trilled to read diaries, so don't push if that is the case.

Oliver Moon by Sue Mongredian tells the adventures of a young wizard in training.  The books are funny and exciting and quick reads for the budding wizard in your family.

Ready, Freddy by Abby Klein is about a typical boy doing typical boy things.  They are full of humor and some adventure.

Mercy Watson by Kate DiCamillo is a pig who is quite spoiled by her human family.  She may spend most of her time eating but that seems to help her be in the right place at the right time to solve problems, often problems she created.  The bright colored illustrations and large font make these chapter books that emergent readers can enjoy with little help from adults.

Geronimo Stilton by "Geronimo Stilton" appeals to many readers in no small part because of the bright illustrations and the fun that is had with text fonts.  They are also funny and filled with adventures.


Who Was.../Who Is... biographies by various authors  offer just the right amount of information and readable life story to keep kids coming back for more.  There are now 100 of these and I could keep most of them in circulation most of the time.  The kids I work with started with familiar people and were soon reading about people that were totally new to them just because they discovered a love of biographies.  Many of these readers then moved on to other biographies.

Usbourne Beginners offer a wide range of non-fiction topics with lots of bright photos and illustrations, solid information, and interesting side-bars/ They are perfect for someone just discovering the many joys of reading for information.

Poetry may also be a good choice for reading that seems easy but is filled with meaning and challenges.  Everyone loves Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky, but don't miss others who are less well known like Douglas Florian, J. Patrick Lewis, and science related poetry of Joyce Sidman.  Explore the poetry section for more good reads.

Other non-fiction areas that are great for developing an interest in reading include, but are clearly not limited to, cookbooks, crafting books, and folk and fairy tales.

Finally, National Geographic's Weird But True series is appealing to all ages with bright illustrations and photographs to go with little known facts about just about everything.  They are generally one fact per page, making them great for travel and bathroom reading as well as for quizzing parents and siblings.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Architecture for Everyone

There are so many young people with the dream of building exciting buildings.  Whether it is a tent made out of blankets, a building created with toilet paper rolls, Legos and building blocks taken to towering heights, or some other magnificent structure, there are myriad reasons to encourage such activities whenever possible. 

I was inspired to think about this and post this today when I found this interesting lists of 15 Adorable Children's Books Featuring Architecture..  It is a great list, but I can't resist adding just a few more books that I like.

Everyday Structures from A to Z by Bobbie Kalman is an alphabet of interesting ways of looking at structures, constructions, shapes, and styles.  I am not always thrilled with the questions that the author chooses to ask, but they are good jumping off points for discussions between you and your child or the reader can skip through them to find ones that are interesting.  This book could be enjoyed by Kindergarten and first graders with some parental help and by those up about grade five as a starting point for learning more about structures.

As suggested in the on-line list above, the books of David Macaulay are amazing insider views of great constructions from Castles and Pyramids to Cathedrals and Mosques.  He has a newer series for younger readers, but the beloved ones are what will capture middle grade students to adults with their detail and wealth of information.  If you find his book called Built to Last, you will get Castle, Cathedral, and Mosque all in one volume.

If you want an exciting story of the brave folks who actual build the skyscrapers, offer your middle grade to middle school aspiring architect Skywalkers:  Mohawk Ironworkers Build the City by David Weitzman  looks at the long connection between the Mohawk people and construction by first looking at the construction of the longhouses that were built in what is now upstate New York perhaps as long as 4,000 years ago.  Most of the book, however, concerns how the Mohawk people have been involved with so much modern construction, risking their lives as they create the iron structures that take skyscrapers reaching for the clouds.

Picture-book-reading builders will enjoy Monkey with a Toolbelt by Chris Monroe as they marvel at the real and pun-created tools in his belt and the creative ways he puts them to use to help friends and escape danger.  This is an imagination sparking joy for kindergarten and up.

For space age style creations, spark imagination with Marveltown by Bruce McCall.  Marveltown is a city created by inventors and filled with things like a Skyway held up by invisible ion rays and opportunities to go rocket-jumping by moonlight or fishing from a mile-high tower.  No wonder all the kids who live there are inspired to make their own inventions like a rocket chair, a machine to eat homework,  or a rug especially created to trip school bullies.  When things go very wrong in this placid town, it is the inventions of the kids that help to save the day.  This picture book will appeal to kindergarten and up.

Henry Builds a Cabin  by D. B. Johnson goes back in time with a story inspired by the life and writings of Henry David Thoreau.  The Henry in the book is a bear who is shown designing his house and then building it from chopping and shaping the logs to notching beams and fitting them into place.  His neighbors think the house is too small, but Henry knows where he wants his priorities and for him the great outdoors serve as most of his rooms so his house doesn't need to be very big.  This picture book will appeal to grades two and up as well as to anyone who as an interest in Thoreau.

Don't stop here.  Check out craft books which will inspire creations.  Cookbooks, too, are often about building edible creations that are more than a couple of layers with icing. (The Secret Life of Food by Clare Crespo is one cookbook that comes quickly to mind in this category.)   In fact, true inspiration can be found almost anywhere.  Read a little then gather supplies and start building.  Have fun.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Just Duckie!

If you travel down the nearest major street to my home, you will pass houses with a man-made small lake (pond) behind them.  In front of one of the houses on the other side of the street is a sign that says "Duck Crossing".  That sign was the inspiration for the stories and activities  shared in kindergarten and first grade this week.  (I am happy to report that every time ducks are crossing to the house that feeds them, the traffic on the street always stops.  Only once have I heard as much as a car horn.) 

The Ks and first grade did the obvious like singing "Six Little Ducks That I Once Knew" and reciting "Five Little Ducks Went Out to Play".  They colored ducks that we could then attach to a craft stick for simple puppet.  You should have seen the ducks.  They were beautiful and creative.  One boy spent a long time carefully coloring concentric circles in bright colors and then rays of other colors to complete his duck.  He named it "Radiated Duck."

It amazed me how many picture books we had about ducks--so many that I could not possible share them all.

The natural first choice for duck stories is the classic, Caldecott Award winning, Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey.  It was first published in 1941 and is still a lovely and much loved story.  I did not get to know Boston until my daughter moved there for graduate school, but I immediately recognized the Public Gardens from the many times I saw it when I read this book over and over.  The cars and the police uniforms may have changed but the swan boats are still there.  Of course, now there is also the row of duck statues for Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Oack, Pack, Quack, and Mrs. Mallard.  If you are going to Boston, be sure to read (or re-read) this story so you can fully enjoy seeing the Charles River and other sights of the city.

Bringing memories of the illustrations of Make Way for Ducklings  to a new story is just part of the charm of Lucky Ducklings by Eva Moore.  It gives a happy ending to the story we hear all too often of ducklings that fall through the grate on the city drainage system.  Thanks to clear thinking humans the ducks are saved after their fall and reunited with their mother who insists that she has to lead them across the street...this time with help.

Outfoxed by Mike Twohy has great illustrations and a story that is guaranteed to get laughs from kids and adults.  Fox raids the hen house at great peril to himself only to find that he has actually gotten a duck when his heart was set on a chicken dinner.  He is willing to settle until the duck announces with a wag of its tail and a slobbering lick to fox's face that he is actually a dog.  For the rest of that evening the duck does all kinds of dog like things--from lots of jumping and licking to  barking and looking adorable.  That night he even sleeps with fox.  Alas, in the morning, fox decides that the darling duck/dog needs to go back to the far because a fox does not keep a pet.  Duck/dog cries pitifully but fox throws him over the farm fence, anyway.  Has fox made a mistake?  The twist at the end will answer that question.

Patricia Polacco writes so many well known books that sometimes others are overlooked.  One of those is John Philip Duck which tells the story of the little boy that brings his pet duck to work at the
Peabody Hotel in Memphis and that duck grows up to be one of the ducks that daily ride the elevator down to the main lobby swim in the fountain, under the guidance of the Duck Master, a job first given to the young boy who started the tradition.  The story has just the right balance of tension and charm along with its historical accuracies.

Duck to the Rescue continues the series by John Himmelman, however, unlike cows, pigs, and chickens, duck does not seem to be able to get anything quite right.  Sheep has the perfect solution.  This is a series loved by the kids as they love to chant, "Duck (or whoever the animal of the book is) to the Rescue!" every third page and then see what happens next.

Guji, Guji by Chih-Yuan Chen can be a very deep story if you want to make it that.  It is all about making choices about who you are and who your family is.  Of course, the kids just want to see what this crocodile hatched into a duck family does after meeting his bad crocodile cousins.  He is one smart crocoduck.  The illustrations are especially quirky and charming.

There are myriad other duck stories.  Look for titles by Jez Alborough, Doreen Cronin, Jackie Urbanovic and more.  Let me know what makes you feel just duckie.

Note Emerson students:  Lucky Duckies will be back at Emerson after break.  See if you can win a little duck by checking out a book that is checked out Lucky Duckie.