Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cybils Finalists

Aaah.  I had a terrific time participating in the Cybils as a panelist for the Easy Reader and Early Chapter Books categories.  You can see the finalists for all the categories on New Year's Day on the Cybils site. Check it out and happy reading!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Dog on Good Books 2013

One final list of the year . . . our favorites.  In creating this list, we indulged ourselves by allowing personal interests and experiences to influence our selections.  These are books we love, and we recommend them wholeheartedly.

Picture Books:
  • Bunnies on Ice by Johanna Wright
  • The Black Rabbit by Philippa Leathers
  • That Is Not a Good Idea! by Mo Willems
  • If You Want to See a Whale by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin Stead
  • Sophie's Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf
  • Journey by Aaron Becker
  • Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown
  • Big Snow by Jonathan Bean
  • Mr. Wuffles! by David Wiesner
  • The Tiny King by Taro Miura
  • Loula Is Leaving for Africa by Anne Villeneuve
Fiction (Ages 6-8):
  • Penny and Her Marble by Kevin Henkes
  • The Meanest Birthday Girl by Josh Schneider
  • Mysterious Traveler by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham, illustrated by P.J. Lynch
Fiction (Ages 9-14):
  • The Adventures of a South Pole Pig: A novel of snow and courage by Chris Kurtz, illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt
  • Jinx by Sage Blackwood
  • Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz
  • Doll Bones by Holly Black, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
  • The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata, illustrated by Julia Kuo
  • Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
  • Bluffton by Matt Phelan
  • Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K.G. Campbell
  • Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
Folktales/Fairy Tales:
  • Hansel and Gretel by The Brothers Grimm, illustrated by Sybille Schenker
  • Gobble You Up! by Gita Wolf, illustrated by Sunita

Monday, December 23, 2013

Even More Lists

We are a week away from the year's end, and now is a good time to see which books you missed in 2013 that you'll regret not reading.  I posted links to some of my favorite year-end lists in November (here and here) but there a few more that are worth noticing.
  • New York Public Library put together a list of 100 recommended titles called  Children's Books 2013: 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing.
  • Horn Book's Fanfare list is considerably shorter with only 30 titles.  You can find it in their January/February issue or on the blog, Read Roger.
  • If you are looking for picture books, there are some terrific ones that aren't eligible for the Caldecott Award because their illustrators don't meet the residency requirements. Robin Smith of Calling Caldecott posted a great list--Ineligible Internationals.  Don't skip the comments.

Friday, December 20, 2013

December Storytime Briefly

Today is the last day of school this year (cue the applause) and yesterday was the last storytime of the year. Here are December's highlights.

We had a big snowstorm in Utah, so it was the perfect day to read
  • Snow by Uri Shulevitz
  • The Snow Day by Komako Sakai
  • Bedtime for Bear by Brett Helquist
  • Big Snow by Jonathan Bean
We talked about playing in the snow and enjoying hot chocolate afterwards.  One student pointed out the change in the city from gray and drab to bright and colorful in Snow.  And another noticed the changing colors in Big Snow as the story (and the storm) progressed.  We talked about how the snow reflects the light and how the illustrations use light.

We continued our discussion of cold weather and snow by reading
  • A Very Fuddles Christmas by Frans Vischer
  • Bunnies on Ice by Johanna Wright
  • Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
We looked at the texture in the illustrations for Bunnies on Ice and Extra Yarn.  We also talked about the magic behind that box of yarn--every kid had a slightly different idea of how it worked.

We talked about Christmas.  We read
  • The Christmas Giant by Steve Light
  • Little Santa by Jon Agee
  • The Smallest Gift of Christmas by Peter Reynolds
Jon Agee's Little Santa ends with "And you know the rest of the story."  I had several students who wanted to share what they know about the rest of that story.  (And one who wanted to know if the book was fiction or nonfiction.)  I love first graders.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

tara recommends Bunnies On Ice by Johanna Wright

White bunnies in fluffy snow + a touch of ice skating = delightful winter magic.

Bunnies On Ice is a charming story about a little bunny who is eager to share her secrets of how to be a "champion" ice-skater.  One of these tips include waiting for "the conditions to be just right."  That means waiting through spring and waiting through summer and waiting through fall - until finally, it snows!  After a big breakfast and a proper wardrobe change, it is time to hit the ice.

This little bunny shows off her incredible skills, such as doing "a figure eight with [her] eyes closed" . . . but, as with any supremely confident child, her perception of greatness is slightly exaggerated and the pictures tell a much different story (her figure eights are a mesh of messy squiggly lines and her perfect landing ends in a fall).  But, after a hard day on the ice, she has her "excellent support team" and "plenty of hot chocolate," which makes the perfect ending to this cozy winter story.

The best part of this book, (aside from the spunky main character and perfect family togetherness), is the art.  The pictures make you want to touch the pages because of the heavy texture of the canvas and the visible brushstrokes.  You are almost fooled into thinking you can feel the raised canvas and paint under your fingertips - and even though you can't (believe me, I've tried), the pictures are still warm and magical.

If you missed this book earlier this year, I highly recommend you pick it up and enjoy the sweet story and delightful pictures.  (If you want to do it while sipping a cup of hot chocolate, that wouldn't hurt either.)

Bunnies On Ice
by Johanna Wright
published by Roaring Book Press
January 2013
Recommended for ages 2 and up

Thursday, December 12, 2013

danyelle recommends Me Too by Valeri Gorbachev

Some of life's best moments are simple ones, yet they can also be elusive because emotional richness and simplicity can be difficult to capture simultaneously.  That is why I particularly admire a book for emerging readers, like Me Too! by Valeri Gorbachev, that captures an everyday moment and imbues it with depth, and does it in a way that is easy to read.

This story begins on the title page with an eager Bear and Chipmunk watching the snow fall outside their window and welcoming readers into their world.  Then with a page turn, readers are drawn inside the warmth of their home.
 "I love snow!" said Bear.
"Me too!" said Chipmunk.
This first page sets up the rest of the story with Bear talking about their activities and Chipmunk echoing, "Me too!" each time.  The picture of snow shovels (I love the tiny one!), ice skates, and skis lined up on the wall also gives readers a preview of what is coming next.

The two friends dig a path out of their house, make a snowman, ice skate, ski, and return to their cozy home to sit by the fire. Young readers will laugh as Chipmunk flies through the air behind Bear's snow shovel, when he skis down a hill and lands head first in the snow, and when he and Bear fall on their backs while skating.  And they'll understand the warmth that exists between the two friends.

After a day in the snow, Bear and Chipmunk tuck into their warm beds, and this time Chipmunk's echo changes.
"Sweet dreams," said Bear.
"You too!" said Chipmunk.
The moon in attic windows draws the reader's eyes across the page, and with the final page turn, the reader is once again outside looking at the glowing lights through the window.

Unlike traditional easy-to-read books, this book is the shape and size of a picture book which makes it perfect for the earliest reader and an adult to share together.  The repetitive text  uses only 39 unique words (most of which are sight words).  Expressive, watercolor illustrations tell the story, and children will probably "read" the story through the pictures more than words.  There is nothing complicated here, just a satisfying story simply told.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for consideration as a Cybils Finalist.

The opinions expressed are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of other Cybils panelists.

Me Too!
An I Like to Read Book
by Valeri Gorbachev
published by Holiday House
July 2013
Recommended for ages 4-7

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

danyelle recommends Mr. Putter & Tabby Drop the Ball

I've come late to the Mr. Putter & Tabby books by Cynthia Rylant.  For some reason, until recently, I had not read even one book in the series.  Yep, that’s almost 20 years and 22 books, and even though I've taught six of my children to read, I had, somehow, missed every book.  Until now.

When Mr. Putter & Tabby Drop the Ball was nominated for a Cybils Award, I picked it up expecting (unfairly, I might add) a rather stale, late-in-a-series story.  I was surprised and delighted to find just how wrong I was.  Deciding that I had neglected this series long enough, I took a quick trip to the library and checked out a stack of books.  Now after reading through eight books, I've found new characters to love and old books to share.  Although I enjoyed all the books I read, Mr. Putter & Tabby Drop the Ball is still my favorite.

Mr. Putter and his “fine cat” Tabby love to nap, but they seem to be napping all the time, so Mr. Putter decides they need a sport.  His neighbor, Mrs. Teaberry knows of a baseball team that will be just right for him--the Yankee Doodle Dandies--and when Mr. Putter expresses concern about being too old, Mrs. Teaberry offers to join the team with him.  They arrive at the ballpark, leave Tabby and Mrs. Teaberry's dog, Zeke, on the sidelines, and take their places on the field.  But Zeke doesn't want to be a spectator, so despite being told to “stay,” he runs onto the field and grabs the ball.  Just when it seems like Zeke’s mischief will cause the Yankee Doddle Dandies to lose, he finds a helpful way to be part of the game.

Told in five short chapters, this book is just what an easy reader should be.  Short sentences with easy-to-read vocabulary (most of which newly independent readers will recognize) are surrounded by plenty of white space.  Repetition in the text creates rhythm and familiarity.   Personality-filled illustrations with bold lines and bright color help pace the story by alternating between spot art and double-page spreads.  And they add detail--check out the trading cards at the end of the book.

But the best thing about the book is that it is funny.  Glimpses into Mr. Putter’s thoughts make Zeke’s antics comical, largely because of Mr. Putter’s silent predictions. 

“Let’s go play,” said Mrs. Teaberry.
She looked at Zeke.
“Stay,” she said, patting Zeke’s head.
Mr. Putter looked at Zeke.
No way, Mr. Putter thought.

Illustrations like those of Mr. Putter covering his eyes in exasperation (“Mr. Putter couldn't watch.”) or standing helpless with the ball on the ground in front of him (“Mr. Putter tried to bend down.  But his knees said, No way.”) contribute to the humor that makes this book engaging.

Hats off to you, Ms. Rylant for putting well-loved characters into a fresh, new story.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for consideration as a Cybils Finalist.

The opinions expressed are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of other Cybils panelists.

Mr. Putter & Tabby Drop the Ball
by Cynthia Rylant
illustrated by Arthur Howard
published by Harcourt Children’s Books
September 2013

Saturday, December 7, 2013

diane recommends Smile by Raina Telgemeier

I love this book. It is a really melodramatic book that shows getting braces and growing up in a way that only a graphic novel could show.

Raina is an eleven year old girl who trips and knocks out her front teeth. She then goes from "dontist" to "donist" as they try to figure out how to fix it. The problem is, she is just a normal teenager, she is having friend problems, her body is changing, and she is having boy drama. Things keep going badly until her sophomore year when her braces come off, and she gets new friends.

This book is based on true account from Raina Telgemeier's teenage years, and it is funny especially if you have had, or currently have, braces. She puts the sounds, the pain, and the embarrassment of having braces in the book. One of my favorite parts is when she is getting her mold for her teeth, (You can see those pages here.) and when she gets her braces off. If you have ever been a teenager, you see it through her all over again as you experience heart break, friend loss, and braces with Raina.

And, you can see the first part of the book where she trips here.

by Raina Telgemeier
published by Graphix
February 2010
Recommended for ages 11-14

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

More Lists

Lately, most of the time that I apportion to my book habit has been spent reading books for the Cybils, but I have taken time to peek at the year-end lists.  I mentioned Publisher's Weekly's list a couple of weeks ago, and now Kirkus has published the Best Children's Books of 2013.   School Library Journal announced their choices for the year as well:  SLJ Best Book 2013 Fiction, SLJ Best Book Nonfiction, and SLJ Best Books 2013 Picture Books.

I am thrilled to see If You Want to See a Whale on all three lists.  Some of my other favorites from the year that made all three lists are Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo, The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata and Locomotive by Brian Floca.  Both On a Beam of Light and Penny and Her Marble are on two lists and The Adventures of a South Pole Pig is included on SLJ's list.

My biggest disappointment was not finding Jonathan Bean's Big Snow or Joyce Sidman's What the Heart Knows on any of lists, but the year isn't over yet, and I'm crossing my fingers. My biggest surprise (because I hadn't heard of it until now) is Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell.  I'll have pull myself away from early chapter books and easy readers to read it.

That's my reaction, what's yours?

Friday, November 22, 2013

November Storytime Briefly

The air is crisp, we've seen a few snow flurries, and the mountains are capped in white.  It is time to pull the fall, winter, and holiday books off the shelf.  Here are November's storytime highlights:

We talked about small things with these stories:

  • The Tiny King by Taro Miura
  • Tiny Little Fly by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Kevin Waldron
  • Mr. Wuffles by David Weisner
  • Little One Inch (a storybox by Steve Light)
First, I have to say that I love The Tiny King.  The "Big Princess" makes me laugh every time I read it.  I was a little nervous to use Mr. Wuffles in storytime, but my book club friend, Krystal, convinced me to give it a try with her great alien voice.  I read the first couple of pages, and then I took volunteers to read and "interpret" each of the other pages.

I told Little One Inch using the wonderful storybox created by Steve Light. You can find it here.  And even better, scroll down the page and watch Mr. Light tell the story.  (If you are looking for Christmas gifts, these boxes are fun for storytelling and for play.)

The last leaf fell from our red maple tree, and I took it to storytime to share with the children as we talked about fall and Thanksgiving.  We read

  • Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf by Lois Ehlert
  • Bear Has a Story to Tell by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin Stead
  • Over the River and Through the Wood by Lydia Marie Child, illustrated by David Catrow
  • Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade by Melissa Sweet
The children were excited about the upcoming holidays.  One little girl enthusiastically shared her story of visiting "Yew York . . . Nuew Nuork . . . you know, where they have that parade on Thanksgiving!"

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A List of Lists

This is the time of year when my lists outgrow post-it notes and start to fill full-size sheets of paper (and sometimes, notebooks).  I have to-do lists, holiday preparation lists, ideas-for-gifts and wish lists, and of course, to-read lists.  But my favorite lists are the end-of-the-year book lists.  I like finding good books that didn't show up on my radar during the year and reading about what other readers love.

With just over a month until year's end, some great lists are starting to pop up.

Elizabeth Bluemle of ShelfTalker has put together a list of books that received starred reviews in major publications this year:  The Stars So Far--Updated.

Publisher's Weekly announced their Best Books 2013 lists:  Children's Fiction, Children's Picture, Children's Nonfiction.

The New York Times published their choices for the 10 Best Illustrated Children's Books of the year.

The National Book Foundation announced the Finalists for  the 2013 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.

And if you just can't get enough lists, check out Heavy Medal (don't skip the comments), Calling Caldecott, and A Fuse 8 Production for more great book recommendations.

Happy listing!

Friday, November 8, 2013

tara recommends The Lord of Opium by Nancy Farmer

The House of the Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer, was released in 2002 - but I just recently picked it up to prepare for its sequel, The Lord of Opium.  If you haven't read The House of the Scorpion, go find a copy before reading any reviews (including this one) about book #2.  It is an engaging book that should be enjoyed without spoilers.

The House of the Scorpion sets up an interesting world with a powerful drug lord at the helm.  In this first book, Matt is a clone that was created as spare parts for El Patron (a very old man whose life is perpetually extended by utilizing his many clones).  At any given moment, Matt could be wheeled into the hospital and his story could be over and because of this uncertainty, there is a healthy amount of suspense and action as he navigates his relationships.

The Lord of Opium begins with a much more powerful Matt as he takes over The Land of Opium, becoming the new drug lord.  He is the only one with power to open the border and allow opium to be distributed to the other drug lords.  In fact, because of El Patron's tight-fisted control, Matt is the only one with power to make any changes or communicate with the outside world.

He is also faced with the high moral responsibility of fixing the eejits (most of the people in the land have injected microchips in their brains - turning them into virtual robots).  A 14-year-old Matt must now decide whether he will take over as a powerful, ruthless dictator, or find a way to make things right - and every choice is made harder because he is forced to trust dangerous people with questionable motives.

Because of the slightly different dynamic of this book, it was not quite as spellbinding as the first.  The pacing was a little slow at times, as Matt navigates the politics and mechanics of his new life and explores his kingdom.  That being said, this is a worthy sequel to The House of the Scorpion with new, compelling characters, old friends and a neatly wrapped up ending to Matt's story.

The Lord of Opium
by Nancy Farmer
published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
September 2013
Recommended for ages 14 and up

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

diane recommends Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs: As Retold by Mo Willems

This book has been out a while, but I really like it, and after reading it several times to my laughing siblings, I decided that I should blog about it.

The plot is about what you would expect, except it isn't--the same Goldilocks, but with a twist.
"Once upon a time, there were three dinosaurs: Papa Dinosaur, Mama Dinosaur, and some other Dinosaur that happened to be visiting from Norway."
Yes, that is right, no Baby Dinosaur. And, Willems manages to get children's wording and thoughts correct:
"The first bowl of chocolate pudding was too hot, but Goldilocks ate it all anyway because, hey, it's chocolate pudding, right? The second bowl of chocolate pudding was too cold, but who cares about the temperature when you've got a big bowl of chocolate pudding? Not her."
Even the moral at the end of the book makes everyone laugh. You can read it several times without getting bored because the pictures have little details that may be skipped on a first, and even second visit. I love the pictures, and, if you look really carefully, you can find the pigeon at least once in the book.

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs: As Retold by Mo Willems
by Mo Willems
published by Balzer + Bray
September 2012

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

October Storytime Briefly

Fall break left us with only three storytime Thursdays this month.  Here are some of the highlights:

We talked about finding adventure without leaving home.  We read
  • The Story of Fish & Snail by Deborah Freedman
  • Blackout by John Rocco
  • If You Want to See a Whale by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin Stead
We talked about Erin Stead's beautiful pictures made using linoleum blocks and pencil, and I showed them a few linoleum blocks and explained the print-making process.

We talked about dogs--well-intentioned, naughty, and loyal.  We read
  • Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton
  • The Garden of Abdul Gasazi by Chris Van Allsburg
  • Bone Dog by Eric Rohmann
Some of the kids were positive that Fritz had actually been turned into a duck, and others were just as certain that he had not.  They made some fairly convincing arguments.

And since we were a week away from Halloween, we talked about scary things.  We read
  • Black Rabbit by Philippa Leathers
  • The Kindhearted Crocodile by Lucia Panzieri, illustrated by Anton Gionata Ferrari
  • The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli
  • Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown
When I asked what they were afraid of, not one person mentioned food.  Maybe they've never been stalked by carrots.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Playing with Story

I recently discovered Show Me a Story: 40 Craft Projects and Activities to Spark Children's Storytelling by Emily K. Neuburger.  (Thanks to Anna Lewis for the recommendation in her blog post on I.N.K.) My copy now has a colorful array of post-it flags marking pages I want to return to.  The author includes clear instructions for making story disks, story stones, traveling puppet theaters, story blocks, and other craft projects that encourage creativity.  She also includes ideas for sparking imaginations and telling stories.  Most of the projects can be completed with supplies that are inexpensive and easy-to-find.  We decided to use fall break to make some story mats--all it took was some canvas, paint, fabric scraps, and imagination.  Let's make some stories!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

danyelle recommends What the Heart Knows by Joyce Sidman

For the past week, the book that has sat on my bedside table--the one I've read and re-read--is Joyce Sidman's poetry collection, What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms & Blessings.  These twenty-nine poems, each illustrated with the inimitable artwork of Pamela Zagarenski, offer hope, express grief, look to the future, and recall the past.  In her Note to Readers, Sidman wrote, "We still believe in the power of the words themselves."   Sidman displays that power here.  She puts into words the raw emotion that we carry in our hearts, giving it shape and definition.  Some of these poems feel intensely personal, as though I could have written them if only I could have figured out how to say what exactly I felt.  I had thought to cite some of the most effective examples, but to pull a few words or phrases from their places, robs them of some of their power, so instead, I'll just recommend getting a copy of the book and reading the poems yourself.  My current favorites are "Chant to Repair a Friendship," "Song of Bravery," and "Blessing on the Downtrodden."  Read them and find yours.

What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms & Blessings
by Joyce Sidman
illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
October 2013
Recommended for ages 12 and up

Monday, October 14, 2013

danyelle recommends Big Snow by Jonathan Bean

When this is the view from my deck,
I know winter is on its way.

And even though I'm sorry to give up my garden and lunches of fresh tomato and basil sandwiches, I love the magic of winter's first snow.  Jonathan Bean's new book, Big Snow, captures that magic.

David waits, with his sled at the ready, for snow to fall.  When his mom suggests that he help make cookies, he starts with good intentions, but the "flour, white and fine" reminds him of snow and "he [decides] to check the weather," leaving a mess in the kitchen for his mom to clean.  He tries to help clean the bathroom and change the sheets, but at each attempt, he is distracted and runs out to "check the weather." That evening, the snow David has been looking forward to all day finally covers the ground, and David and his parents bundle up and go out into the wintry neighborhood together.

One of the things I most enjoy about this book is its balanced structure.  Pages showing David inside his home alternate with zoomed-out double-page spreads of David's neighborhood where he checks on the snow's progress, creating a pattern that is emphasized in the text.  "Flour, white and fine" is a preview of "small flakes . . . white and fine."  "Suds, white and fluffy" precede "flakes . . . white and fluffy," and "new sheets, white and cool" anticipate "the snow . . . covering everything, white and cool."  The pattern breaks at the story's climax when David dreams of a big snow, which in turn, leads to the resolution ("Then David, Dad, and Mom went to check on the big snow.") that wraps neatly back to the title page where we first saw David waiting under the title "Big Snow".

The illustrations depict David's neighborhood--not just any neighborhood--but one that you would definitely recognize if you visited it.  Closely-spaced, two-story homes on deep, rectangular lots with clotheslines in the backyards and power lines running above the sidewalks give this neighborhood a distinctive sense of place. Add to that details like a Menorah in a back window, a mailman with a walking route, covered porches, and low hills on the horizon, and you just KNOW this is a place that you could find on a map and visit.

In those repeated double-page spreads of the neighborhood, we see the accumulation of snow, we see the background fade into white, we see lights from the homes and streetlights, and we feel the hush that comes with snowfall.  Small houses and smaller people make the snow--the wondrous, magical snow--feel BIG.

David is always at the forefront of the story.  He is the one pictured talking; his mom may say something in the text, but the pictures are all about David.  He dances in flour with the abandon of childhood (my favorite picture) and plays in soap suds with vigor.  He tosses his coat, scarf, and mittens to the floor, only to pick them up again as he runs out the door.  There is no apology for his eagerness to see the snow.

And then let's talk about what is NOT in the text.  While Mom makes suggestions to keep David busy and is left to clean up a mess every time he tries to help, she doesn't scold him.  The pictures clearly show her aggravation, but the story stays with David as he rushes outside.  Here is a kid being a kid in the best kind of way.

Winter usually comes too early where I live, but reading this story makes me long for a snow day!

Check out interior artwork here.

Big Snow
by Jonathan Bean
published by Farrar Straus Giroux
September 2013

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

tara recommends Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown

Have you ever wanted to go just a little bit wild?  In a perfectly proper town, Mr. Tiger is ready to let loose in Peter Brown's new story, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild.

While everybody else is happy with their subdued, calm and boring lives - Mr. Tiger is looking for change.  It starts gradually (walking on all four legs), but as he grows more wild (and sheds his clothes), his friends kick him out of town.  He is happy to go to the wilderness where he is free to go "completely wild!"  He loves climbing trees, running through grass and - pretty much doing everything tigers are supposed to do, although the delightful pictures still show an animal with some residual proper tendencies (the way he climbs a tree still doesn't feel entirely tiger-like).  The story resolves in an unexpected, happy ending which proves that it is always better to be yourself.

The artwork is almost entirely done in gray/brown hues with a just a punch of orange to represent Mr. Tiger.  Using a combination of India ink, watercolor, gouache and pencil - which was then composited and colored digitally, Peter Brown sets up a perfect contrast of uniform city life and the lure of a wild (and much more colorful) wilderness.  The overall effect is perfect for the story and you find yourself rooting for that flash of orange on each page.

I highly suggest taking a walk on the wild side and picking up this book today.  It is a fun read aloud with interesting pictures and a sure-fire hit for children of all ages.  You may even get a few laughs with the pure absurdness of wild animals living lives completely contrary to their natures.  At one point the teacher tells the children (consisting of a rhino, bear and pig), "Now, children, please do not act like wild animals."  Of course, the best part is that while the animals in the story can't see the irony - children certainly will!

So, follow Peter Brown's advice on the dust jacket, because "everyone should find time to go a little wild."

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild
by Peter Brown
published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
September 2013
Recommended for ages 3 and up

Monday, October 7, 2013

diane recommends Again! by Emily Gravett

This is a really fun picture book. With its exciting pictures and funny words, it keeps you captivated.

This picture book  is about a small dragon at bedtime. He doesn't want to go to bed, but as his mom reads the book again and again, the words change as she becomes more tired. And the small dragon becomes more and more angry.

With the merry rhymes that make the book flow, and the funny story plot, this book is awesome.
"Cedric the dragon's a bright angry red. He's never, His whole life, (Not once) been to bed. . . . At the end of each day he shoats out this refrain: 'TOMORROW I'LL DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN!'"
Then, toward the end of the book, as the mom gets tired, and the little dragon is still insistent upon reading the book, "AGAIN!" The story changes to
"Cedric the dragon's a big sleepyhead. He's decided it's time HE WAS REALLY IN BED. . . . Now I'm closing the book and saying quite plain: 'TOMORROW I'll read it all over again.'"
I especially love the pictures of the cute little dragon and his mom as they go through the routine that every parent dreads, but still goes through, as their kids try to go to sleep. This is a really fun read aloud to little kids. Also, it is one of those books that you can read again, and again, and again--even though you already know the ending.

If you go to her website and go to "Books", and then to "Coming Soon" and click, "Sneak a peek", you can look at two of the pages of this book. Also, it is just a fun website for activities that relate with her books.

And thanks to 100 Scope Notes for the cool videos on how it was made!

Emily Gravett also wrote Wolves and Orange Pear Apple Bear. (Both of which I also think are amazing, so if you can, you should check them out too!)

by Emily Gravett
published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
April 2013

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Cybils Nominations

If there is a book from this past year (published 10/1/2012 through 9/30/2013) that you think deserves a little recognition, you should nominate it for a Cybils Award.  Starting today you can clink on this link below to nominate your favorites--one book per category.  Don't  procrastinate, nominations close October 15.

Friday, September 27, 2013

September Storytime Briefly

I love Thursdays because that is when I get to read stories to first- and second-graders at my local elementary school.  Here are some of the highlights from September:

We talked about predators and escaping danger.  We read
  • Oh No! by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann
  • Ol' Mama Squirrel by David Ezra Stein
  • Swimmy by Leo Lionni
  • What Do You Do When Something Wants to Eat You? by Steve Jenkins

Oh No! is a favorite book at our house; my three-year-old loves to recite it, especially the kudzu vine and banyan tree parts.  The other day as we were driving down the road she said, "Wow! Look at that cloud--it's a 'whopping big branch.'"  Yep, guess she picked up that vocabulary.

We talked about making friends and read
  • Sophie's Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf
  • Hello, My Name is Ruby by Philip C. Stead
  • My Name Is Elizabeth by Annika Dunklee, illustrated by Matthew Forsythe

I brought a butternut squash to class, and after we read Sophie's Squash, we took a vote--eat it, or name it and put a face on it? . . . Meet Bentley.
After we read Hello, My Name Is Ruby, I turned to the illustration of the little birds flying in an elephant-shaped formation.  In each of the classes students recalled the little fish making a big fish in Swimmy.  We talked about similarities and differences in the two illustrations.

We read about sharks and trains.
  • Shark vs. Train by Chris Barton, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
  • Crossing by Philip Booth, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline 
  • Carnivores by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Dan Santat
  • "About the Teeth of Sharks" by John Ciardi
The kids loved the poem by John Ciardi (and I love my Folkmanis shark puppet).  The second-graders even requested an encore.  But here is the interesting thing: When I first memorized this poem, I took it from National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry: 200 Poems with Photographs That Squeak, Soar, and Roar! edited by J. Patrick Lewis, but later my daughter was reading You Read to Me, I'll Read to You, and the version there is different.  What a difference a word makes.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

tara recommends Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Every once in a while, it is nice to turn your brain off, sit back with a comfortable pillow and enjoy a summer action movie.  Are they formulaic?  Yes.  Are they even a bit mind-numbing?  Yes.  But, in the end, you usually walk out with the satisfaction that you enjoyed a break from reality for 2 hours.  Books can give you that same escape - and in some cases they are actually well-written enough to stimulate some of those brain cells in the process.

Steelheart, by Brandon Sanderson, reads just like you are sitting in the theater with some popcorn enjoying the latest action flick (without the mind-numbing effects) - it is fast-paced, interesting, often-times funny, and has unexpected twists to keep you entertained.  To seal the icing on the cake, it also has well-developed characters - most of which are actually quite likable - and there is a just a touch of romantic tension to break up the action.

One day, Calamity came (a burst that appeared in the sky and started giving ordinary people incredible powers) - and now, what used to be Chicago, is ruled by one of these transformed humans, called Epics.  Some Epics have minor powers, like "Curveball" who could fire a handgun without ever running out of bullets.  Other Epics, however, are much more powerful and use that power to control and manipulate those without powers.  The most dangerous and powerful of these Epics, is Steelheart.  He has superhuman strength and is impervious to bullets or swords - and as an added bonus, he is able to control the elements.  All Epics have a weakness, if you can find it - but, can anybody defeat Steelheart?

David watched Steelheart kill his father ten years ago, and has been on a mission to defeat Epics ever since.  He does have one advantage - he saw the invincible Steelheart bleed.  He has used every resource he can to compile a list of Epics around the city and to uncover their weaknesses.  Now, he only has one problem, he can't do it alone.  So, he searches out the one group of people who are willing to take on these superheroes - the Reckoners.

Brandon Sanderson excels in bringing his characters to life and this book is no exception.  The Reckoners are a diverse group.  Some of the characters include:  Abraham, the muscled weapons man; Tia, the red-haired scholar; Cody, the southern boy who provides fire-support (but, who also pretends he is from Scotland and always has a tall-tale story to tell - and consequently establishes comic-relief throughout); Megan, who is the point-person in the team and also David's romantic interest; and the Professor, the serious leader and founder of the group.

In a world of humans vs. superhumans, there seems to be no end to the conflict.  But, if they can defeat Steelheart, they may have a chance to get their lives back.  As the first in a series, the ending of this book furnishes an appropriate twist that will make you ready for book two.

I would definitely recommend this book to any lover of fantasy/action/adventure/fun.

Review copy received from the publisher.

by Brandon Sanderson
published by Delacorte Press
September 24, 2013
Recommended for ages 12 and up

Saturday, September 21, 2013

How to Engage a Reader

I spent Thursday and Friday attending Utah Valley University's Forum on Engaged Reading in Park City.  Two days of talking about books and ideas to get kids reading is my idea of a holiday, and this conference was exactly that.  Keynote speakers included Sarah Pennypacker, Marla Frazee, and Jim Murphy.

One of the things that has been bouncing around in my head since the conference is the idea that what is NOT in a book is just as important as what IS in a book.  I took years of piano lessons, and one of the hard lessons I had to learn was the importance of rests in music.  As a kid, I wanted to rush through the rests (and the half notes and whole notes, for that matter) and get to the important part of the music--the part I actually played.  I learned, of course, that by not playing--by creating space--I was making music. So, I've been thinking about the words a writer doesn't write, and the illustrations the artist doesn't draw in relation to rests in music.  Rests are an essential part of music; they give the audience a little break, provide time to reflect, and build anticipation.  Silence sets a phrase apart, punctuating it and adding emphasis, and it frames the entire composition.  Music requires silence.  The parts that aren't included in books do much the same thing.

At the conference, Marla Frazee talked about an illustration in her book, Boot & Shoe where the picture of the dogs is small in relation to the page.  The white space--the nothingness--that surrounds them creates a feeling of vulnerability.  She also talked about the effectiveness of leaving some moments in the story off the page.  As an example she pointed to one of Lisbeth Zwerger's illustrations for The Gift of the Magi where Jim stops inside the door and Della, who has cut her hair and sold it, goes to him.  The characters are obscured behind the half-closed door, we can't see their faces, only their embrace.  Zwerger leaves the poignancy of the moment in our imaginations, she allows us to create that moment and to see it for ourselves.  Brilliant.

Sara Pennypacker said, "A book is not a monologue, it is a conversation," and to demonstrate her point she read the first page of Clementine.  (If you don't know how that book starts, go read it--as soon as possible--because it is one of the best opening pages in children's literature.)  The entire page exemplifies that author-reader conversation, but let's look at just one sentence:  Clementine tells the reader, "Someone should tell you not to answer the phone in the principal's office, if that's a rule."  Without being explicitly told, we know that Clementine answered the phone in the principal's office, and we understand that she got into some sort of trouble for answering it.  We engage in the story because we are now part of the story.  Pennypacker explained that she leaves things out so the reader has to connect point A and point B and not just get the joke, but make the joke themselves.  And that's how you engage a reader.

Because sometimes what is not said makes the biggest statement.

Also, learning that Jim Murphy hates to write brings me great comfort, but that's a subject for another day.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

danyelle recommends Xander's Panda Party by Linda Sue Park

Remember practicing tongue twisters as a kid--giggling as words with percussive consonants, gliding vowels, and rhythmic syllables twisted around in your mouth, and concentrating on making the sounds come out right?  Xander's Panda Party by Linda Sue Park is that kind of fun.

Xander is planning a panda party, but he is the only panda at the zoo, so he changes his plans and invites all the bears.  But, when Koala points out that although she has been invited, she is not actually a bear, but a marsupial, Xander decides to invite all the mammals.  Soon other animals ask to be included and Xander worries that his party plans might fall through.  Fortunately, Amanda Salamander offers to help, and together, Xander and Amanda plan a party for all the animals at the zoo.  A truck that arrives just as the party is about to begin brings Xander a surprise that makes the party perfect.

Park's lively text trips along through a playground of sound with clever rhyme and liberal use of alliteration, assonance, and internal rhyme.  Read these lines out loud:
"Xander planned a panda party."
"Xander didn't understand her."
"Xander's party preparations took great pains and perspiration."
"He wasn't sure what he should do.  He chewed a slew of new bamboo; he nibbled, gnawed, and thought things through."

My one quibble is that, according to the text, the name Zhu Zi is pronounced "like saying 'zoo' mixed up with 'shoe.'"  But Zhu Zi--Chinese for bamboo--is pronounced "jū dz" which doesn't sound, to my ear, like "zoo mixed up with shoe."

Matt Phelan's ink and watercolor illustrations complement the energetic story.  Expressive faces imbue the animals with personality, particularly those peeking above strong horizontal lines--Rhinoceros, Crocodile, and Xander when he is looking into the crate.  The colors remind me of a box of multi-hued green crayons I saw while shopping for school supplies this year.  While spots of  bright color contrast Xander's black and white, it is the gorgeous variations of green that caught my eye.  (Love, love, love the picture of Xander chewing bamboo!)

This celebration of sight and sound is like . . . a party.

Xander's Panda Party
by Linda Sue Park
illustrated by Matt Phelan
published by Clarion Books
September 2013
Recommended for ages 4 and up

Monday, September 16, 2013

When Work Is Fun

This is me:

This is why:

I am serving working as a Cybils panelist this year, so I've managed to convince my family that, at least for the next two months, my reading will officially be classified as work--not recreation, but really fun important work.

Aaaah . . . I think I'll go work.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Trailers to Watch

My three-year-old has recently discovered book trailers. She likes to sit on my lap while I'm at the computer, and when a book jacket or spread appears on the screen, she points to it and says, "Let's watch that one."  As soon as the music starts, I usually end up with a couple other curious kids watching over my shoulder.  Book trailers are magic.

Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton is currently one of my daughter's favorite books, and she loves the trailer as well.

Here are a few book trailers from this year that we enjoy.

Sing! by Joe Raposo and Tom Lichtenheld

The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen

That Is Not a Good Idea! by Mo Willems

Journey by Aaron Becker

Xander's Panda Party by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Matt Phelan

Carnivores by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Dan Santat  (My preschooler doesn't understand Shark's humor, but my older kids laughed so hard, we had to play it twice to catch what we missed.)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Back in Season

It's that time of year when two of my favorite book blogs start up again.  Which of this year's new crop of books do you think are most distinguished?  Read along or join in the discussion of Newbery-worthy books at Heavy Medal.  And look at some of the best picture books of the year at Calling Caldecott.  Also, I've recently updated our Reading About Reading page, so if you're looking for something new, check it out.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

tara recommends Sophie's Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller and Anne Wilsdorf

It is almost time to put summer behind us as the night air turns a little crisper and the smell of fall starts creeping in.  At least that's what the calendar says, but days of scorching temperatures still feel like they will be here forever.  So, if you are looking forward to the blazing heat disappearing a little faster, maybe it is time to crank up your air conditioner and start perusing some autumn books.

Although the cover of Sophie's Squash screams all things fall with red and orange leaves cascading to the ground from a bare tree, the story actually translates well through the seasons.  As far as classification goes, you could also place this with unusual pets and spunky kids.  The story begins with Sophie and her parents taking a trip to the farmer's market to pick up a squash for dinner.  This particular squash never makes it to the dinner table, however, because it is adopted and named Bernice (with a drawn-on face for emphasis) by Sophie.

Bernice becomes part of the family.  She attends story time at the library, visits her other squash friends at the farmer's market and plays outside with Sophie.  Over time, Bernice starts to get a little soft (as squash - and other perishable items - tend to do).  Sophie's parents valiantly try to replace Bernice with a more appropriate toy, but Sophie insists that Bernice is "just the right size to love" and clings to her protectively.  Her parents grudgingly concede - after all, they "did hope she'd love vegetables."

Sophie is energetic and full of imagination and her character is what makes this book special.  When Bernice starts to get splotchy, Sophie insists her friend just has "freckles" and when her mom suggests cooking the vegetable with some marshmallows for supper - she just covers her little squash "ears" and warns "Don't listen, Bernice!"

As Bernice gets older and more blotchy, Sophie seeks advice from a local farmer about how to keep her squash healthy.  She takes his advice of "fresh air . . . good, clean dirt . . . a little love" and plants her squash in the backyard.  She waits through the winter and is pleasantly surprised by spring's revelation.

This story teaches about love, regeneration, planting and friendship.  The watercolor pictures fit very well with the soft, sweet, spunky story and the colorful images will keep your eyes drawn to the page.  This is a must-have for your fall book collection.

If you want to read more about how this story came to be published, or rather how it was almost not published, check out this link.

Sophie's Squash
by Pat Zietlow Miller and Anne Wilsdorf
published by Schwartz & Wade
August 2013

Monday, September 2, 2013

diane recommends Kiki Strike by Kirsten Miller

For a very fun, light read, I decided to read the Kiki Strike Series. The reason I really like these books is because they do not have language, but they are still geared to a slightly older audience than my normal middle grade reads.

(On the left, are the original covers to the books. I, personally, like those better than the new ones, on the right, but, if you decide to buy the series, you should get the new ones because the third book only matches the re-done covers.)

Kiki Strike is girl who is a little bit different. She is often described as "elfish" with her pale skin, and her shimmering white hair, but, she is also very pretty, in a different sort of way.

In the first book, Kiki creates a group of friends who call themselves, "The Irregulars" and she takes charge of her group as they start their adventures together. They learn Kiki's true identity, what her mission is, and whether or not they can trust her.

In the next book they continue their adventures together and start to learn things about Oona Wong, the fashion Chinese girl with an attitude. When they discover some dark secrets about her family, they have to decide whether she should be trusted, or whether she is loyal to other people.

And, finally, in the third book, that recently came out, readers learn all about Betty Bent. Betty has her own adventure while the Irregulars can only sit and watch it play out. They discover that being tough is not always the only way to be strong. Being nice is  more courageous at times.

All of the books are written in Ananka Fishbein's voice, and she gives you some nice tips. Although these tips are not necessary to read, and only loosely relate to the book, they are really funny, and they help you understand what Ananka is thinking.
"Test Your Detective Skills
 . . .
The Following test will help you determine whether you're ready for action--or could use a little more practice. Keep in mind--in real life, there are no multiple choice questions.
 . . .
2. What time did your next-door neighbor leave his house this morning?
     a. Exactly ten minutes and eleven seconds later than yesterday
     b. Who knows? I decided to sleep in
     c. I would never intrude on someone's privacy!
     d. Come to think of it, I haven't seen him in weeks. Maybe I should knock at his door"

"How To Plan An Escape Route
 . . .
[These] come in handy when you're avoiding an annoying suitor, evading the authorities, or running from a furious sibling.
 . . .
Wear the Right Things.
Unless you're attending a ball, try to wear clothes that will allow you to move comfortably. In particularly dangerous situations, you may want to choose fabrics such as wool or silk that won't easily catch on fire or melt under extreme heat."

Each book gets a little older, the first book starts out really simple, with a bunch of seemingly little girls. The next one, they are a little bit older, a little more experienced, and you start adding a little bit of boy drama when Kaspar, Betty's soon to be boyfriend, enters the story. By the third one, they have added more boy drama, and a little language. I think that they will probably come out with more books in the series, but I really liked these books because they were language free, so although it will still be a fun, adventurous read, don't count on them being language free from here on.

The only slight problem that I had with the book was that Miller kept foreshadowing and I was very annoyed with it. At the end of the chapter, it would often end with a statement that was going to give away the next part of the book. Personally, I would rather figure it out myself, instead of having it told to me.
"But before the night was over, the Irregulars would discover the terrible price they had paid for their pleasure."

"'I'll wait. It's not that important,' said Oona, and I suddenly suspected it was."
Overall, I really liked these books, and I am still looking forward for the next one to come out.

Kiki Strike: The Darkness Dwellers
by Kirsten Miller
published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
January 2013

Recommended for ages 11-13

Kiki Strike: The Empress's Tomb
by Kirsten Miller
published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
October 2007

Recommended for ages 12-14

Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City
by Kirsten Miller
published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
May 2006

Recommended for ages 13-15

Monday, August 26, 2013

danyelle recommends The Adventures of a South Pole Pig by Chris Kurtz

You know that oft-repeated bit of parenting advice, If your child refuses a certain food, continue to offer it to him and he may develop a taste for it?  Well, although no amount of exposure has helped me develop a taste for mushrooms--no way, no how--I have found that advice to be helpful for not only picky eaters, but for picky readers, as well.  Continue to offer (and sample) a variety of books and before long you'll have a reader with expanded reading tastes.  But, here's my confession:  Besides detesting supposedly-edible fungus, I am also not a fan of talking-animal books.  I can't quite put my finger on the reason for that--after all, it's not as though they have an unbearably squishy texture--but generally, books with animals that talk end up at the bottom of my to-read stack.  So, here we are in August, and I have just gotten around to reading the January release, The Adventures of a South Pole Pig, featuring Flora, a talking pig.

Flora lives with her mother and her brothers in a cage; well, not actually a cage, as her mother points out, "It's a pigpen." (1)  But, it's all the same to Flora who longs to see new things and have adventures.  More than anything, Flora wants to be a part of a dog sled team, so when an opportunity to get out of her pen and join the dogs presents itself, Flora takes it.

Flora tells the story with her consistently upbeat voice and positive attitude.  As she heads to Antarctica believing she will be a sled dog, readers understand that she is being taken on the voyage as food.  This irony creates some amusing situations like the time Flora is chained in the ship's hold, and yet she persuades herself to hold on to her dream.
"Was it possible . . . could she be the precious cargo?  Being put down here had to have something to do with being special.  Or maybe it had to do with the training a sled pig needed.  Yes, that was it!" (90)
With a couple of unlikely friends, Flora discovers how "adventure comes to those who choose it but turns into trouble quick if you don't know how to land on your feet." (46)  And through all that adventure and trouble, she refuses to give up.

Plenty of action that moves the plot along quickly and clever humor that rises above silliness will hold young readers' interest.  But, the best thing about the story is the characters.  Yep, that's right, it's the talking animals:  Oscar, a dog who is "more than a dog"; Sophia, a cat who changes her solitary ways; and Flora, who tries "hard not to be too piglike." (257)  Flora's optimism and her enthusiasm for new experiences make her an irresistible character and make this a book that I'll be re-reading, this time to my kids.

Move this book to the top of your to-read stack today.

The Adventures of a South Pole Pig: A novel of snow and courage
by Chris Kurtz
illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt
published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
January 2013
Recommended for ages 7-12

*Chapter 2 makes a great book talk.
**A great read-aloud scene is at the end of chapter 35 when Flora and Oscar talk about sled dogs being "a little crazy".  See pages 259-260.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

danyelle recommends Ol' Mama Squirrel by David Ezra Stein

Because they validate my protective mothering side, I enjoy reading books where conscientious mothers, particularly fiercely vigilant ones, are portrayed as heroes.   And you won't find a more heroic mother than David Ezra Stein's Ol' Mama Squirrel. 

Baby squirrels might make tempting snacks for many creatures, but Ol' Mama Squirrel declares, "It won't happen on my watch!"   "Chook, chook, chook!" she scolds, and the cat, the owl, and the dog leave in search of easier prey.  When a grizzly bear climbs into her tree, she goes at him with a fury, but once he gets over his initial shock, he just laughs.  After all, she may be crazy, but she is only a "puny squirrel." But Ol' Mama Squirrel is not easily intimidated, and she scoops up her babies and raises the alarm.  While one squirrel may not be a threat to the grizzly, a hundred mama squirrels send him packing.

Using muted colors and simple shapes, Stein keeps the focus on his titular character.  Ol' Mama Squirrel is the star of the story whether she is shaking her fist at an airplane or waving her arms at a dog. Circular snapshots shows her baring her teeth, swinging a stick, and giving a war cry.  Her fearlessness is accentuated with bold, flowing lines and dramatic perspectives -- one that puts the readers right behind her as she faces down the bear.

Check out the book trailer, preferably with a child on your lap.  Then read about how Mr. Stein made the art at Pen & Oink.

Ol' Mama Squirrel
by David Ezra Stein
published by Nancy Paulsen Books
March 2013
Recommended for ages 3 and up

If you want a look at the art for Mr. Stein's newest book, Dinosaur Kisses, head over to Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Don't miss the trailer at the end of the post.

Monday, August 19, 2013

For the Love of Reading Information

The kids are headed back to school, and if you would like some enjoyable and inspiring schooling for yourself, consider attending Utah Valley University's Forum on Engaged Reading.  Speakers include Marla Frazee, Sara Pennypacker, Jim Murphy, Loren Leedy, and Jan Pinborough.  You can get more information and register here.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Link to It: The Power of Summer Reading

I read with interest the article, “Summer Reading or Bleeding” from the August Issue of School Library Journal.  I encourage every librarian and parent to read the full interview (online here) now, and again in April as they prepare for summer.  Consider, that according to Richard L. Allington, “More than 80 percent of the rich/poor reading gap accumulates during the summers.  But low-income children gain as much reading growth during the school year as middle-class students.”  That statistic should motivate every one of us to help all get kids access to books. 

Even in schools where most of the students come from middle-class homes, think of the advantage to our students if we were to provide every child “with books they can and want to read.”  My children have the benefit of a home filled with books.  Further, they have access to books from our public library and from their school libraries, and even better, they have teachers who care about giving them books they want to read.  But what of the students who don’t have books “they can and want to read,” especially over the summer?  They return to school in the fall needing remediation to catch up to their peers, and that affects all the students.  Allington calls on librarians to “get over past-due fines and serving as the protectors of the books,” and instead, to put “as many books in kids’ hands as possible.”  Something to think about.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What Comes First?

Every story begins with a first sentence -- that first impression that is the author's chance to immediately engage a reader.  An opening might jump right into the action or give a glimpse of where the story is headed; it might set up a mystery or hint at a theme; it could introduce a character or establish the setting; but whatever it does, a strong opening sentence captures a reader's attention and imagination.

Here are a half dozen of my favorite first sentences from this year's books:
  1. "I had arrived early for my own assassination."
  2. "If I'd known what there was to know about Early Auden, that strangest of boys, I might have been scared off, or at least kept my distance like all the others."
  3. "In the Urwald you grow up fast or not at all."
  4. "Back before I shot Mr. Bennett, most every day was 'bout the same."
  5. "Kouun is 'good luck' in Japanese, and one year my family had none of it."
  6. "This is how Kyle Keeley got grounded for a week."
What are your favorites?

And just in case you don't recognize the first sentences above, here are the books they begin:
1. The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen 
2. Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool
3. Jinx by Sage Blackwood
4. Prisoner 88 by Leah Pileggi
5. The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata
6. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein