Friday, October 24, 2014

Yes It's True - An Entertaining Fact Book for Kids

Kids love fact books.  Whether they are pouring through the Guiness Book of World Records, or National Geographic's Weird But True anthologies (which are up to about volume 15 by now, aren't they?) they are enthralled by all the tidbits of information that make life interesting.

The great part is when you can find fact books that actually teach a little something too.  In the book I am profiling today, not only did I learn some "wow" facts to impress my friends and family but I actually took away some elements of science behind these bits of information.  A nice pairing, if I do say so myself.

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Title:        It Can’t Be True!

Author:   DK Publishing

Target:    Grades 3-8

Series:     No

What this book is about: 
This book answers the big questions: How big is the sun? Where is the snowiest place on Earth? and How heavy are your bones?  The information is well presented with lots of appealing visuals and fun facts that will increase a kid’s understanding and knowledge.

Why I love this book: 
Sometimes it is hard to present difficult data in a kid friendly way.  This book is well thought out and makes the information easy to understand.  I found myself fascinated by this book, and I am generally not that interested in these fact books.  Even I was saying “no way!”  while reading and found the information easy to understand.  If a scatterbrained mom can get it, just think how much your kids will take away.

Who this book is for: 
Great for kids who love nonfiction fact books.  This one is done very well.

Final thoughts: 
Did you know that a parachute jumper actually broke the sound barrier?    Pretty cool stuff and yes, I am easily impressed.

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: It Can't Be True!  A portion of each purchase will go back to support this blog at no cost to you.  Thank you for your support.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Terrific Graphic Novel for Teens

This book was on my "to be read" pile for weeks, no months.  I have no idea what took me so long.  I mean I love the author.  His Boxers and Saints graphic novels are brilliant.  Also, I am always looking for books that will pull in older boys who have abandoned books during their "down time" in favor of computer games.   But now I am just furious with myself for waiting so long!

I read this in one sitting, ignoring the pleas of my privileged children so I could get to the end.  It is not often I can say that about a graphic novel that tells the back story of a superhero.  This is not my usual fare, but boy was it good.

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Title:The Shadow Hero

Authors:Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew

Target:Grades 6 and up


What this book is about: 
In this graphic novel, we learn the origin of the Green Turtle, a superhero made famous in the 1940s.  This book draws on the history of China after the collapse of the Ch’ing dynasty and brings in the folklore surrounding the mythical Chinese animal spirits.  We learn how a Hank, a son of Chinese immigrants, takes up the cause of injustice in Chinatown when the local mob threatens his way of life and he transforms himself into the first Asian superhero.

Why I love this book: 
First off, anything by Gene Luen Yang is guaranteed to be good.  He is the author of the game changing graphic novel Boxers and Saints.  He has elevated comic books to a whole new level, incorporating history, folklore, intelligent story telling and action.  As someone who is generally lukewarm on graphic novels, I couldn’t put this one down.  

I also love how the author gets readers interested in his Chinese heritage, making the stories come alive.  In this book, his protagonist is a Chinese American in the 1930s, not your typical superhero of the day.  

At the end of the story he provides a copy of the first Green Turtle comic book and some of the truths and myths surrounding it’s evolution.  It certainly pays homage to Chu HIng, one of the first Asian Americans working in the American comic book industry.

The book is full of action and humor (yes it is funny too), but at it’s core there is a subtle message of the changing landscape for Asian Americans during a volatile time in their history.

Who this book is for: 
You will find this book in the Teen section because of the mob violence depicted in the story.  However, the story itself is suitable for middle school.  It is up to you the level of comic book violence you feel comfortable with.  

Final thoughts: 
Call me a fan.  Gene Luen Yang will make a graphic novel lover out of me.

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: The Shadow Hero  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog at no cost to you.  Thank you for your support.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Great Chapter Book for Grades 4-6

Stuart Gibbs is one of the authors that I love to recommend to kids.  Not as many people have heard of him (although that is changing quickly) and his books are well written, full of likable characters, have plenty of action, and employ just the right amount of gross humor.  I rarely fail to get a kid excited about reading with his books, and lets be honest, I like to win ... a lot!

This latest offering is well aligned with his previous books set in the animal park.  He is starting to get a little formulaic, which is good and bad.  I think kids like the predictability of knowing this book will be a good read but as an adult I would like to see him branch out a bit.  He is such a good writer that I think he may have different stories to tell us that challenge kids in a new way.

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Title:       Space Case

Author:  Stuart Gibbs

Target:   Grades 4-8

Series:    No, but the author has similar books: Poached and Belly Up

What this book is about: 
The year is 2040 and America has created a colony on the moon.  Sadly for Dashiell, a twelve year old kid, living on the moon is not as exciting as some might think.  But then the base physician is found dead outside of the air lock.  While most people think he went crazy, Dash isn’t so sure.  Suddenly Dash is busy trying to find out the truth, but not everyone wants him digging too deep.

Why I love this book: 
Gibbs is one of those authors that delivers every time.  First off he hooks readers with his just on the verge of gross it's cool antics, which in this case involve the workings of a space toilet.  He then hits you with a mystery where the kid is the only one to see the truth.  Finally, he empowers his main character to solve the mystery with lots of action, adventure and a great side kick.  It is a predictable formula but he does it so well that he grabs me every time.

While his other like type mysteries are set it an animal park, this one on the moon is quite enlightening.  It was fun to learn a little about what it might be like to colonize the moon and I think it does paint a realistic picture of what that would entail.  Of course Dash is engaging and likable and you are rooting for him from the start.

Who this book is for: 
This is a great book for kids who like mysteries and action books  If you kids liked Loot or any of Chris Rylander’s books, this one will be a slam dunk.

Final thoughts: 
Gibbs delivers again with a book that is out of this world!

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: Space Case (Moon Base Alpha)  A portion of each purchase will go back to support this blog at no cost to you.  Thank you for your support.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Terrific Early Chapter Book

While I do have a lot of books to read (about 75 in my to be read pile) every once in a while I like to revisit a ongoing series to see how it is holding up.  I also realize that your kids aren't stagnant in their reading growth.  While early chapter books may have seemed like an unattainable goal a year ago, you may now be in the thick of them and need some recommendations fast!

So this week I am going back to a series that has been a favorite of mine.  There is always some risk that the later books won't hold up to their earlier promise, but with Alvin Ho I had nothing to fear.  Great stuff even six books in.

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Title: Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions

Author:Lenore Look

Target:Grade 2-4


What this book is about: 
In this sixth book in the series, Alvin is still afraid of everything.  As Alvin’s family embarks on a trip to China, they start with a 16 hour plane ride that is anything but smooth for the anxiety driven Alvin.  From plane toilets to turbulence, it is amazing they all get there in one piece.  Of course, the crowds and polluted air mean that Alvin sabotages almost every outing they go on, but somehow this family manages to get through.

Why I love this book: 
Look does a wonderful job of creating such a neurotic and sympathetic character in Alvin, that we can’t help but giggle at all his quirkiness.  Of course the best part are his exasperated parents who manage to hang on and create memorable moments for Alvin, despite everything.  I think that Alvin puts most kid’s fears in perspective.  They may be worried about some of the same things, but not ALL those things, giving them some confidence and understanding.  

Kids will also get introduced to a variety of famous landmarks in China as well as develop some cultural understanding. Not bad for an early chapter book.

Who this book is for: 
Good fit for kids who are already enjoying early chapter books.  Lots of great illustrations, but kids need to be more confident readers. 

Final thoughts: 
Lenore Look does it again with a funny and poignant book about a character I have grown to really enjoy.  Lets face it, Alvin makes me laugh.

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions  A portion of each purchase will go to support this blog at no cost to you.  Thank you for your support.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Funniest Picture Book This Year

Funny picture book alert!  If you read this blog, you know that I love books that cause my listeners to laugh until they cry, giggle until they can't breath and spit milk through their nose as they crack up.  I have a high, or some might say a very low bar.  But irregardless, I see my job as providing you with books that will make your children love words ... and this book will do that in spades.

After you read all my insightful musings on this book,  you will be rewarded with a video of the author reading a portion of the story at the end of the blog.  It really is your lucky day!

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Title:       The Book With No Pictures

Author:  B.J. Novak

Target:  Preschool - Grade 2

What this book is about:  
Siliness is the name of the game in this new offering.  This book really has no pictures, so the author diligently reminds the kids that the person reading the book has to read ALL the words … no matter what.  The reader is then reduced to having to claim that he/she is a robot monkey with blueberry pie for a head, their best friend is a hippo named Boo Boo Butt and that the child listening to the story is The Best Kid Ever!  I dare you to name a child who can resist this one!

Why I love this book:  
Laughter!  My son was laughing so hard while I read this book that he almost spit milk out of his nose - which met the criteria I have outlined above for a funny book so I knew I had a winner.  While Boo Boo Butt will of course reduce kids to a cacophony of giggling, this book allows any adult, even the less theatric, to play up the fun.

I love that the author added engaging side notes in the book where the adult is appalled that he/she has to say all these things.  It is also delightful in a picture book when the words are the star of the show.  As kids move into books with fewer and fewer illustrations, this reminds them how powerful text can be!

Who this book is for: 
Kids who like to laugh and parents who are willing to make fools of themselves for the joy of books.

Final thoughts: 
While I am normally not a fan of celebrities writing children’s books, when an actor who has won an Emmy for comedy writing decides to bring his talents to the children’s arena, I am thrilled.  Smart humor is always in style, especially when it is directed at the younger set, who lets be honest, will laugh at anything with the word butt in it.

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: The Book with No Pictures  A portion of each purchase will go back to support this blog at no cost to you.  Thank you for your support.

Now enjoy the author reading a portion of his book to an audience of delighted kids!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

How to Get a Reluctant Reader to Read

Whenever I do a book talk I inevitably get the question of how to encourage a reluctant reader to pick up a book.  I thought I would put my advice down in writing so that parents can refer to it, ignore it or doodle on it.  

There are plenty of wonderful articles that highlight picking books that fit kid’s interests, reading aloud to them and going to the library - great advice.  However,  I thought I would share the down and dirty tips that worked for me.  They may not be the prettiest, but they are effective.

Before I begin, I have to share with you the basic tenant I believe in.  Children do not get better at reading unless they read, it is that simple.  That means that any type of reading is acceptable and that it all works to improve their skills. Fundamentally the better they are at reading the more they will enjoy the activity and branch out in their reading choices.  So here goes:

1. Have two bedtimes.  In our home we have the regular bedtime and the reading bedtime.  If my kids are tired and just want to go to sleep they go to bed at 9:00pm.  However, if they would like to read in their rooms for half an hour, their bedtime jumps to 9:30pm.  It has become such a habit now that the kids get out of the shower, grab a book and snuggle up in bed.  The book does get to be one of their choosing, but they must be reading.  It is rare that they don’t grab a book and take advantage of the later bedtime.

2. Have a comic basket in the family room and car.  In our family room we have a big basket filled with Archie and Scooby Doo comic books.  It also is littered with Calvin and Hobbs, as well as Far Side anthologies.  These represent easy reads for the kids where they can invest five minutes or one hour.  If they have limited time before they have to leave the house for an activity or if they are in the car, they simply grab a comic.   Providing an easy alternative to boredom that feels like a treat will quickly make reading become a habit for those periods of downtime.  And remember, any type of reading improves their skills.  We discussed that above.

3. Give your kids magazine subscriptions for the holidays/birthday.  Favorites in my house are National Geographic Kids, Sports Illustrated Kids, American Girl and Mad Magazine (however this later choice is definitely for teens only.)  Not only do kids look forward to getting things in the mail, but when they arrive it is like a little gift and they will plop right down and start reading.  

4. Read when your kids read, kind of like that advice when they were babies to nap when they nap.  Not only are you modeling good behavior for them, but if lots of the people in the family are reading, they will not feel that they are missing out on something better.  I mean imagine that you are a kid sitting with a book and you hear commotion and laughter in another room.  You are definitely going to want to put down that book and go find the good times.  If kids see the rest of the family with a book, they will  be inclined to stick with it longer and feel they are part of a group activity.

Of course you can always follow the advice of one of my favorite authors, Judy Blume.  She says that to get a child to pick up a book you put it on the coffee table, tell them they aren’t ready for it and walk away.  I don’t know a better way to entice a kid to grab a story.

These tips have successfully worked in my family for some very reluctant readers.  As a parent, stick with it.  One of the greatest gifts you can give your child is a love of reading.  It filters down to their success in so many other areas.  And don’t despair if it doesn’t happen right away.  The road to success is sometimes long, but your efforts are well worth it.  I now have three very enthusiastic readers, but it wasn’t always that way ….

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

My Caldecott Frontrunner

I have generally stayed out the Caldecott race, the award for the most distinguished picture book.  I tend to enjoy books that are a little sillier and giggle inducing.  However the 2013 winner, This Is Not  My Hat, was pretty exciting for me.  It nailed the deadpan humor and the illustrations were spot on.

Today I have a picture book I enjoyed that just may be a contender.  While it is not filled with side splitting humor, it does have an intelligent sense of it's audience and it will put a smile on your face.   You and your child just might find a giggle escaping while you are being wowed by some brilliant artwork.   Not a bad way to end the day.

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Title:       Three Bears in a Boat

Author:  David Soman

Target:   Kindergarten - Grade 2

What this book is about: 
Three siblings, Dash, Charlie and Theo break their mother’s beloved blue shell in their quest to reach the honey pot.  This story chronicles their journey as they sail to a distant island to find a replacement, only to find that doing the right thing at home brings them the greatest success.

Why I love this book:  
Well for starters, the watercolors in this book are breathtaking.  They evoke these wonderful images of vastness, peril and serenity.  Some of the best I have seen in recent memory.  It is always important to expose your kids to beautiful artwork, and with this book you can check that one off your list.

I am also a fan of the humor in the book.  If you read this blog, you know that for me, a picture book without humor is a dud.   The humor here is intelligent.  Much has been made out of the other bears in boats they encounter on their journey and their references to literary works, but it is the clever turn of phrase in this story that gets me every time, especially at the end.  My children caught a few of them and giggled knowingly.

Who this book is for: 
Young kids will miss some of the humor so I would lean towards older kids for this story.   The best part is that as a parent, you will enjoy reading it too.

Final thoughts:  
This is a smart, funny, beautiful book.  If I had to put my money on a Caldecott winner, this would be it.

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: Three Bears in a Boat  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.  Thank you for your support.