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 with 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.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Tasteful Toilet Humor for Kids

It was the cover that got me to grab this book off the shelf, and it also made this book an easy sell to my 13 year old son.  The story surprised me in it's intensity, but the humor and cleverness was there, making it a lot more than just a book with potty humor.

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Title:       Death by Toilet Paper

Author:  Donna Gephart

Target:   Grades 5-7

Series:   No

What this book is about: 
Ben is having a tough time.  His father passed away last year and he and his mother are struggling to keep up with the Master Plan they set in place before he died.  The plan will help his mother get her CPA license so she can finally have a good paying job, but unfortunately the rent or shall we say the unpaid rent, stands in the way.  Ben of course has a plan, as he enters contest after contest in hopes of wining the big grand prize and saving the family from eviction.

Why I love this book:  
Ok, I know this book sounds a little sad, and it is.  But it is also touching and funny and you will find yourself rooting for Ben who you want to succeed so badly.  Also, there is a zombie bride in a toilet paper dress … have I hooked you now?

There are fun toilet paper facts are at the beginning of every chapter - yes I learned a few things. In case you are confused by the toilet paper theme, there is a $10,000 prize to be won by the person who comes up with the best new slogan for Royal-T Bathroom Tissue.  Tushie tissue is top of mind in this book.

Who this book is for: 
My son loved this story and he usually goes for the action books, but this one was clever and had humor so he was drawn right in.  This is one of the few “sensitive books” that I think will hook most boys.  The funny moments and contests are a big draw.

Final thoughts: 
Best cover ever. 

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

Friday, October 3, 2014

Books for Kids Who Like Diary of a Wimpy Kid

It is amazing to me how many parents still ask me to recommend books after their kids have finished the Wimpy Kid series.  This series has sparked so many new entrants to this genre that you can't go into a book store without tripping over "illustrated novels."

But I do love how it has become a vehicle to get kids excited about reading.  And in an effort to keep the tide going for their kids, parents are clamoring for more "like type" books.  Well fear not, they are available in abundance!

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Title:       My Life as a Joke

Author:  Janet Tashjian

Target:   Grades 3-6

Series:    Yes

What this book is about: 
Derek Fallon is having some trouble in middle school.  In an effort to be more mature, he volunteers to be his school’s representative for the local toy drive, but he gets assigned to collect dolls.  No good deed goes unpunished!  Add passing out in science class and getting a fat lip when he has to present during assembly, and this year is not shaping up so well.  Perhaps the collectible doll they find during the toy collection will turn things around for Derek?  Well, maybe not!

Why I love this book:
This series has been a nice addition to the Wimpy Kid genre.  Acknowleging that Derek doesn’t like to read, the book is written to be less intimidating for reluctant readers.  Difficult vocabulary words have cartoon definitions along the margins, and they are done by the author’s son so they are humorous, making the words not at all tedious.

I find these books to be a quick fun read that have nice life lessons and plenty of laugh out loud moments.

Who this book is for: 
Great for most kids who like Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  You do not have to read them in order so pick up the one that looks the most interesting.  The text is large and not overwhelming so struggling readers should not feel intimidated by this book.

Final thoughts:
The next book is called My Life as a Gamer.  I have a feeling that one will speak to a lot of kids.

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: My Life as a Joke (The My Life series)  A portion of each purchase will go to support this blog at no cost to you.  Thank you for your support.