Sunday, December 18, 2011

Happy Holidays

How thankful am I this year?

Thankful to my google and Facebook friends (I will never forget my first - Jane S.)

Thankful to my twitter followers (I will never forget my first - Jen D.)

Thankful for all your encouragement, and for that I remain humbled and grateful!

but ultimately I am thankful .... you are still reading this blog!!

So much to look forward to in the new year.  I am working on sports books, read alouds, great girl finds, follow-ups to Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, thoughtful boy books (not an oxymoron) and tributes to the Brothers Grimm, to name just a few!  I will be taking the Christmas week off and will start blogging again on Sunday nights starting January 8th.  Don't forget to follow me on twitter  or "like" me on Facebook to get regular updates.  Links are on the bar to the right!

I will end this year by posting two of my favorite holiday books, and wishing you all a Happy Holiday and a New Year filled with wonderful adventures and One Great Book.....or two or three!

Title:          The Latke who Couldn’t Stop Screaming: a Christmas Story
Author:     Lemony Snicket
Target:      Grade 1-99
What the story is about:

Imagine an innocent little Latke, put in burning hot oil to cook, who runs out of his house screaming.  He spends the next portion of the book running into an array of Christmas decorations, having to explain why he is not related to Christmas but in fact to Hanukkah.  The ending is pure genius, but suffice it to say that he finds a home who understands him.
Why I love this story:  

“It is very frustrating not to be understood in this world...everyone and everything should be welcomed somewhere.”  I love the message of this book!  I love that it is delivered in such a funny clever way.  I love that I learned about Hanukkah, which is not, by the way, a Jewish Christmas!  I love that this book made me laugh.
Who is it for:

Families who embrace the holiday messages.  Jewish families who need more clever Hanukkah books!
Final Thoughts:

I will never call a Latke hash browns!

To purchase from Amazon you can click here: The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming

Title:          The Lump of Coal

Author:     Lemony Snicket
Target:      Grade 3-99
What this story is about:

A lump of coal tries to find his place in this world, while hoping for a miracle.  Sounds poetic, but this coal is an artist, dressed in a tuxedo,  who tries to find work at an art gallery and Korean barbecue palace.  He is taken home by a drug store Santa, put in a stocking and a miracle happens, his destiny fulfilled.
Why I love this story:

It is clever and funny with a dry sense of humor.  “Like many people who dress in black, the lump of coal was interested in becoming an artist.”  I like the message at the end that we need to look at the miracles in our life and appreciate them.  While not quite as good as the Screaming Latke, it still is a lovely holiday story, with just the right amount of sarcasm thrown in!
Who is it for:

Someone looking to expand their holiday library with an unconventional Christmas story that still delivers the Christmas message.
Final Thoughts:

A lump of coal in your stocking can really be a blessing in disguise!

To purchase from Amazon you can click here:  The Lump of Coal

Sunday, December 11, 2011

You Are Never Too Old For a Picture Book

I love picture books!  I know that for some of you reading this blog, you have moved on and feel you are past this genre.  But please don't be in a hurry to get rid of the picture book.  Picture books teach kids the absolute joy of storytelling.  They don't have to decode, sound out words or follow a complex plot, they simply get to sit with you, share a story and in many cases be exposed to fabulous illustrations.

My kids (yes even my twelve year old) still sit and listen to a great picture book.  They are even old enough now to get the bigger life lessons that many of the greatest picture books do so well and with such simplicity.   So here are some of my recent finds that are truly a joy to share with your kids!

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Title:          Press Here

Author:      Herve Tullet
Target:       Preschool to ?
What this book is about:

The book opens with a simple yellow dot at the beginning of the page and asks the reader if they are “ready?”  The next set of instructions are to “press here and turn the page.”  The reader then finds two dots.  The instructions get more fun with children rubbing, blowing, shaking and clapping.  The author also has a fun with the readers as he tells them, “oooops, that might have been too hard.” or “rub the dot on the left...gently.”
Why I love it:

I love it when I find a picture book that I know without a doubt will be a big hit with my kids!  Press Here is a wonderfully interactive book in the same genre as The Monster at the End of this Book or Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.  The play between the child and the author is wonderful.  The illustrations are inspired and the  quirky and innovative way he approaches children’s books is truly unique!
Who this book is for:

Fabulous interactive story which will really engage small children.  While I knew my 1st grader would love this book, what surprised me was that my third grader, his friend and my sixth grader also waited for their turns to “read” it.  In a computer infiltrated world, it was so much fun to see all my kids get so much enjoyment from a basic picture book.
Final thoughts:

This is by far one my favorite books, period.  I highly recommend it!!

To purchase, visit your local bookstore or click here: Press Here

Title:          this plus that, life’s little equations

Author:     Amy Rosenthal
Target:     Preschool - Grade 2
Ok, my love affair with Amy Rosenthal continues, and may I mention the wonderful illustrator Jen Corace!!  If you love her other books (Little Pea, Little Hoot, Little Oink) this book will not disappoint you.
What this book is about:

Life is full of equations, “wishes + frosting = birthday, anything + sprinkles = better.”  Some are learning lessons,” blaming + eye rolling does not equal sincere apology, Im sorry + hug does equal sincere apology” and my favorite, “good days + bad days = real life.”  
Why I love it: 

This book is absolutely charming from beginning to end.  Her equations, paired with adorable illustrations had us reading this book over and over.  My kids started making up their own life equations, reading + hugs = good night, was a winner!  burps + belly pats = a good dinner, not my favorite! 
Who this is for:

Really any child will enjoy life’s equation!
Final thoughts:

charming + inventive + clever = this plus that

To purchase, visit your local bookstore or click here: This Plus That: Life's Little Equations

Title:          Prudence Wants a Pet
Author:     Cathleen Daly
Target:      Preschool - Grade 2
What this book is about

Prudence wants a pet. Although her parents say no, Prudence gets creative and adopts various other objects to fill in for her desire (branch,formal footwear,baby brother!)  You just never know what she will find next!  Her perseverance pays off with the receipt of an actual cat.   The ending is just perfect as she names her new pet (but you will have to read it to find out what she choses!)
Why I love this book

To start, the illustrations by Stephen King are fabulous!  Follow that with the dry humor around each of her substitute pets and we couldn’t stop laughing.
“Branch is an outdoor pet.
Branch lives on the front porch.
Branch tripped Dad
Eight times.”
The patience and creativity that Prudence displays is endearing and inspiring!
Who this is for

Kids and adults who enjoy more clever humor.  Anyone who wants a lovely read.
Final thoughts

This may give new ideas to kids hoping for a pet!

To purchase, go to your local bookstore or click here: Prudence Wants a Pet

Title:          Who Is Driving

Author:      Leo Timmers
Target:       Preschool-Grade 1
What this book is about

On each page there is a vehicle (fire truck, convertible) and a line of wonderful animals ready to get in.  Based on their size and clothing, you have to decide which animal will be driving the vehicle.  On the following page you get to see if you were right, with the appropriate sound effects, of course!
Why I love this book

This book is soooo interactive, it engages kids immediately.  We had tons of fun figuring out which animal was driving, based on the clues in the pictures.  And the illustrations are fabulous - colorful with alot of humor.  The fun of a puzzle on every other page and then the immediate gratification on finding out if you are right, makes if captivating for a younger crowd.  I even loved the ending when the author puts out another challenge, “But who will get there first?”
Who this book is for

Since it is a vehicle book, boys will be engaged, but the illustrations are so appealing and fun, don’t leave the girls out, they will be caught up in the guessing as well!
Final thoughts

This book drives home alot of fun!

To purchase, go to your local bookstore or click here: Who Is Driving?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Diary of a Wimpy Kid - Blessing or Curse?

With the recent release of the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I thought I would address this diary/cartoon style book which has gained in popularity.  I personally think this type of writing is a wonderful new addition to children's literature.  It has certainly encouraged a whole population of reluctant readers to enjoy picking up a book.  They are invested in these characters, they laugh, they care what happens next and they are reading!   At the end of the day, kids only get better at reading by doing it, and as they improve their book choices will broaden!

That said, I think some of the problems with series such as Wimpy Kid, is that their cartoons appeal to an audience that is younger than their content.  Some parents have an issue with their elementary school kids being exposed to language and situations that are geared toward middle school.  I understand that, and that is why I am so excited to see more authors using these formats to write books for all age levels.

This week I have some books that are more age appropriate for a younger set, and some that fill the void when your child has finished Wimpy Kid!  Hope they have as much fun reading them as our family!

Title:          Justin Case
Author:     Rachel Vail
Target:      Grades 2-4
About this book:

The main character, Justin Krzeszewski, is full of heart, and of worries.  He is a typical third grader struggling with sports, friends and doing well in school.  Will he ever remember what 8x3 equals?  Why does he have to learn the violin?  Will he get a dog?  Will he stop being afraid of dogs?  The list goes on and on.... but the humor is always there
Why I like it:

Justin Case is told in a Diary format so if feels like a very manageable read.  Justin’s worries are the same ones that every 3rd grader encounters, but may not always want to share!  The book is written with alot of heart and humor and is perfectly appropriate for elementary school!
Who this book is for:

Kids who like the diary format of reading will enjoy this. Each page has one or two daily diary entries, with small illustrations thrown in.  However, it is not an action driven book so if your child only thrives on adventure, as opposed to character driven books, this may be a stretch.
Final thoughts:

Justin is such an appealing character that his challenges will ring true to the boys reading it!

To purchase, go to your local book store, or click here: Justin Case

Title:          The Popularity Papers
Author:     Amy Ignatow
Target:       Grade 4-6
About the book:

Lydia and Julie are in 5th grade.  With one year until middle school, they start a journal to observe, analyze and replicate the things that make girls popular.  The format is a journal, passed back and forth, in each girls handwritting, heavily illustrated with the girls’ observations.  While the style is reminiscent of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, it is truly its own book!
Why I love it:

This book is clever and funny.  The girls are dealing with the daily issues that 5th graders manage (boys, camping trips, misunderstandings with friends) While you may get nervous that their attempts to be popular send the wrong message, fear not.  Their attempts are laugh out loud funny and the messages from parents and peers are absolutely appropriate!  There is no questionable language/comments and the grammar is all correct (some problems I have heard parent’s complain about with Diary of a Wimpy Kid and the Dork Diaries!)  I also love that Julie has two dads and it is not an issue in the book.  I like it when books simply handle it as this is the way it is!
Who is it for:

Girls looking for a fun read in the style of Diary of a Wimpy Kid
My final thoughts:

A great read for girls.  While the style may be similar to the Diary books, the content is not!

To purchase, go to your local bookstore, or click here: The Popularity Papers

Title:          Big Nate in a Class by Himself
Author:     Lincoln Peirce
Target:      Grades 3-6
What this book is about:

Nate is a sixth grader, and everything seems to be going wrong for him.  When he opens a fortune cookie that tells him he will “surpass all others,” it leads to an interesting day.  His fortune does come true, but in the most unexpected and funny way!

Why I love this book:

This book is actually laugh out loud funny (yes you caught me...gym shorts, a drill sergeant PE teacher and a surprised sixth grader...enough said)  It had me in stitches.  The author has actually been writing a long standing weekly comic strip about Nate for years, so he is a fully developed character
Who this book is for:

For any child who loved Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Big Nate will certainly delight.  The good news is that Big Nate is quite a bit more age appropriate for the younger  grades.   While Nate is a sixth grader, his anecdotes are pretty tame as he navigates  through a day at school, where he seems to get detention at every turn.  However, there are a few times where characters say “shut up” or “butthead” so if this is something that bothers you then you should probably wait until your kids are older to buy the book.  Additionally, there are a few grammatical errors, but they are not rampant.  
Final thoughts:

This is an easy fun read, similar to Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  With a haiku to the Cheez Doodle what is not to love!

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: Big Nate In a Class by Himself

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Favorite Books of the Year

I thought now would be a good time to share my favorite books of the year!  After reading over 200 books in the last six months, I have to say that a select few stand out above the rest.  These are the books that touched me the most.  These characters have stuck with me, and they are the books that once I started, I could not put them down.  I can say that none of them particularly appealed to me before I picked them up, which says the most about how the authors got me to care about characters that were not engaging to me at the start.

I hope your children will enjoy them as much as our family has.  If I were allowed to give out a Newbery, these would be my finalists - hands down!  I wouldn't be surprised to see any of them winning this award.

Title:          True (...sort of)
Author:     Katherine Hannigan
Target:     Grades 4-7
What this book is about:

The main character Delly is always getting into trouble, so much so that her uniqueness and shine are fading and being replaced by a new reality, that she is a bad kid.  When she decides she needs to change, Ferris Boyd comes into her life.  Ferris doesn’t speak and can’t be touched, but Ferris and Delly forge a deep bond that saves them both.  I must disclose that abuse by a parent is taking place in this book, but the details are handled in a vague and delicate manner and it will not unduly scare the target reader.  Please don’t let that dissuade you from reading it!

Why I love it:

All the descriptions I read didn’t really inspire me to pick up this book, they sounded a bit odd, but I am telling you that it is so worth the read.   What got me to eventually pick it up was the smaller petite size of the book, which intrigued me, and the title.  Delly and Ferris are unlike any characters I have encountered before and Hannigan's writing is sooooo good that you will love these characters as much as I did, in spite of yourself.

Who this book is for:

I am still trying to decided what type of child will love this book as much as I did!  It is not an action book, it is a character and a relationship driven book, so I was actually surprised that my 7th grade son enjoyed it as much as he did.  It took a little pushing to get him started, but once he was into the story, he didn’t put it down.  However, in the end, I still think it will appeal more to girls than boys.
Final thoughts:
True:  Delly is a unique and quirky character that will stay with you long after you finish the book.
True:  You will be very happy you read it!

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: True (. . . Sort Of)

Title:          Okay for Now
Author:      Gary D. Schmidt
Target:       Grades 6-10
What this book is about:

Doug is an eighth grade boy whose family has just moved to “the dump.”   His father is abusive, his brother is suspected of robbery and his oldest brother returns from Vietnam in a fragile state.  Still Doug finds refuge in the library, not with books but a set of Audubon prints, he gets involved in the community with his Saturday delivery job (where he is known as Skinny Delivery Boy) and finds a teacher who understands that he is not his family, but his own person.

Why I love it:

Wow, I was blown away by this story.  The writing is superb and I was thoroughly invested in this character.  This book made me laugh, it made me cry - sounds silly I know but it is just that good!  I could not put it down.

Who this is for:

I am really hoping that boys will love this book!  It is absolutely fabulous and draws you in pretty quickly, with a middle school boy facing family strife during the Vietnam era.  It is a character driven book and not action focused which makes me nervous, but I am hoping that this character is so compelling that boys will also get lost in the story, since this story is written for them.   However, don’t be afraid to give it to a girl.  It is just that well done, that both genders will get caught up in this amazing story.
I would recommend that children wait until sixth grade to read this book.  While there is minimal violence and no sexual content, the issues of abuse, coming home from war and the subtleties of the relationships are not appropriate for a younger age.  
Final thoughts:

Ok for Now is better than ok (too punny?)  

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: Okay for Now

Title:          The Flint Heart
Authors:   Katherine and John Paterson
Target:       Grades 3-6
What this story is about:

In the Stone Age, a tribesman, unsatisfied with his position in the tribe, has a flint heart made which hardens his heart and allows him to draw on uncontionable power to take control of the tribe.  The heart resurfaces thousands of years later to take control of an amiable farmer, a badger and a fairy creature. With the help of the Zagabog, the smartest creature in the universe, our hero and heroine attempt to rescue others from this cruel talisman.   
Why I love it:

The Flint Heart is a retelling of the story written by Eden Phillports in 1910. I am in no way familiar with the original story, but this current version is absolutely magical!  Top that off with the fact that it is downright funny, which I was not prepared for!  The language the authors use is advanced but approchable so it added to the story instead of making it feel too difficult.  There are interesting and quirky characters and great life lessons on point of view and where hapiness comes from.  The true story of the tortoise and the hare was one of my favorites!
Who is it for:

The full delight of this book is probably best experienced read aloud, but really any child can get caught up in this story.  There is no way to adequately describe the humor and the offbeat characters you will meet (a talking water bottle make in Germany?) so it is for children who love getting caught up in a good book.
My final thoughts:

Read this book, it will absolutely surprise you!

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: The Flint Heart

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Gift Books for Holidays

The book I'm wishing for this holiday season is ________!  If your child can fill in the blank, then by all means, get them (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Inheritance, Wonderstruck,) you get the idea.  However, if there is not that one special book they are longing for, I would recommend NOT getting them a novel for under the tree.  Surprised!  Dismayed! Shocked that a children's book blogger would say such things!

Well, let me give you my take.  There are wonderful times to give novels - a special birthday gift, a surprise present just because you were thinking of them, a dreaded car/plane ride.  However, when the time comes to rush over to the tree on Christmas morning and tear into the bounty, a novel is probably not going to be the gift that gets a second look (unless they have requested it, see above!)

However, that does not mean that all books are off limits for the holidays.  There are plenty of non traditional books that your kids will actually not toss off to the side.  They are not novels, but still, it's nice to see them curled on the couch in the afternoon, enjoying a book that is not a book.  And you will smile.

One addendum -  I do think picture books for younger children are good holiday gifts.  Let's be honest, they will pick the one toy they like that day, more often than not a box, and when you need a little down time with them, pulling out a new book can be a lovely moment.

So here are my books (that are not books) that I recommend for the holidays.  Don't forget to "like" me on Facebook to get updates on new weekly posts!

Title:          The Big Book of Boy Stuff
Author:     Bart King
What this book is about:

This book is all about fun for boys.  I love that when you take the jacket cover off, the book is entitled Physics, so it can really go anywhere!  Some of the activities may cross over the border of social niceties, but they are guaranteed to make your boy laugh!  There are chapters on experiments, gross stuff, magic, explosions and dumb directions on products (this one made my boys laugh out loud.)  It may make a mom a little squeamish, but it is all in good fun.

To purchase, visit your local bookshop, or click here  The Big Book of Boy Stuff

There is also a Big Book of Girl Stuff.  While I have not read it, it has garnered very good reviews.  If it is anything akin the boy version, it should be a big hit!

To purchase, visit your local bookshop, or click here The Big Book of Girl Stuff

Title:          This Book Made Me Do It
Author:     John Woodward
What this book is about:

Learn how to do a variety of things to amaze your friends and entertain your family.  The fun of this book is the variety of activities you can try.  Learn to use chopsticks, make origami animals, pan for gold, make gooey slime, find a magic number, walk through paper, measure a tree’s height....the list goes on and on!  Plenty of graphics and how to’s make this book fun to look through and pick out your next adventure/project!

To purchase, visit your local bookshop, or click here This Book Made Me Do It

Title:          The Truth About My Name
Author:     Karen Phillips
What this book is about:

This is a wonderful Klutz book and I have included it because my whole family had so much fun predicting our future based on our name.  Just so you know, I will live in an apartment in Japan, apparently I will be a horse trainer with a tortoise as a pet, I will drive a buggy (guess that horse training comes in handy) and my six kids will sit in the back.  If I were a guy, I would be named Tyler, but my friends would call me Duke.  You get the idea.  We all had so much fun seeing what our names revealed about us.  Definitely a fun gift!

To purchase, visit your local bookshop, or click here The Truth About My Name: and What it Reveals About Me! (Klutz)

Ivy and Bean Paper Dolls (Ivy & Bean)

Title:               Ivy and Bean Paper Dolls

Illustrator:   Sophie Blackall

Why I love this:

Ok, you got me!  This is not a book, but it is a set of paper dolls based on a book, so I am counting it anyway!  My daughter will be seeing this under the tree come December so please don't tell her!  I think it is a lovely gift to recreate one of my favorite book series for young girls.  My daughter has grown to love these characters, so I hope she will enjoy this play set!

To purchase, visit your local bookshop, or click here Ivy and Bean Paper Dolls (Ivy & Bean)