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)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Early Chapter Book

I think the beginning chapter book is one of the hardest books to do well!  How can an author develop characters, create a great setting and orchestrate an engaging plot, in sixty pages, with short chapters and lots of illustrations?  I struggled alot finding books in this genre for my kids!  I hope some of these will help kids feel they are mastering the chapter book, while tickling their funny bone!

Also, I have changed the format of the blog a bit, experimenting with ways to make it more reader friendly.  Let me know what you think, and don't forget to "like" One Great Book on Facebook to get weekly updates on new posts!  Next week I will be featuring great Holiday gift books.  Enjoy!

Title:          Lulu and the Brontosaurus
Author:     Judith Viorst
Target:      K-2
What this book is about
 Lulu is a spoiled girl who wants a brontosaurus for her birthday.  When her parents refuse, she goes out to get one for herself.  Her confidence is shaken when the brontosaurus decides, that in fact, Lulu would make a great pet for him!
Why I love it:  
This is such a fun early chapter book and also a great read aloud.  The illustrations from Lane Smith are some of my favorites.  The author makes this story even more fun, when she inserts her opinions into the book, (“Okay, so snakes don’t talk.  But in my story, they do”)  She also provides three different endings as she works to get the story right, much to the delight of my daughter!
Who it is for:  
Kids just starting chapter books.  Short chapters and fun illustrations.
Final thoughts:  
We checked this book out of the library, and my daughter would not return it until I promised to buy a copy for the house!  A truly fun story line and reader interaction which keeps a kid wanting more! 

Title:          Horrid Henry
Author:     Francesca Simon
Target:      Grades 1-3
What this book is about:  
Horrid Henry is just that - horrid!  Well, I guess naughty is a better word.  His mischief is laugh out loud funny as he tries to trick the tooth fairy,  make up books for the school reading competition, and handle the discovery that he is wearing girls underpants (by accident) at school!  Of course he usually get his comeuppance in a very humorous way.
Why I love it:  
This is a fun, silly, entertaining book about a young boy who tries to get away with everything!  It is not an award winning series with well developed characters (besides Henry that is) but it is an engaging read.  While Henry usually thinks he is victorious, in the end he almost always gets more than he bargained for.
Who this book is for:  
Early chapter book readers.  Each book in the series has four independant stories, and just enough illustrations.  I used this series very succesfully with my reluctant boy reader, who immediately loved the silly humor!
Final thoughts:  
Henry has a talent for trouble and he is not afraid to use it!

Title:          Dessert First
Author:     Hallie Durand
Target:      Grades 2-4
What this book is about:  
Our main character, aptly named Dessert, is a third grader who is learning from her teacher to march to the beat of her own drummer.  However, when she can’t resist the double-decker fudge bars in the refrigerator and eats them all, she must find a way to make it up to her family, and assuage her own guilt.
Why I love it:  
With a Teacher named Mrs. Howdy Doody who organizes the Doody Drive, how can you not giggle!  Dessert is not a perfect child and she wrestles with temptation and obligations, but her feelings are true to an eight year old!  The character development is not as strong as some other books, but I liked Dessert and for the early chapter book reader she is a fun spunky character.
Who is this for:  
Proficient readers who are moving into chapter books.  There are plenty of illustrations, but not on every page.
Final Thoughts:  
Dessert first, well I don’t mind if I do!

Title:          Ottoline and the Yellow Cat
Author:     Chris Riddell
Target:      Grades 2-4
What this book is about:  
Ottoline Brown lives with her best friend Mr. Munroe (a relative of Cousin It) in a lovely apartment filled with interesting collections, while her parents travel the world.  She happens into a mystery of cat burglaries (done by a cat no less) and lost lap dogs which she and Mr. Munroe work to solve with a clever plan!
Why I love it:  
I can’t decide if this is a picture book with text or chapter book with lots of pictures!  The pictures, in the case of this book, are intrigal to the story and serve to enhance the telling.  And the illustrations are gorgeous and full of details!  There is also a wonderful dry humor to this book, which will not go over the reader’s head.  I was amazed that in a book so full of pictures that the characters were so well developed.  Had to include a sample to show you!

Who is this for:  
This is were I am struggling.  The fact that some of the captions are in script and that the illustrations must also be “read” make it a little too difficult for a second grader.  However, I can see second grade enjoying the book.  I would recommend it for reading aloud or with a second grader, and independent reads for third thru fourth grades.
Final thoughts:  
If I toss in Eloise with a little Hugo Cabret, we have the beginnings of Ottoline, but I can safely say it doesn’t feel like any of the series for this age group (Judi Moody, Clementine)  I just love the innovative storytelling, with the opportunity in the illustrations to find hidden treasurers on each page.

Title:          Ivy and Bean
Author:     Annie Barrows
Target:      Grades 1-3
I have included this series (despite the fact that many of you already know it,) because as an early chapter book these are simply outstanding!
Why I love it: 
 I love these two characters!  Ivy is quiet, extremely intelligent and shy, while Bean is a tomboy and full of vim and vigor.  It is fun to see how these two unlikely personalities become best friends!  They stay true to their personalities throughout the book and the black and white illustrations dispersed through the chapters make this book less intimidating for girls just starting chapter books.  To be frank, the illustrations in these books are just downright charming!!
These stories are very well developed for early chapter books so the reader really gets drawn into the story.  One of my favorites  “and the ghost that had to go” find Ivy and Bean trying to dispel a ghost from the girl’s bathroom at their school.  There are lovely subtleties to the story, is the ghost really there, or is Ivy trying to distract the others from her own flaws?  But these only add dimension to the story which helps make it a book that goes beyond some of the simpler books at this level.
Final thoughts:  
A lovely series to get girls into chapter books, that parents can also read and enjoy!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Great Books That Even the Reluctant Reader Will Enjoy

This week I want to address the reluctant reader, and by this I mean the proficient reader who just doesn't seem interested in picking up a book!  First, we all have to expand our definition of reading - magazines and handbooks count!  Second, sometimes children don't pick up fiction simply because they feel overwhealmed by the book.  Chapters are long, descriptions verbose, and illustrations are few and far between.

I have selected four books this week that are wonderful stories of fiction that I hope will feel approachable to kids.  The chapters are not intimidating, the stories have a good flow/pace to them, and some are pretty funny.  Now it's just whether or not your son or daughter is intrigued enough to start them!

I do want to highlight that while these stories are good for reluctant readers, they are also wonderful for voracious readers.  The stories are all extremely well written and engaging for any type of book lover.  So enjoy!

Title:        Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading
Author:   Tommy Greewald
Target:    Grade 4-8
Charlie Joe Jackson hates to read.  He has made it through life without ever reading an entire book cover to cover.  His elaborate schemes to get out of reading books are the key to his success and his downfall!  In this book he shares his 25 top non-reading tips and sends us on a hilarious journey to get through the dreaded Position Paper without shattering his record.
What makes this book so good is that Charlie is authentic.  He never falls into the sappy predictable ending of loving books and realizing the error of his ways.  Instead, he turns out to be a good kid, with a conscience, who manages to grow up, in spite of himself.  And he still doesn’t read, although by this time the reader clearly sees the error of his ways.
Fun book for reader and non readers alike!  I will say that while the writing is perfectly appropriate for fourth grade, since the book is set in middle school, there are several issues that revolve around girls and dating.  They are absolutely innocent, I simply bring it up because depending on your child’s maturity, it may affect how much they enjoy the book.
Charlie Joe Jackson would warn anyone against reading this book, but I say go for it!

Title:        The Fabled Fourth Graders of Aesop Elementary School
Author:   Candace Fleming
Target:    Grades 3-5
This is such a clever book.  It takes the stories we learn from Aesop’s Fables, and rewrites them based on the fourth grade elementary school adventures!  Each chapter is a “fable” which demonstrates ideas such as “Be careful what you wish for - it might come true” to an old favorite “Honesty is the best policy.”
The stories center around a difficult class of fourth graders, who each have their own personalities and challenges.  Some of these gems are laugh out loud funny - Calvin who wishes he were still in kindergarten having to do the squirrel dance and swish his bushy tail (while wearing a school bus name tag) still makes me giggle.  This book is nice for reluctant readers because each chapter is also its own stand alone story.  
A fun read with a nice tie in to the historical fables.  As my fourth grader said after he started reading it, “this book is really funny mom!”

Book:        because of mr. terupt
Author:   Rob Buyea
Target:    Grades 4-6
This book caught my attention because it has a forward written by John Irving, one of my favorite authors.  My curiosity as to why he felt this was such compelling book got the better of me!  While I didn’t find it quite as compelling as he did, I still felt it was a little gem of a book that stayed with me.
This book is about a fifth grade teacher, Mr. Terupt, who starts off as a new teacher, and ends up touching the lives of his students profoundly.  It is told from the point of view of seven of the kids in his class and each chapter is their view of the events going on in the story.  The characters are very authentic and I could relate to how each of them represented someone in my son’s class.
My sixth grader read this book in one day, as did I.  The story moves at a good pace and is hard to put down.  Even my son said it was one of the books he enjoyed most this summer.  Definitely one I would recommend picking up!

Title:        The Worst-Case Scenario Ultimate Adventure:Everest: You Decide How to Survive!
Author:   Bill Doyle and David Borgenicht
Target:    Grades 4-6
This book is rooted in the pick you own adventure books of the past.  You are part of the youngest team to climb Mt. Everest and your choices throughout the story determine whether you will successfully make the climb.  With 26 book endings, only one will get you to the top!
This book is a ton of fun and because it is based in fact, I learned quite a bit about the Nepalese culture, Everest and climbing.  There are comic pages dispersed throughout the book, but the majority of the book is text, so do not be concerned that you are giving your child a comic book.  My son and I kept at it until we successfully made the climb.
A fun book, well written with quite a lot of interesting facts.  Final thoughts - Don’t eat the apple pie!  You have been warned.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Ode to a Picture Book

A great picture book can tell a story, impart a lesson, encourage a hug and make us laugh, all in 5 minutes!  How wonderful is that.  Even though my children are getting older, at snack time they still pull down a picture book for a quick read or read aloud.  We are always discovering new things in the best picture books, even though we have read them over and over!  I also have a confession, I am not the most sentimental, so I love a picture book that gives me a good guffaw!  I like to leave my kids chuckling.

So here is my not so clever ode to the picture book:

          Picture books are a nugget of wisdom so styled
          With stories that interest both parent and child
          When words come together with pictures that glow
          The book is a masterful piece we can read over and over and over again!

Oh well.  Thank goodness the following books are far more clever than I!

Title:       Betty Bunny Love Chocolate Cake
Author:  Michael B. Kaplan
Target:   Preschool - Grade 2
Ohh this is such a delightful book!  Betty Bunny tries chocolate cake for the first time and says, I quote “I am going to marry chocolate cake!”  and her brother Bill replies “But you’re going to have really weird-looking kids.”  Betty has decided she loves chocolate cake and she and her cake cannot be parted!

This book will make you and your kids laugh out loud, as the character talk just like a real family, only funnier!  Betty is a precocious handful, but the messages of healthy eating and patience are delivered in such a humorous way that kids wont know they are being lectured to!
The illustrations are perfect and Betty is so much fun that your whole family will enjoy this book.  Even though my kids are getting older, I think that Betty Bunny will find a permanent home in our house!

Title:       Little Pea / Spoon
Author:  Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Target:   Preschool - Grade 1
Ok I admit it, I have a crush on Amy Rosenthal!!  Her talent is fabulous.  I love it when an author can take something we look at everyday and give us a new perspective.  This is what she does so marvelously in her children’s books.
In Spoon, our hero spoon is lamenting that life would be so much more exciting if he were a fork (spaghetti twirling), a knife (jelly spreading), or even a pair of chopsticks (cool and exotic!)  It turns out that all the other utensils are jealous of his abilities (diving headfirst into a bowl of ice cream for example!) With this newfound knowledge, he climbs into bed with his parents, and you guessed it, spoons!  
In Little Pea, our hero loves being a little pea.  The only thing he hates is having to eat candy, because that is what you have to eat every day when you are a pea.  How he forces that candy down to get to the good stuff, which is ... spinach!  This will leave your little ones laughing with delight!
Her story lines are just charming and endearing.  They are also wonderful for preschoolers as my children counted down the pieces of candy little pea had to finish, and the days of the week which represented all the different types of candy that had to be consumed (the horror!)  These books are ones I pick out time and time again for new parents so that their kids can enjoy Amy Rosenthal as much as our family has. 

Title:       Guess Again
Author:  Mac Barnett
Target:   Preschool - Grade 2
          “He steals carrots from the neighbor’s yard.
           His hair is soft, his teeth are hard.
           His floppy ears are long and funny.
           Can you guess who?  That’s right! My
           Grandpa Ned.”
I love it when an author creates the unexpected for kids, and Barnett does this in spades with wonderful illustrations by Adam Rex.  Just when you think you know the answer to the rhyme in this book, you are utterly surprised and delighted by the outcome.  My children and I laugh every time we read this, and it has delighted both my younger children’s classrooms.
I will say that it is probably not good for the youngest of kids.  Their humor level has to be sophisticated enough that they aren’t disappointed that they can’t predict the rhyme, and instead take joy in the absurd.  
This book is really for anyone with a silly sense of humor!  The riddles on each page are a delight and the answers are laugh out loud funny!

Title:       13 Words
Author:  Lemony Snicket
Target:   Preschool - 99
I seriously debated including this book.  It will not appeal to everyone.  The author gives us 13 random words and links them together in a quirky story with even more quirky illustrations, by one of my FAVORITE illustrators, Maira Kalman!  What type of story could you make with these words:
  1. Bird
  2. Despondent
  3. Cake
  4. Dog
  5. Busy
  6. Convertible
  7. Goat
  8. Hat
  9. Haberdashery
  10. Scarlet
  11. Baby
  12. Panache
  13. Mezzo-Soprano
Imagine you toddler referring to a “despondent bird,” “spiffy goat” and “hats from the haberdashery that are full of panache!”  In true Lemony Snicket style (remember he is the author of A Series of Unfortunate Events) the ending is bittersweet, and he did start off with unlucky 13 words.  However, Kalman’s illustrations are full of color and interest and sophisticated subtleties.  It is one of those books where you find new things each time you read it!
While not for everyone, if your sense of humor leans towards the absurd and you enjoy the illustrations of a celebrated artist, then this is the book for you and your family.