Thursday, March 29, 2012

Easter Book Baskets

Any of you who follow my blog on a regular basis know my stance against giving books as gifts at Christmas.  Easter, however, is different egg all together!  In this house, books take front and center.  We have made it an annual tradition to have the Easter Bunny bring book baskets to the house on Easter morning.

I thought I would share my baskets with you this year to give you some inspiration.  While books are the main basket theme, you will note I have included a few sugary treats.  I am not a monster after all and even though we love books in this house, a basket without a chocolate bunny is really not an Easter basket!

Basket for my thirteen year old son (who would like me to add that he does not believe in the Easter Bunny!)

1. MAD About Star Wars by Jonathan Bresman.  My oldest has just discover MAD Magazine and it is so much fun to see him laughing at the humor of my youth!  To purchase click here: MAD About Star Wars

2.  The Death Cure by James Dashner.  This is the final book in the Maze Runner trilogy and my son can't wait to get his hands on it.  To purchase click here: The Death Cure (Maze Runner Trilogy)

3.  Runner by Carl Deuker.  Deuker is one of the great sport fiction writers for the middle/high school set.  This book is more of a departure for him into the thriller genre.  To purchase, click here: Runner

Basket for my ten year old son

1. The Book to Perfectly Perilous Math: 24 Death-Defying Challenges by Sean Connolly.  Use probability to save your neck from the executioner by picking the right door.  Can the rat gnawing on the rope save you from the swinging axe in time?  A rowboat, five shipwrecked sailors, one barrel of fresh water - how soon do you have to find safety before you all go mad?  I think my son will love it!  To purchase, click here: The Book of Perfectly Perilous Math: 24 Death-Defying Challenges for Young Mathematicians

2.  Big Nate Goes for Broke by Lincoln Peirce.  The latest offering in the Big Nate series.  My kids love these books.  To purchase, click here: Big Nate Goes for Broke

3.  Fake Mustache:Or, How Jodie O'Rodeo and Her Wonder Horse (and Some Nerdy Kid) Saved the US Presidential Election from a Mad Genius Criminal Mastermind by Tom Angleberger.  The latest offering from the author of Origami Yoda, this novel has some great buzz so I can't wait for my ten year old to read it!  To purchase, click here: Fake Mustache: Or, How Jodie O'Rodeo and Her Wonder Horse (and Some Nerdy Kid) Saved the U.S. Presidential Election from a Mad Genius Criminal Mastermind

Basket for my eight year old daughter

1. Kokeshi Kimono Book by Annelore Parot.  These books are adorable and a wonderful way to explore traditional Japanese culture.  To purchase, click here: Kokeshi Kimono Book

2. Boo:The Life of the Worlds Cutest Dog by J. H. Lee.  My daughter loves cute animal books and they don't get much cuter than Boo!  To purchase, click here: Boo: The Life of the World's Cutest Dog

3.  Sisters Eight by Lauren Baratz-Logsted.  This is a lovely series about eight sisters, each one with a power or gift to help find their missing parents.  They each have a cat as well, so eight girls with eight cats, and fortunately no trips to St. Ives!  I hope she enjoys the start of this eight book series.  To purchase, click here :Sisters Eight Book 1: Annie's Adventures

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Mystery Novels for Kids - Get a Clue!

Trap doors, hidden staircases, nefarious disguises, Colonel Mustard in the study with the candlestick - all the makings of a great mystery novel!  In this case the who done its are some wonderful children's authors who have jumped head first into this genre - with great results!

Just think, mystery novels require kids to use their reasoning and deductive skills, pick up on clues and predict the story sequence.  Really, if your kids start reading mystery novels it will increase their overall academic success!  Well, maybe I'm getting ahead of myself, but let's just say you're the smart one for getting a great mystery novel in their hands!

Get a clue on children's books by liking one great book on Facebook or following one great book on twitter.

Title:          The Brixton Brothers
Author:       Mac Barnett
Target:        Grades 3-6
Series:         Yes
What this book is about:
Steve Brixton is an aspiring detective who must check out An Illustrated History of American Quilting for a school project.  Turns out the book holds coded information for the librarians (who also happen to be highly trained intelligence agents) who think Steve is working for the nefarious Mr. E. Mr. E. is attempting to find a missing quilt embroidered with secret US information.  Just who is this Mr. E., and how can Steve clear his own name?
Why I love this book:
This book is a modern day homage to the Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown.  Steve’s heroes are the Bailey Brothers, whose spy manual from a long ago era, Steve consults on a regular basis.  The tongue and cheek references to the old time detectives are laugh out loud funny, as are the antics of the boys.  These books are just fun and extremely well written.
Who this book is for:
Any kid who loves a good mystery and a good laugh.
Final thoughts:
I wouldn't give you a bum steer on these terrific books (a little old fashioned sleuth lingo!)

To purchase this book, please visit your local bookstore or click here: The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity (Brixton Brothers)

Title:          Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief
Author:      Wendelin Van Draanen
Target:       Grades 4-7
Series:        Yes
What this book is about:
Sammy is a willful, feisty, curious girl who finds herself drawn into a mystery when she observes a hotel room robbery while looking through her grandmother’s binoculars.  As she looks for clues to find out who the thief may be, she is also in the midst of family issues, managing a difficult girl at school, and struggling  with friendships.  
Why I love this book:
First it is a fun mystery and I couldn’t believe I missed the clues to solve it, but they are cleverly written.  Second, Sammy is a fully developed character who learns valuable lessons throughout the series.  The cast of characters around her are also well done.
Who this book is for:
Kids who like a good story with a clever mystery thrown in.  Also, the cover of the books have changed making them more appealing than the version I have above!
Final thoughts:
Sammy is more a middle school version of Harriet the Spy than Nancy Drew!
To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here: Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief

Title:          The Red Blazer Girls: The Ring of Racamadour

Author:      Michael D. Beil
Target:        Grades 5-8
Series:         Yes
What this book is about:
Three girls from St. Veronica’s School for Girls in New York City get caught up in a 20 year old treasure hunt to find a ring that was intended as a birthday gift  (the ring is also a treasured and priceless artifact.)  To solve the mystery they must solve word problems, tackle the Pythagorean Theorem, dig into Dickens and hide under the church altar.  Add a boy to the equation and things get really interesting.
Why I love this book:
Think Nancy Drew for tweens!  This book is not an award winner, but a wonderfully fun mystery.  The girls are quite likable and the I got completely caught up in solving the clues and hoping they would find the ring!  I will say that the story doesn’t get going until about Chapter 3.  I actually put the book down after the first chapter, thinking it was not worth my time, but thank goodness I decided to pick it back up.  
Who this book is for:
Girls who like a good mystery and want to read about middle school girls.  The girls on the whole are very innocent and kind.
Final thoughts:
A who done it for the tween crowd!
To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here: The Red Blazer Girls: The Ring of Rocamadour

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Great Graphic Novels for Kids

There is a great quote by B. F. Skinner that says, "We shouldn't teach great books; we should teach a love of reading."  I think graphic novels are a way to do that.   Visual learners may often times have a better experience with graphic novels than traditional books.  Also, most are just fun reads that kids enjoy and when they are done well, a parent can feel good about giving their child another type of reading experience.

Are they comics or novels or perhaps simply a hybrid of both?  I think, depending on the quality, they can be all three.  There are a few graphic novels that I would consider exceptional - Smile reviewed below being one of them, but mostly they are a unique and fun reading experience that should be enjoyed along with many types of books.

So I hope you enjoy this weeks graphic novel selection. Don't forget to like one great book on Facebook or follow one great book on twitter!

Title:          The Secret Science Alliance and the Copy Cat Crook
Author:     Eleanor Davis
Target:      Grade 3-6
Series:       No, but it should be!
What this book is about:
Julian is an ultra nerd, and with the opportunity to attend a new school, he sees his chance to fit in.  He meets Ben and Greta, two secret scientist, who share his passion for inventing.  They create the Secret Science Alliance and develop blueprints for fabulous inventions.  When their notebook gets stolen and an evil scientist starts taking credit for their inventions they start making plans to get it back.  Will they succeed?
Why I love it:
Where do I start.  This book is a celebration of the science genius, and how often do you see that in a graphic novel?  It even challenges the stereotypes of nerds and jocks.  The detailed drawings in this book are overwhelming, I think you could read it several times and every time come up with something new.  On top of wonderful artwork, it is just a great story, with friendship, villains, dastardly deeds and creativity!
Who this book is for:
Kids who like the graphic novel format will enjoy this book as well as those who like inventing things!  It may even spur a few inventions in your own home.  
Final thoughts:
Strap on your welding goggles for a great high tech adventure!

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook

Title:          Fangbone!
Author:     Michael Rex
Target:      Grades 2-4
Series:        Yes
What this book is about:
Fangbone is an eight year old barbarian who has been sent forward in time to protect the Big Toe of Drool from falling into evil hands.  He ends up at Eastwood Elementary School where he enlists the help of his special class to save the world from destruction!
Why I love this book:
This is just plain silly fun.  Fangbone is deadpan serious in his quest, despite all the funny goings on in third grade.  He finds the value in a bunch of misfits, conquers dodgeball, lets us in on why the sun really comes up each day and finds the value in hot wings.  And he does all this while wearing furry underwear!
Who this book is for:
While the natural appeal will be to boys, girls can really enjoy it just as much.  Great for reluctant readers .
Final thoughts:
Fangbone is truly the perfect third grade barbarian!

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: Fangbone! Third-Grade Barbarian

Title:          Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute

Author:      Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Target:       Grade 1-3
Series:        Yes
What this book is about:
In this graphic novel, the lunch lady proves to be the undercover hero.  When she finds a plot by the science teacher to become Teacher of the Year, by replacing popular teachers with cyborgs, she goes into action with her Spatu-copter, lunch tray laptop and fish stick nunchucks.  Wouldn’t you know it would be the hair net that saves the day.
Why I love this book:
First who wouldn’t love a hero who swears in vegetables:  “Cauliflower!” and Sweet Potatoes!”  There is fun and clever humor throughout. The two color comics(use of only two colors in printing) have been gaining in popularity with the introduction of Baby Mouse, and it works well for the Lunch Lady as well.  The clever observations  and tongue and cheek humor of the lunch lady is what makes this book a winner!
Who this book is for:
Kids who enjoy graphic novels.  Not a long book but a fun romp.
Final thoughts:
The Lunch Lady - serving justice and serving lunch!

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute: Lunch Lady #1

Title:          Smile
Author:     Raina Telgemeier
Target:      Grade 4-8
Series:       No
What this book is about:
Raina is a typical 6th grader, who trips and ends up losing her two front teeth.  The book highlights the next three years of dental surgeries, braces, headgear and false teeth.  It also shows the social hurdles she is dealing with at this age, including crushes, dealing with friendships and finding herself.
Why I love it:
I was amazed how much the author captured the angst and difficulties of the main character in a graphic novel.  The format was also very successful for this particular story, because the reader could get a visual on how Raina’s teeth changed throughout all of her procedures.  I also liked that this was a true story, and it gives kids a perspective that they can come through difficult times, just like the author did.
Who this book is for:
I think it is a wonderful girl story for middle schoolers and those getting ready to enter middle school.  Raina is a very real character and most girls will relate to her story on some level, even without orthodontic issues!
Final thoughts:
Brace yourself for a wonderful story.  While there are certainly some heartbreaking moments, the message that life is full of challenges that we can overcome is inspiring.

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: Smile

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Books to celebrate Pi

Well Pi day is here, and I hope you celebrate with a little of the baked stuff, but also remember the importance of this mathematical discovery!  The following two books are great for understanding not only how Pi came to be, but also how numbers are used for measurement.  Without measurement how would we plan, design and bulid, make scientific breakthroughs or explore the world?

Title:          Why Pi?
Author:     Johnny Ball
Target:      Grade 3-8
This book is focused on numbers used for measurement.  It traces how these measurements were derived throughout history.  it also shows how numbers help us make sense of the world and help us understand science.  Find out how an incorrect measurement of Earth's size led to the discovery of America and see how natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes can be measured.
The great thing about this book is that it is heavily illustrated and written in short paragraph form, so the concepts are relatable and not overwhelming.  Side bars of interesting facts also help the reader enjoy the experience and not get bogged down in technical jargon.

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here: Why Pi?

Title:          Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi
Author:     Cindy Newschwander
Target:      Grade 3-8
This book is intended to introduce children to Pi in a fun way.  It is told in a story format as our hero Radius has to save his father Sir Cumference from the evil dragon.  The dose of the potion that must be given to the dragon is Pi, so Radius works to figure out the measurement. 
This is a fun way to introduce younger children to the concept of Pi, and for older children it is a unique way to remember the value of the number!

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here: Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi (A Math Adventure)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Chapter Books Based on the Grimm Fairytales

As Einstein said "If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales.  If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales."  While I think the quote speaks primarily to the power of imagination, the Grimm fairytales certainly stretch that imagination.  The stories were collected by the Grimm brothers in the early 1800's and they represented life at that time, sometimes cruel and often difficult.  However, in trying to preserve German folklore, the brothers stumbled upon tales that entranced young readers and defined central themes in literature.

Editors began fixing these tales to make them more palatable, softer and sweeter, but still they never managed to completely take the edge off and they remain, as a result, intriguing stories that are revisited time and time again.

This week I have selected books based on the Grimm brothers' collection.  Some stay true to the stories' origins, some provide an intriguing backstory to the characters and some bring humor and levity to the tales, but all embrace the rich history and storytelling recorded by these famous brothers.

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Title:          A Tale Dark & Grimm
Author:     Adam Gidwitz
Target:      Grades 4-7

Series:        No
What this book is about:
This book is the story of Hansel and Gretel, pre-birth (their parents meeting and marriage) through their childhood. The story is told in the fashion of a true Grimm fairy tale, violent and bloody - really.  A faithful servant turned to stone, a father who cuts his children’s heads off, a baker who is really a cannibal, and a boy who morphs into a beast, are just a few of the stories in this book.
Why I love this book:
No, I am not crazy, nor blood hungry, nor a lover of the gruesome.  In fact I am fairly squeamish!  What makes this story an absolute pleasure, and downright funny, is an ever present narrator who consistently lightens the mood and casts the stories in whole new light.  As the narrator says “if such things bother you, we should probably stop right now.”  But don’t.  This story is too good.  
Ultimately, the story is about family and forgiveness and our cheeky narrator gets us there, but not without some bloodshed.
Who this book is for:
I would keep this book away from the most sensitive of children, but other than that it is entertaining ride.  Children have been drawn to the Grimm fairy tales for a century.  “Once upon a time, fairy tales were awesome.” our author would say.  The narrator certainly provides the levity to make this story truly enjoyable.
Final thoughts:
Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: A Tale Dark and Grimm

Title:          The Sisters Grimm
Author:     Michael Buckley
Target:      Grade 3-5
Series:        Yes
What this book is about:
Imagine your parents disappearing and you are taken to live with a grandmother you had been told was dead.  It turns out your family watches over fairytale characters you had assumed were just in books.  When your grandmother goes missing you must engage the services of Mayor Charming, Jack the Giant Killer and the sheriff and his deputies (can you say the three pigs!) to try and get her back.
Why I love this book:
These books have been around a few years, but in rereading the first one the other day, I remembered how well done they are!  They are also laugh out loud funny.  There is one scene where the girls and Puck (yes the King of the Sprites plays a wonderful mischievous role in this book) prepare to do battle with the mysterious figure in the locked room.  Wearing a spaghetti strainer as a mighty battle helmet and a pressure cooker lid on her behind Daphne and her sister prepare for the confrontation.  I do it no justice, but suffice to say I dare you not to laugh.
Who this book is for:
Don’t think because this series is called the Sisters Grimm that it is a series for girls.  In fact, while the two main characters are female, the story is suspenseful and action packed and will fully engage boys as well!  
Final thoughts:
This series is clever without going overboard and it revisits all the fairytales in a new way.

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: The Fairy Tale Detectives (The Sisters Grimm, Book 1) (Bk. 1)

Title:          The Goose Girl
Author:     Shannon Hale
Target:      Grades 6-9
Series:       No
What this book is about:
This is a retelling of the Grimm fairytale by the same name.  On the way to meet her future unseen husband, the crown princess Ani is betrayed by her lady-in-waiting. In a bloody mutiny her lady-in-waiting takes the place of the princess.  In an attempt to stay alive, Ani, disguises herself as a goose girl in the new kingdom, as she finds the strength and the ability to reclaim her rightful place.
Why I love this book:
This story is really about a girl finding her voice.  Ani is such a realistic character - flawed and all.  Throughout the story she struggles with self confidence, but I like the fact that she forces herself to not let it hold her back, despite the fact it is part of her nature.
I also got thoroughly caught up in the story.  There are some action packed sequences! I read the book until 1am just to find out what happened!
Who this book is for:
Girls looking for a satisfying read and who like the retelling of fairytales.  There are few bloody scenes, but they don’t detract from the story.
Final thoughts:
A wonderful story about girls discovering who they can be.

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: The Goose Girl (Books of Bayern)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Alphabet Book Revisited

I wish I could say something prolific about the alphabet book, but I simply love that they represent the letters in creative and whimsical ways.  A great alphabet book can engage kids and increase their reading fluency, and how delightful is that?  This week I have included alphabet books for all different levels - kids just learning to recognize their letters to those working on sounding out those letters. No matter what your child's skill level, I hope they find one they can enjoy!

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Title:          E-mergency!
Authors:   Tom Lichtenheld & Ezra Fields-Meyer
Target:      Kindergarten - Grade 2
What this book is about:
All the letters in the alphabet live together, and one day E falls down the stairs.  She is out of commission for a few days, so O must take over E’s duties to give E some time to rest.  O is the obvious choice because she is so well rounded!
Why I love this book:
This book is hilarious and I just enjoy a book so much that has little side conversations full of humor.  The jokes never stop.  D and C go to Washington to alert the government, N asks P and U not to sit together, M& D tell our patient to take two aspirin and call them in the morning!  I find something new and clever each time I read the book!
Who this book is for:
Your child has to be old enough to appreciate the humor and the fact that halfway through the book they stop using the letter E!  This leads to some interesting reading so an older child or one more proficient in reading will really get the most out of it.
Final thoughts:
I have included the book video because it is so well done.

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: E-mergency!

Title:          Paul Thurlby’s Alphabet
Author:     You guessed it, Paul Thurlby
Target:       Preschool
What this book is about:
This is a traditional alphabet book with one letter per page.  The fun is that the word that starts with the letter is drawn into the shape of the letter.  The author also uses some more interesting word choices such as A for Amazing and E for Embrace.
Why I love this book:
The illustrations in this book are wonderful!  They are retro inspired and I enjoy the fact that the words, while known, are not obvious choices!  It is also nice that Thurlby includes both the upper and lower cases of the letter on each page.
Who this book is for:
This book is for younger children learning their alphabet.
Final thoughts:
Ee for Exceptional!

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: Paul Thurlby's Alphabet

Title:          Alphabet Adventure
Authors:   Audrey & Bruce Wood
Target:      Preschool - Kindergarten
What this book is about:
The alphabet is leaving for its first day at school, and along the way i trips and looses it’s dot.  The letters go on a busy search to find the dot, but only after the letters try and find a replacement dot does the original show up asking not to be left behind!
Why I love this book:
First it is great to see a book that focuses on the lower case, instead of upper case letters.  Second, I love that all the replacement dots the letters find represent something that starts with their letter.  Finally, my family loved finding little i’s dot hidden from the group on each page.
Who this book is for:
Since it does focus on lower case letters it is more appropriate for older preschoolers.
Final thoughts:
Tricky little i can cause quite a lot of trouble! 

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: Alphabet Adventure

Title:          Q is for Duck
Authors:   Mary Elting & Michael Folsom
Target:      Kindergarten - Grade 2
What this book is about:
This is a riddle book about the alphabet.  It starts off with “A is for Zoo.  Why? Because Animals live in the zoo.”  Then kids have to guess the unusual associations for all the rest of the letters
Why I love this book:
This book was published over 30 years ago and remains a classic.  Kids have so much fun figuring out the connections between the letter and word.  Even after they have memorized the connections, they start to build on their own.
Who this book is for:
Kids familiar with the alphabet who are learning to sound out words.
Final thoughts:
C is for Book.  Why?  Because this book is so Clever!

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: Q Is for Duck: An Alphabet Guessing Game