Friday, January 31, 2014

Newbery/Caldecott Post Mortem

Thought I would take a minute today to reintroduce the Newbery/Caldecott winners this year.  A hearty congratulations to Kate DiCamillo and her book Flora & Ulysses that took home the shiny sticker.  I hadn't pegged it as a contender, but had recommended it as a wonderful read aloud.  You can see my review of the book below.  I think it is always fun to see what someone thought of a book before others started praising it.  And the winners are:

John Newbery Medal for "most outstanding contribution to children's literature" 

"Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures," written by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K.G. Campbell

Honor books

"Doll Bones," written by Holly Black

"The Year of Billy Miller," written by Kevin Henkes

"One Came Home," written by Amy Timberlake

"Paperboy," written by Vince Vawter

Randolph Caldecott Medal for the "most distinguished American picture book for children"

"Locomotive," illustrated and written by Brian Floca

Honor books

"Journey," written and illustrated by Aaron Becker

"Flora and the Flamingo," written and illustrated by Molly Idle

"Mr. Wuffles!" written and illustrated by David Wiesner

While I don't strive to pick all the award winners, I do attempt to introduce you to books that are at that caliber which are also kid friendly.  So my tally for this year .... drum roll please:

Newbery: 1 1/2 Honor Books.  Doll Bones was one of my picks.  I actually wrote a review of Paperboy but then decided that it was not kid friendly enough and never posted it so I am giving myself half credit

Caldecott: 2 Honor Books.  I called Journey and Mr. Wuffles! as possible winners.

One of the reasons I am delighted by Flora & Ulysses is because of the graphic novel component integrated into the story.  I have been preaching how this genre is coming into it's own, and to see a book honored that uses some of these techniques so effectively to convey a narrative makes me happy.

Locomotive which took home the Caldecott honor is a book I had mixed feelings about.  On one level I think it is a brilliant book.  It is a wonderful learning tool and conveys the history of the Transcontinental Railroad in an engaging and interesting way.  The reason I held back in reviewing it was because it is really for an older audience who has moved away from picture books.  But I do think we will see a growth in picture books for older readers, especially in the genre of non fiction.  Perhaps the Caldecott committee was ahead of the curve on this one, so bravo.

On a side note, the lovely book Navigating Early, which I thought had a chance at the Newbery sticker, ended up being an Honor Book for the Printz Award for excellence in young adult fiction.  Do I get any points for that?

Anyway, here is my review of Flora & Ulysses.  And please remember that your children don't need to read award winners to get the best out of books.  Many beautiful books that weren't honored here still touch our kids every day.  Let the honors simply be a guide to remind us that kid's books are still important.

Title:       Flora & Ulysses

Author:   Kate DiCamillo

Target:    Grades 3-6

Series:     No

What this book is about:
Flora is a self avowed cynic.  Her parents are recently separated, and her mother is all consumed with her romance novel writing.  Flora is a fan of the comic strip The Amazing Incandesto about a powerful superhero, so despite her cynicism, she does believe that regular creatures can “conquer villains, defend the defenseless and protect the weak.”  However, when an unassuming squirrel gets sucked up into a vacuum cleaner and develops superpowers of his own, it is up to Flora to make sure that he fulfills his destiny.

Why I love this book:
I will admit upfront that I am a sucker for anything written by Kate DiCamillo.  This book is a little unusual in that it has small sections of comic strips used to move the story along.  It was an interesting touch and they seemed to appear during the parts of the story where the most action was taking place, giving the reader a visual account of more of the physical aspects of the narrative.

This book is extremely rich in vocabulary.  Kids will not be able to leave this story without being exposed to “malfeasance” “surreptitious action”  and “a capacious heart” to name a few.  Flora is smart, sensitive and surrounded by a host of eccentric characters that make the story both comical and heartwarming.

What I love best in the story, however, is the messages of love and forgiveness that is at the heart of the tale.  The wonderfully vocabulary,  characters and poetry writing squirrel are just a bonus.

Who this book is for:
This is the hardest question for me.  DiCamillo is a wonderful author because she is able to create stories that expose our hearts to bigger truths than we see everyday.  This book is no exception.  But sometimes kids need a little help seeing something bigger than themselves, or even bigger than the basic plot in the story.  That, and the vocabulary are why I think this book will make a wonderful read aloud.  The ability to talk with your kids about the expressive word choices and the larger messages about humanity will really bring out the best in this story.

Final thoughts:
”Holly bagumba!” DiCamillo has created a lovely story.  I always feel a little guilty comparing so I will say that while this didn’t match my favorite stories by her, I certainly had a pleasant journey through this tale.

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog at no cost to you.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Great Non Fiction for Kids

Remember when I said that Thursday was for graphic novels and non fiction books.  Bet you thought I would forget about that non fiction part.  I mean really, graphic novels are just so much more ... exciting .... action filled ..... comic!

Well my friends, think again.  Today I have a book that will challenge you assumptions on .. yawn ... the non fiction genre.  It might not be easy to get your child to pick it up, but when they do they will be blown away by the excitement that real life has to offer.

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Title:       Eruption:Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives

Author:   Elizbeth Rusch

Target:    Grades 4 and up

What this book is about: 
Unless you live close to a volcano, you may never realize the devastation that can occur when these giants erupt.  In fact, even if you live at the base of a volcano, you may take the risk, knowing that an eruption may not take place for a hundred years or more.  But when they do blow, the effects can wipe out tens of thousands of people and destroy entire villages.  Thankfully there are teams of scientists who study these volcanoes and continue to hone their knowledge so that they can predict eruptions and save lives.  But it isn’t easy and the risk of being wrong can be devastating.

Why I love this book: 
I am not a huge nonfiction gal, but this book absolutely blew me away (ok .. pun not intended but so appropriate.)  I never really understood the power of these volcanoes and this book reads like an action/adventure novel at times.  The stunning photographs and narrative take you through how quickly things can happen as you read this book on the edge of your seat.

The one problem with this book is that it is laid out like a nonfiction book instead of a story.  As a result the appeal of the story does not jump out at the reader until they have invested some time in the book.  Most kids will feel, at first glance, that it is more like a textbook and may shy away from reading it.

Who this book is for:
If you can get your child to read it, really I think most kids will be fascinated by the many eruptions described in this story.  I stuck it my son’s hands and once he got into it he brought in the car with him to finish the book.  He didn’t want to put it down.  For kids interested in science, the more technical aspects are also well done.

Final thoughts:  
Some of the photos in this book, especially the flows from the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, are absolutely gasp inducing.  You will never look at volcanoes the same way again.

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: Eruption!: Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives (Scientists in the Field Series)  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog at no cost to you.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Don't Play with Your Food for Picture Book Wednesday

That Bob Shea is at it again - writing funny books that just beg to be read.  Have you ever seen a book beg?  Let me tell you it's not pretty - slobbery pages, cries in the night, books that mysteriously find themselves on your night table.  Do them, and yourself, a favor and just read them for heavens sake.  Save yourself the trouble, you know you're going to love them anyway.

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Title:       Don’t Play with Your Food

Author:   Bob Shea

Target:     Preschool - Grade 2

What this book is about: 
Well the story starts out with a monster who is planning to eat all the adorable bunnies playing about.  However, those bunnies have other plans.  First they invite him to bake cupcakes, and monster is too full to eat the bunnies.  The next day they all go swimming together, (of course you can’t eat right before you swim), and by time their frolicking is over, monster is too tired to eat the bunnies.  I think you are getting the jist of the book.  However, as fun as it is, the ending is the most brilliant and humorous part of the story.  I don’t want to give it away and spoil all the fun.

Why I love this book: 
Bob Shea is just a clever, clever man.  I actually think his books are getting better every year.  He understands kids and he understands funny, and the combination is wickedly giggly inducing. 

The graphics are bold and colorful with bright backgrounds and a monster that demands our attention.  Of course the fact that the bunnies keep mysteriously multiplying as the story moves forward adds another creative touch.

Who this book is for: 
While the book is suited for preschoolers, I actually think kids around five and up will be the ones who understand some of the more clever gags in this story.

Final thoughts: 
You can’t play with your food … but you can play with your friends.

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: Buddy and the Bunnies in: Don't Play with Your Food!  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog at no cost to you.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Salem Hyde Is a Bewitching Early Reader

Ok, I am cheating a little today.  Thursday is when I post graphic novels, but today I had an early reader, which is also a graphic novel that I wanted to share, so I am kind of breaking my own rules.  I tell you, there is no stoping me these days.  You just never know what to expect ... craaaazy!

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Title:       Salem Hyde: Spelling Trouble

Author:   Frank Cammuso

Target:    Grades 1-4

Series:     This is the first book in a planned series

What this book is about: 
Salem is a precocious, strong willed girl, who also happens to be a witch.  Since her parents are mere mortals, they get her an animal companion to help her manage her not so hidden talents.  When Salem mistakes the spelling bee for the “spelling” bee (get it - cast a spell) her lack of training in magical spell casting becomes evident.

Why I love this book: 
I liked Salem.  She is a no apologies kind of girl who needs just as much love as the rest of us.  By the end I was a fan.

The graphics are also well done and easy to read.

Who this book is for:
For kids who like graphic novels.  Since Salem is not girly, both boys and girls should enjoy this series.

Final thoughts: 
My kids loved Frank Cammuso’s Knights of the Lunch Table series, and I think this one will do well.

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: The Misadventures of Salem Hyde: Book One: Spelling Trouble  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog at no cost to you.

Monday, January 27, 2014

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah for Middle Grade Monday

Middle Grade Monday rolls around every week, funny how that works, and this time I have a lovely find.  The new reality of families that represent many different cultures, as well as different religions is certainly prevalent in my community.  I also think it is growing throughout many communities as our world becomes smaller and our hearts become bigger.

It was a treat to find a book that looked at not only the merging of a Caucasian and Indian couple but also at the merging of a Jewish and a Hindi family.  As children and adults become exposed to more cultures within their own traditions, they must learn to appreciate and respect what everyone brings to the table and figure out how to make it all work.  This book is a delightful place to watch one girl wrestle with these many teachings that make her who she is.

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Title:       My Basmati Bat Mitzvah

Author:   Paula Freedman

Target:    Grade 5-8

Series:     No

What this book is about: 
Tara’s mother is Indian and her father is a New York Jew.  This is the year of her Bat Mitzvah and Tara is questioning what it means to be Jewish.  Is she really Jewish if her mother is Indian?  How can she honor her Jewish heritage without taking anything away from the Indian customs she knows and loves?  And do you absolutely have to be sure you believe in God if you go through with your Bat Mitzvah?  Oh, and let’s not forget her friends, and did I mention boys?

Why I love this book: 
I was absolutely intrigued by this book.  I have quite a few friends whose families are multicultural as well as friends where one parent is Jewish.  I thought this book was a lovely portrayal of the questions and challenges kids face, as well as the benefits and joys of sharing so many traditions.  I loved Tara’s uncertainties because I think they will reflect some of the real feelings kids have.  Even if your child is not facing these issues, some of their own uncertainties about friends who are in this situation will be addressed.

But fear not, this book is not just about bigger life questions.  Tara also has friend troubles and boys to contend with.  The author does not forget that Tara is in seventh grade and that your BFF is sometimes the most important issue in your world.

Who this book is for:
Great book for girls who like realistic fiction.  The story moves along nicely and all girls will see something of themselves in the book

Final thoughts:
I definitely needed the Hindi-Hebrew-Yiddish-English Vocabulary Guide in the back of the book.  Thankful there won’t be a quiz later.

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: My Basmati Bat Mitzvah  A portion of each purchase goes back to support this blog at no cost to you.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Planet Tad Is a Funny Book for Kids

This week I am pulling one out the archives that my son pulls off his book shelf on a regular basis.  This book gets reread time and time again, but with a glowing recommendation from Stephen Colbert ... really what is not to love.

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Title:          Planet Tad
Author:      Tim Carvell
Target:       Grades 4-6
Series:        No
What this book is about:
Tad is in seventh grade, and when he gets a computer for Christmas he decides to start a daily blog about his life.  Tad is a good kid, but just about everything that can go wrong for a seventh grader does for Tad.  

The girls make a list ranking the cutest boys in the class and he’s not on the list .... they just forgot him.  He looses his sister’s pet hamster and buys another, only to get caught when the sister’s original hamster turns up dead in his mom’s box of Cheerios!  There is also the class picture fiasco and a secret admirer ... well let's just say, nothing goes as planned!
Why I love this book:
Well my son sat on the coach and was laughing out loud while reading this book.  Then when he was done, he went back a reread all the funny parts, which was basically the whole book.  How can a mom not be thrilled with that?
The author of this book, Tim Carvell, is the head writer for the Daily Show so the book is filled with witty observations about daily life.  He also writes a monthly piece called Planet Tad for MAD magazine so this character is quite developed, although surprisingly quite innocent given the venue.  Lots of funny reflections on being twelve but nothing gross or inappropriate.
Who this book is for:
Reluctant readers will warm to the diary/blog format, but really any kid will enjoy the humor.
Final thoughts:
”This book will make you laugh.  If you’re not into that sort of thing, consider yourself warned.” - Stephen Colbert.

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: Planet Tad  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog at no cost to you.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Great Graphic Novels for Teen Girls

Today is big.  You get two books from me.  Now that I am posting daily during the week, I have to be very judicious about not giving too many books away in one post.  I mean, who wants to be staring at a post with nothing but my musings because I have run out of books?   Not you. Let's face it - it wouldn't be pretty

But this week I had two graphic novels that just felt right together.  I think we tend to associate graphic novels with reluctant readers and therefore by default -  boys.  However, as I have continued to preach, this genre has gotten so good in the last few years that there is something for everyone.  The books I am looking at today are for middle school girls and they are funny and insightful.  So get out and grab your girls some delightful graphic novels.  The ones I suggested would be nice.

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Title:       Friends with Boys

Author:    Faith Erin Hicks

Target:    Grades 6-9

Series:     No

What this book is about:
Maggie is starting at a new high school, after being home schooled her whole life.  The title refers to her three older brothers who are her only real friends up to this point.  She has to find the courage to make new friends and manage a new school environment.  Oh, and one more thing!  There seems to be a ghost that has started following her around, showing up when family problems occur!

Why I love this book:
I thought this was a lovely book.  I completely felt Maggie’s angst at starting a new school, and the author did this with some incredible artwork.  Her brothers were really well done, with twins trying to find their own identities and an oldest brother who has found his place in the theater.  The ghost was the only thing I found a bit confusing, but it didn’t take away from the story.

Who this book is for:
Girls making the change to middle school or high school will be able to relate to Maggie.

Final thoughts:
A realistic graphic novel that uses artwork so effectively to tell Maggie’s story.

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: Friends with Boys  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog at no cost to you.

Title:       The Adventures of Superhero Girl

Author:   Faith Erin Hicks

Target:    Grades 6 and up

Series:     No

What this book is about:
Superhero girl was originally a web comic that was turned into a book.  Superhero girl is a crime fighting superhero in a small Canadian city.  The only problem is that there is a noticeable absence of crime.  Well, there is also the problem of Superhero girl just having moved away from home and she has to navigate living on her own.  Shrinking her cape in the laundry is not her finest moment.  And then there is the issue of a completely convincing back story.  I mean, aren’t superheroes supposed to have dead parents, or suffer freak lab accidents?

Why I love this book:
I absolutely love the tongue and cheek humor that fills this book.  It is not exactly a parody of superheroes, but more of a humorous take on the realities of being a new girl in the city and not quite being able to master your job.  

I love that superhero girl is strong, funny, facing her challenges and a real person all at the same time.  This is a female superhero that I can really get behind.

Who this book is for:
Since Superhero Girl is in her early twenties, she does go out for a drink and she kicks some butt, so this is probably not appropriate for kids before middle school.  But to be frank, I think you need to be a little older to really appreciate the intelligent humor.

Final thoughts:
Being a superhero in the big city is no picnic!

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: The Adventures of Superhero Girl  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog at no cost to you.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Princess and the Pig for Picture Book Wednesday

Today's book was a lesson in not judging a book by it's princess.  Yes, I actually shied away from this one because of "Princess" in the title, but rest assured this book is well worth the read.  You will laugh at the intelligent humor and realize that the best princess books don't have to mimic the Disney characters we know and love.

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Title:       The Princess and the Pig

Author:    Jonathan Emmett

Target:     Preschool - Grade 2

What this book is about: 
Princess Priscilla and Pigmella the piglet switch places in a freak accident.  Both the King and Queen and the Farmer think that magic spells are at work because “it’s the sort of thing that happens all the time in books.”  They accept their fate (a piglet princess for the kingdom and the daughter they always wanted for the farmer) until years later when the farmer’s wife hears of the princess who turned into a pig.  She realizes what has happened but when she and the farmer try to return the princess … well more fun ensues.

Why I love this book: 
This one has been around for a few years but I never picked it up because of “princess” in the title.  Yes, after my daughter’s princess phase I thought if I ever had to read another princess book again it might just be the end of me.  I wish I had smartened up sooner.  This book is clever and funny.  My daughter and I couldn’t stop giggling as everyone accepts the most absurd possibilities, simply because it may have happened once in a book.  It is a true testament to the power of imagination!

I also love that it is not a typical “princess” story.  With it’s dry humor and a happily ever after which does not include being a princess, it sends a lovely message to kids.

Who this book is for:
The silliness of this story make it absolutely appropriate for boys and girls.  Don’t let the princess in the title turn you off to reading it to boys.  Learn from my mistakes.

Final thoughts: 
I love a good fractured fairytale and this one did not disappoint.  I only wish I had found it sooner because it will  now be on my gift list.

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: The Princess and the Pig  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog at no cost to you.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Delightful Early Reader

Just in case you thought my book choices might be getting a little too high brow for you, I bring you Twinky the Dinky Dog.

I have committed myself this year to getting more early readers/early chapter books on the blog.  This is pivotal time for kids when they can discover how wonderful books can be, and it can usher in such a positive association with books and reading.  My goal is lifelong readers here.  The benefits are unquestionable.

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Title:       Twinky the Dinky Dog

Author:   Kate Klimo

Target:    Kindergarten - Grade 2

Series:     No

What this book is about: 
Twinky knows he is a big dog inside, but his outside is anything but.  His owner treats him like the dinky dog his stature implies.  She dresses him in silly sweaters, calls him Twinky Poo and carries him like a purse!  The horror!  Twinky escapes to the dog park one day where he is able to nurture his big inner dog with some larger friends.  When his owner is in danger, his big dog training saves the day and no one considers Twinky dinky again.

Why I love this book:  
Too often early readers are too cutesy for me, this one is not.  This book is just so darn adorable and funny that it never entered into the realm of anything but entertaining.  Seeing Twinky subjected to all the ridiculous small dog stereotypes is absolutely giggle inducting and the illustrator Michael Fleming does a wonderful job of capturing Twinky’s personality.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit there is some potty humor in this story.  But I can’t read “wee-wee pad” with a straight face so I dare your kids not to laugh.

Who this book is for:
Wonderful book for kids who are not yet ready for chapter book but are working on reading independently.  With one or two sentences per page this book will not overwhelm early readers who have moved passed one syllable words.

Final thoughts: 
Twinky may be dinky but his story is a large success.

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: Twinky the Dinky Dog (Step into Reading)  A portion of each purchase goes back to support this blog at no cost to you.

Monday, January 20, 2014

How to Catch a Bogle for Middle Grade Monday

I am shaking things up a little this week with a book that may not look that appealing at first glance,  but pleaseeeeeeee, don't judge this book by its cover.  I hope you know by now that I wouldn't steer you wrong.  If I am being honest, I wasn't all that jazzed to read it at first glance either, but boy am I glad I did.  Read it one sitting I did, yup, just that good.

I have included the book trailer below for your enjoyment.

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Title:       How to Catch a Bogle

Author:   Catherine Jinks

Target:    Grades 4-8

Series:     First book in a planned trilogy

What this book is about: 
In Victorian London there are bogles who lurk about and consume children … yes you read that right!  Birdie is an orphan who is an apprentice to a bogler (a bogle exterminator if you will.)   However, when it is discovered that someone is trying to catch and control the bogles in London, and using children as bait, Birdie and her boss Alfred know they must put themselves in harms way to stop this villainy.  

Why I love this book:
The premise of the book seemed a little dark to me so I put off reading this one for a while.  However the reviews were glowing so I finally picked it up, and promptly never put it down.  Yep, read the whole thing in one sitting.  While the idea of monsters that eat children may stop you from getting this book … don’t let it.  The book has a definite sense of humor and is written much more to entertain than to scare.  The stakes get higher and higher with each bogle encounter and kids will delight in a can’t put down read as the story reaches a wonderful climax.

Additionally, the setting in Victorian London does remove any day to day terror regarding bogles at home, but the scare in this book is definitely more of the suspenseful kind.

Who this book is for:
Fun book for most kids.  If they liked The Screaming Staircase this book is a no brainer for a next read.  This book would also make a fun read aloud.

Final thoughts: 
Really bad cover art.  This one does not say pick me up and read me, so parents, you will have to do that.  I know, more work for you!

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: How to Catch a Bogle  A portion of each purchase goes back to support this blog at no cost to you.

Friday, January 17, 2014

A Sweet Early Chapter Book

For throwback Friday I am pulling a book out that was way before my time (got that) but still holds up remarkably well for a new generation of kids.  Think of the Midas touch, but instead of gold, whatever a kid touches turns into something so much more precious ... chocolate!

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Title:       The Chocolate Touch

Author:   Patrick Skene Catling

Target:    Grades 1-3

Series:     No

What this book is about:
This story is about John Midas who loves candy.  In fact he would rather eat candy than anything else.  One day he comes upon a magic chocolate.  After he consumes it, everything he eats turns into chocolate - even his orange juice!  Suddenly he longs for a cool glass of water, but it is not to be.  Can you ever have too much chocolate?

Why I love this book:
Originally published in 1952, this book holds up remarkably well for a new generation.  However, your kids may wonder why John eats boiled candy and candied lemon slices, instead of a Hershey bar.  

This modern day take on the classic King Midas is just perfect for kids, because who hasn’t wanted to eat chocolate all the time, like having Christmas every day!  The lessons are good ones, and not lost on the reader.  

Kids will really enjoy when the pencil John is chewing on turns to chocolate, and even the trumpet during band practice.

Who this book is for:
Great for kids starting chapter books.  At only 122 pages, with big type and pictures every six to seven pages, this book is easily manageable, and fun.

Final thoughts:
A sweet read (oh come on ... I had to type it!)

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: The Chocolate Touch  A portion of each purchase goes back to support this blog at no cost to you.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Terrific Graphic Novels for Kids

Graphic novels take a lot of forms.  My kids race through Archie comic books, they laugh their way through The Lunch Lady and they lean about Greek gods and goddesses in Hera and Hades.  These are all varied reading experiences within the same genre.

What I love, however, is how graphic novels have stepped up their game.  With the beautiful retellings of A Wrinkle in Time and The Odyssey, kids are getting exposure to and a better understanding of great literature.  With the Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales they are learning about pivotal moments in history and just last week I celebrated a book that deals with loneliness and bullying in a complex and emotional graphic novel, Jane, the Fox and Me.

This week the masterful work in graphic novels continues with a look at the Boxer Rebellion.  Not an obvious choice for a kid's book, but that makes it all the more interesting.   You can't possibly look at these offerings and not realize what a wonderful tool this genre has become, not only for entertaining but also for educating young people.  Call me a fan, and take a look at the book trailer at the end of this blog.

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Title:    Boxers/Saints

Author: Gene Luen Yang

Target:  Grades 6 and up

Series:   No

What these books are about:  
Boxers and it’s companion book Saints are graphic novels that look at the Boxer Rebellion from the view of Little Bao, a devoted Chinese peasant fighting to free China from the “foreign devils’ and Vibiana, a fourth daughter who is dismissed by her family and finds strength and purpose with the Christian missionaries.  

Why I love these books: 
First off both these books are extremely compelling reads that make history come alive for kids.  The Boxer Rebellion may not be a period of history familiar to most Westerners, but as our relationship and dependance on China increases, the history of China with the “Christian” world becomes more and more relevant.  

I also love that Yang chose to tell both sides of the story.  The hope is that children will realize that every piece of history has several different perspectives associated with it.   On a deeper level, that only older readers may see, Yang is exploring how our culture fits in with our faith.  

But irregardless of the level at which you digest the book,  the story itself is a can’t put down read.

Who these books are for: 
I have targeted them older because there is violence in these stories.  I also think the messages will be lost on a younger audience.

Final thoughts: 
Books like these are what give graphic novels a good name.  What these books are able to convey about history and humanity to children are greater than any traditional novel.

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: Boxers & Saints Boxed Set  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog at no cost to you.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Picture Book to Commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ok, you caught me.  Friday is when I select a book out of the archives, but I tried to pull fast one on you today by reposting a blog I did last year.  The problem is that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is coming, and I Have a Dream is still my favorite picture book to honor him.  I am an absolute fan of the illustrator, Kadir Nelson.  I think he could draw a stick figure and I would be impressed.  He is just that talented.

So can you blame me for loving the book he did to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s I Have a Dream speech?  It's a winner.  Take a moment to watch the book trailer with Kadir Nelson at the the end of the blog.

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Title:      I Have a Dream

Author:  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Target:   Kindergarten - Grade 5

What this book is about:
This is an illustrated version of Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech.  An audio recording of the actual speech is included with the book if it is purchased, but my copy  from the library did not have one.  I can only imagine that it would have made this beautiful picture book even more compelling.  The book is of selected portions of the speech, but the complete version is printed at the back.

Why I love this book:
The illustrations are magnificent.  Kadir Nelson’s paintings overlooking the Lincoln memorial are stunning and capture the historic and significant time of the speech.  When I read this with my daughter I actually got choked up.

Who this book is for:
This is a bit difficult.  Out of context, I don’t know how much children will take away from this book, but if you are willing to invest some time talking about race and its history in our nation, this book is a moving tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision and his significance in history.

Final thoughts:
Kadir Nelson is such a wonderful and powerful artist, that I always look forward to his work.

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: I Have a Dream (Book & CD)  A portion of each purchase goes back to support this blog at no cost to you.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

My Favorite Early Chapter Book Series

Yes, today I am sharing one of my favorite things - a fabulous early chapter book.  Zeke Meeks is one of those lovely finds that gets kids to see the humor and fun in books.  I hope your kids enjoy Zeke as much as my family has.

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Title:       Zeke Meeks vs. the Horrifying TV-Turnoff Week

Author:   D. L. Green

Target:    Grades 1-3

Series:     Yes

What this book is about: 
In this particular episode, Zeke is forced to endure a week of no TV,  computer or electronic games for his school’s “Turn Off Week.”  While the premise is not new and of course we find that the kids have a positive experience playing outside and going to museums, Zeke is absolutely perfect as a kid who has to “endure” the loss of his favorite forms of entertainment.

Why I love this book:
Right now this series is one of my absolute favorites for early readers.  I dare any kid not to love Zeke, ok I will even double dog dare you.  Yep, I’m feeling confident.  Zeke behaves like a real kid, with his favorite mantra for the week being “I’m bored.” 

His little sister is absolutely perfect in her charm and annoyance.  The songs she sings non stop from the Princess Sing Along show are positively giggle inducing.  I mean what kid can resist “Don’t walk outside in your bare feet, la la la.  There could be dog doo in the street, la la la.”  I have to admit that my daughter and I laughed at every one.

Who this book is for: 
Any kid who likes to laugh.  These are as close to a guaranteed hit as I can give you.  Type is large and pictures are liberally scattered throughout, although not on every page.

Final thoughts:
I hope Zeke gets more love in the early chapter book category.  These stories are clever, true to life and absolute hilarious.

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: Zeke Meeks vs the Horrifying TV-Turnoff Week  A portion of each purchase goes back to support this blog at no cost to you.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Treasure Hunters for Middle Grade Monday

James Patterson is an interesting character to me.  He definitely sees a business opportunity in children's books and has been teaming up with authors to write books that will sell.  He also seems genuinely committed to making sure kids get reading by pledging money to independent book stores and speaking out about the need for children to become better readers.  Whether his intentions are altruistic, financial, or a little of both, he certainly is putting his money where his mouth is and producing books that kids want to read.  And in the end, isn't that what it's all about?

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Title:       Treasure Hunters

Author:   James Patterson and Chris Grebenstein

Target:    Grade 3-7

Series:     This is the first book in a planned series

What this book is about: 
The Kidd family are treasure hunters and they love life on the sea.  However, when their mother disappears on an outing in Cyprus and their father gets lost during a violent storm, the Kidd kids realize that they must carry on the family tradition.  It seems that their parents were in the middle of a deal to deliver an African mask to a shady character named Louis Louis.  Can the kids complete the transaction and figure out why there are pictures of world-famous paintings in their parent’s secret office?

Why I love this book:
Patterson has done it again.  He is committed to getting kids interested in reading, and is churning out books that definitely have all the elements to get kids hooked.  There is adventure, humor, great illustrations and short chapters.   Make no mistake, he is not writing award winners here, but these are solid middle grade action books that will get reluctant readers to pick up a book and will also satisfy the needs of avid readers.

Chapters are not long, illustrations are plentiful and laughs abound during an adventure where the twists and turns keep coming.  I also like the Kidd kids.  They are varied and interesting.  A set of squabbling twins, a handsome brother who is intellectually challenged (except when it comes to navigation) and a sister with a photographic memory who is not svelte, but is nonetheless beautiful.

Who this book is for:
Kids who like adventure and a good chuckle will enjoy this book, as well as reluctant readers.  If your kids liked Patterson’s series I Funny, then this one will be a slam dunk.

Final thoughts:
I have to admire both Patterson’s business acumen and his desire to get kids reading.  He doesn’t just preach that kids should read, he is actually out there writing books that he thinks will get kids hooked.

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: Treasure Hunters  A portion of each purchase goes back to support this blog at no cost to you.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Qwikpick Papers - a "New" Old Novel by Tom Angleberger

Happy Friday.  As I told you back on Monday, (you did read that post didn't you? - No!  Well get yourself scrolled down and take a look!  Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere.) Friday is Retro Day.  I will be posting older reviews to remind you of great books I wrote about almost two years ago (gosh time flies), and also looking back at some classics from when we were kids.

This week I have a book that I wrote about a few years back.  It is being rereleased with a swanky new cover (thank you T. Jonkers). Why?  Well it is written by Tom Angleberger, illustrious author of the Origami Yoda series, who is now a hot commodity and his publishers are hoping his first book will be a big seller.  Back then he was going by Sam Riddleburger, so let's just say no one was getting the connection and grabbing this book off the shelf.   Oh, and they also added "Poop" to the title, a guarantee of big sales.  Let's see what I had to say!

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Title:       The Qwikpick Adventure Society

Author:   Sam Riddleburger

Target:    Grade 3-5

Series:     No

What this book is about:
Lyle and his friends meet at the Qwikpick break room (where his parents work) on a regular basis after school.  With nothing to do on Christmas Day - one set of parents has to work, another is Jewish and the final member is a Jehova’s Witness - they decide to have an adventure and say farewell to the sludge fountain which is being closed at the sewage plant to make room for new technology.  A farewell to a fountain of poop as it were!

Why I love this book:
First, a fountain of poop is really too good to pass up.  I was also very curious about the first book written by the author of the hit Origami Yoda series.  

It was a fun adventure and quite nicely done with just enough of a gross factor, that never went overboard.  I also quite enjoyed the fact that despite the financial and religious differences between the characters, those issues never became central to the story and were simply an aspect of the characters.  

Who this book is for:
Reluctant readers will enjoy this book because the story and layout do not feel overwhelming.  Kids who want a story about good kids, like them, having regular kid adventures will also enjoy this book.

Final thoughts:
A fountain of poop, really enough said!

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: The Qwikpick Papers: Poop Fountain!  A portion of each purchase will go to support this blog at no cost to you.  This is the new, improved version so for now, only preorders.