Showing posts with label Cybils 2011. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cybils 2011. Show all posts

Thursday, August 16, 2012

I Had a Favorite Dress, by Boni Ashburn (ages 4-8)

The end of summer is here; every time turn around, the kids I see have grown again -- sprouting up, up, up! So once again, we go through our closets trying to put away clothes they've grown out of and save them for someone else. But what do you do about that favorite dress or shirt? Can you really give it away? I Had a Favorite Dress captures this feeling with perfect zip and zing!
I Had a Favorite Dress
by Boni Ashburn
pictures by Julia Denos
NY: Abrams, 2011
ages 4-8
available from your local library and on Amazon
A young girl starts the story declaring, "I had a favorite dress that was my favoritest dress ever." Can you relate to that? I so remember those days when my daughters would ONLY wear dresses, and our friend across the street would only wear orange. Preschoolers are particular!
But what happens when this little girl grows and realizes that she is now too big for her favorite dress? Her mama tells her not to worry, "Don't make mountains out of molehills. Make molehills out of mountains." So together, they come up with a way to turn the favorite dress into a brand new shirt! But then the sleeves become too tight, and once again they need to create something new - a tank top! At each turn, mother and daughter work together to come up with creative solutions: a skirt, a scarf, socks and a hair bow.
I adore the artwork and the spirit of this story. My youngest said to me, "It's so creative!" She was full of smiles as she realized the pattern in the story and started predicting what the little girl would make next out of her favorite dress. And then toward the end, she loved how she couldn't quite predict what she'd make next. After we read it, she wanted to go back and count all the things the little girl made out of her original dress. I also think my daughter could relate to the little girl feeling sad about growing out of clothes - growing up isn't all easy, as kids definitely know.

Boni Ashburn's rhythm and internal rhyming make this an excellent read aloud - the language is delightful. The repetition really leads to kids being able to predict what will happen next. The story structure around the days of the week is also perfect for preschoolers and kindergartners who are mastering that progression of time. And yet, older children will smile reading this, remembering back to the clothes they loved, loved, loved wearing when they were younger.

It would be fun to ask kids to compare this to Simms Taback's Joseph Had a Little Overcoat. Both show how you can think of creative solutions to problems. The Kirkus Review suggests that both are based on the Jewish folktale, "The Tailor".

I smiled inwardly with the way that Julia Denos drew the young girl and her mother with medium-toned skin - not clearly one race, but perhaps Latina or African American. It isn't an overt statement, but a lovely reflection of my students today.

I Had a Favorite Dress was chosen as a finalist for the 2011 Cybils Fiction Picture Book Award. I especially enjoyed Jen Robinson's review.  The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Abrams Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Frog and Friends, by Eve Bunting - new series for beginning readers (ages 4 - 7)

Finding books that work just right for new readers is a tricky business, as many families know. Children who are new to reading on their own often want humor, surprises and twists in the plot - and yet they need fairly straightforward books that are easy to grasp. The wonderful Eve Bunting, author of more than 250 children's books, has started a new series for beginning readers: Frog and Friends. This lovely series is designed for newly independent readers who are ready for short chapter books, much like the classic Little Bear books and Frog and Toad books.
Frog and Friends
by Eve Bunting
illustrated by Josee Masse
I Am a Reader series
MI: Sleeping Bear Press, 2011
ages 4 - 7
available at your local library, favorite bookstore and on Amazon
Frog and his forest friends will bring a smile to your face as they explore their world, stumble across strange discoveries and figure out how to solve problems. With three short, independent chapters, Bunting and Masse have created a group of friends that feel at once familiar and fresh.

Each story has just the right amount of twist or surprise to keep new readers hooked. In the first story, Frog and his friends discover a huge orange THING. Well, the reader knows at once that it's a balloon, but the fun is watching Frog and his friends investigate this strange thing, getting lifted high up into the sky (bringing on memories of Pooh Bear floating away on a balloon), and then confounded when it pops on a spiky tree branch. The second and third stories require Frog to engage in some creative problem-solving skills, with an unwanted present and an over-sized visitor. Each of the stories can be read on its own. This helps new readers feel like they are reading a "chapter book", and yet they do not need to carry the plot from one chapter to the next.  Masse's illustrations, with their bright colors and cartoon feel, play off Bunting's humor perfectly and will appeal to young readers.
Frog and Friends:
Party at the Pond
by Eve Bunting
illustrated by Josee Masse
MI: Sleeping Bear Press, 2011
ages 4-7
available at your local library, favorite bookstore and on Amazon
With the second in this new series, Bunting continues the same balance of humor and friendship. In the first story, Frog invites a new animal to his party, a chameleon that he thinks is lonely. Although his friends aren't sure they want to accept the chameleon, Frog is determined to welcome this new friend. With a happy twist, the chameleon discovers how much fun the other animals have with his trick of changing colors.

In my favorite story of the lot, "No Kisses for Frog", a little girl captures Frog determined to turn him into her fairy tale prince. She is shocked that Frog does not want to turn into a prince! Well, no more shocked than Frog is that she is going to kiss him! Readers will laugh at the way that Frog cleverly convinces this thoroughly modern girl that playing soccer and climbing tress is much more fun than being a princess and sitting properly at long dinners.

Once again, Bunting uses simple language, repetition and patterning of language, and humor to engage new readers in these stories about friendship. I will certainly be recommending this to our 1st and 2nd grade teachers.

Frog and Friends was a finalist in the 2011 Cybils Easy Reader award - have you checked this list out to find out about other great books for new readers? You can read other reviews at:
I am looking forward to the third in this series, Frog and Friends: The Best Summer Ever, which will be published next month. The review copy came from our school library collection. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (ages 6 - 10)

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore won the Oscar for best animated short film last night at the 84th annual Academy Awards ceremony. William Joyce, with his Moonbot Studios, is forging a path telling stories across multiple platforms: animated movies, interactive book apps, and traditional print books. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is an ode to the imaginative power of stories, the magical way that books feed our soul and lift us up from our everyday surroundings. I am thrilled that it was recognized by the Academy.

William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg, his co-founder of Moonbot Studios, have had a long collaboration in film. Here they are accepting the Oscar for The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. Joyce and Oldenburge are currently co-directing The Guardians of Childhood, an animated feature for DreamWorks. Joyce has written picture books and chapter books for the Guardians of Childhood series. The Man in the Moon and E. Aster Bunnymund and the Warrior Eggs at the Earth's Core! have both gotten very positive reactions from my students.

The interactive book app for The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore was a finalist for the 2011 Cybils Book App award. I reviewed it last summer for the School Library Journal blog Touch and Go. I'd love to share that review with you here.
"With a stunning combination of computer animation, interactive features, and traditional picture-book elements, William Joyce and Moonbot Studios have developed an enchanting story about the power of books. Based on their award-winning short film, this production sets the bar high for picture-book apps.

Morris Lessmore, a man who loves words and stories, is swept away to a distant land when a terrible storm strikes. Luckily, “… a happy bit of happenstance came his way…Drifting through the sky above him, Morris saw a lovely lady…being pulled along by a festive squadron of flying books.” The young woman sends him a story that leads him to “an extraordinary building where many books apparently ‘nested.’” It is here that Morris discovers his true home, among the thousands of volumes, each “whispering an invitation to adventure.”

Joyce combines his background as a filmmaker, an illustrator, and an author to create a groundbreaking storybook app. The production flows seamlessly between a combination of media, with effective well-paced page turns. While the short film in the beginning of the app is silent, the writing is graceful and eloquent. In the end, what makes Morris Lessmore a story that readers will come back to again and again is the way it which it affirms the power of books to speak to us and carry us away."

This book app continues to enchant students at our library - ranging from kindergartners through 5th graders. They are drawn in by the blend of animation and the interactive features - it really does strike them as something completely new. And yet they are held by the magic of the story, the way that it strikes a chord so familiar to them, even with this new way of telling a story.

I'm fascinated by the way that William Joyce, author of such classic favorites as The Leaf Men and George Shrinks, is developing his new stories. He released Morris Lessmore first as a film, then an app - and this summer it will be published as a traditional picture book. And I think this will definitely work. These are all intertwined ways of enjoying a story, and children will want to experience the app and the book in different, complementary ways.

You can download the silent film from iTunes, and the app is also available on iTunes. The review copy of the app was kindly sent by Moonbot Studios. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Celebrating the 2011 Cybils!

The Cybils Awards have been released today - have you gone to their site to see the great books the panelists have chosen? Really, head right over there now! This award honors children's and young adult books that combine literary excellence with kid appeal. And they consistently point me in the right direction when it comes to finding books for my students.
I've been especially excited about the newest Cybils category focusing on book apps. As the coordinator of this category, I've had the real honor of working with two panels of hardworking, thoughtful bloggers from a range of backgrounds. Our winning book app is:

The Monster at the End of This Book
by Sesame Street Workshop and Callaway Digital Arts, Inc
Nominated by: Sheila Ruth

No one will be able to resist lovable, furry old Grover in this giggle-inducing book app, based on the 1971 classic Golden Book. Sesame Street and Callaway Digital Arts hit all the notes perfectly from the opening pages, as Grover draws the reader in with his charm and natural humor. From that point on, no matter what age you may be, you will laugh, smile, and read along while Grover tries his best to keep you from turning yet another page. Emerging readers will follow the highlighted words as Grover speaks. Little fingers will tap the screen, discovering ways to untie the ropes and knock down Grover's brick wall, undoing each of his creative attempts to stop you turning the page. This app is perfect for preschoolers, but Grover’s silly voice and the engaging interactive features make it fun for all ages.

Head over to Katie Davis's site to listen to her podcast: Brain Burps About Books. Today for she's sharing an exclusive interview I had with Sylvia Vardell, one of the Cybils panelists in this new category.

I'd like to send out a special thanks to all of our members of the Cybils book app panels:

Round 1:

Jeff Barger
NC Teacher Stuff

Sara Bryce
Bryce Don’t Play

Nicole Kessler
Nicole’s Book Nook

Carisa Kluver
Digital Media Diet

Tasha Saecker
Waking Brain Cells

Melissa Taylor
Imagination Soup

Sylvia Vardell

Round 2:

Alyson Beecher

Kate Hannigan

Elizabeth LeBris

Dan Santat
Dan Santat

Mary Ann Scheuer
Great Kid Books

Review ©2012 Cybils, shared by Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Cybils are coming, the Cybils are coming!

I'm so excited to see the announcement of the Cybils winners this week. The Cybils Awards honor children's and young adult books that combine literary excellence with kid appeal. As the Cybils website states, "If some la-di-dah awards can be compared to brussel sprouts, and other, more populist ones to gummy bears, we’re thinking more like organic chicken nuggets. We’re yummy and nutritious."

I love this award because the panelists continually bring to my attention books I hadn't heard of, and they celebrate so much of what I value in children's literature. The Cybils also celebrate many genres of children's literature. There are different awards for graphic novels, poetry and chapter books - all genres that are not typically included in the major children's literature awards.

The panels have been hard at work evaluating the finalists, discussing the merits of each book and making hard choices about which one they all agree upon as the best in its category. The Cybils winners will be announced this Tuesday, February 14th. This year I have had the honor of coordinating the Book App category. We've had fantastic members of each panel, and they've evaluated over 50 book apps. They've considered the stories, the interactive features, the audio narration and the overall kid appeal of these apps. We've had fascinating discussions, and I think we've all learned something from the process.

As Sondra Eklund wrote about over at the ALSC blog, definitely check out the list of Cybils finalists for suggestions on books for your children, students or patrons. Here are the links to the individual categories. And be sure to check in on Tuesday morning for the announcements of the winning books!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Me... Jane, by Patrick McDonnell (ages 4 - 8) - inspiring, gentle picture book

Picture books have the power to inspire, entertain and connect us with the larger world. They can help us understand more about the world around us, and they can sometimes help us understand more about ourselves. Me... Jane, by Patrick McDonnell, is a wonderful example of a picture book that resonates with many young children. I read it with our 2nd graders this week as part of our discussion of books that might possibly win the Caldecott Medal next week.
Me... Jane
by Patrick McDonnell
NY: Little, Brown, 2011
ages 4 - 8
available from your local library, favorite bookstore, or on Amazon
2011 Cybils nominee & finalist
winner of the 2012 Charlotte Zolotow Award
Little Jane carries her stuffed chimpanzee Jubilee around with her everywhere - reading stories, exploring outside, climbing trees. Right from the beginning, our students could relate to having a favorite stuffed animal. McDonnell frames this story about the childhood of Jane Goodall, the famous animal behavior scientist, in a way that draws children into connecting with Jane's life. Jane loves exploring the outdoors - and so she spends most of her time either watching animals and plants outside or writing in her journal about facts she's discovered. Our students could easily imagine keeping a journal with questions and observations about the animals around them.

The artwork in this picture book is soft and understated, but with a charming touch. Our students noticed the contrast between the detailed stamps on one side of each spread and the pen and watercolor illustrations on the other side. They liked the way this made them think of real life animals with the intricate engravings, while the illustrations emphasized the child-like quality of the story. My favorite moment of the day was when Anthony raised his hand and said, "I'm making a connection to another book. This reminds me of Where the Wild Things Are." We were looking at the end of the story, when Jane imagines being in the jungles of Africa, swinging from vine to vine with Jubilee swinging behind her. Other students immediately began making connections to the power of imagination that Sendak celebrated in Where the Wild Things Are. It was a wonderful moment that I will always treasure.

The pacing and page turns are masterfully controlled - please read this aloud to your children and ask what they're noticing at each page. The final few turns of the page took our breaths away, in that quiet "ohhhh" type of moment as you realize the scientist that Jane Goodall grew up to be.

This isn't a book a book that will grab you and demand your attention. But if you have a quiet moment, it will plant a seed that may bloom if you give it some time. For another wonderful review, head over to Anita Silvey's Children's Book-a-Day Almanac.

In the end, as we compared Grandpa Green, Blue Chicken and Me... Jane, students each responded differently. I asked them to tell me which book had the best illustrations, since the Caldecott is awarded to the illustrator of the most distinguished picture book. The majority chose Blue Chicken, because they loved the humor in the story and the creative use of color. Others liked Grandpa Green for the detailed illustrations and way it sparked their imaginations. And others definitely chose Me... Jane, for its inspiring story and gentle artwork.

Each year, the Caldecott Committee reviews hundreds and hundreds of picture books - all published in America during that year. The committee meets during the American Library Association's midwinter meeting to discuss the books they find most distinguished, and decide upon a winner. My students and I are very excited to see which book they choose to award the 2012 Caldecott Medal. If you want to watch the announcements live on Monday morning, head over to the ALA site here.

The review copy came from our school library collection. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Cheshire Cheese Cat, by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright (ages 8 - 11)

I've been wondering about how books hook readers, how they draw us in, and what makes us stay. Sometimes, it's immediate conflict and action; other times, we're enchanted with a magical place. The Cheshire Cheese Cat hooked me from the very first line: "He was the best of toms. He was the worst of toms. Fleet of foot, sleek and solitary, Skilley was a cat among cats. Or so he would have been, but or a secret he had carried since his early youth." This book hooked me from the beginning, bringing a smile to my face with its playful puns, true friendships, and wonderful writing.
The Cheshire Cheese Cat
by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright
illustrated by Barry Moser
GA: Peachtree Publishers, 2011
audiobook available (narrated by Katherine Kellgren)
ages 8 - 11
available from your local library, favorite bookstore or on Amazon
nominated for the 2011 Cybils Middle Grade Fantasy & Sci-Fi
Skilley is an alley cat used to surviving on the streets of 19th century London, and so he is particularly pleased to have found a home as the mouser at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a London inn frequented by Charles Dickens and other notable writers. But Skilley has a secret - one that he's going to have to confront very soon. He doesn't like to eat mice. In fact, he detests the thought of eating a mouse. It's cheese that he adores - cheese, delectable cheese. So when he catches his first mouse, he urgently whispers, "Run. If the innkeeper sees you..." Well, not only will the mouse have problems, but so will Skilley. This mouse, Pip, turns out to be a very special mouse - one who leads his fellow mice with courage and wits, and a true friend to Skilley.

The Cheshire Cheese Cat would make a wonderful read-aloud as a family, pulling in both younger and older listeners. I found myself completely drawn into Skilley's world, wondering how he will get himself out of different dilemmas. Parents will love the sprinkling of references to Dicken's works. Young readers will enjoy the tense drama and suspense. I particularly think children will relate to Skilley's agonies about how to apologize to Pip:
"Making a mess of things is an occupation at which even the most unskilled can excel. But mending is an art that requires years of practice. In short, breaking a thing is easy (even a child can do it); fixing that selfsame thing may be harder (sometimes even adult persons cannot manage it).

Skilley was learning this lesson in the most painful of ways. What he had broken was a thread of trust as thin and delicate as a glass filament - a thread that had bound him to one of only two friends in his life." (p. 126)
How many of us have found it hard to figure out how to say, "I'm sorry" and really mean it? That's never an easy thing, and Skilley struggles with it just as we would. And children will also relate to Pip. He's such a courageous, thoughtful little mouse - and a true friend.

Throughout, Barry Moser's illustrations add to the fun, drawing readers into the characters and their situations. He captures both animals' and people's faces with all the emotions you're feeling as a reader, helping us be right there in Skilley and Pip's place.

Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright dreamed up this idea for a story after teaching at a Brigham Young's writing conference in 2005. The idea first developed after Deedy visited London with her family and found Ye Old Cheshire Cheese on a eerie London night. Read more about how they worked on this story together over at Erika Rohrbach's Kirkus blog post "Of Mice and Men".

The Cheshire Cheese Cat will appeal to lovers of Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Despereaux, but also to lovers of Stuart Little or Jenny and the Cat Club.

For other reviews, check out Charlotte's Library, School Library Journal's Fuse #8 and the Cybils shortlist. The Cheshire Cheese Cat received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, the School Library Journal and Publisher's Weekly.

The review copy came from our school library collection. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Fantastic Book Apps for Kids: announcing the 2011 Cybils finalists

Boing! Zoom! Zap! Is that your book making all those noises? Are you making things dance, bounce and sing? You must be reading a Book App, maybe on your smart phone or iPad. The Cybils Awards - given each year by bloggers for the year's best children's and young adult titles - has launched a new category specifically for iPad Book Apps, and the results are in!

The Cybils panels for each category have just announced their lists of finalists, a short list that represents the best of the books their judges have read. The Cybils Book App panel, made up of a group of seven librarians, teachers and parents with a broad range of experience, has chosen seven book apps. As the category organizer, I helped steer this committee, but they did the hard work of reading over 50 book apps and deciding on those that really represent the best of the lot.

The guiding focus for the Cybils Award is to choose books that "combine the highest literary merit and 'kid appeal.'" As they explain it, "If some la-di-dah awards can be compared to brussel sprouts, and other, more populist ones to gummy bears, we’re thinking more like organic chicken nuggets. We’re yummy and nutritious." If you're looking to dive into the world of book apps, the following make a great place to start.

Head over the Cybils 2011 Book App Finalists page for full descriptions of these great book apps.

Be Confident in Who You Are: A Middle School Confidential Graphic Novel
by Annie Fox
Electric Eggplant
ages 10 - 14
Nominated by: Amy Jussel
"This is an app created especially for tweens and young teens. ... It features six characters surviving Milldale Middle School who cope with issues of body image, conflicting emotions, how to be honest with friends, etc." - review by Sylvia Vardell

Bobo Explores Light
by GameCollage
Game Collage, LLC
ages 6 - 10
Nominated by: Paula Willey
"This iPad book app from Game Collage successfully mixes science, reading and fun.  Bobo the robot guides readers through information on light, inviting interaction in both serious and silly ways.   ... Never losing sight of its young audience, science is what lights up this app." - review by Tasha Saecker

Harold and the Purple Crayon
by Crockett Johnson and Trilogy Studios
Trilogy Studios Inc.
ages 3 - 7
Nominated by: John Schumacher
 "Harold's journey introduces this wondrous tale to a new generation of kids and gives their favorite adults a satisfying trip down memory lane. Though an enjoyable adventure to snuggle up and discover together, a special read-to-me feature with pitch-perfect narration makes the app especially kid friendly." - review by Sara Bryce

Hildegard Sings
by Thomas Wharton
One Hundred Robots
ages 4 - 8
Nominated by: Betsy Bird
"Hildegard is a singing rhino whose voice gives out right as she's about to make her operatic debut. ... Readers will squeal with laughter and delight as this interactive app draws them into hilarious plot twists." review by Carisa Kluver

Pat the Bunny
by Dorothy Kunhardt
Random House Digital
ages 1 - 4
Nominated by: Scott Gordon
"Preschool children will enjoy playing along with Judy, Paul, and Bunny as they participate in various activities in this app based on the classic book. ... Pat the Bunny is a fun interactive experience for our youngest readers." review by Jeff Barger

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
by Moonbot Studios
Moonbot Studios LA
ages 5 - 10
Nominated by: Hallie Tibbetts
"This app combines computer animation, interactive features and elements of a traditional picture book for a truly unique experience.  ...  Children and adult book lovers alike will identify with Morris and his love of story, getting lost in those stories and sharing them with others." review by Nicole Kessler

The Monster at the End of This Book
by Callaway Digital Arts, Inc
ages 4 - 9
Nominated by: Sheila Ruth
"Remember life before Elmo? When Grover was the cutest character back in the day? Well, Grover gets to star in this funny, well-made story app based on the original Golden Book from 1971. ... These effects and Grover's very dramatic narration make this hilarious story so much better than the original book -- which I have never said before about any book, and might not ever say again!" review by Melissa Taylor

I really want to honor and thank all of the members of the Round 1 Cybils Book App panel for their hard work and thoughtful consideration of all of the apps that were nominated. I also want to thank all of the developers and publishers for helping us consider each app. Finally, I want to thank the tireless Cybils organizers, especially Sheila Ruth and Anne Levy, for their hard work and constant coordination. This is a new category, a new way of distributing books, and it took the work of many to organize this new category.

Next steps? The Cybils Round 2 panels all start convening to consider the finalists. They will read and deliberate over the next six weeks. The Cybils Awards will be announced February 14th.

©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Clementine and the Family Meeting, by Sara Pennypacker (ages 7 - 10)

Our 2nd and 3rd graders love reading series, especially when they can connect to the main characters. One of their favorite series is the Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker, and the newest Clementine book will surely delight readers new and old. This also makes a great series for families looking to read aloud their first chapter books to 4 and 5 year olds. In my mind, Clementine is a little bit of Ramona and a little bit of Junie B. Jones, but a whole lot of her own person.
Clementine and the Family Meeting
by Sara Pennypacker
illustrated by Marla Frazee
NY: Disney / Hyperion Books, 2011
ages 7 - 10
available at your local library, favorite bookstore or on Amazon

nominated for the 2011 Cybils early chapter book award
Clementine is sure she’s in trouble again - why else would the “family meeting” sign be posted? No matter how much she begs, her mom just won’t tell her what the meeting is about. Clementine is used to family meetings where she has to think about being nicer to her little brother, being better behaved, trying harder. But nothing prepares her for the news at this family meeting: a new baby is on the way. Clementine is not taking the news well. Their family of four suits her just fine.
"Four can be two and two sometimes, and nobody is lonely. Two kids and two grown-ups. Two boys and two girls. There are four sides to the kitchen table, so we each get one." 
Change is hard, and Pennypacker captures this pitch-perfectly in the 5th installment of this popular series for readers new to chapter books. Even Clementine’s best friend Margaret is changing in crazy ways. Having just returned from visiting her father in Hollywood, Margaret is now obsessed with makeup. Clementine’s special relationship with her father is particularly touching in this story. He knows how to comfort her, joke with her and make her feel understood.

Pennypacker, with Frazee’s line drawings, continues to portray a warm, supportive family that readers will relate to. Fans will be excited to learn that Pennypacker is publishing her first standalone novel since the Clementine series this spring: Betsy Bird reports that HarperCollins is publishing Summer of the Gypsy Moths - read more here at Fuse #8's Harper Colling Spring 2012 preview.

For other reviews of Clementine and the Family Meeting, see:
The review copy came from the Association of Children's Librarians, my local review group. It was kindly sent by Disney / Hyperion Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Very Babymouse Christmas - delightfully fun graphic novel (ages 7 - 10)

Babymouse, oh Babymouse, oh how do I love you, Babymouse? Let me count the ways: 
  1. I adore the way you pull children into reading, delighting them at every step. 
  2. I smile each time I check out your books to girls AND boys, young and old. You are the most popular series in our school library, month after month!
  3. I laugh each time a child tells me how funny you are, or how much you make them laugh. 
  4. And I smile each time I read your stories and realize how many nuggets of truth are buried inside your pages, like chewy goodness inside my favorite candies.
A Very Babymouse Christmas is the newest in the popular graphic novel series by the sister-and-brother team Jennifer and Matthew Holm. Our students, ranging from 2nd grade girls just starting to read to 5th grade boys who can't get enough graphic novels, love love love Babymouse - and I'm talking a *rush right to the shelves* "Ms. Scheuer, do you have any Babymouse books in please?" kind of love. A Very Babymouse Christmas is a pitch-perfect addition to this series.
A Very Babymouse Christmas
by Jennifer L. Holm
illustrated by Matthew Holm
NY: Random House, 2011
ages 7 - 10
available at your local library, favorite bookstore or on Amazon

nominated for the 2011 Cybils Graphic Novels award
It's almost Christmas, and Babymouse is thinking of the presents she really wants for Christmas. OK, she's not just thinking about presents - she's obsessed with presents, one present to be specific. All Babymouse wants for Christmas this year is a WhizBang gadget. "It plays video games and movies, it texts, sees into the future, folds laundry, and does homework!" Kids (and parents) will certainly connect with the way Babymouse is just dying to have this newest, greatest gadget. But, as usual, nothing goes quite right for Babymouse.
As always, Babymouse's daydreams rescue her from her not-so-glamorous life. Her Christmas daydreams take her into the Babymouse version of A Christmas Carol (featuring the scary Ghost of Mean Girls Past) and a Babymouse Nutcracker.

Kids will laugh at the way Babymouse is completely fixated upon a new WhizBang, but they'll also realize how their own obsessions can get out of proportion. My favorite scene of all is the ending, where Babymouse discards her new WhizBang to play with her little brother Squeak. With the WhizBang tossed aside, they spend hours playing with Squeak's dollhouse - in perfect togetherness. It's a moment that rang true for me and warmed my heart to see.

Have some holiday fun watching Jenni and Matt Holm sing about their love for reading, libraries and books in this Babymouse Holiday Video. We had fun at a recent event for Babymouse at our local indie bookstore A Great Good Place for Books. Here's a fun picture of some huge fans hiding in Babymouse's locker:
The review copy was kindly sent by Random House, but we've bought many copies since, for our school library, classrooms and friends. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Magic School Bus: Dinosaurs (ages 4 - 8)

Dinosaurs fascinate many young children. These huge beasts dominated the world, and yet they vanished leaving only a few traces behind. Preschoolers and kindergartners love the sense of power that dinosaurs bring - there's nothing better than stomping through the sand box pretending you're a giant dinosaur on the hunt. But these young children also soak up scientific information as they learn about dinosaurs. If you have a dino-lover, check out the new book app: Magic School Bus Dinosaurs.
The Magic School Bus: Dinosaurs
developed by Scholastic Media
based on the book
The Magic School Bus in the Time of the Dinosaurs
by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen
for the iPad
version 1.1 - October 25, 2011
current price: $7.99
ages 4 - 8
available from the iTunes app store

nominated for the Cybils Book App award
Ms. Frizzle takes her class on a field trip to a dinosaur dig to investigate how dinosaur bones are uncovered. The paleontologists at the site have discovered some Maiasaura dinosaur bones, but are disappointed that they haven't discovered any eggs. Ms. Frizzle has the perfect solution: her class will travel back in time to see if they can figure out where the Maiasaura's nests are.

The bus transforms to a time machine and takes the class back to the Late Triassic period, then moves forward through the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Ms. Frizzle and her class discover which animals and plants lived during the different eras. Along the way, different class members share short reports with readers.

The app stays true to the original Magic School Bus book, making it accessible for a nice range of audiences. I've found that young children, ages 4 - 7, adore the wacky Ms. Frizzle but are often unable to read these busy books on their own.

This app uses engaging narration along with a well designed interactive app to pull young children into discovering this interesting scientific information. Children listen to the main text, but then they tap speech bubbles to hear what different characters are saying. This means that kids are actively engaged with reading this story, not just passively watching the movie roll by.

The highlighted reports are a great way for young kids to really absorb interesting scientific information in small chunks. I really like the way that the reports pop out when you press on the report icon, so kids focus on just that information. See this screen shot for an example:

Kids also are enjoying the interactive games, digging for fossils and then dragging the dinosaur bones to the correct place on the whole skeleton. Along the way, they collect special dino cards, with facts about the different dinosaurs they have uncovered.

The app does not include any extra nonfiction visuals, the way that the Magic School Bus: Oceans app does. It would have been very interesting if the developers included some photographs of fossils or dig sites, or short videos of paleontologists at work. The iPad apps have great potential for combining different materials, the way that the Magic School Bus: Oceans app did.

If you have a child who's fascinated by science or dinosaurs, this is definitely an app worth exploring.

Read an interesting interview with the producer at Scholastic Media about developing Magic School Bus: Dinosaurs iPad app at the Scholastic Blog Ink Splot 26. Read another review over at School Library Journal's blog Touch and Go.

The review copy was sent by the publisher, Scholastic Media. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Around the World, by Matt Phelan - graphic novel adventure (ages 9 - 12)

Take a graphic novel and an adventure story, and kids are going to love it - right? Add in real life adventures from the late 1800s, and you've got yourself something really interesting. Matt Phelan's newest book, Around the World, is a wonderful book to open kids' reading world. They'll read about three real-life adventurers who traveled around the world in the late 1800s, inspired by the fictional journeys of Phileas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days.
Around the World
by Matt Phelan
MA: Candlewick Press, 2011
ages 9 - 12
available from your local library, favorite bookstore and on Amazon

nominated for the Cybils graphic novels award
Award-winning graphic novelist Phelan chronicles the real-life journeys of three nineteenth century adventurers who each set out to circumnavigate the globe for the sheer challenge of the journey. While the nineteenth century was full of Americans pushing boundaries and exploring new territories, these three were each inspired by Jules Verne’s best-selling novel Around the World in Eighty Days.

Thomas Stevens rode a high-wheel bicycle from San Francisco to Boston, and then continued around the world with or without roads. Just look at the spread above and you can get a sense of Stevens' crazy determination, starting in San Francisco of the Gold Rush era and venturing first across the US and then across the world.

Journalist Nellie Bly set out in 1889 persuading the editors at the New York World to sponsor her journey around the world, as she attempted to beat the record of Verne’s protagonist, Phileas Fogg. She not only had to beat Fogg's fictional record, she also had to overcome her editors' doubts that a woman could really accomplish this on her own. Bly was stubborn and determined, as well as courageous.

And finally Phelan shares the story of seaman Joshua Slocum who sailed around the world by himself, the first person to do so alone.

As we read these stories, we are fascinated by these adventures, but we also find ourselves asking, "Why? Why did these people decide to go around the world? And what kept them going?"
Phelan shares not only these adventurers’ public travels, but he also explores their internal journeys. As he writes in an author’s note, he focuses not just on what these real-life characters did, but why they undertook these challenges, what motivated them, what emotional baggage they brought along on their journeys.

The stories are brought to life by Phelan’s illustrations: washes of color set the tone, emotions and reactions are masterfully conveyed in the distinct characters, and the layout and design of the panels visually moves the action along.

Kids in 4th and 5th grade have loved this book. They are swept into the lives of these nineteenth century adventurers by the visual appeal of Phelan’s artwork, but they have been held by his masterful storytelling. Around the World has received four starred review, and is featured on the Kirkus Best Children’s Books of 2011, and has been included in 100 Scopenotes and Mr. Schu's list of Top 20 Books of 2011.

Around the World is copyright © 2011 by Matt Phelan, and published by Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA. Images reproduced with permission of Matt Phelan.

The review copy was originally sent by the publisher, Candlewick Press, and I have bought several copies since. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Harold and the Purple Crayon book app - wonderful celebration of imagination (ages 2 - 6)

One of my favorite books as a young child was Harold and the Purple Crayon. I can't actually remember reading it, but whenever I read it now the feelings and memories flood back to me. The wonder as Harold draws his world, whatever he wants to see. My amazement at when his hand shook and water appeared behind him. And my delight when he was so clever that he realized he could draw his own window around the moon. I was so happy to see that the new iPad/iPod book app remains true to the original story, but brings it to life in a new way. It's a real joy, one that I highly recommend for young children.

Harold and the Purple Crayon
by Crocket Johnson
developed by Trilogy Studios
for the iPhone, iPod, iPad
version 1.4 - December 6, 2011
current price: $6.99
ages 2 - 6
available from the iTunes app store

nominated for the Cybils Book App award

Features: Touch Tale * Read to Me * Read Alone * Tutorial
Harold is a little boy who decides one night to climb out his window for an adventure. He isn't sure where he should go, but he decides to create his own adventure - drawing it each step of the way with his purple crayon. It's a wonderful celebration of children's imagination.

The book app "Touch Tale" incorporates wonderfully paced narration with just the right amount of interactive features. Children are invited to draw along with Harold, tracing over gray lines that become bold purple when the child draws them. But you also can discover hidden treasures, like swiping over the empty sky to reveal twinkling stars. When Harold gets to the city, the careful reader will notice that there is a cat hiding in one of the windows which you can tap on to zoom in to see.

Harold's journey is animated, but in a way that stays very true to the simplicity of the original story. You follow Harold through his imaginary world, seeing the dragon roar or the ship sailing. But most of the details of this world are still left to the child's imagination.

The pacing and narration fit the story perfectly for a young audience. The app "chunks" the original picture book pages, so that only one line appears at a time on the screen. This helps children see the words at a nice, slow pace and large enough to see clearly. If you tap on different items in Harold's world, the word labels will pop up - helping children develop an awareness of printed words. But best of all is the soothing voice of the narrator - perfect for a bedtime story.

This is a joy to read, and drew me to it time and again. It's a perfect example of a book app staying true to so many qualities of the original book, but making it accessible to a young child in a new way. I am looking forward to reading Harold at the North Pole (released 11/29/11).

For other reviews, check out:
Psst, don't tell - but I'll be getting this for my niece and nephew, along with the print book. I think they will enjoy the app, and also enjoy reading the print book. It will be interesting to see if the app stimulates interest in the book, or if they shun the book in preference for the app.

The review copy came from our home iTunes library collection.

©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Top Apps for 2011 - School Library Journal's list, part 1 (ages 2 - 10)

I'm finding the hardest thing about book apps for kids is discovering ones that are really good. That's why I was happy to see that the School Library Journal came out with a list of their favorite apps for 2011. I'm going to divide their list into age groups. Today, I'll share their apps that work for younger kids (ages 2 - 10). Tomorrow, I'll share the apps they're recommending for tweens and teens.

1. Pat the Bunny (Random House / Smashing Ideas Inc.). I haven't had a chance to see this app - on the face of it, it seems so odd that Pat the Bunny is an app. But I've heard from many places that this app is engaging with perfect age-appropriate interactive elements. It's a difficult balance to achieve, and I'm looking forward to trying this out with my young nephew.

2. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (Moonbot Studios): this app is truly captivating, in my opinion. As I wrote in the SLJ review on their blog Touch and Go, "With a stunning combination of computer animation, interactive features, and traditional picture-book elements, William Joyce and Moonbot Studios have developed an enchanting story about the power of books. Based on their award-winning short film, this production sets the bar high for picture-book apps." Indeed - my 7 and 10 year old both read this book over and over again this summer.

3. Spot the Dot (Ruckus Media): David Carter's app combines his creative books with a find-and-seek game. Preschoolers and kindergartners will love searching for the hidden dot, following the progressively more difficult challenges with each turn of the page. I am fascinated by this blend of a book and a game. Each time you open this app, the dot changes its hiding place. We had a lot of fun with this app!

4. Hildegard Sings! (One Hundred Robots) I can't wait to get this app by Thomas Wharton. Betsy Bird of Fuse#8 nominated it for the Cybils Book App Award, and says that it's hilarious. Here's SLJ's description: "Hildegard, a flamboyant hippo, works as a singing waitress, but dreams of becoming an opera star. When she croons off-key, listeners experience it firsthand. Add to that flashes of melodramatic lightning, orchestra music, amusing interactive features, and a few games, and you have a flat-out funny, immensely entertaining theatrical production that hits all the right notes."

5. Cinderella: A 3-D Fairy Tale (Nosy Crow) has been a big hit both with students at Emerson and here at home. Of course kids love this story, but Nosy Crow gives it a fresh new multimedia twist with great illustrations, bouncy interactive characters, and fun dialog bubbles that pop up when you touch the characters. This has definitely been one of our favorites of the year.

Tomorrow, I'll share the apps that the School Library Journal has recommended for tweens and teens. I don't know these apps as well, so am looking forward to exploring them!

©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness (ages 12 - 15) - a powerful story of a boy coping with grief

I sometimes wonder if we, as parents, try to protect our children from the hard things in life too much. We try to protect them, even though our children deal with hard things every day. And other times, I wonder if we are trying so hard to deal with our adult issues that we don't really see our children and the issues they're wrestling with. Conor, in Patrick Ness's powerful new book A Monster Calls, knows all too well about wrestling with life's pain. His mother is battling terminal breast cancer. And yet in so many ways, Conor is alone to deal with his pain - alone, that is, until the monster comes walking.
A Monster Calls
by Patrick Ness
inspired from an idea by Siobhan Dowd
illustrations by Jim Kay
Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2011
ages 12 - 15
available from your local library, favorite bookstore or on Amazon
Life for Conor has been completely changed by his mother's cancer. Breakfasts alone, as his mother struggles with the effects of her treatments. The recurring nightmares, filled with screaming and falling. And of course, school - where everyone avoids him, not knowing what to say. And then, the monster comes. At 12:07, to be precise. The monster is looming, giant drawn up from the earth, from the ancient yew tree outside Connor's window.
"Conor O'Malley, it said, a huge gust of warm compost-smelling breath rushing through Conor's window, blowing his hair back. Its voice rumbled low and loud, with a vibration so deep Conor could feel it in his chest.
I have come to get you, Conor O'Malley, the monster said." (p. 8)
Jim Kay's illustrations add a powerful, almost visceral element to A Monster Calls. He uses everything from beetles to breadboards to create marks, textures and images from Conor's dreams and his sense of reality. The dark pen and ink, along with relief printing and various printed textures, convey the dark, twisted, nameless horror and grief that consumes Conor. The illustrations are perfectly pitched toward a teen audience, suitably abstract, dark and disturbing.

This book is utterly compelling, completely riveting, and deeply painful to read. On the one hand, I want to tell everyone I know about it. And on the other hand, I can't imagine the effect it would have on children. My 5th grader would get terrible nightmares from this - she just wouldn't be able to process Conor's pain. And yet other children yearn for books that make them feel, that make them understand others' pain, perhaps to get a sense that their pain is understandable or manageable, or to get a sense that they are not alone.

Each person will bring their own stories, their own journeys to A Monster Calls. What I was so impressed with was the way Ness approaches this story. As Tasha Saeker writes in Waking Brain Cells,
"Ness does not duck away from anything difficult here, rather he explores it in ways I haven’t seen before. He takes the darkness and makes it real, makes it honest, creates truth from it and lays it all bare. It is a book that is difficult to read but too compelling to put down."
As Ness writes in his author's note, A Monster Calls was inspired by an idea developed by the writer Siobhan Dowd, the author of "four electric young adult novels", as Ness says. She had this idea for a story, but "what she didn't have, unfortunately, was time." Dowd passed away from breast cancer before she was able to develop her ideas further. But her ideas grew in Ness's imagination, and he ran with them.

I was fascinated reading a conversation between Patrick Ness and two teachers who both lost their mothers to illness during their childhood. Head over to Monica Edinger's blog Educating Alice to read Ness's thoughtful comments on their reactions.

A Monster Calls has been recognized by many as one of the best books of 2011:
The review copy came from my personal collection. This is a book that will stay with me, in my heart, for many years. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Wonderstruck, by Brian Selznick: an amazing blend of words and pictures (ages 9 - 12)

I absolutely love reading aloud to students - seeing them on the edge of their seats, watching their eyes light up with the "ah-ha" moments, pausing and letting them think about what's happening or pull pieces of a story together, giving them time to talk to partners about what's happening. It's a magical time of our day. We are reading Wonderstruck right now - Brian Selznick's newest book, an absolutely amazing blend of words and pictures. This would make a wonderful book to read together as a family - there is so much to talk about, share and - really, just revel in the wonder of his story.
by Brian Selznick
NY: Scholastic, 2011
ages 9 - 12
nominated for 2011 Cybils award, graphic novel
available at your local library, favorite bookstore or Amazon
Wonderstruck tells two stories, one in words and a completely different one in pictures. Ben and Rose are two young people, each searching for themselves, trying to figure out who they are, where they belong. Ben's story is told through words, as the readers follow him from his home in Gunflint Lake, Minnesota to New York City in search of his father. Ben lost his mother to a car accident earlier this year, and he never knew his father. After Ben uncovers clues that might lead him to discover his father, he sets off on a quest. Ben is deaf in one ear, but when he is making a phone call to try to track down his father, lightning strikes the telephone line and Ben is made completely deaf. His search through New York City is fraught with difficulties as he tries to navigate this confusing world without his hearing.

Rose's story is told completely through pictures. Readers have to look at each picture, thinking about what information you can put together about Rose's story. Rose is completely deaf, and so her story is silent but full of emotion and visual details - much as her world would have been. Rose is also searching for herself, trying to connect with her distant mother, trying to find her place in the world.

I knew this would be a wonderful story to read aloud with students, because I wanted to share Brian Selznick's innovative storytelling style. We have to read the pictures as carefully as the text. The first time I read this story, I felt a bit off-balance as I had to work hard to piece together the different parts of the story, especially with Rose's story. We've talked about this in class - readers have to work to infer a lot of information, reading between the lines, as it were. Authors don't always tell you straight out everything that happens - you have to figure it out by putting together clues. For example, my daughter figured out early in Rose's story that her name was Rose because there was a birthday card taped to her bedroom wall with "Happy Birthday Rose" written on it. I didn't notice that card, and it took me half of the book to figure out Rose's name! Another student noticed that she has a rose barrette in her hair. Ben's story, too, involves many flashbacks as Ben remembers times with his mother. Selznick's storytelling makes readers think. While this is challenging, my students are hooked and can't wait to find out what happens next.

Some students are fascinated by the idea of collecting things, how their collections of rocks or Pokemon cards is really the same form of collecting that a museum curator does as she or he puts together a natural history or art collection. Other students are fascinated by Rose and Ben's searches for their parents, by their feeling alone in the world. Other students are fascinated by Selznick's visual storytelling, looking for clues and connections between the pictures. I'm fascinated by that sense of wonder and awe we can have, what causes it, how to relish it and honor it.

Brian Selznick is promoting this book throughout the country. He's already visited many schools, libraries and bookstores. We'll be seeing him in Alameda, CA this week and can't wait. To see if he's coming to a town near you, check the Wonderstruck website for tour information.

You can get a sense of Wonderstruck from this book trailer:

Listen to a review and interview with Brian Selznick on National Public Radio. I adore hearing Selznick read aloud some of the story.

Read reviews at 100 Scope Notes and at Educating Alice.

The review copy was kindly sent by Scholastic Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.