Showing posts with label Emerson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Emerson. Show all posts

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Connecting with students: Clayton Byrd Goes Underground (ages 9-12)

As an educator committed to culturally relevant teaching, I constantly seek out a diverse range of books. Today, I'd like to share with you how Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, by Rita Williams-Garcia, connected with one of my students, Shondrick, an African-American 4th grader. Earlier this week, I shared my full review of this outstanding new novel and some videos that can help students learn about the blues.

Shondrick is a thoughtful, perceptive reader and a young man I admire. School is not always easy for him, but he works hard and is a dedicated scholar. Shondrick told me that it was "interesting that Clayton Byrd never did anything bad in his life before" he ran away from home.
He could tell that Clayton was very upset after his grandfather died. On the subway, Clayton was so worried about getting his grandfather's hat back from the older boy that he would do anything. "It was all he had left of his grandfather," Shondrick explained.

I noticed how clearly Shondrick expressed the powerful emotions that Clayton was experiencing. He could see the inner conflict Clayton felt -- should he go along with pack of boys, even though he knew they were up to no good? What was the right thing to do? Williams-Garcia skillfully develops the characters so that readers develop a sense of their nuanced emotions.

Shondrick especially liked the way Rita Williams-Garcia incorporates both blues and hip-hop music. He told me,
"Even though most rap songs have cuss words, some have life stories in them and they tell you what to do and not to do."
Rita Williams-Garcia discusses these ideas further in her author's note, and I think she would agree that both blues and hip-hop capture people's life stories, lessons and struggles. Shondrick has listened to some blues and knows about blues singers who sing about life's struggles, but he prefers rap music.

The audiobook, read by Adam Lazarre-White, effectively captured the deeper black man's voice, in Shondrick's view. "The voices added drama and emotion to the dialogue," he told me. Listen to this sample of the audiobook to hear how Lazarre-White embodies Cool Papa Byrd, with a raspy, smooth voice.

Culturally relevant teaching describes an approach to education that "that empowers students to maintain cultural integrity, while succeeding academically"(Ladson-Billings, 1995). It is grounded in understanding students' cultures and incorporating this into our teaching. As Gloria Ladson-Billings explains, we must
"develop in all students cultural competence. What I mean by that is you help kids understand assets that are part of their own culture, while simultaneously helping them become fluent in at least one more culture. So it would mean youngsters of color have to learn the mainstream culture, but at the same moment youngsters in the mainstream need to learn some other cultures. Youngsters of color also need to value the culture they have."
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground helps me do exactly this. It gives value and respect to the blues and to hip-hop, building black students' knowledge of the assets that black culture brings to our society. At the same time, it helps students of different cultural backgrounds have a greater understanding of black culture. Best of all, it does this in a compelling, dynamic, heart-felt story.

As a librarian, I love sharing books--but really, what I love most, is discovering what books connect to different readers and how different readers seek out stories that mean something to them. Each person is different; my goal as a school librarian is to help each child discover they way reading can help them find themselves and see other people.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, HarperCollins, and I have already purchased several more copies. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The music behind Clayton Byrd: developing students' background knowledge

I'm continuing my celebration of Clayton Byrd Goes Underground today, sharing videos of the music infusing this story. Yesterday I shared my full review of this outstanding new novel. Later this week I'll share students' reactions, and then I'll finish with a musical playlist that ran through Rita Williams-Garcia's mind while she wrote Clayton Byrd's story.
Whenever you start a new book, you begin by building images and a framework for the story. The author brings much of that, but as a reader you add in your own experience and knowledge. This background knowledge helps readers develop a fuller picture of the story.

Today, I started reading Clayton Byrd Goes Underground with our 4th grade classes and I began by showing the book trailer. I specifically wanted students to get a feel for the music, the characters, the tone of the book. I asked students to focus on Cool Papa and his electric blues guitar, and on Clayton with his harmonica. This was a fabulous way to plant the seeds for them, activating knowledge they brought and giving others a sense of the story before we began.

As we continue reading this story together, I will want to share a few more videos to give students a sense of the blues music that means so much to Cool Papa Byrd and Clayton. "What Is the Blues" from Music Maker Relief Foundation captures the heritage, the feelings, the history behind the Blues--and what it means to folks still today.

"The Blues is essential, man, to life." "Look where you coming from. And look ahead."

I'd also like students to develop a little more feeling for the harmonica, or blues harp as Clayton calls it. I'd like to share this video of Sam Frazier, Jr., a harmonica player and country singer from Edgewater, Alabama, a small mining camp outside of Birmingham.

As we get into the second half of the book, I want to celebrate beatboxing. In her author's note, Rita Williams-Garcia specifically mentions seeing a video of Doug E. Fresh playing the harmonica as he beatboxed. This is a great clip of him that will help students hear how Clayton used his blues harp with the boys on the train.

This is Doug E. Fresh beatboxing on harmonica at the Old School Hip Hop at Wolf Creek Amphitheater in Atlanta, GA. Rita Williams-Garcia writes in her author's note:
"Years ago I saw a video of rapper Doug E. Fresh alternately beatboxing and playing the harmonica in his live show. I was used to hearing the harmonica played in blues and in country-and-western music, but this mash-up clicked instantly for me! Of course, the blues and hip-hop!" 
I want to help students hear the blues cries when they read the book, and so it's important to share some of the music with them as we read. We can't assume that all students will bring this background knowledge to the book. Likewise, I want to celebrate hip-hop, a musical style that continues to speak so directly to younger generations.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, HarperCollins, and I have already purchased several more copies. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Funny Girl: Terrific collection of stories to make you laugh (ages 9-13)

Laughter and happiness is so important to share and foster with our children. Children love reading funny books and they thrive when adults can share their joy. And yet how often do we promote truly funny books, much less read them aloud with our kids? A terrific new collection fills this need: Funny Girl, a selection of 28 short stories, personal memoirs and comics that will tickle your funny bone.
Funny Girl
edited by Betsy Bird
Viking / Penguin, 2017
Amazon / your local library
ages 9-13
Betsy Bird, an outstanding children's librarian and blogger, has collected women writers and comedians to share their humor and advice to young readers. As television comedy writers Delaney and Mackenzie Yeager explain in their opening entry, "Joke-telling is the greatest superpower a gall can posses." Being a comedian takes confidence--a combination of audacity and courage to put yourself out there.

Short personal essays are among my favorites. In "One Hot Mess," Carmen Agra Deedy shares about the time her mother set a bathtub on fire to get rid of the germs, unwittingly melting the fiberglass tub in their new apartment. One of my students loved Ursula Vernon's story "Grandma in Oil Country." She loved the outrageous, over-the-top situations and the silly illustrations. Just look at the note that Maya wrote:
"SUPER FUNNY!" writes Maya about
Ursula Vernon's "Grandma in Oil Country"
The short format is great for these funny stories because they get to the humor quickly. There are plenty of relatable situations, helping readers laugh at the crazy things in their own lives. I appreciate the diverse range of authors. In "Brown Girl Pop Quiz," Mitali Perkins draws on her experiences  and shows how "all of the above" so often applies to our multiple identities.

The collection ends with short biographical entries for each author. With this great range of stories, you're bound to find new authors you'd like to explore. I was so excited talking with Maya about this story that I grabbed some other books by Ursula Vernon. I think she'll have fun with the Hamster Princess series:
Funny Girl editor Betsy Bird blogs at Fuse 8 and is a good friend and colleague. I have purchased this review copy for our home collection, as gifts and for our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Dory Fantasmagory -- terrific series for family listening (ages 4-9)

Are you looking for a chapter book to share with your family that works across a range of ages? Hook them with the humor of Dory Fantasmagory. This audiobook will have the whole family laughing along with charming six-year-old Dory and her siblings.
Dory Fantasmagory
by Abby Hanlon
narrated by Suzy Jackson
Dial Books / Penguin, 2014
Recorded Books, 2015
preview on Google Books
Amazon / your local library
ages 4-9
Dory (called Rascal by her family) wants to play with her big brother and sister, but they just complain that she's a pest. Her brother and sister tell her that a witch, Mrs. Gobble Gracker, is going to kidnap her if she isn't careful. While they want to scare her, they just end up encouraging her. She is full of playful imagination, whether it's talking with her imaginary friend or pretending to be a puppy dog.

Abby Hanlon knows just how to balance outrageous humor with empathetic characters. She taught first grade for many years and Dory's voice rings true. Whether it's when Dory declares that time-out is too much fun, or it's how she wants to stay in her nightgown all day instead of getting dressed for school--you'll find something to laugh at.
"It's Luke. 'Mom said you can come out of time-out now.'
'No thanks,' I say, and shut the door. Time-out is turning out to be way too much fun."
Narrator Suzy Jackson captures Dory's 6-year-old voice, with a full range of enthusiasm and emotions. Families will recognize themselves in Dory's attention-getting strategies, her mom's exasperation or her siblings' bickering. As the AudioFile review puts it,
"Jackson mirrors Dory's boundless energy as she pesters her older siblings with endless questions, irritates her mother to the extreme by pretending to be a dog at the pediatrician's office, and rattles off a list of terrible things Mrs. Gobble Gracker might do when she whisks Dory away."
Dory was a favorite read-aloud with our first grade classes this year--students came to the library asking for more Dory books! Listen to the full series, for a real treat:
1. Dory Fantasmagory
2. Dory and the Real True Friend
3. Dory Dory Black Sheep
I'm happy to join friends Alyson at Kid Lit Frenzy and Michele at Mrs. Knott's Bookshelf in celebrating the #Road2Reading. As they write,
"All journeys have a starting place. This is a weekly place to find books and tools that you may use with readers at the start of their reading journey."
I'd like to give special thanks to the community at Emerson for going with me on this #Road2Reading, especially showing me the power of audiobooks. I listened to the audiobook on Tales2Go. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Audiobooks on the #Road2Reading: Sharing student stories

I’ve seen first-hand how audiobooks bolster students’ confidence and reading skills. They enjoy reading, and this makes them want to read more. This volume and positive attitude is essential to their success. I don’t differentiate reading and listening to a book. They’re the same thing. One supports the other.
When he was in 3rd grade, Shondrick struggled with reading fluently and became easily frustrated. His teacher suggested that he used some of his reading time to listen to audiobooks. After listening to Horrible Harry, he proudly told me, “I just read it faster on my own!” Rereading the book he just listened to built his confidence, helping him integrate vocabulary and fluency skills.

Audiobooks can build on young readers’ feeling of success, especially if they listen on a consistent basis. Here are a few recent comments from 3rd graders:
  • “They (narrators) read the book really fluently so it’s easy to understand what they are saying. They are really expressing the story, they don’t just talk.”
  • “Sometimes you forget real quick about a story. When you read you have so much in your head, when you listen it’s easier.”
  • “Even if you aren’t reading the book at the same time, you’ll want to go grab the book later because you have a taste of it.”
  • “The sound effects help you envision what’s going on – you get a picture in your head of the story.”
These students listen during reading time in the classroom and at home using Tales2Go, a streaming audiobook service that Berkeley Unified School District provides. They listen on Chromebooks in the classroom, save a bookmark for listening later, and then listen on personal devices at home (phones, tablets, or computers).

My 3rd graders love to read series like I Survived and Goosebumps. This is because series build their reading confidence, immersing them in a predictable world with engaging stories and familiar characters. Here's a selection of my 3rd graders' favorite audiobooks:
I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, by Lauren Tarshis
Horrible Harry and the Missing Diamond, by Suzy Kline
Revenge of the Living Dummy (Goosebumps), by R.L. Stine
Toys Go Out, by Emily Jenkins
EllRay Jakes Is Not a Chicken, by Sally Warner
Some of my students actively choose to listen and read to a story (paired listening/reading), while others prefer just listening. I find that this is partially a personal preference and partially dependent on choice of book.

Children’s listening comprehension is typically two years above their reading comprehension, meaning that we can understand more complex stories than we can read. If a child wants to read a complex book and their eyes can’t keep up, trying to read and listen will just frustrate them. Just listening will allow them to focus on building a story in their mind, understanding the vocabulary, plot and character development.

I'm happy to join friends Alyson at Kid Lit Frenzy and Michele at Mrs. Knott's Bookshelf in celebrating the #Road2Reading. As they write,
"All journeys have a starting place. This is a weekly place to find books and tools that you may use with readers at the start of their reading journey."
The formal research about the impact of audiobooks on children’s reading development is important (see this post for more details), but my personal experience lets me understand this more deeply. This post comes from a webinar I gave yesterday; come listen to the whole webinar if you'd like to learn more:
Preventing the Summer Slide with Audiobooks
via, sponsored by Tales2Go
I'd like to give special thanks to the community at Emerson for going with me on this #Road2Reading, especially showing me the power of audiobooks. I'd like to thank Tales2Go for helping us reach so many students and for inviting me to participate in this webinar.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Friday, April 21, 2017

Celebrating Arab American Heritage: three favorite bilingual picture books (ages 5-9)

"Ms. Scheuer, do you have a book written in Arabic?" -- Ghalla, 4th grade
In our school district, Arabic is the third most common language spoken at home. I strive to share books with students that reflect their culture and heritage. April is National Arab American Heritage Month and we celebrate this in our library by sharing books that reflect many experiences from the Arab world. These three bilingual picture books are especially beautiful and moving.

In Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad, by James Rumford, Ali lives in modern Baghdad, loves playing soccer and dancing to loud music. Most of all, he loves the way it feels to practice calligraphy: "writing the letters of my language ... gliding and sweeping, leaping, dancing to the silent music in my head." This moving story tells of how Ali is inspired by the master calligrapher Yakut, who found solace practicing his art during times of war.

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family's Journey, by Margriet Ruurs and Nizar Ali Badr, will amaze young readers with its artwork, constructed entirely by arranging stones but its story is what will stay in their hearts. Ruurs and Badr work seamlessly together to tell the story of a young girl whose family must flee Syria. When the bombs started falling too close to her home, Rama and her family join "the river of strangers in search of a place,/ to be free, to live and laugh, to love again." As the Kirkus Review says,
"Each illustration is masterful, with Badr's placement of stones as careful as brush strokes, creating figures positioned to tell the whole story without the benefit of facial expressions: dancing, cradling, working; burdened, in danger, at peace."
Time to Pray, by Maha Addasi, captures the experience of a young girl traveling from her suburban American home to visit her grandmother. On her first night, Yasmin is awakened by the muezzin at the nearby mosque calling the faithful to prayer. She is too tired to get up, but she watcher her grandmother prepare for prayer. This gentle story shows the bond that grows between Yasmin and her grandmother, and the special place that prayer and rituals have bringing them together.

All review copies came from our school library collection. I want to send special thanks to our PTA and my colleague Zoe Williams for help selecting and developing our collection of books that honor the experience of Arab Americans. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

STEM Trailblazer Bios & International Women's Day: Computer Engineer Ruchi Sanghvi (ages 8-11)

This week across Berkeley, we're celebrating both International Women's Day and College & Career Awareness Week. I'm excited to share the STEM Trailblazer Bios series, an excellent collection of biographies featuring accomplished, young figures in a wide variety of science careers. My students were fascinated today as they listened to the biography of Ruchi Sanghvi, the first female engineer at Facebook.
Computer Engineer: Ruchi Sanghvi
STEM Trailblazer Bios series
by Laura Hamilton Waxman
Lerner, 2015
preview on Google Books
Amazon / Your local library
ages 8-11
Ruchi Sanghvi is an accomplished computer engineer who was one of the early engineers at Facebook, joining it when it was still a small Silicon Valley startup company. This engaging, short biography describes how she decided to move from India to the United States to study computer engineering, taking risks and never letting fear stop her.

We began by watching this short video, giving students a sense of how young and relatable Ruchi is. I especially like how she talks about moving from India to the United States to pursue her education and career.

My students talked about all that Ruchi accomplished: going to college, getting a job at Facebook, and then designing features that helped Facebook reach so many people. They also talked about how brave and determined she must be. In college, she was one of only five women in the engineering department. She left home and traveled far away. She took risks, leaving a steady job to join a start-up company.

This short biography was clearly written for 3rd through 5th graders. Chapter and section headings help young readers keep focused on the main ideas, while a variety of pictures keep their attention and interest. I especially liked the many quotes from Ruchi that help us hear her own thinking and perspective.

Check out these other STEM Trailblazer books, available in both paperback and hardcover:
The review copy came from our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Friday, January 20, 2017

Excitement builds across Berkeley -- final Mock Newbery meetings

It has been so exciting to see the excitement building across Berkeley. We are having our final Mock Newbery meetings at each of our 11 schools. Every school has a group of excited, enthusiastic kids, with 30 - 65 students coming during lunchtime to talk about the best books of the year. They are having engaging, thoughtful discussions as they consider what makes an outstanding book.
Teachers and principals are noticing the book buzz. Here's what one veteran teacher wrote:
"Thanks, everyone! I am a true fan and promoter of Mock Newbery Club. The initial data is just coming in, but this model has improved student reading skills and scores." -- Becky Lum, 5th grade teacher
It's hard to convey the passion that students and teachers have been sharing. The look on their faces, the way they eagerly raise their hands to contribute, the variety of kids coming to meetings, their thoughtful comments about books' characters, themes and language. Here's a little video montage of one of our meetings, just to give you a sense:
The 2017 Newbery Committee, 15 librarians from across the country, starts its meetings today in Atlanta. They'll deliberate and consider these and many many more books -- carefully talking about what makes a distinguished book for children.

Join the excitement, and watch their announcement on Monday morning: The awards will be live streamed from the I Love Libraries Facebook page.
I am so grateful for the support from all of my colleagues in Berkeley. Together, we are making a huge difference in kids' lives. Many many many thanks.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Ghost, by Jason Reynolds (ages 9-14) -- a strong favorite in our Mock Newbery discussions

“When I first picked it up, I thought it was a biography because it was so real.”--Sam, 4th grade
Kids across Berkeley are responding to Jason Reynolds' new book Ghost, talking about how it feels so real to them that they imagine themselves being right there with Ghost. This is definitely one of their favorite books, as we head into our Mock Newbery discussions--one that will stay with readers for a long time.
by Jason Reynolds
Atheneum / Simon & Schuster, 2016
audiobook narrated by Guy Lockard
preview on Google Books
Your local library
ages 9-14
*best new book*
Castle Crenshaw, who calls himself Ghost, is a kid my students can relate to. Some students know what it's like to have so much "scream inside" that they can't control it; others relate to working and struggling to join a team, but then having a bad decision almost cost you everything.

Jason Reynolds brings readers right into the story with his conversational tone. You can imagine being right inside of Ghost, in his head as he's watching a track team practice, eating sunflower seeds, thinking about how he could run faster than any of those kids on the track. Reynolds hooks readers just a few pages into the book when Ghost shares when he discovered he could run so fast -- the night his father shot at him in a drunken rage, as Ghost and his mother ran for their lives.
"I really loved the beginning. It was pretty tough, but it hooked me in. When he got into the track team, it relieved me. He still made some terrible choices, but he gets through them."--Rosa Parks 5th grader
Some students noted how Ghost is a complicated character--and they were very engaged by his struggles to figure out how to fix the problems he created. Many noted how much they liked seeing Ghost change and grow during the story. They definitely responded to the pacing, talking about how they couldn't put this book down--staying up all night to finish it. And the ending, oh my.
"The ending was hard. It was so good that I hurt because it was over."--Sakura, 5th grade
I have been particularly impressed by how 4th and 5th graders responded to the difficult topics of domestic violence and poverty. Reynolds helps kids think about these issues, and he creates space for acknowledging what it takes to keep going through these difficulties. He crafts a story that is full of hope and warmth, humor and relationships, even though it is also a story of struggles and bad decisions.

I absolutely agree with my friend, school librarian Eric Carpenter, who wrote on the blog Heavy Medal:
"Its spare prose creates the most authentic voice I’ve ever encountered in a contemporary piece of middle grade fiction. I can’t remember the last time a realistic, modern character sounded and acted so much like the students at my school...

Let’s think about Castle. What he wants more than anything else is an identity that is anything but a victim. He seems himself as a basketball player but won’t try playing. He is obsessed with world records because to him the record holders gain new identities by accomplishing crazy feats."
Ghost will certainly stay with my readers. I've noticed how this book appeals to a really wide range of kids, regardless of background or interests. Sporty kids love it; introspective thinkers love it. Here's how one reader summed it up:
"I liked how he eventually figured it out and solved (his problems), and helped himself even if he's the one who hurt himself. I liked how he kept working from nothing."--Rosa Parks 5th grader
Will this win the Newbery? It's definitely one of the best books I've read this year. But some may find the language too colloquial, and want to have more figurative language. It depends on how you balance the different elements, which you place more importance on. All I know is that I'll be sharing this with students for years to come. And it will be a book that stays with them in their hearts. That's what matters in the end.

I want to send special thanks to the whole team in Berkeley who's been supporting our Mock Newbery project, especially our library director Becca Todd. The review copy came from my public library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Storyteller, by Evan Turk -- the power of stories, providing a glimmer of hope (ages 6-10)

"There is a unique kind of magic that comes from hearing a story told. With only the power of a voice, an entire world can be created." -- Evan Turk, author's note to The Storyteller
In his enthralling new picture book The Storyteller, Evan Turk celebrates the way stories bring hope and inspiration to people young and old. Read aloud this wonderful picture book with children ready for a longer, more complex story. Our 3rd graders loved it and we had a fascinating conversation about the author's motifs, artwork and messages.
The Storyteller
by Evan Turk
Atheneum / Simon & Schuster, 2016
Your local library
ages 7-10
*best new book*
A thirsty young Moroccan boy searches through a busy, chaotic city for a drink, but no one has any water to share. As he walks home, an old storyteller calls out to him, assuring him that his thirst will be quenched if he listens to a story.
“At that same moment, in the hot, dry south of the kingdom, a thirsty young boy made his way through the clamor and smoke of the Great Square to look for a drink, but no one had any water to give.”
The storyteller spins a tale of the terrible drought and how one family always had enough water to share. The young boy is enthralled, and by the time the old man has finished speaking, the boy's cup is miraculously filled with cool water. Day after day, the boy returns to hear more stories--and Turk masterfully layers each story within a story, linking themes, motifs and stories together.

The boy returns each day to hear another installment of the storyteller's tale. At first, my students were a little confused how the storyteller told a story about an old woman telling a story about another woman stealing a bird--but as we talked about it, they started nodding and whispering to each other about things they noticed. Look below and notice the old storyteller on the left telling the young boy the story -- it almost spins out of his hands. And notice how the border encircles the the old woman on the right carrying the bundle of cloth--for she is the center of the new story.
“The next morning, the boy awoke at dawn and ran to meet the storyteller at the fountain again. ‘Would you like to hear the story of the Glorious Blue Water Bird?’ he asked.”
Turk was inspired by many things as he created this story: the storytellers of Morocco, or hlaykia, who tell stories in the public squares; the traditional carpet weavers in Morocco, who pass on stories through their artwork; local artists in Ait-Ben-Haddou, an ancient fortified village in southern Morocco. Turk shows in this video the way he created the vibrant jewel-toned blues and warm golden-sand browns in his artwork, using a technique he learned from these Moroccan artists. In turn, he was inspired by the Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, who used many jewel-toned colors and geometric patterns in his portraits.

This is a book that will benefit from many repeated readings, just like traditional stories benefit from being passed on from storyteller to storyteller. Readers will notice new details each time they share the story, whether it's the way the bird symbolizes hope (echoing the story of the phoenix), or the way the blue of the water slowly fills the patterns as the stories take hold. Other readers notice that the boy starts out quite alone with the storyteller, but that he's surrounded by community by the end of the story -- because stories bring people together.
"'...And that,' said the storyteller, 'is the story of how, not long ago, a young boy saved Morocco from the desert.'"
I just wish you could have watched my students whisper to each other as they realized that the young boy turned into the storyteller by the end of the story. There was a quiet buzz that went through the room, as they noticed the different people in the crowded square, and recognized the power of the storyteller to banish the djinn to the desert.

If you are interested in learning more, you'll definitely want to check out these resources:
Illustrations © Evan Turk, 2016, shared with permission from the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Atheneum / Simon & Schuster, and we have purchased additional copies for our library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Full of Beans: Building students' knowledge of a story's setting, helping show the movie in our minds (ages 9-12)

The images that you form in your mind--I describe it as a "movie in my mind"--are key to developing students' understanding of a story. This personal movie also hooks them into the excitement of a story. I put together a short presentation to help my students visualize Jennifer Holm's delightful story Full of Beans, as part of our Mock Newbery Book Club project (see my full review here).
When a story takes place in a different time or place, it's especially important to help kids get a sense of the setting of the book. Historical fiction can bring alive distant time periods, but we also need to remember that kids may not have the same frame of reference that adult readers do. While the Great Depression conjures many images for me, I doubt that it does for many of my 4th and 5th graders.

Sharing this slideshow helped right away! It made kids interested -- we started talking about why the streets might have been full of garbage, and what it would be like if the city didn't have enough money to pay garbage collectors. We talked about rum runners and what they were, why they had to smuggle rum into Florida.

It also helped students visualize the story right from the beginning. That afternoon, Kalia came to me to tell me how she understood why the streets in Key West were full of garbage. Right on page 8 (see this passage in Google Books), it describes the houses as "weathered gray wooden houses, set close together." Holm describes them as "decrepit"--a word that might be challenging for Kalia.
Because we looked at these pictures before reading, Kalia was able to get a sense of the story right from the beginning. Isn't that terrific?! Now, difficult vocabulary isn't a stumbling block, but instead she's building her own vocabulary.

Here are two short articles all about building movies in our minds as we read:

How do you help your kids make these movies in their mind? What do you find helps? I'm excited to get my students working together to make slideshows like this -- helping share the movies in our minds about the books we love.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Reading IS Thinking: Developing our readers' skills with Judd Winick's HILO (ages 7-10)

I have been having so much fun reading aloud Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth with 3rd and 4th grade students. The kids are loving the laugh-out-loud moments, and I'm loving how much active thinking they're doing. Comic books are terrific fun, but they also engage readers as they build a sense of the story, the characters and the author's voice--just like readers do with any type of fiction.

A parent recently asked me what questions I ask while we're reading aloud, so I thought that I'd share a little here. I start before we even open the book and ask: What do you notice on the cover? I wonder what this story's going to be about? Do they notice Hilo's hands and think he might have superpowers? Do you think all three kids fell to Earth? This sort of wondering is important to start kids thinking, to start making predictions, to hook them into the story.
Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth
by Judd Winick
Random House, 2015
Google Books preview
Your local library
ages 7-10
DJ's story starts right in the middle of a chase scene, the first day he meets Hilo. My students love Hilo's energy and his optimism--and they totally love Winick's jokes about how Hilo doesn't know anything about life on Earth, because he's just fallen from another world.

After we read the first two chapters, I pause to ask my students: What do you already know about the characters? What are you noticing? This helps them pull together some of their ideas and set some groundwork for predictions. Here's some of what they said:
  • Hilo is funny! He shouts, "Ahhhh!" whenever he meets someone and loves burping!
  • Hilo has superpowers in his hands -- he absorbed DJ's vocabulary.
  • DJ misses his friend Gina--he said that the only thing he was good at was being her friend. I think that Hilo is going to be DJ's new best friend.
  • DJ seems like a good friend, because he offers to help Hilo right away -- reaching his hand down to help him out of the hole.
"Do you need a hand?"
At a few points, we stop to talk about specific language that Winick uses. For example, Hilo says that his memory is like a "busted book" with pages ripped out. This helps readers understand why Hilo is so naive, why he doesn't remember his name or where he came from.
"My memory is a busted book."

It's important to acknowledge when kids are inferring, or reading between the lines to build meaning. When Hilo has a dream, the story quickly switches to the lab with Dr. Horizon. We pause, and I tell my students: Wait, I'm confused. Who is this new character? Why is he wearing a white coat? Why does the border look different here? What's happening?

As we build the story in our minds, it's important to retell parts of the story. Today, we looked at the first page of the chapter and then actually turned back a page to look and think. I asked: What just happened here? How is DJ feeling? Why? Empathizing with a character helps readers keep tuned into the emotional elements of a story. Sometimes we do that with our voices when we read the dialog. Sometimes we sigh when a character looks like they're sighing. Sometimes we shout, "Whoa!" when a character is surprised.

As we get into the story even more, we develop a more complex understanding of the character. We ask ourselves: Why is Hilo doing this? What is he feeling? I wonder if DJ and Hilo are changing at all? We pay attention to what the characters are trying to achieve, and what gets in their way.

When we read aloud with developing readers, we need to give specific signals that it's time to pause and think. Building meaning is even more important than figuring out what the words say.

Parents often share their worries that their children are only reading graphic novels. I want to encourage parents to read the comics their children are reading, and dig into some of the deeper, layered meanings in graphic novels. Merle Jaffe said it so well in her article, "Using Graphic Novels in Education: Hilo by Judd Winick",
What is so compelling about Hilo, aside from the bold art and humor, is that with each page and installment we learn more about DJ, Gina, and HiLo through the combination of text, art and page/panel design. We also grapple with deeper issues of facing responsibilities, facing painful truths, and determining right from wrong as HiLo wrestles with his nemesis Razorwork and the role they each play in protecting humans versus protecting their fellow robots from “evil.”
The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher, Random House, and we have bought multiple copies for our school library and classrooms. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, August 8, 2016

Mock Newbery Book Club: Fall 2016 favorite books (ages 9-12)

Throughout the summer, I look for the best new books to bring back to our Mock Newbery Book Club. Are you interested in starting your own club? It's easy! Read all about our process at the ALSC Blog: Hosting a Mock Newbery Book Club. Here are some titles I will share with our 4th and 5th grade students, as the best new books for 2016.
Fall 2016 Mock Newbery Books
In order to honor students’ voices, we encourage them to nominate books similar to the way Newbery Committee does. Two kids have to agree to nominate a title that meets the Newbery eligibility requirements. The only criteria is that it has to have been published in 2016 by an American author, and it has to stand out as an excellent book. They'll look at these summer & fall releases, the books they've been reading from the spring (see Spring 2016 favorites) and any others they find.

We then manage and massage the final list to ensure a wide range of diversity. We (the organizing librarians) limit the final list to 10 titles so that it isn’t overwhelming and so that we can focus our discussions within the time allotted.

The fun is seeing which books catch fire, ignite students' passion and spread from one kid to the next!

I'd like to give a special thanks to my reading buddies in Berkeley--Armin Arethna, Becca Todd, Jessica Lee, Joal Arvanigian, Zoe Williams, Olivia Sanders, Mia Caporal, Suzy Mead, Simone Miller and many others. I also am so appreciative of friends in our Voxer Mock Newbery group--this group of librarians and teachers help keep me in touch with other classes across the country.

Many thanks to the publishers for sharing review copies: Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Random House, Scholastic, Algonquin, Boyds Mills, Disney Hyperion, and Little Brown. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Mock Newbery Book Club: Spring 2016 favorite books (ages 9-12)

What books have been in your summer reading piles? As we prepared for summer last June, our Mock Newbery Book Club met to talk about books we've loved this spring and start our summer wish lists. Today, I'd like to share the books our kids talked about most as they headed into summer. Head over to the NerdyBookClub to read more about hosting your own Mock Newbery Book Club.
Emerson students building personal "To Read" lists with friends
The Mock Newbery Book Club at our school has been a highlight each of the last three years. Together with Armin Arethna, my buddy from Berkeley Public Library, we created a space, an environment, a community for students to grow as readers and share their excitement about different books. Our essential goals as we drew students together for this book club have been threefold:
  • Honor students’ voices and their choices about reading
  • Develop students’ opinions and thoughtful engagement with books
  • Harness kids’ enthusiasm so they help create “book buzz” about new books
Throughout the spring, we met informally to talk about new books we were reading. Here is the selection of books we heard kids recommending most often to friends. We are trying to build consensus around which books kids will want to talk about, as we head toward our fall nominating meeting.
Mock Newbery Spring 2016 favorite books
4th/5th graders' Mock Newbery Book Club Spring 2016 favorite books:
We welcome all 4th and 5th grade students--kids love being part of a club. We work hard to introduce a variety of books to students, so that there is diversity in genre, race, ethnicity, style and reading levels. The Newbery Committee itself is reading many many more than these ten titles, but we try to focus on ten books that reflect a range of interests and reading levels for our students.

We are never all reading the same book--instead, we focus on asking students what they're reading and what they think about it. We talk about the Newbery criteria, but really that just helps them think more carefully about a book, going beyond, "I loved it!" to talking about the writing, the story, and the characters.

I'd like to give a special thanks to my friends in our Voxer Mock Newbery group--this group of librarians and teachers help keep me in touch with other classes across the country. Many thanks to the publishers for sharing review copies: Simon & Schuster, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, HarperCollins, Candlewick, Macmillan, Random House, Scholastic and Abrams. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, by Laura Shovan -- story full of distinct voices (ages 9-12)

Many of my students are drawn to realistic fiction because it gives them a chance to immerse themselves in someone else's story. In fact, a recent study has shown that reading literary fiction helps improve readers' ability to understand what others are thinking and feeling (see this article in Scientific American).

Laura Shovan's novel in verse, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, is full of distinct voices that prompt us to think about different students' unique perspectives. It's one my students are enthusiastically recommending to one another.
The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary
by Laura Shovan
Wendy Lamb / Random House, 2016
Google Books preview
Your local library
ages 9-12
*best new book*
Eighteen fifth graders keep poetry notebooks chronicling their year, letting readers peak into their thoughts, hopes and worries as the year progresses. Fifth grade is a momentous year for many students, as the finish elementary school and look ahead to all the changes that middle school brings. This year is particularly full of impending change for Ms. Hill's class because their school will be demolished at the end of the year to make way for a new supermarket.

Through these short poems, Shovan captures the distinct, unique voices of each student. The class is diverse in many ways--racially, ethnically, economically, and more. At first, I wondered if I would really get to know the different students since each page focused on a different child; however, as the story developed, I really did get a sense of each individual as well as the class as a whole. Shovan creates eighteen distinctive individuals--with personalities and backgrounds that we can relate to and envision. And these experiences shape how each individual reacts to the year.

I particularly love novels in verse because they allow readers a chance to see inside character's thoughts without bogging the narrative down in too much description. As researcher David Kidd said (in this Scientific American article), literary fiction prompts readers to think about characters: "we’re forced to fill in the gaps to understand their intentions and motivations.” This is exactly what ends up being the strength of Laura Shovan's novel.

The funniest thing, for me personally, has been the shocked look of many of my students when I show them this cover. You see, our school is called Emerson Elementary School. "This is a real book?!?!" they say, incredulously. I know my students will particularly like the way these students protest the plans to demolish their school, bringing their protest to the school board.

As you can see in this preview on Google Books, this collection of poems slowly builds so readers get a sense of each student in Ms. Hill's fifth grade. The poetry feels authentic, never outshining what a fifth grader might write but always revealing what a fifth grader might really be thinking.

I highly recommend the audiobook for The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. The diverse cast of Recorded Books brings alive each character. This would make a great summer listen, or a great read-aloud for the beginning of the school year.

The review copy for the audiobook was purchased from Audible and for the print copy it was borrowed from my local library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, May 9, 2016

Interview with Lisa Brown: Sharing the power of picture books (with people all ages!)

Local artist and author Lisa Brown has a deep and abiding love for picture books. Her newest book The Airport Book comes out tomorrow and is one of the best books of 2015! Brown not only writes and illustrates books, she also teaches illustration at the California College of the Arts. Last year, we had the BEST author visit at our school with Lisa (read all about it here).
Lisa Brown at Emerson
I spent a lovely afternoon talking with Brown about the power of picture books and sharing stories with children. This interview was originally published at Parents Press in March 2016. My words are in italics, Lisa's follow.

I’m fascinated by the experience that reading a picture books leads to, especially between parent and child. What do you see as exciting and unique to this experience?

When I talk with people about picture books, I always say how there are two texts going on: the visuals and the words. A child on your lap is looking and reading the pictures while you are reading the text. There’s an interaction and an interactivity that happens because you can point things out to the child and the child can point things out as well.

Oh, that's so true! And it's one of the reasons why children have loved reading The Airport Book with me, lingering over each page. With young kids, I start by pointing things out -- but then they jump right in. Older kids start talking and pointing things out right away!
The Airport Book, by Lisa Brown
How do you encourage parents to bring picture books alive for young children when they read them aloud?

It’s funny--there are books I read today that I only hear my father’s voice or my grandmother’s voice reading aloud. I hear my father reading “The Monster at the End of This Book” by Jon Stone. He would read it literally--when Grover was covering the pages with bricks, my father would struggle lifting and turning the page and I loved the drama he brought to it.

Illustrators and authors create a moment to pause and linger with a page turn, a moment to anticipate what comes next. My father was reinforcing the art and the pictures as he read this story, and the whole story became real.

As you turn the page, do you just start reading with a child?

Yes, but… you stop often and ask questions. What do you see? What do you think the characters are doing? Why do they want to do that? Have a dialog with the pictures and with the child. In a good picture book, the text is not going to tell you everything. The pictures ideally carry half of the weight of the story. An adult should let the child read the pictures and talk about the story.

Do you think about the age of your audience as you create books?

Not really. Picture books are meant to be read with an adult and they work on many levels. I can create a story about Egyptology (which is sophisticated) and mummies (which are dead things!) and make it for children because they will have an adult reading it with them.

Yes, my students love Mummy Cat! And it also appeals to older children who want to figure out the puzzle on their own. So many older children I know still enjoy picture books. I hope parents encourage that with children and don’t push them to leave picture books aside as their reading develops.

I tell my art students that a picture book is a piece of mass produced fine art : in most cases it is the only exposure a child will have to fine art. But it’s exposure that’s frequent and intimate, as opposed to a museum.

Frequent and intimate, yes. It reminds me of the phrase, “Again, again!”

Repetition is important. I think it brings comfort. I think it brings mastery, noticing more details each time children interact.

Which book did your son ask for again and again?

He loved Richard Scarry’s Best Storybook Ever so much when he was little that we had to hide it because it became so boring for us to read as parents. So we saved it to dole out in airports when we really needed him to be quiet and engrossed.

That’s so funny--The Airport Book reminds me so much of the wonderful detail in Richard Scarry’s books. It’s like this is coming full circle! 

Thank you so much, Lisa, for a lovely afternoon. I can't wait to share The Airport Book with everyone! Many thanks to the publisher, Roaring Brook / Macmillan for sharing the review copy and supporting our work here. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Honoring & celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the library (ages 6-10)

We celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the 3rd Monday of January by honoring the life and legacy of the man who brought hope and healing to America. Here are some resources you may find helpful in talking about this great man’s life and contributions with young children.

I Have a Dream, by Martin Luther King, Jr. and illustrated by Kadir Nelson. This book is a powerful way to share Dr. King's famous speech at the March on Washington. Kadir Nelson's paintings are not only a moving tribute, they provide a way for children to reflect on the meaning of King's words. A CD is included with a recording of Dr. King's speech.

Martin’s Big Words, by Dorreen Rappaport, illustrated by Brian Collier. This picture book biography is an excellent way to introduce children to Dr. King's life and work. I love the way Rappaport weaves quotes from Dr. King throughout the story, giving readers a real sense of the power of his words.

Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song, by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney. When Dr. King gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington, he asked gospel singer Mahalia Jackson to sing for the crowd, to lift their spirits, to inspire them with her voice. This picture book tells the story of both Martin and Mahalia, as they each found their passions and their voices. Part picture book biography, part story of a historic moment--this is an evocative picture book.

We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song, by Debbie Levy, illusrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. The song "We Shall Overcome" became an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, but it has gone on to represent the fight for equality and freedom around the world. This picture book tells the history of the song, from its beginnings in America's harsh times of slavery through gospel songs of the early 20th century, to the protest movements of the 1960s.

Websites and online resources:
  • The King Center is both a traditional memorial and an active nonprofit committed to the causes for which Dr. King lived and died. Browse the digital archives; have students reflect on quotes.
  • I Have a Dream speech (audio only)
  • Time for Kids: One Dream -- 17 people remember the March on Washington. Time for Kids has an excellent mini-site dedicated to honoring Dr. King's work and legacy. I particularly like the One Dream video, with reflections of people including Representative John Lewis, Clarence Jones (speechwriter for Dr. King), Joan Baez and many others.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Leads the March on Washington This is a good, short video that explains the context of the March on Washington and its political message, but please preview because some of the scenes are intense.
As our communities struggle with the impact of racism near and far, it is important that we take time in our families and in our classrooms to reflect on Dr. King's message. I am inspired by the work of the artists and authors who share that message through their own work. And I am inspired by the thoughts my students have shared this week as they reflect on their hopes and dreams for a more just, more peaceful, more equitable society.

The review copies came from our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, January 7, 2016

2016 Mock Newbery, part 4: Mad Brownie + Pip Bartlett (ages 8-11)

Kids ask for funny books all the time, but the Newbery Committee does not often honor books that kids find as truly funny. I try to honor that in the books we consider for our Mock Newbery discussions. Many have speculated that this is because humor is so subjective, but I would argue that it is more because kids value humor so much more than adults. Many kids would prefer book with lots of humor and perhaps less weighty themes.
The Diary of a Mad Brownie
by Bruce Coville
Random House, 2015
Google Books preview
audiobook (Audible)
Your local library
ages 8-11
A tiny magical creature known as a brownie, Angus Cairns is bound by a family curse to serve the youngest female in the McGonagall line. As the story opens, he must travel from Scotland to America to find Alex Carhart, the great-great-great-niece of his recent mistress. Brownies excel at putting things in order, and this could be a huge help to young Alex--except that she and Angus both have feisty tempers that often get in their way.

My students loved the humor in this story. They talked about the magical creatures with delight, saying they were well developed and came alive.
"It was so so funny." -- Kimani
"Super funny!!" -- Cavaeyah
I had so much fun listening to the audiobook for this story. Euon Morton especially brought Angus to life, with his terrific Scots accent. I would argue that Coville's use of language is outstanding, especially creating Angus' voice. Just look at how Angus describes Alex: She's a "disorderly, messy, negligent, slapdash, untidy, unfastidious, unsanitary creator of disorder," (as quoted in the PW Review).
Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Creatures
by Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic, 2015
Google Books preview
Your local library
ages 8-11
Magical animals also infuse Pip Bartlett's world, and she relishes her special ability to talk with them. She can't wait to spend the summer with her aunt, who's a vet for magical animals. But disaster seems to strike around every corner for Pip, whether it's the unicorns stampeding at a school fair, or Fuzzles catching fire as they hide in people's underwear drawers.
"I like this book because I really like the magical creatures and I want a unicorn now." -- Josselin
Students definitely liked this for the magical creatures, but they also recommended it to friends who like funny books. Pearce and Stiefvater create many laughs from both the situations Pip finds herself in, and from the outlandish behavior of some of the animals. As students talked about the story, they started to notice the growth in Pip's character.
"Pip really learns how to connect to the magical animals, and not just talk to them." -- McKenna
Both of these books are the beginnings of new series for established authors. My students are definitely looking forward to the next installments, both scheduled to be published in October.

The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Random House and Scholastic, but we have also purchased additional copies for our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

2016 Mock Newbery, part 3: Enchanted Air & Fish in a Tree (ages 9-13)

We read to get to know other characters, but at the same time we read to get to know ourselves. Some of my students really want to get inside and feel what the characters in books are going through. Enchanted Air and Fish in a Tree appealed to readers who like heartfelt, emotional stories.
Enchanted Air
Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir
by Margarita Engle
Atheneum / Simon & Schuster, 2015
Google Books preview
Your local library
ages 10-14
In this memoir in verse, poet and novelist Margarita Engle writes about her childhood growing up in Los Angeles and visiting her grandmother in Cuba. My students talked about how they felt that Engle almost had a twin living a whole life in each country, that she had twin homes--feeling at home both in Cuba and in the United States. Her heart was in both places.

Although this is a very touching story, some students felt that it was too slow. The plot didn't hook them, and so I think it was harder for them to connect to the character and her emotions. I wonder if this is a book better appreciated by a slightly older reader, or one that would benefit from more discussion with a group so students can unpack some of the ideas about immigration, identity and home.
Fish in a Tree
by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Nancy Paulsen / Penguin, 2015
Google Books preview
Your local library
ages 9-12
Aly Nickerson has changed schools nearly every year: seven schools in the past seven years. With each new teacher, she acts out and dodges questions to cover up the fact that she cannot read. Letters and words dance on the page. Aly's confusion and anger touched my students, but it was really her journey that made them recommend this to friends with earnest enthusiasm.
"I thought that the characters were strong because I felt what they felt. The author could evoke their feelings." -- Rebecca
student responses (click to enlarge)
Students talked right away about how Lynda Mullaly Hunt helped them understand the range of Aly's complex emotions, feeling empathy but never pity. Aly's friends were all interesting, distinct characters. While adults might wonder why Aly's previous teachers never noticed her dyslexia, my students just loved her relationship with Mr. Daniels.
"I like how the book showed that just because you are different doesn't mean you can't shine." -- Norah
This is a book that will continue to touch students for years to come.

The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Simon & Schuster and Penguin, but we have also purchased additional copies for our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books