Showing posts with label Reading Around the World. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Reading Around the World. Show all posts

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Immigration & refugee stories: hearing children's stories (ages 9-14)

Throughout the United States, we are feeling the rippling effects of family separation policies by immigration officials. How do we explain these painful experiences to children? How do we hear and honor children's stories?

My father's family was torn apart by World War II, and I have always found refugee stories powerful. They let me connect to my own family's history, and help me extend my grandmother's experiences to those of children in my classroom. Here are a few books that I would recommend to children ages 9 to 14. For younger readers, seek out Front Desk and Stormy Shores. Older readers will appreciate the suspense and understand the terrifying situations in The Only Road and Refugee.

Front Desk, by Kelly Yang (Scholastic, 2018): Mia's family has recently immigrated from China, and finding a steady job has been really tough for her parents. When an opportunity to manage a motel comes their way, they leap at it. Mia's excited that she can help out, managing the front desk while her parents clean the rooms. Kelly Yang bases this story on her own experience, immigrating from China to Los Angeles. She weaves humor and compassion into her story, while frankly addressing poverty, bullying and the importance of family.

The Only Road, by Alexandra Diaz (Simon & Schuster, 2016): Twelve-year-old Jaime flees his home in Guatemala after a local drug gang kills his cousin Miguel. Jaime and Angela, Miguel's sister, travel north alone, navigating the treacherous journey by bus, train and foot. This gripping novel not only shows the violence and abuse Jaime and Angela survive, but also how painful family separation is for children.

Alexandra Diaz has been honored with the Pura Belpre Author Honor Award, the Américas Award and was a finalist for the International Latino Book Award. I'm excited that The Crossroads, the sequel to The Only Road, will be published in September.

Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees, by Mary Beth Leatherdale (Annick Press, 2017): This powerful nonfiction book combines brief memoirs, clear information and dynamic collage illustrations, making this an engaging introduction to immigration experiences of children during 20th and 21st centuries. Each chapter focuses on a child fleeing war, oppression and conflict in Nazi Germany, Vietnam, Cuba, Afghanistan, and Africa’s Ivory Coast.

Refugee, by Alan Gratz (Scholastic, 2017): Gratz alternates the stories of three children from different periods of time, each of whom are fleeing their homes in search of refuge. Josef is escaping persecution from Nazis in Germany during World War II. Isabel and her family are fleeing Cuba in 1994, escaping the riots and unrest under Castro's rule. And Mahmoud's family flees Syria in 2015 after their home was bombed. These parallel stories are engrossing and compelling. The structure keeps the suspense high, and helps readers see how each character must cope with extreme stress, separation and loss. Gratz uses historical fiction at its best to help readers understand global issues in a way that inspires hope and empathy.

If you're looking for more stories like these, check out my Goodreads shelf: Immigration. 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.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Banana-Leaf Ball: How Play Can Change the World, by Katie Smith Milway (ages 7-10)

Like our animal cousins, young children practice all sorts of skills through play. This powerful picture book takes readers to a refugee camp in Tanzania, where we see how playing soccer helps kids move through their trauma to connect with one another. This is a story that will lead to important discussions about refugees and also about the power of play in everyone's lives.
The Banana-Leaf Ball: How Play Can Change the World
by Katie Smith Milway
illustrated by Shane W. Evans
Kids Can Press, 2017
Google Books preview
Amazon / Your local library
ages 7-10
Young Deo had to flee from his hillside farm when the war came, losing his family in the chaos of that dark night. He traveled for weeks alone, finally making it to a refugee camp in northwest Tanzania. 
"one dark night his family was forced to flee their hillside farm"
Deo begins to rebuild his life, but he keeps to himself. He makes a soccer ball from dried banana leaves like his father did, but a bully called Remy and his friends steal it. Remy's gang steals food, pencils, toys from other children. 
"But when food becomes scarce or water runs dry, flights break out. Some boys form gangs to get more food by stealing from others, even though on one has much."
When a coach invites Deo to play soccer, he wants to join in--soccer was one of his favorite activities at home. The coach assigns Deo and Remy to the same team. Through their play, they begin to forget about their anger and laugh together.

This is an important, hopeful book to read together with children, whether as a family or in a classroom. A picture book, especially one that is both hard-hitting and hopeful like this, can provide a perfect starting point for talking about social justice issues of refugees. It not only can create a sense of empathy, young readers from many places will relate to the power of play.

Definitely share the author's note and backmatter with children. You'll meet the inspiration for Deo: Benjamin Nzobonakira who survived fleeing civil war in Burundi and lived as a refugee in Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania. Information about the refugee crisis, games that build trust and inclusion, and the Right to Play, a play-based nonprofit organization focused on tolerance and peace.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Kids Can Press. 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, April 23, 2017

Are You An Echo? Discovering the beauty of Japanese poet Misuzu Kaneko (ages 7-12)

Empathy -- it's a vital quality to develop for all of us. How do we reach outside of ourselves to imagine being in someone else's shoes? How do we take someone else's perspective? Misuzu Kaneko's beautiful poetry is a shining example of how poetry can help us stop for a moment and think about the world from a different point of view.
Are You an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko
Poetry by Misuzu Kaneko
Narrative by David Jacobson
Translation and editorial contributions by Sally Ito and Michiko Tsuboi
Illustrations by Toshikado Hajiri
Chin Music Press, 2016
Amazon / Your local library
ages 7-12
This striking collaboration shares the story of how Misuzu Kaneko's poetry came to be discovered long after her death; moreover, it brings her poems to an English-speaking audience for the first time. In 1966, a young Japanese poet discovered a poem that struck him with its empathy and simplicity, yet he could find no other poems by this author -- who was she? Did she write other poems?
 -- by Misuzu Kaneko

At sunrise, glorious sunrise
it’s a big catch!
A big catch of sardines!

On the beach, it’s like a festival
but in the sea, they will hold funerals
for the tens of thousands dead.
Linger for a moment on this poem, and ask young readers to think about this poet's message. Why would the fish hold funerals? How does this shift readers' thinking?

Although Setsuo Yazaki began searching in 1966, it wasn't until 1982 that the curious poet uncovered more of Misuzu's poetry. Her brother still had her diaries, which contained the only copies of her poems that still remained. Finally, Setsuo began to discover more about Misuzu's life.

Born in 1903, Misuzu lived in a small fishing village in western Japan where her mother managed a bookstore. "To Misuzu, everything was alive, and had its own feelings." Her wonder and curiosity encourages young readers to think about the natural world with fresh perspective. By interspersing Misuzu's poems with the story of her life, the authors help young readers focus on the poet's work as well as her life.
"Snow on top
must feel chilly,
the cold moonlight piercing it."
After a short, unhappy marriage, Misuzu took her own life at age 26 in 1930. Jacobson conveys her suicide sensitively and straightforwardly. I especially appreciate how this lets young readers feel empathy for Misuzu without sensationalizing her tragedy.

The second half of this picture book shares fifteen more of Misuzu's poems translated into English, along with their original Japanese versions. Children will enjoy lingering over poems; teachers will want to use them as mentor texts for children as they explore writing their own poetry.

My own grandmother used to encourage me to think about different subjects in school as "mental gymnastics," helping me stretch and work my mind in new ways. I wonder if Misuzu's poetry might help us be more limber, more nimble in our emotional interactions with the world. Isn't that what empathy is at its root?

Many thanks to Betsy Bird for first bringing this unique picture book to my attention. Illustrations © Toshikado Hajiri, narrative © David Jacobson, and translations © Sally Ito & Michiko Tsuboi, shared with permission from the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Chin Music Press. 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, 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

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Expect Resistance: We Welcome All Immigrants (booklist for ages 5-10)

I find myself swimming in a sea of anger, concern and doubt--reading the news about Trump's abuse of executive privilege, banning refugees, Muslims and more from entering the country. I am heartened by the response from around the nation, and feel compelled to add my voice. My teens marched in the Women's Marches, and my daughter's sign sums up my feelings:
"Respect existence or expect resistance." I'm so proud of my daughter for demanding to be heard, focusing on the positive, staking her claim. Respect, reflect, resist. This is not the time to sit idly by.

Our actions as parents, teachers, and friends matter. I believe deep in my heart that books can change lives, that stories bring awareness and empathy, that feeling heard leads to wanting to listen. I am proud to work for a school district that protects all students' rights to attend public school, and has a board policy protecting undocumented students.

Here are some books I recommend sharing, that help readers understanding the experience of children who had to migrate for their safety and well-being. This is a mix of picture books and novels; some are better for younger children (ages 5-8) while others are suited for older children (ages 9-10).
  • Drita, My Homegirl, by Jenny Lombard -- this short novel brings readers into the life of a young girl trying to make new friends after she flees from her war-torn home in Kosovo
  • Enchanted Air, by Margarita Engle -- memoir told in verse, about a growing up with a family torn in two when the US broke relations with Cuba during the Cold War
  • From North to South, by Rene Colato Lainez -- a moving picture book about a young boy's trip to visit his mother, after she is sent back to Mexico because she did not have the proper immigration papers
  • Home of the Brave, by Katherine Applegate -- a spare, moving novel in verse about Kek, a young Somali refugee, as he tries to adjust to his new life in Minnesota
  • The Journey, by Francesca Sanna -- a picture book that captures the current refugee crisis, as it shows a young child's escape from a war-torn home by boat, based on a compilation of immigrant interviews
  • Mama's Nightingale, by Edwidge Danticat -- important, poignant picture book of a young girl's grief and coping when she is separated from her mother who has been taken to an immigration detention center
  • Migrant: The Journey of a Mexican Worker, by Jose Manuel Mateo -- powerful picture book for older readers, telling the story of a boy who immigrates to the United States. One long illustration folds out, reminiscent of ancient Mexican codices.
  • My Two Blankets, by Irene Kobald -- sweet picture book sharing the experience of a young girl immigrating to a new land, struggling to make sense of the language and make friends in a new place
  • The Only Road, by Alexandra Diaz -- a middle grade novel, following two cousins who flee gang-infested Guatemala, crossing Mexico by foot, bus, and train before finally reaching the United States
  • The Red Pencil, by Andrea Davis Pinkney -- a powerful novel in verse about a Sudanese girl who must flee her home when it is attacked during the Sudanese Civil War
Thank you for sharing and standing strong. We must use our voices to say that all are welcome. We will not stand for rules that discriminate immigration policies based on religion or race. We will not separate families. We will protect our students. 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, December 18, 2016

Sharing Christmas traditions: Nutcracker, Santa and more (ages 4-9)

If you celebrate Christmas, are there special books that you read each year? Our family reads The Night Before Christmas every year, snuggling in bed together--and yes, our teens still clamber in our bed to share this tradition. Three new picture books make a delightful way to share Christmas traditions.
The Nutcracker
illustrated by Niroot Puttapipat
adapted by Kate Davies
Candlewick, 2016
Your local library / Amazon
ages 6-9
The original Nutcracker story and the ballet that developed from it are skillfully retold in this picture book, but it's the illustrations that will draw readers back to it again and again. Puttapipat sets black cut-paper silhouette figures against jewel-toned scenes, creating a sense the formal ballet and the intimate, magical story. The longer text makes this more suited for older children.
"They traveled by swan over gold-flecked oceans and silver-edged cities. Clara held her breath, her eyes wide. As she gazed at the twinkling lights far below, snowflakes pirouetted past."
The climax, as Clara and her prince enter the Sugar Plum Fairy's castle, reveals itself as the majestic ball unfolds in a double-page pop-up construction. For a fuller look at this beautiful book, read the review at What to Read to Your Kids. Head over to Fuse 8 to see a terrific range of Nutcracker stories.
The Christmas Boot
by Lisa Wheeler
illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
Dial / Penguin Random House, 2016
book trailer
Your local library / Amazon
ages 4-7
Elderly Hannah Greyweather sets out one winter day to collect firewood, when she discovers a solitary boot in the snow. When she tries it on, the boot immediately changes shape to fit her foot--it's the first sign that magic has touched this boot. "'Such a magnificent find,' she said to the left boot. 'Who could have lost such a treasure as you?'" The next morning, the boot's mate appears by her bed and Hannah goes out to do her chores, her feet wonderfully warm.
"Her arms were nearly full when, just past the spruce grove,  she spotted something. In the snow, deepest black upon purest white, lay a boot."
As the days progress, Hannah discovers more gifts magically appear. Young readers will gasp and smile with knowing pleasure when a visitor knocks on Hannah's door, wearing "a red hat, a red suit...and one black boot." Although the text never names this visitor as Santa Claus, young readers will enjoy seeing how he works his magic--asking Hannah whether there's anything he can give her. Jerry Pinkney's watercolor illustrations bring warmth, gentle humor and holiday spirit to this touching story.
Walk This World at Christmastime
by Debbie Powell
Big Picture Press / Candlewick, 2016
Your local library / Amazon
ages 5-9
"In France, place a Yule log in the fire,
and burn it to bring good luck."
Readers take a tour of the world and see Christmas celebrations from fireworks, Las Posadas and piñatas in Mexico, Bolivia and Brazil to Yule logs, hidden toys in candied cakes and Three Kings Day in Spain, France, Italy and Greece. Each detailed double-page spread focuses on countries in a region with overlapping traditions. Readers are invited to lift little flaps, numbered in the tradition of an advent calendar, to reveal images and small facts.

The tour starts in America, travels south to Central and South America, and then travels to Africa, Europe and the Middle East. The tour ends with Asia and then Australia, New Zealand and Samoa. The final spread shows a world map, asking young readers to trace their journey. I especially love how this creates a worldview that is not just centered on European traditions.

Illustrations © Niroot Puttapipat, 2016; © Jerry Pinkney, 2016; and © Debbie Powell, 2016. The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers for review. 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

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

What Elephants Know, by Eric Dinerstein -- an adventure, a call to action, a window to our world (ages 9-12)

Fourth & fifth grade students across Berkeley are telling me that What Elephants Know is the best book they've read all year. They feel like they're right alongside Nandu as he rides his elephant Devi Kali into the jungle of Nepal. Kids are responding to this as an adventure story, a call to action and a window to a different part of our world.
What Elephants Know
by Eric Dinerstein
Disney-Hyperion, 2016
Audiobook narrated by Kirby Heyborne
Recorded Books, 2016
Your local library
ages 9-12
*best new book*
Nandu dreams of becoming a mahout, or elephant trainer. Orphaned as a baby, Nandu has been raised by Subba-sahib, the head of the king's elephant stable in the southernmost part of Nepal. As the story opens, King Birenda comes to their stable for his yearly tiger hunt. Nandu joins the hunt determined to make his father proud; but when he realizes that the king will shoot a mother tiger with young cubs, Nandu interferes.

Perhaps because his royal hunt was ruined, the king decides to shut down the elephant stables. And so Subba-sahib sends Nandu away to boarding school to better prepare for the changing future. Nandu is devastated without the support of home, especially his elephant Devi Kali and his best friend Rita. This is even harder as he faces taunting and discrimination from other students.

Readers are drawn into this world, identifying with Nandu as he struggles to save the elephant stables and home he loves. Dinerstein, the former chief scientist for the World Wildlife Fund, lived near the national parks of Bardia and Chitwan in Nepal for many years studying tiger populations. He brings an intimate knowledge of this region to this story. Yet the story does not come across as didactic or informational; Dinerstein successfully keeps the focus on Nandu's coming of age and discovery of his own power.

My students relate to Nandu's experiences of prejudice and his determination to help animals, both threatened wild species and an ill-treated elephant. Baba, a Buddhist holy man, helps give Nandu perspective:
"A question I sometimes ask myself: ‘When to act on what you see and when to accept what you see around you? I do not know the answer to this question. What I do know, Nandu, is that you had the courage to act.’" (p. 175)
My students and I did not have any prior knowledge about this area, and so I prepared this short slideshow to help show them where the story takes place. I hope you like it.

I especially love the audiobook for What Elephants Know. As Audiofile Magazine writes in their review:
Narrator Kirby Heyborne immerses himself in the character of Nandu...(His) earnest voice and brisk pace deposit listeners into the midst of each episode. He exudes Nandu's respect for Subba-sahib and the elephants. When needed, he punches out Nandu's thoughts--be it indignation at schoolyard bullies, warning cries to a tigress, or enthusiasm over mutual interests with his teacher.
Nandu's story has stayed with me, drawing me to learn more about this part of the world. As I wrote to several friends when I recommended this book, I wish I could buy a copy for every fourth & fifth grade classroom. Please seek out this special book.

Many thanks to Eric Dinerstein for helping me make sure the images accurately portrayed Nandu's world. And special thanks to my reading friend Armin Arethna for sharing her love of this book. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Disney-Hyperion. 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, April 11, 2016

Salsa: Un poema para cocinar / A Cooking Poem, by Jorge Argueta & Duncan Tonatiuh (ages 5-8)

I'm so happy to share Salsa, a delightful poem and picture book which is the latest in Jorge Argueta's cooking poems. Argueta and Duncan Tonatiuh bring together music, dancing and food to celebrate salsa as a brother and sister work together to make for their family. Please join me later this week on Wednesday for an interview with Argueta.
Salsa: Un poema para cocinar / A Cooking Poem
by Jorge Argueta
illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh
Groundwood Books, 2015
Google Books preview
Your local library
ages 5-8
Argueta connects kids' enjoyment of salsa today to the cultural traditions of ancient Aztec, Mayan, and Nahua peoples in Central America. As we begin the story, we meet the molcajete, a type of stone bowl that ancient peoples made from volcanic rock and used to grind tomatoes, corn, chilies, vegetables and spices.

Please note, as you look at these samples, how the Spanish text comes before the English text. I especially appreciate the message this sends, showing the importance of Spanish language in conveying this poem.
My mother tells me
molcajetes were
our ancestors'
Just like their ancestors, the brother and sister sing and dance as they make their salsa. I love how Argueta brings the ingredients to life, describing each one as part of the "salsa orchestra". He conveys the joy of cooking, and shows how each ingredient brings the salsa its own sound and feeling.
"I am ready with four tomatoes.
They are bongos and kettledrums.
My onion is a maraca.
Cloves of garlic are trumpets,
and the cilantro is the orchestra conductor
with his shaggy, green hair."
Duncan Tonatiuh uses his signature style to illustrate in ancient Mixtec style. Faces are shown in profile, with big, swiveling heads and oversized hands. Borders, reminiscent of those used in the ancient codices, show the ingredients and the musical instruments.
For the music to be really spicy,
it's important to use chilies.
My family loves hot peppers.
The extended musical metaphor is well played throughout, adding texture, humor and description to the cooking process. A true delight to share at home, at school, anywhere.

Illustrations copyright ©2015 Duncan Tonatiuh, used with permission of the publisher, Groundwood Books. 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.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Around the world--sharing with children a sense of global community (ages 4-9)

As our news is filled with global and local conflict, I wonder about how to share a sense of our global community with our young children. Their experiences are rooted in their immediate surroundings. So how do we share a sense that things are similar for children in other parts of the world?

Two beautiful picture books help young children think about how our experiences are similar but different, without being didactic. Instead, they draw children into observing and reflecting other family's moments in the same day.
How the Sun Got to Coco's House
by Bob Graham
Candlewick, 2015
Your local library
ages 4-8
The moon peeks in through Coco's window as her parents tuck her into bed, but on the other side of the world the sun is rising over a polar bear family. The sun is busy already, lighting the way for a fishing boat, catching the eye of a great whale, "making shadows on the snow and in Jung Su's footsteps." 
"It balanced out on the wing--just for young Lovejoy, off to visit his grandma."

Readers follow the sun from one brief moment to another, watching the rising sun crest over a yurt and bounce off the tip of an airplane. As readers wonder what has happened to Coco, they turn the page and "the winter sun barged straight through Coco's window!" 
"It followed her down the hall,
made itself quite at home on her mom and dad's bed,
and joined them for breakfast."
Throughout, Bob Graham varies the perspective--taking readers close up to some children's lives and looking down from up high at others. The story ends by gradually pulling back on the view of Coco playing outside on a winter's day with her friends, helping readers see her small, immediate world in a larger context of her factory town.

French artist and author Clotilde Perrin follows one point in time across different time zones across the globe, in the striking picture book At the Same Moment, Around the World.
At the Same Moment, Around the World
by Clotilde Perrin
Chronicle, 2014
Your local library
ages 5-9
This story begins in Dakar, Senegal at six o'clock in the morning, as Keita helps his father count the fish caught during night. Following eastward, Perrin moves around the globe. “At the same moment,” it is 7 a.m. in Paris and Benedict is drinking his hot chocolate before school--while it is 8 a.m. in Bulgaria and Mitko is chasing the school bus. Each spread shows two time zones, emphasizing the point that these are happening at the same moment.
"At the same moment, in Hanoi, Vietnam, it is one o'clock in the afternoon, and Khahn takes a nap despite the noise outside.
At the same moment, in Shanghai, China, it is two o'clock in the afternoon, and Chen practices for the Lunar New Year parade."
Perrin's artwork is full of small details and drama, including some darker moments--lending complexity to the simple prose. A foldout world map in the end helps readers locate each place and names all these children.

The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Candlewick and Chronicle. 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Tiger Boy, by Mitali Perkins -- a fantastic read-aloud (ages 8-11)

As parents, we want our children to enjoy reading, so that they want to read more. The single most important thing you can do to help ensure this? Read aloud. Find stories that you can share together. Find books that linger with you, that make you both wonder about the world.

Tiger Boy, by Mitali Perkins, is perfect for a family read-aloud--the 4th graders at Malcolm X School in Berkeley are giving it huge thumbs up and I heartily agree. If you have an animal-lover, or you're looking for a book set in India or Bangladesh, or you're looking for a book with a courageous kid who stands up for what's right -- definitely seek out Tiger Boy.
Tiger Boy
by Mitali Perkins
Charlesbridge, 2015
Your local library
ages 8-11
When a tiger cub escapes from a reserve in the Sundarbans, a delta region straddling the India-Bengladesh border, many of the residents on a nearby island try to find it. Some are worried that its mother will set out looking for it, possibly hurting or killing people in the process. Others have been hired by a wealthy man to capture it for trade on the black market.

Neel is determined to help with the search--protecting the tiger cub is as important to him and he isn't afraid to stand up to greedy Gupta or his hired men. Neel's parents want him to focus on his studies and prepare for his exams. While Neel loves learning and languages, he finds math frustrating and confusing. And how can he concentrate knowing that the tiger cub needs his help?
Mitali Perkins draws in readers, as they feel how much Neel wants to use his special knowledge of his island to help find the tiger. As the CCBC review so clearly puts it,
"The sense of urgency that propels Neel and Rupa’s hunt for the cub creates the perfect amount of tension in an engaging story wonderfully grounded in Neel’s point of view and his experiences in his family and community. Their effort to save the cub helps Neel understand how furthering his education is one means of helping protect the place he lives."
I especially love how Perkins balances the relationship between Neel and his sister Rupta. Perkins both respects the traditional role that women have in this Bengali village, but she also shows Rupta playing an active role.
I have found that my students are not picking this up on their own, even when I recommend it. That's why I think it would make a terrific read-aloud. Parents (or teachers) can encourage kids to give something a try that might be different from the usual books they read. It would make a great book to read this summer or in the fall--see if it leads kids to wanting to learn more about protecting the tigers in the Sunderbans.

Illustrations ©2015 by Jamie Hogan; used with permission from the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Charlesbridge. 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Soda Bottle School: Creative problem solving led by kids & teachers (ages 7-10)

Our 3rd grade teachers are also focusing on persuasive writing this month, and they are asking kids to identify problems and suggest solutions. The challenge for kids is to explain how their solutions will work and persuade others that it's a good idea. We read The Soda Bottle School as an example of how kids and teachers in one community identified an important problem and led the way with a creative solution -- and the kids loved it.
The Soda Bottle School
by Seño Laura Kutner and Suzanne Slade
illustrated by Aileen Darragh
Tillbury House, 2014
Your local library
ages 7-10
The town of Granados has a problem: they don't have enough room in their school to teach all the kids. But they have another problem, too, that kids can relate to: there is too much trash all around their community. One day, teacher Seño Laura notices that a soda bottle is the same width as the beam of an unfinished school building. She has a crazy idea: what if they used empty soda bottles to create walls for a school? It could take care of two problems at once!

The whole community pulled together to support the teachers and children, gathering thousands of empty plastic bottles and stuffing them with trash to create “eco-ladrillos” (bricks). These bricks were stacked between the framing for the building, held in place by chicken wire fencing. A thin layer of concrete was slapped on top as a final layer.

Slade and Kutner draw young readers right into the story, helping them relate to the protagonist, young Fernando. My students especially liked the photographs and authors note included at the end of the story. I just found this news clip that would be another great way to share this story.

My students were interested and inspired to think of problems they would want to solve around our school. I especially liked this example because Kutner and Slade emphasize the importance of teamwork and thinking outside the box.

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. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Novels in Verse: my top ten + two more to read (ages 9-12)

Novels in verse have particular power speaking to kids. Some really like the way that there are fewer words on the page. It can make reading them feel less overwhelming. Others like how much they can "read between the lines", letting their imaginations fill in the gaps. Others love the way these poets play with language.

Today, I'd like to share my personal top ten favorites (in alphabetical order). I adore sharing these with students. But know that there are many others that my kids love. At the end, I'll share two books on my "to be read" (TBR) pile.
Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson
I have loved talking with my students about this book, how they can relate to Jackie's experiences, how they can see themselves in the book, how they can feel some of her own journey even if their experiences are different. Winner of the 2015 Coretta Scott King Award, the 2014 National Book Award, and the 2015 Newbery Honor.
The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander
You can read this incredible novel as a basketball story, as a family drama, or as a novel written with a modern ear using rhythms and rhymes infused with music and motion. It speaks to kids in all sorts of different ways. Winner of the 2015 Newbery Award, and the 2015 Coretta Scott King Honor.
Heartbeat, by Sharon Creech
In flowing free verse, Annie describes her love of running, the changes in her best friend Max, the birth of her baby brother and her grandfather's growing confusion and dementia. Annie's world feels as if it's unraveling with all this change. As she runs for the pure pleasure of running, thoughts and questions race through her mind.
Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech
Oh, how I love this book. We start with Jack, who's dreading writing his own poems, forced to keep a poetry journal for his teacher. But as we get to know Jack and as he gets to know different poems, we start to see a fuller picture of a boy, his dog and his feelings. Check out this terrific reader's theater through TeachingBooks, starring Sharon Creech, Walter Dead Myers, Avi and Sarah Weeks.
The Red Pencil, by Andrea Davis Pinkney
I was fascinated when I asked Andrea Davis Pinkney about why she chose to write this story in verse. She explained how she wanted to tell a story for elementary students about the Sudanese conflict, and she felt that a novel in verse would allow them more space. She was able to keep some of the more difficult scenes quite spare, so that students could infer the tragedies rather than be faced with the brutalities that her character experienced. My students continue recommending this to each other, talking about what a powerful story it is.
Rhyme Schemer, by K.A. Holt
Kids are attracted to Kevin's attitude and sass, but it's his journey that stays with them. Kevin is bullied by his older brother at home, but he then turns to bullying classmates at school. By taking pages torn from library books, he makes funny but oh-so-cruel found poems and tapes them up at school. When another student discovers Kevin's journal, he turns the tables and Kevin must find a way to make peace with his victim-turned-aggressor. This is a great choice for 5th and 6th graders who might have liked Love That Dog when they were younger.
Serafina's Promise, by Ann E. Burg
Our students were immediately drawn to Serafina and could connect with her situation, even though it was so different from their own. Serafina dreams of becoming a doctor, but she knows that she must go to school to reach her dream. This is no easy feat in modern rural Haiti. How can she do this when her mother needs her help at home, especially with a new baby on the way? Ann E. Burg writes in free verse poetry, conveying Serafina's struggles in sparse, effective language.
The Way a Door Closes, by Hope Anita Smith
This slim book reads almost like a short play in three acts. In the first 12 poems, CJ describes how he feels warm and content as part of his close-knit family. But then, everything changes as his father loses his job and then abruptly leaves home. In the 13th poem, when his dad leaves, CJ describes how it felt: "The door closed with a / click. / I felt all the air leave the room / and we were vacuum-sealed inside. / - I can tell a lot by / the way a door closes." This is a powerful book that takes readers on CJ's roller-coaster emotional journey.
Words With Wings, by Nikki Grimes
As a friend of mine wrote, this is a "peek into the mind of a daydreamer" and a wonderful teacher who encourages her in just the right way. Her teacher recognizes that Gabby is coping with her parents separation, and that daydreams are a way she escapes. He helps channel her imagination, encouraging her to let her daydreams come to life in her writing. This is a wonderful, uplifting story of a young girl finding her own voice, staying true to herself.
Zorgamazoo, by Robert Paul Weston
I loved the inventive poetry, the rhythm and rhyme, the creative fantasy. Best way to it: Dr. Seuss meets Lemony Snicket, with a healthy dose of Roald Dahl throughout. The story is fantasy, macabre, silly, and truly great fun to read aloud. The illustrations and book design add a tremendous amount to the story. Absolutely terrific wordplay, combined with a plot that keeps kids racing along with it.

My own "to be read" pile: 2 new novels in verse:

Blue Birds, by Caroline Starr Rose
Historical fiction, showing the friendship between a Native American girl and an English girl who's traveled with her parents in 1587 to Virginia. From the publisher's description: "Amid the strife, Alis meets and befriends Kimi, a Roanoke girl about her age. Though the two don’t even speak the same language, these girls form a special bond as close as sisters, willing to risk everything for the other. Finally, Alis must make an impossible choice when her family resolves to leave the island and bloodshed behind."
Red Butterfly, by A.L. Sonnichsen
Friends are including this in their favorites of 2015: a beautiful story, beautifully told. From the publisher description: "Kara never met her birth mother. Abandoned as an infant, she was taken in by an elderly American woman living in China. Now eleven, Kara spends most of her time in their apartment, wondering why she and Mama cannot leave the city of Tianjin and go live with Daddy in Montana. Mama tells Kara to be content with what she has … but what if Kara secretly wants more?"

I just love it when a character's thoughts and moods meld with mine in my mind, growing and becoming part of me. Novels in verse - usually written in free form poetry - have a particular way of doing this, where the narrator's voice almost flows into me.

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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Investigating about explorers: a range of resources (ages 8-12)

Do you have fond memories of reading your history textbooks? Probably not. So how can we make history more interesting for our children?

We want our children to envision what it would have been like to live long ago, to make the messy decisions that people had to make, to struggle and wrestle with life, warts and all. And yet we also need to convey basic information about historical periods and figures. How do we balance the facts with the engaging material?

As a case in point, I've been helping 5th grade students gather information about famous explorers from different eras. They're investigating Marco Polo, James Cook, Hernando Cortes, Amelia Earhart, Sally Ride and many others. Their teachers want them to practice note-taking skills. What resources will help them the most?

World Book Encyclopedia: building background knowledge
"How are we supposed to choose which explorer to do our report on if we don't know anything about them?"
Students need to begin their research process by learning some basic facts about their subject. This should be pretty easy for the children to read, since they need to focus on building a clear framework in their minds. I would suggest just reading at this point, not taking notes. We start with World Book Kids, the junior version of the World Book Encyclopedia.

Web Path Express: guided Internet research
"I call this Google for 5th graders."
We have recently added WebPath Express to our Follett Destiny library catalog. This service guides students in their Internet searches, helping them go directly to accurate, age-appropriate sites. Students are able to find reliable resources quickly, without having to filter out commercial or college-level sites.
by Chris Oxlade
Kingfisher Readers, level 5
Kingfisher, 2014
Your local library
ages 8-10
Students will like the clear sentences and frequent illustrations in this brief introduction to nearly twenty explorers from ancient to modern times. Each explorer's major achievements and struggles are covered in a two-page spread, so the pace moves quickly. Sentences are relatively short, and drawings keep interest high.
"Marco Polo was born in Venice, in Italy. In 1271, when he was just 17 years old, he set off for China with his father and his uncle. They took gifts for Kublai Khan, the powerful ruler of China in the 1200s CE."
This type of book will help students develop a "research report" tone to their own writing. It is factual and straight forward. But it does not have much depth, it does not really prompt students to connect to what they're reading or to ask questions.
Lives of the Explorers:
Discoveries, Disasters (and What the Neighbors Thought)
by Kathleen Krull and Kathryn Hewitt
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014
Google Books preview
Your local library
ages 8-12
Krull engages readers with dynamic writing, as she introduces them to the lives of twenty ancient and modern explorers. While this is more difficult to read, it is also much more interesting. She begins the chapter on Mathew Henson, African American explorer of the North Pole in the early 1900s, this way:
"Matthew Henson and Robert Peary shared many an unappetizing meal in the frozen land around the North Pole. But in the United States they wouldn't have even been allowed to eat together, as restaurants were segregated into 'black' and 'white' sections."
In just three pages, Krull helps readers get a sense of the challenges Henson faced and his remarkable achievements. She incorporates quotes from Henson to give a sense of his perspective. Teachers and librarians should note, however, that she does not indicate the sources for her material, but just provides sources for further reading.
Into the Unknown
How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea and Air
by Stewart Ross
illustrated by Stephen Biesty
Candlewick, 2011
Your local library
ages 9-14
*my full review here*
Stewart Ross and Stephen Biesty absolutely captivate me each time I read a section of Into the Unknown. Biesty's intricate illustrations draw me right into each scene, helping me imagine what it would be like to be part of an expedition. Students love the fold-out illustrations and the cut-aways that show you the inside of ships. Ross's descriptions include enough detail to engross me without overwhelming me. They have a strong narrative flow, conveying the dramatic pull of these stories but also helping young readers start forming their own questions and conclusions.

The review copy of Explorers came from our public library. The review copy of Lives of the Explorers was kindly sent by the publishers, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The review copy of Into the Unknown was kindly sent by the publishers, Candlewick. 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.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Friday, March 7, 2014

Wangari Maathai, planting trees in Kenya (ages 6-12)

Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work helping women throughout Africa planting trees to improve the environment and their quality of life. As we celebrate Women's History Month, I make sure to introduce students to women from throughout the world who have worked hard to improve their communities.

Seeds of Change
Planting a Path of Peace
by Jen Cullerton Johnson
illustrations by Sonia Lynn Sadler
Lee and Low, 2010
your local library
ages 6-10
Although it was unusual for girls to receive formal education in rural Kenya, Wangari’s parents agreed to send her to school. Wangari’s determination and hard work continued as she went first to high school in the city, and then to university in the United States to study biology.

Wangari returned to Kenya to teach and inspire women scientists, but became concerned when she saw the environmental damage that was occurring throughout the country. Maathai established the Green Belt Movement, bringing about environmental and economic change in Kenya by helping local women plant over thirty million trees.

I would also share this video clip, from the PBS/Independent Lens documentary Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai

International Women's Day, March 8th, is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. In some places like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, International Women's Day is a national holiday. Are you celebrating International Women's Day with your children?

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 (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Friday, February 7, 2014

Barefoot World Atlas updates: new packs added! (ages 5-10)

I've raved before about Barefoot World Atlas -- the spinning globe that brings a traditional atlas into a new realm for young kids. Well, Touch Press has wowed me again, with five fantastic extension packs. If you haven't tried out this app, please take a look!
Barefoot World Atlas
app developed by
TouchPress and Barefoot Books
available at iTunes App Store
ages 5-10
Young children have a difficult time envisioning the large extent of our world. It's so hard to see how the separate parts relate to the whole. This app lets kids physically spin the globe, zooming in and out, and then learning a specific region. It's tactile and visual -- and kids love it!

The original app presented a select amount of information that Nick Crane's original book contained -- at times, it seemed a bit limited to me. Now they've added five extension packs that enable kids to explore their different interests on a global level. Each is available as an in-app purchase. Normally, I really dislike this approach, but it seems to be very appropriate here. Families purchase the basic app for about $5, and then they can choose a specific area to purchase for an additional $1.99.
Extension packs for Barefoot World Atlas
Barefoot World Atlas
Extension Packs
available now:
Great Cities
North America
International Football
World Art
coming soon:
Cut & Create
Dinosaur Planet
Wacky & Wonderful
Animal Planet
I want to highlight three strengths of these packs:
  1. The format (choosing which pack to explore) helps focus a child, providing more content without overwhelming them. Less is more, especially when it comes to visually arranging information.
  2. The content is truly multinational, covering all the continents. I especially loved the art extension pack, which includes items ranging from a Mayan pottery vessel to a central Africa Bronze plaque to an early 20th century Russian painting.
  3. The Great Cities pack includes several pictures for each location, adding more information without cluttering the interface. These photos lead to great conversations and "ah ha!" moments for kids!
Take a look a this short video from Touch Press demonstrating the World Art pack:

The review copy of this app came from our school library collection, thanks to a generous grant by the Berkeley Public School Fund. I so appreciate their support, as we look for new and exciting ways to engage our students. Please support your local schools fund!

Review ©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books