Showing posts with label animal stories. Show all posts
Showing posts with label animal stories. Show all posts

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Mock Newbery discussions at Emerson: Part 4

Our Mock Newbery list stretched readers to try out books they may not have been drawn to initially. Two historical fiction books particularly struck our readers: Duke, set during World War II, and One Came Home, set in rural Wisconsin in 1871.
by Kirby Larson
Scholastic, 2013
ages 8-12
*best new book*
your public library
Hobie Hanson misses his dad who's away flying fighter planes in World War II, but he tries to think about what he can do to help the war effort. Sure, he can buy war stamps and help collect tin and rubber to recycle. But his mettle is truly tested when he decides to donate his beloved German shepherd, Duke, to Dogs for Defense.

Our students often connect to animal stories, especially ones about pets, so I was happy to include Duke in our selection. It was also very important to me to include a story with a boy as the main character. In this video, author Kirby Larson talks about her passion writing this story.

Students noted that the setting is a definite strength in Duke. Larson incorporates historical details in a way that really place you in the time -- from the cookies Hobie ate to the radio shows he listened to. These details helped us understand just why Hobie would do something as difficult as send away his beloved dog.

Some students felt that the characters could have been fleshed out a little more. Bella talked about how she wished the story was written from Hobie's first person perspective (don't you love it the way our kids are talking in these writerly terms!!). We got into a great discussion comparing the perspectives in Duke, Flora & Ulysses and Serafina's Promise. Others also noticed that the secondary characters did not come to life as much as they did in Flora & Ulysses. Mitch was clearly a bully, but he wasn't really distinct as a character. Nonetheless, the plot, setting and themes resonated to keep Duke a real favorite of our group.
One Came Home
by Amy Timberlake
Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, 2013
ages 9-13
your public library
One Came Home starts off with punch, but then slowly builds the setting and situation, reeling you in.
"'So it comes to this,' I remember thinking on Wednesday, June 7, 1871. The date sticks in my mind because it was the day of my sister's first funeral and I knew it wasn't her last--which is why I left."
Thirteen-year-old Georgie goes heads out of town to search for her sister Agatha, even though everyone else believes she's dead. After all, they found a body wearing her dress.

Our Mock Newbery club felt Timberlake's plot and pacing were certainly distinguished. As Bella E. said,
"It really laid out the plot so you got to understand the character and why she had to figure out this mystery. Then her personality made the things she did more realistic."
Naomi and Natalie particularly liked the plot twists that kept you guessing. Overall, the kids felt that the setting, with its focus on pigeoning, was a bit confusing at times and didn't add to the story as much as in Serafina's Promise. I remember some had trouble getting into One Came Home and understanding the set up of the mystery. I think they got hooked on the story once Georgie leaves in search of Agatha and has to figure out the mystery on her own.

I particularly like this trailer, made by Melissa McAvoy, a friend and fellow librarian:

Many thanks to Random House and Scholastic for sharing review copies with us. 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

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Lara's Gift, by Annemarie O'Brien - engrossing historical fiction (ages 10-14)

The best historical fiction sweeps me up and transports me to another world. With Lara's Gift, Annemarie O'Brien carried me away to tsarist Russia, to the life of a young girl living on a nobleman's rural estate helping to raise famous Borzoi hunting dogs. This novel will engross children who love historical fiction, especially those who connect to characters trying to stand up for themselves.
Lara's Gift
by Annemarie O'Brien
Alfred A. Knopf / Random House, 2013
your local library
*best book of the year*
Young Lara dreams of becoming the next kennel steward, following in her father’s footsteps raising prestigious borzoi dogs on Count Vorontsov’s countryside estate.

When her mother has a newborn son, Lara is caught between honoring her family’s traditional values and her own dreams. Suddenly Lara’s father suggests that she should stop spending time with her beloved dogs and learn skills that would be more useful in finding a husband.

Lara has a deep connection to the borzoi, especially her beloved Ryczar, and will go to great lengths to protect them - especially against ferocious wolves. Readers will be swept along by the challenges Lara faces as she struggles to convince her father that she should be able to become the next kennel steward, raising borzoi dogs worthy of the Tsar.

This book trailer gives you a sense of the setting, suspense and characters in this engrossing story:

O'Brien with her borzoi
In her debut novel, Bay Area author Annemarie O’Brien takes readers into the world of a Russian noble estate in 1914. O’Brien weaves in many historical, cultural and linguistic details to create a fully realized setting, without overpowering the story.

A sample preview of Lara's Gift is available through Google Books. Right from the beginning, I was immersed in Lara's life on a rural Russian noble estate caring for her beloved dogs.

I was especially interested in O'Brien's author’s note providing interesting background on her interest in borzoi dogs, Count Vorontsov’s famous kennel, and other historical aspects of this story. Readers will get a full sense of her appreciation of both the Russian culture and the wonderful borzoi dogs.

The review copy was originally received through ACL, the Association of Children's Librarians of Northern California, where I originally published this review, and subsequently also sent by the publishers, Random House. 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.

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Animal Babies - nonfiction to entice young readers (ages 3-8)

I write a monthly column for Parents Press, and this month they're focusing on pregnancy and newborns. So I thought we'd share about baby animals! My students adore reading about baby animals, and this is a great way to entice young readers. Here are three nonfiction books our students have really enjoyed. For more, head over to my Bookshelf column in this month's Parents Press.
Zoo Babies from Around the World
Andrew Bleiman and Chris Eastland
Beach Lane / Simon & Schuster, 2010
ages 3-8
available at your local library or on Amazon
Utterly adorable photographs of newborn animals will bring “ooohs” and “ahhs” from kids of all ages. But I love the clear text that provides interesting information on animals ranging from an Asian elephant to the tawny frogmouth (a bird with a very large mouth). Also check out the easy readers in the ZooBorns easy reader books from Simon & Schuster's Ready-to-Read Level 1 series - great for first and second graders to practice reading nonfiction on their own.
Scholastic Discover More: Animal Babies 
by Andrea Pinnington and Tory Gordon-Harris
Scholastic, 2012
ages 4-8
available at your local library or on Amazon
With bright design, colorful photographs, interesting sidebars and basic diagrams, Scholastic’s new nonfiction series introduces young readers to a range of topics. Animal Babies includes sections on hatching, metamorphosis, getting around and survival strategies. Large headings and short sentences make this a good choice for new readers trying out nonfiction.
Panda Kindergarten 
by Joanne Ryder
photographs by Katherine Feng
HarperCollins, 2009
ages 4-8
available at your local library or on Amazon
The panda kindergarten class at China’s Wolong Nature Preserve will elicit smiles and laughter from your children as they watch the little panda cubs play on a seesaw, hang from a branch and chomp long pieces of bamboo. Readers will follow a day in the life of panda cubs at this nature preserve. I particularly like the way the photographs and text complement one another, drawing children in and helping them learn about the efforts of conservationists to increase the panda population.

If your children adore baby animals, make sure you check out more suggestion in this month's column at Parents Press. The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Simon and Schuster, Scholastic and HarperCollins. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012 Cybils Book Apps Finalists - a fantastic group of apps to explore!

I am so excited to announce the finalists for the 2012 Cybils Book Apps Award. The Cybils Award recognizes books for children and young adults that combine both excellent literary quality and high kid appeal. I am honored to serve as the category organizer for the Book Apps category.

Here are this year's finalists for the 2012 Cybils Book Apps Award! Here is our full list of finalists, with links to the apps. This week I will share more about each of these apps. For a full description today, head over to the Cybils website.

Bats! Furry Fliers of the Night
written by Mary Kay Carson
developed by Bookerella and StoryWorldwide, 2012
nominated by Cathy Potter

Dragon Brush
created by John Solimine and Andy Hullinger
developed by Small Planet Digital
nominated by Aurora Celeste

Rounds: Franklin Frog
written by Emma Tranter
illustrated by Barry Tranter
developed by Nosy Crow
nominated by Danielle Smith

The Voyage of Ulysses
based on the epic by Homer
developed by Elastic Srl
nominated by Viktor Sjöberg

Where Do Balloons Go? An Uplifting Story
written by Jamie Lee Curtis
illustrated by Laura Cornell
developed by Auryn, Inc.
nominated by Teresa Garcia

Our fantastic team of judges debated long and thoughtfully to come up with this list of finalists. We evaluated over 80 book apps, ranging from picture books for the very youngest readers to nonfiction apps developed for young adults. We sought to highlight the full range of apps that are being produced, recognizing those that integrate text, illustrations, narration, animation and interactive features to produce an engaging reading experience.

I want to thank all of the round one Book App judges: Cathy Potter, Paula Willey, Carisa Kluver and Lalitha Nataraj. They all contributed so much, bringing different perspectives and experiences to our deliberations. I am so grateful for their time and thoughtful conversations about these apps. I am also so very grateful to the whole Cybils team for their support and exploration of this new way of sharing books with children. I hope you all enjoy these book apps with your children!

Head over to the Cybils website to learn more about these five fantastic book apps for children. This week, I will share more about each one of them. Over the next six weeks, the fabulous round two judges will select one winner from these apps - to be announced on February 14th.

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate (ages 9 - 12)

There are times a novel settles into my heart and stays there. When I pick it back up, the narrators' voice fills me once again with emotion and resonance. The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate, is a story that will touch you, that make you wonder about what it means to be human, to be alive, that will bring tears of grief and the warmth of true friendship. It would make a perfect book to read aloud as we near the end of summer or to start the school year.
The One and Only Ivan
by Katherine Applegate
illustrations by Patricia Castelao
NY: Harper, 2012
ages 9 - 12
available at your local library or on Amazon
Inspired by a true story of a gorilla kept in a concrete cage in a Washington shopping mall for 27 year, The One and Only Ivan brings you right into the heart of this noble creature as he bears this cruel fate. Applegate captures Ivan's voice from the very first pages:
"I am Ivan. I am a gorilla.

It's not as easy as it looks.

People call me the Freeway Gorilla. The Ape at Exit 8. The One and Only Ivan. Mighty Silverback.

The names are mine, but not me. I am Ivan, just Ivan, only Ivan.

Humans waste words. They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot.

Everyone knows the peels are the best part.

I suppose you think gorillas can't understand you. Of course, you also probably think we can't walk upright.

Try knuckle walking for an hour. You tell me: Which way is more fun?" (pp. 1-2)
Brutally captured as a youngster, Ivan has lived in his "domain", a small concrete cage with glass walls in the Big Top Mall, for 27 years. Alone. Except not quite alone. When everyone leaves the mall, he visits with Stella, the wise old elephant who "has eyes like black stars and knows more than I will ever know."

Can you imagine living for 27 years on a concrete pad surrounded by glass walls inside a shopping mall? Can you imagine thinking you are the last gorilla left alive on earth? What's the difference between animals and humans? Applegate takes readers inside Ivan's mind, asking them to think about these questions, to wonder about the implications of keeping animals in captivity.

But Applegate carries it further, as she crafts a story where Ivan is not alone, where he is motivated to help a friend, and with the help of his own friends he creates an imaginative solution. Is this partly fantasy? Surely, it is. Or perhaps it is. Or maybe not. Will we ever know what a gorilla is really thinking?

What I do know is that this is a book that will make young readers (and their parents!) think. And feel. And wonder. That, my friends, is the best kind of book.

The One and Only Ivan is written in spare, poetic text with short chapters and occasional illustrations throughout. This design of the book is beautiful - this is certainly one to get in print, not as an ebook. The plentiful white space makes it accessible to 4th graders, even some 3rd graders. And yet it is a big book, with well-realized characters and emotional punch, one that 5th and 6th graders will connect to. In fact, my biggest complaint is that the cover seems a bit "sweet" for the weight of the story.

Applegate was truly inspired by a newspaper story of the "real Ivan" who was kept in a shopping mall in Washington state for nearly three decades before finally being moved to Zoo Atlanta. Read more about his story here.

There are many resources and reviews of The One and Only Ivan available:
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers HarperCollins. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, May 14, 2012

Bawk and Roll, by Tammi Sauer and Dan Santat - let's shake a little tail feather! (ages 5 - 9)

Kids love books that make them laugh, and older kids love books with puns, jokes and goofy action. But they also want a story arc to a book, a bigger feeling, a reason to read the story. You'll get all this and more in Bawk & Roll, the newest book by the crooning duo Tammi Sauer and Dan Santat.
Bawk & Roll
by Tammi Sauer
illustrated by Dan Santat
NY: Sterling, 2012
ages 5 - 9
available at your local library, my favorite bookstore, and on Amazon
Marge and Lola can't believe how their dreams have come true. Superstar singer Elvis Poultry has asked them to be backup singers on his rock and roll tour. Their chicken dance rocked the house at the talent show in Sauer and Santat's previous book, Chicken Dance. But when the lights come on and Elvis parades in front of the cheering crowd, stage fright strikes - these chickens get cold feet.

Marge and Lola are down for the count and are sure nothing can help them. At each new venue, they try something new to calm their nerves, but nothing works! What are a pair of nervous hens to do?

But then, they realize they're missing the most important thing of all - the support of their friends. So "the chickens crossed the road" (to mail a letter) and invite their barnyard friends to the next concert. As the concert starts, everyone is cheering for Elvis. But then they hear, "We love you, chickens! ... Let's see your mooooooooves!" Thrilled with the audience's support, Elvis immediately comes up with a new hit song: "Blue Moooooooo" - Marge and Lola are thrilled.

Kids love the fast pace, the constant puns and dynamic illustrations. Sauer layers the puns and jokes liberally, and while many refer to Elvis, not all do. Kids will laugh at imagining the audience in their tightie whities and watching Elvis parachute onto the stage. Santat's vibrant illustrations, full of Vegas showbiz costumes and buffoonery, automatically draw kids to this story, but it's his details and unique perspectives that keep them coming back again and again. Just look at this back cover, modeled off an old record jacket.

While this is a sequel to Sauer and Santat's Chicken Dance, you can have fun with it as a stand-alone or as a companion. If you like this, you'll certainly love Jarrett Krosoczka's Punk Farm and Punk Farm on Tour.

Tammi Sauer and Dan Santat certainly jive well together, each having plenty of fun. Don't you love the photos they took for the jacket flap? They both have a pile of books being published this year with other amazing authors and illustrators.

Tammi Sauer is coming out with: Me Want a Pet!, illustrated by Bob Shea; Oh Nuts!, illustrated by Dan Krall; The Twelve Days of Christmas in Oklahoma, illustrated by Victoria Hutto; and Princess in Training, illustrated by Joe Berger (bold titles are forthcoming later this year, other links are to Amazon).

Dan Santat is the author/illustrator of the wildly popular Sidekicks graphic novel (one of the most popular books in our school library). He also has a stack of books being published in 2012: Fire! Fuego! Brave Bomberos, a picture book written by Susan Middleton Elya; Dog in Charge, written by K.L. Going; Oh No! Not Again!: (Or How I Built a Time Machine to save History) (Or at Least My History Grade), written by Mac Barnett; Kel Gilligan's Daredevil Stunt Show, written by Michael Buckley; and The Three Ninja Pigs, written by Corey Rosen Schwartz. (bold titles are forthcoming later this year, other links are to Amazon) 

For other reviews of Bawk and Roll, see Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, PinkMe and the Jean Little Library.

The review copy was kindly sent by Dan Santat and the publishers, Sterling Children's Books. Dan was a member of the Cybils Book App committee which I chaired. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Minette's Feast: The delicious story of Julia Child and her cat (ages 4 - 8)

Here's something not many people know: when I was young, I used to tell my favorite cat all my secrets and troubles because I knew that he would never tell anyone else. You see, cats are wonderful companions - as many children know. Susanna Reich brings readers into the world of Julia Child's years in Paris through the eyes of her cat, Minette. It is a book that children will relate to, loving it as a cat story and learning about Julia Child at the same time.
Minette's Feast
The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat
by Susanna Reich
illustrated by Amy Bates
NY: Abrams, 2012
ages 4 - 8
available at your local library, favorite bookstore and at Amazon
Minette is indeed a lucky little tabby cat. Living in Paris, charmed her way into the hearts of Julia and Paul Child. As Julia exclaimed,
"Une maison sans chat, c'est la vie sans soleil!"
"A house without a cat is like life without sunshine!"
          - Julia Child, from My Life in France
And so Minette joins Julia and Paul, taking long naps, enjoying soft laps and especially finding special treats to eat. "How delightful the crunch of fresh-caught mouse, devoured on the living room rug!" As Julia takes cooking classes at Le Cordon Bleu, the famous French cooking school, Minette perfects her hunting skills.

Minette will delight young children with the way she pounces, jumps and rolls around the Child's home, with the way she waits patiently as Julia cooks special meals. Susanna Reich shares the story of Julia Child in a way that both provides interesting information and a way into the story for children. All of the quotes in the story are drawn from Julia Child's writing and correspondence. Amy Bates' watercolor and pencil illustrations capture Minette's warmth and playfulness perfectly. Head over to Amy Bates' website to see more of her artwork from this story.

I am excited to join many friends celebrating the publication of this lovely story, with a blog tour. Here are some of the other stops:
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Abrams Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, March 25, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Graphic novels for new readers: new from TOON Books (ages 4 - 9)

Students at my school love graphic novels. I've said it again and again. They are drawn to this visual storytelling. Do you have a new reader, or maybe a reluctant reader who loves comics? loves to laugh? loves visual humor? Steer them toward TOON Books - you'll find books for a range of new readers, from just beginning to more advanced. I love their two newest books, and am excited to share them with my students.
Chick & Chickie Play All Day!
by Claude Ponti
NY: TOON Books / Candlewick, 2012
Level 1 (grades K-1)
ages 4 - 7
available at your local library, favorite bookstore or on Amazon
“What do you want to play?” Chick asks his friend Chickie, as they start this giggle-inducing comic book for beginning readers. With simple dialog and clear design features, this Level 1 TOON Book will engage new readers with its humor and surprises. Chick and Chickie start by making silly, frightening masks, startling each other with a big, loud "BOO!"

"That was me!" says Chick. "Oh! That's funny, Chick!" replies Chickie. And then she mischievously puts on her own mask and startles Chick with her own mask. Next, Chick and Chickie decide to play school with a giant letter A, tickling it, throwing it and bringing it cake.

New readers will enjoy reading this again and again, noticing details layered within the illustrations and the humor. The illustrations of Chick and Chickie’s emotions are particularly noteworthy, reminding me in a way of Mo Willem's Elephant and Piggie series. These cues are so important for new readers, helping them read the dialog with expression and meaning. The short sentences, easy sight words, large font size and use of dialog bubbles makes this book perfect for brand-new readers in kindergarten or 1st grade.

Zig and Wikki in the Cow
by Nadja Speigelman
illustrated by Trade Loeffler
NY: TOON Books / Candlewick, 2012
Level 3 (grades 1 - 3)
ages 6 - 9
available at your local library, favorite bookstore or on Amazon
As Zig and his computer buddy Wikki zoom toward their home planet after our last encounter with them (Zig and Wikki in Something Ate My Homework), they realize that something is wrong with Zig’s new pet fly. Zig thinks maybe he’s homesick, but Wikki realizes that the fly might need to live in his natural habitat on Earth. So they head back to the cow pasture where they found the fly, and find out that Zig's fly loves to eat cow poop!

Most 2nd graders I know, girls or boys, will find this the perfect combination of funny and interesting. Spiegelman and Loeffler pull in new readers with gross details (cow patties!) and interesting animals (dug beetles!). They keep the story moving at a good pace, traveling from alien spaceship to the farm ecosystem, from cow patties to the inside of the cow’s digestive track (the cow burps up the spaceship!).

The clear lettering, simple panel progression and straightforward dialog make this successfully targeted for level 3 beginner readers. The factual pieces are clearly written but strive to communicate complex processes, perhaps leading some beginning readers to skip over those sections as they enjoy the humor of the story. But the students in our 2nd and 3rd grade who've read this just enjoy the humor and want to keep reading. That's the sort of story I like to put in as many hands as I can!

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

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Ball for Daisy, by Chris Raschka - winner of the 2012 Caldecott Medal (ages 3 - 8)

Our 2nd graders at Emerson have loved thinking about which picture books should win the 2012 Caldecott Medal, participating in a mock Caldecott of our own. Yesterday we read A Ball for Daisy, by Chris Raschka, who was awarded the 2012 Caldecott Medal this past weekend by the American Library Association. This wordless book will appeal to a wide range of children, from young preschoolers on up. Our students responded to the way Raschka expressed so many emotions purely through his paintings.

A Ball for Daisy
by Chris Raschka
NY: Schwartz & Wade / Random House, 2011
ages 3 - 8
available from your local library, favorite bookstore or on Amazon
2012 Caldecott Medal
Daisy is a happy, eager little dog who loves her red ball. She leaps and bounds, playing with it at home and then at the park. But one day at the park, another dog starts playing with Daisy's ball. The ball suddenly POPS! and Daisy is despondent. Her owner, a young girl not depicted until half-way through the book, tries to comfort Daisy.

Children respond to Daisy's emotions throughout the story - how excited she is playing with her favorite toy, the despair she feels when she loses that toy. Raschka captures these emotions through Daisy's expressions, movement and posture. We had a great time with 2nd graders looking at Daisy's eyes and practicing different emotions our eyes convey.

The story concludes with another trip to the park, as Daisy and her little girl meet the dog who popped Daisy's ball. This little brown dog and her owner have brought Daisy a new ball, and the book ends with a very happy Daisy cuddling on the couch with her new ball. Our students loved the ending, recognizing that's what you should do if you break a friend's toy. They wondered if Daisy and the brown dog will become friends.

The first time I read A Ball for Daisy I mistakenly thought it was only for young preschoolers. My 2nd graders have shown me, once again, how much they can get from a wordless picture book that explores and celebrates a rich palette of emotions. They appreciated Daisy's emotions, they loved Raschka's use of color and lines, they noticed patterns and details I passed by on my first reading. Picture books, especially wordless ones, let children develop their love of stories, and their understanding of illustrations and visual imagery.

Other reviews can be found in many places, including:
  • A Year of Reading: "brilliant illustrations that tell so much of the story to the reader.  You cannot help but feel what the dog feels throughout the story--all the ups and downs."
  • Waking Brain Cells: "From the bright red of her ball to the striped couch in green, the book embraces color.  Raschka also uses color to convey emotion, which is particularly effective when the air itself is colored with purples and blues after Daisy’s ball is popped."
  • ProseAndKahn: "Daisy is drawn with a minimum of squiggly lines, but her posture and expressions speak volumes. The contrast of moods between the walk to the park and away from it, is striking. Readers will feel pity for the poor lonely dog trying to nap without his favorite toy."
  • NPR interview with Chris Rashka:  Raschka has a simple criterion for choosing his subjects: "Anything that creates a strong emotion in me," he says. "Whether it's music, loss of something, loneliness or friendship — if that emotion is heightened in some way and painted to fit in between the covers of 32 pages, that can become a picture book."
  • Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast: "I’m a raging fan of Raschka’s minimalist, vigorously-stroked artwork".
The review copy came from our local bookstore Mrs. Dalloway's and 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. Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, January 15, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Early Caldecott winning books: exploring the late 1930s, early 1940s

I have launched into exploring the best American picture books by reading as many Caldecott winning books, decade by decade. The Caldecott Award was established in 1938 by the American Library Association to honor the illustrator of the most distinguished picture book published in the United Stated during the previous year. This journey is helping me develop an appreciation of picture books, think about a wide range of illustration styles, and consider the different aspects of these classic books that might appeal to children today.

I have enjoyed sharing three books from these early years. Their stories and illustrations have kept their appeal, some eighty years later.
by Ludwig Bemelmans
originally published 1939
1940 Caldecott honor
NY: Simon and Schuster
ages 3 - 8
available at your local library, favorite bookstore or on Amazon
"In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines." Does that bring back memories? I loved reading the Madeline stories to my children when they were young - the rhyming text reads aloud so well, and Madeline perfectly balances an independent spirit with an old-fashioned sense of being a proper little girl. I especially enjoyed rereading this to 1st graders, and looking at the illustrations. Bemelmans alternates line drawings with full color paintings. I especially like the motion and movement he captures in the line drawings of Miss Clavel. Read more at Anita Silvey's Children's Book-a-Day Almanac.
April's Kittens
by Clare Turlay Newberry
originally published in 1940
1941 Caldecott honor
NY: Harper
ages 4 - 8
available at your local library, favorite bookstore or on Amazon
Children today will still adore this child-centered story about a young girl who is torn when her beloved cat has kittens that her family says they cannot keep. Clare Newberry  cats and captured this love in her wonderful stories and illustrations for children. April lives in a small apartment in New York City, in what her father calls a "one-cat apartment." When her cat Sheba has kittens, her mother explains that they will find homes for each of the three little cats. Children today will connect with April's growing love for one of the little kittens, and the pangs she feels when her parents start to give them away. Newberry uses a combination of ink, charcoal and watercolor to capture the details in her cats. I was particularly struck by the way Newberry captured the essence of these cats with just the barest of fuzzy details. This is a book that I will share with cat-lovers of all ages.
Make Way for Ducklings
by Robert McCloskey
originally published 1941
1942 Caldecott Medal award
NY: Viking
ages 3 - 8
available at your local library, favorite bookstore or on Amazon
I have loved rereading this - it brought back so many memories from childhood, not specific memories, but that wash of familiarity, of having been drawn into this book hundreds of times. This time, I was struck by how the text gave the ducks so many human qualities, but the illustrations of the ducks seemed so realistic. I was also struck by the dynamic poses of the policeman, and the interesting perspectives/angles. McCloskey builds the climax and tension with the policeman perfectly for young children. Originally published in 1941, this book keeps its appeal to children today. I especially like the way that Anita Silvey notes, "Because the book was published during World War II, the first children who read it often had fathers away from home. It sent a subtle, but powerful message: that the family would be reunited in a safe place." See her wonderful story of how McCloskey learned to draw the ducks over at her wonderful Children's Book-a-Day Almanac.

I have read 14 of the Caldecott Medal and Honor books from 1938 to 1942. I have loved joining Laura, Anna, John, Aly and all the librarians and teachers having fun with the Caldecott Challenge. If you are interested, please join us!

The review copies all came from our school or public 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.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Dog Is a Dog, by Stephen Shaskan (ages 4 - 8)

I just love watching kids while they read, especially when their eyes sparkle in that "ohhhh..." moment when they get the joke. Kids love books with unexpected twists, and they'll read them again and again - absolutely relishing the way they KNOW the twist that's going to happen, and they can see how funny it is. A new favorite picture book is A Dog Is a Dog, by Stephen Shaskan. It's a great choice for kids who like funny books, with an unexpected twist.
A Dog Is a Dog
by Stephen Shaskan
CA: Chronicle Books, 2011
ages 4 - 8
available at your local library, my favorite bookstore, and at Amazon
Stephen Shaskan combines silly humor with eye-catching illustrations that pull readers right into the story. With bright, bold colors, Shaskan’s spotted dog enjoys the sunshine in a plastic wading pool, with perfect preschooler goofiness. But that isn’t all. Here's the beginning of the book:
“A dog is a dog,/ whether it's naughty... or nice,
Whether it suns on the beach,
or glides on the ice.
A dog is a dog, if it’s skinny or fat.
A dog is a dog, unless it’s a . . .”
Turn the page and it’s a “CAT!” 
Look closely, and you'll see this cat is actually removing a dog costume. At first, kids will look at it a little quizzically. I mean, a cat was really inside the dog costume? But show them the zipper, and they'll start to get it. The cat, in turn, proceeds to remove its costume to show that it was actually a squid. As the verses repeat, one wacky animal after another emerges from the costume, until the spotted dog from the beginning resurfaces.

Shaskan uses thick, bold lines and bright colors reminiscent of Bob Shea’s Dinosaur vs. Bedtime, but certainly with a sillier touch. Details and patterns within the bright colors lend the digital art a subtle texture. But really, kids will ask to read this book again and again to laugh and giggle as each animal is revealed.

Have fun watching Stephen Shaskan's book trailer, and you'll get a sense of how much fun this book can be:

If you like books with a twist like this, you'll certainly like Guess Again!, by Mac Barnett and Adam Rex.  My youngest daughter read this again, and again, and again - delighting in the way she knew the answers to each joke. What a perfect hook into reading!

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

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sea Monster's First Day by Kate Messner (ages 3 - 6)

Across the U.S., kids are heading back to school. Some are excited to see their friends, others are nervous about a new school or new teachers. We have a great time sharing "back to school" books with our students and bonding over shared experiences. Here's a great new book to share with your little ones heading off to school: Sea Monster's First Day, by Kate Messner.
Sea Monster's First Day
by Kate Messner
illustrated by Andy Rash
CA: Chronicle Books, 2011
ages 3 - 6
available from your local library and my favorite bookstore
Even big guys can have a rough time starting school, as Ernest the sea monster shows us. Starting school and learning how everything works is a tough job: there’s so much to learn and do, and something always seems to go wrong. “It felt like everybody was already part of a group.”

But Ernest has a positive attitude and keeps trying to make friends. “Finally, at lunch, I spotted some fish that looked a little like me. I decided it was worth a try. We hit it off right away.” This has such a happy ending, just the way you'd hope - but in a very earnest way (yes, the pun is intended!).

Kids will love the bright, goofy illustrations of Ernest and the other fish, with their big goggly eyes and funny expressions. Messner achieves a balance between acknowledging that the first day of school isn’t easy, and sharing the message that a positive attitude goes a long way. She accomplishes this through gentle humor in this upbeat story about making friends.

Daniel Handler reviewed Sea Monster's First Day for the New York Times this past weekend, saying that Messner and Rash waste an opportunity by "giving us a cartoon we’ve all seen before." I actually think this works in favor of the story, reassuring little kids that school is actually something they've seen before. This story will work perfectly for preschoolers and kindergarteners heading to a new school for the first time. I'm sure it will bring some laughs and reassurances along the way.

A great resource for Back to School books is the list put together by John Schumacher (@MrSchuReads) and Alyson Beecher (@alybee930) on their wiki. It includes some of my favorite books, including Sea Monster's First Day. Definitely check it out.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Chronicle Books. The links above are to Mrs. Dalloway's Bookstore, my local bookstore that has just launched an online website (hooray!).

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Cats vs. Dogs: who's on top?

Send me your cats! Send me your dogs! OK, not literally - please... But I'd love to know who your favorite cats and dogs are in children's books.

My children love pets, and will tell you exactly which of their friends are cat lovers and which are dog lovers. Where do your kids stand on this front? Can you hook them into reading with great cat and dog stories?

I'll run a poll between now and September 10th. Throughout the month, I'll add suggestions that I gather from Twitter, friends and voting. Use the Google Form below to vote for your favorite. Please enter a book or series title, not just characters. And yes, you can vote for more than one book. But each entry will count for one vote. Votes are only counted if they are entered on the form below. No ranking. We'll include all genres for children, ages 0 - 14.  All links in the books below are to WorldCat, so you can find these in a library near you.

For cat lovers:

Chester, by Melanie Watts
This hilarious cat takes over Melanie Watt's books and insists on writing his own story. Very funny series! Definitely a cat with attitude!

Jenny and the Cat Club series, by Esther Averill
The Fire Cat, by Esther Averill
Bad Kitty series, by Nick Bruel
Splat, the Cat, by Rob Scotton
One-Eyed Cat, by Paula Fox
Binky the Space Cat, by Ashley Spires
Cat Secrets, by Jeff Czekaj
Pete the Cat series, by Eric Litwin
Goodnight Moon kittens, by Margaret Wise Brown
Hate That Cat, by Sharon Creech
Curious Collection of Cats, by Betsy Franco
Six-Dinner Sid, by Igna Moore
My Father's Dragon, by Ruth Stiles Gannet
Skippyjon Jones series, by Judith Byron Schachner
The Stink Files series, by Brad Weinman
Prudence Wants a Pet, by Cathleen Daly
The Whisperer, by Nick Butterworth
Warduff and the Corncob Caper, by Mat Head

For dog lovers:

Bark, George, by Jules Pfeiffer
This is one sweet little dog, who will make your little ones laugh again and again. For some strange reason, this puppy can't figure out how to bark right - all sorts of animal sounds keep coming out when he tries. So his momma takes him to the vet, and he discovers why.

Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech
Shiloh, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Harry the Dirty Dog, by Gene Zion
Down Girl and Sit series, by Lucy Nolan
Bunnicula, by Deborah & James Howe
Dazzling Display of Dogs, by Betsy Franco
The Hallo-weiner, by Dav Pilkey
A Dog's Way Home, by Bobbie Pyron
A Ball for Daisy, by Chris Raschka
When Life Gives You O.J., by Erica Perl
Meet the Austins and others in the series, by Madeline L'Engle
How Rocket Learned to Read, by Tad Hills
Officer Buckle and Gloria, by Peggy Rathmann
Martha Speaks, by Susan Meddaugh
Henry and Ribsy, by Beverly Cleary
Because of Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo
The Adventures of Taxi Dog, by Debra Barracca
The Complete Adventures of Big Dog and Little Dog, by Dav Pilkey

Please remember, votes only count if they are entered in the form above!  Thanks for participating - this should be fun!

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.