Showing posts with label mock Newbery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mock Newbery. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Amina's Voice & read-alikes: connecting readers with more books (ages 9-12)

Many of our students really enjoyed reading Amina's Voice, by Hena Khan, as part of our Mock Newbery Book Clubs. They connected with the way Amina learns to cope with her nerves, finds the courage to perform, and deals with the pressures of sixth grade.
Amina's Voice
by Hena Khan
Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster, 2017
Amazon / your local library / Google Books preview
ages 9-12
As Amina starts sixth grade, she struggles with friendship and family issues. At school, her best friend Soojin is befriending another girl, Emily. Soojin is also talking about becoming an American citizen and taking a second, more American name. Amina just wants things to stay the same with Soojin.

At home, Amina loves to sing; true to her parents' nickname (geeta, 'song' in Urdu), she has a beautiful voice. Amina avoids the spotlight, and prefers to sing by herself. When her uncle Thaya Jaan, who is visiting from Pakistan, tells her parents that her singing and piano playing are un-Islamic, she feels undermined and unsure of herself just as she's trying to get up the courage to perform at a school concert.

Students of many backgrounds really responded to this story. Here are some of their comments:
  • "It totally hooked me and stayed with me."
  • "I liked the beginning how she felt nervous and scared, and then she overcame this."
  • "It was intense when their mosque burnt down."
  • "I could relate to having arguments with a friend."
Berkeley librarians worked together to recommend "read-alikes" for students who enjoyed Amina's Voice.
If you liked Amina's Voice for the way Amina found her own voice, you might try:
If you liked Amina's Voice for the way it portrayed a Pakistani family in America, you might try:
In looking for read-alikes, we tried to think of a "hook" to give a student a connection to another book. We also looked for books that would appeal to students at a similar emotional level and reading level. This is not an exact match, but rather a general guide to help us. We also looked for books that many of our libraries have and books that are still in print.

Many thanks to all of the librarians in Berkeley (both at BUSD school libraries and Berkeley Public Library) who are helping us create these read alike lists. Please let us know if you have any other books to add to these suggestions!

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

Thursday, February 8, 2018

2018 Berkeley Mock Newbery Book Clubs -- our results are in!!!

For the second year, every elementary school in Berkeley Unified School District held a Mock Newbery Book Club to read and discuss the best new books of the year. Our 4th & 5th graders have wrapped up their final voting meetings and the results are in!

The American Library Association awards the Newbery Award each year to the most distinguished children's book written by an American author. Kids know this award and have been so excited to add their voices, taking part in mock elections.
Across the district, over 300 4th and 5th grade students read and discussed the best new books published in 2017. Library staff, literacy coaches, and teachers are worked together to host book clubs. Children's librarians from Berkeley Public Library are coming to support several of our schools. The enthusiasm was contagious!

In order to vote in February, we asked students to read at least 5 of the nominated books. This gave students voice and choice to read based on their preferences:
2018 Berkeley Mock Newbery Nominations:
Amina's Voice, by Hena Khan
A Boy Called Bat, by Elana K. Arnold
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, by Rita Williams-Garcia
The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora, by Pablo Cartaya
The First Rule of Punk, by Celia C. Perez
The Harlem Charade, by Natasha Tarpley
Patina, by Jason Reynolds
The War I Finally Won, by Kimberley Brubaker-Bradley
Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate
The Wonderling, by Mira Bartok
Our readers chose The War I Finally Won, by Kimberley Brubaker-Bradley, to honor with the Berkeley Mock Newbery Award. Students talked about how vividly the author described Ada's emotions. "I liked the main character because she was stubborn and daring on the outside, but on the inside she's a different person." They talked about how scared she was climbing the church steeple, and how she overcame her fear through sheer determination. "Ada was so complex," another student said.

Students also noticed how secondary characters were well developed in The War I Finally Won. One student remarked that Susan (Ada's adoptive mother) could connect to the children because she had also lost someone she loved. Other students really liked how well the author wove historical setting into the story, helping them learn about World War II without telling them specific facts.

Our students chose three honor books: The Harlem CharadeWishtree and The Wonderling. It's fascinating that these choices span across a wide range of genres.

Many loved the mystery and intricate plot in The Harlem Charade. One student said, "It was really thought-provoking. It made me keep wondering and asking questions about what was happening, how they would solve the mystery." Other students noticed how it was written from different characters' perspectives, making it especially interesting to read. Many remarked about the action-driven plot, an important quality they look for in books.

Wishtree appealed to students who like more sensitive stories. A 5th grader said, "Even though it's for a younger audience, I liked the way it was about animals as well as human." Another student said, "I liked how the tree was important to the animals and the people; it rooted their community."  Students noticed that the pacing was effective, with suspenseful elements introduced as chapters ended, making them want to keep reading.

The Wonderling especially appealed to our fantasy readers. Students liked how it was about groundlings, creatures that were part animal and part human. This captured their imaginations, and the characters were fully developed. Many commented on how they related to Arthur, feeling alone and left out at times.  They liked how he started off not really knowing where he belonged, and ending up with a family and friends. The secondary characters generated quite a bit of discussion in some groups, with special love for Trinket. Even the villain, Miss Carbunkle, was complex with her own backstory that created empathy in some of our readers. Davey Reed, one of our terrific librarians, noted,
"The Wonderling was a book that kids may have tried early in the year -- it had appeal, but was a little long and hard to get into. But once their friends liked it, they were willing to give it another shot. All it takes is 2-3 kids to start talking about it."
I love how Mr. Reed describes this social side of reading, because that's what the Mock Newbery Book Clubs really help foster. The create community among our readers by honoring their voices and encouraging them to spread the love of reading. Library staff, literacy coaches, and teachers are all working together to host book clubs. Children's librarians from Berkeley Public Library are coming to support several of our schools.
The Newbery Committee is meeting this weekend in Denver, as part of the American Library Association's Midwinter Conference. The 2018 Youth Media Award announcements will take place on Monday, Feb. 12, at 8 a.m. MT from the Colorado Convention Center. Fans can follow 2018 results in real-time via live webcast at , or follow hashtag #alayma.

I am so grateful for the support from all of my colleagues in Berkeley. Together, we are making a huge difference in kids' lives. Many many many thanks.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Wonderling, by Mira Bartók -- building a fantasy world, a guest post (ages 8-12)

Mira Bartók's new children's book The Wonderling completely enraptured me, drawing me into this fantasy adventure with its classic Hero's Journey. Arthur is a true hero, one who grows and changes, discovering as much about himself as he does about the world around him. I am excited to share this with readers across Berkeley as part of our Mock Newbery Book Clubs.
The Wonderling
by Mira Bartók
Candlewick, 2017
Google Books preview
Amazon / audiobook / public library
ages 8-12
*best new book*
Lonely, shy, scared. The orphaned groundling Number 13 doesn’t have a name until he finds a friend in Trinket, a small wingless bird with a big heart. Full of stories, Trinket decides that Arthur is the perfect name for his friend--brave King Arthur. Can they escape evil Miss Carbunkle’s orphanage? Will they find their families? This delightful fantasy would be wonderful to read aloud as a family, or escape into its adventure by yourself.

Today, Mira Bartók is visiting Great Kid Books to tell us a little about building her fantasy world. As I read The Wonderling, I was especially intrigued by Arthur's world and his journey. I wondered how Mira created Arthur's world, especially if she used a map to help lay out his journey.

Mira Bartók: Creating the World of The Wonderling

When I began building the world of The Wonderling, my first task was to create the terrible orphanage where Arthur/Number 13 finds himself at the opening of the book. I knew it had to be surrounded by a great wall, and that it was impossible to see over that wall into the world beyond. But I wasn’t quite sure what the building looked like. I looked at dozens of old photographs of 19th century orphanages, but none of them seemed quite right. Then one day, while searching online, I found a wonderful old engraving of a building in the shape of a giant cross, surrounded by a wall. It looked to me like a monastery and I knew when I saw it that it was perfect. I imagined Miss Carbunkle’s Home to have been many things over time—poorhouse, asylum, and ultimately a home for unclaimed creatures—but its origins were holy.
the engraving that inspired Miss Carbunkle's Home
I borrowed elements of the engraving and roughly sketched out a map of Miss Carbunkle’s Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures so I could understand how the characters moved through the space.
a detail from one very, very rough sketch of Miss Carbunkle's Home
As the story progressed, and it was clear that Arthur and Trinket needed to venture out into the world, I had to envision a larger universe. I took several large pieces of paper, taped them together, and mapped out Arthur and Trinket’s journey after they escape the Home. After that, I waited until I was completely finished with the book in order to fully understand how to physically map out my fantasy world. As I was racing toward the finish line, and made my final map for The Wonderling, I spent hours searching for beautiful maps to inspire me. I poured over giant map books in rare book rooms in libraries. I visited archives, like the magical Map Room at the Boston Public Library where I got to see the original maps for The Hobbit and other famous fantasy books, and I spent lots of time studying maps in antiquarian shops in London and New York. I also looked at piles of classic children’s books to see how those worlds were portrayed, books like Wind in the Willows and the Chronicles of Narnia, and more.

It was hard to decide which part of my fantasy world I wanted to depict in one map—the vertical layers of the world, depicting Lumentown with Gloomintown below? Or map out the city of Lumentown, and show Arthur’s journey within the city? In the end, I chose to simply map out a landscape—the Home, Pinecone’s house, the Wild Wood, Lumentown, and the surrounded environs—so that readers could follow Arthur’s journey from start to finish.
final map for The Wonderling
There are more journeys in store for Arthur and Trinket, so as long as they continue to venture out into the world, I’ll be here to draw wherever they choose to go!
Thank you so very much, Mira, for sharing a little bit about your journey as Arthur's story came to life for you. I am so happy to hear that there are more adventures in store for Arthur and Trinket! I am excited to share this with students throughout Berkeley as part of our Mock Newbery Book Clubs, and I can't wait to hear some of their thoughts reading this story.

THE WONDERLING. Copyright © 2017 by Mira Bartok. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, 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.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, September 24, 2017

2018 Berkeley Mock Newbery Book Clubs (ages 9-11)

Across Berkeley, students and teachers are joining this year's Berkeley Mock Newbery Book Clubs. Every elementary school has invited kids to come to the library, eat lunch and talk about the best books published this year. Our goals are to spread the love of reading and to get students' input about what they think makes a truly distinguished book.
In order to focus our discussions and create a sense of community, our librarians develop a list of 10 books for students to read and consider. We focus on middle grade novels for our students in 4th and 5th grade, so that they can compare within a general type of book. The actual Newbery Committee has a much larger scope, considering picture books, nonfiction titles, novels and poetry books for children up through age 14.

As we are launching our book clubs, we are excited to announce nine of our ten nominations for the 2018 Berkeley Mock Newbery. Have you read any of these books yet? Do you have a suggestion for our tenth nomination? We need your input!
2018 Berkeley Mock Newbery Nominations:

Amina's Voice, by Hena Khan
A Boy Called Bat, by Elana K. Arnold
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, by Rita Williams-Garcia
The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora, by Pablo Cartaya
The First Rule of Punk, by Celia C. Perez
The Harlem Charade, by Natasha Tarpley
Patina, by Jason Reynolds
Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate
The Wonderling, by Mira Bartok
We developed this slideshow to introduce the books to students and teachers.

The Newbery Award is given every year to an American author. The award specifically states that any type of literature may receive this award, as long as it is created specifically for children ages 0-14. The 2018 Newbery Award will be announced on February 12, 2018. As a "mock" award committee, our students will meet all fall and early winter to discuss and share their opinions -- we will vote the week of February 5th, and then tune in to see which book actually wins!

Please do let us know in the comments if you have suggestions for our 10th nomination. Remember that it must be published in 2017, written by an American author, and (for our purposes) be appropriate for 4th and 5th graders.

Many review copies have been kindly sent by the publishers, including Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Penguin, Macmillan, Candlewick and Scholastic. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Friday, January 20, 2017

Excitement builds across Berkeley -- final Mock Newbery meetings

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

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

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Who Will Win the Newbery Medal? Kids in Berkeley build excitement & community around books

I'm so excited that kids in Berkeley have loved joining our Mock Newbery book clubs. We've started one in every elementary school in Berkeley, with 50 kids are joining at each school. That means we've got close to 500 kids reading the best books published this year, building community and spreading book buzz!

In their special issue leading up to the ALA Awards, Publishers Weekly (PDF version here) highlighted three mock Newbery programs across the US. They wrote about how this award, like the Grammys and Oscars, makes headlines and creates bestsellers -- and how our students are "in the thick of it," predicting and analyzing potential winners. I just love the way that Shannon Maughan captured the essence of our project.

Our project, like many others, was inspired by Heavy Medal and other mock Newbery book clubs that librarians hold with each other. We want to share this experience with our kids, and as teachers and librarians, we bring special attention to the impact this has on young readers. As I told Maughan,
“It’s exciting to talk about the best books of the year... We wanted to target all readers—especially readers of color—to let them know that their voices matter and their opinions about books matter. We wanted them to know that adults in their lives are listening to them. It’s not just ‘Which book did you like best?’ but we go deeper and explore bigger ideas in our discussions.”
Berkeley students record their ideas for their mock Newbery
It has been amazing to watch the response at each elementary in Berkeley. Kids love getting to choose to join a book club, getting to choose which of the nominated books to read. Parents are telling principals that their kids are reading more than ever. Librarians are noticing that these great books are circulating even more than popular mainstays like the Wimpy Kid. Even the principals across the district have formed their own book club, reading these books and sharing their thoughts with each other.

Maughan noticed four important elements that each mock Newbery project leader talked about:
  • Collaboration -- Every mock Newbery leader talked about partnerships within their schools and communities that help them launch these programs. Collaborators help figure out how to purchase enough books, help lead meetings, and help talk about which books to put on the final list.
  • Social Media -- Teachers and librarians across the country are using social media to talk about books, whether it's through Goodreads, the #nerdybookclub, Twitter talks or NerdCamps. This has been a huge support to me.
  • Inclusiveness -- Mock Newbery programs are especially powerful when they reach out to all students, especially those who are not yet confident readers. Spreading "book buzz" creates excitement for all readers, and this engagement is a huge piece of increasing students' reading abilities and enjoyment.
  • Early Planning -- All of us start the year promoting our mock Newbery book clubs. This helps build excitement, and it enables kids to read enough books so that they're familiar with the best of the year by the time the January Newbery announcements come out.
The excitement is already building in Berkeley. Some kids are passionate about one book, and are trying to persuade their friends that it's absolutely the best. Others are making connections between books in wonderful ways. Just look at the joy and excitement in this poster, where students shared their thoughts about The Girl Who Drank the Moon:
"Best book ever!! PS: I want to drink the moon too!"
I am so honored to share teaching ideas with my cross-country colleagues Cathy Potter and Jason Lewis, plus many many others who inspire us. I love the way Jason sums up the reaction of his kids last year to the announcement of the Newbery Award:
“When they announced books that the kids knew, the excitement was unbelievable. To see the expressions on their faces—it was perfect. It just makes everything you’re doing worthwhile.”
I want to honor and thank Berkeley's terrific district library coordinator, Becca Todd. We have had so much fun creating this project together. I am so grateful that Armin Arethna, Berkeley Public Library children's librarian, has been my teammate all through this project. And most of all, I want to honor and thank all of the librarians, literacy coaches, teachers and principals who have helped spread this book buzz throughout the kids of Berkeley.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, November 28, 2016

Eric Dinerstein: Interview about What Elephants Know, Nepal & environmental activism

My students are responding What Elephants Know, by Eric Dinerstein, as an adventure story, a call to action and a window to a different part of our world. They talk about how this transports them into the jungles of Nepal. I feel so fortunate to have been able to spend time talking by phone with Eric Dinerstein, learning more about his work as a scientist and his time living in Nepal.
Eric Dinerstein is Director of Biodiversity and Wildlife Solutions at RESOLVE. For much of the last 25 years, Eric was Chief Scientist at the World Wildlife Fund. Beginning in 1975, he conducted pioneering studies of tigers in Nepal and led conservation programs for large mammals such as greater one-horned rhinoceros and Asiatic elephants.

Mary Ann: First off, please help us--how do you pronounce your last name?

Eric: Dinerstein is like dinner-steen.

Mary Ann: How did you first come to know the region of Nepal where What Elephants Know takes place?

Eric: My introduction to what is called Bardia was in 1975 when I joined the Peace Corps and was sent to Nepal. I knew so little about Nepal. All I thought of was mountain climbing in the high Himalayas. I found out that the Bardia district was in the lowlands of Nepal, with hot steamy jungles. They say that humidity was invented here, in this monsoon environment.
map of Bardia district of Nepal
Before 1960, this hot, steamy lowland area was overrun with mosquitoes that caused malaria. So it was avoided by most people except the Tharu, who were immune to the deadly disease because they had lived there for generations. As treatments for malaria improved, people from other regions began to move into this area because it was a fertile jungle and they could make it into farmland.

This novel takes place in 1975, as the first signs of development were occurring. As people settled this region, conflicts with wildlife increased. Wild animals’ habitat disappeared as farming spread. Poachers further threatened wild animal populations.

Mary Ann: What inspired you to focus on a young boy who wanted to be an elephant driver?

Eric: When I first lived in Nepal in the Peace Corps, we didn’t have elephants. All of our research was done on foot. When I came back with the Smithsonian to study in Chitwan National Park, we used elephants for our research. There was a government elephant center near us, and an elephant breeding center. I spent five years in the company of drivers. As I started to think about the story, I wondered if I could create a character who could be attuned to the natural world. It helped learning so much living around elephant stables. I wanted to infuse my book with that, but also to make it universal--how you find your way in the world.
elephant driver in Nepal (source: Pixabay)
Mary Ann: What do you want kids to know about elephants today?

Eric: I am noticing a quiet revolution in the West, against elephant captivity and keeping animals isolated in zoos. Elephants are social animals. Moving elephants to sanctuaries and out of zoos is the right thing to do. Elephants should not be kept isolated. Elephant camps in Asia are different because they are kept in larger, social groups. In Hindu countries, elephants are tremendously important so they are treated kindly and with great respect. As a subba-sahib once told me,
“Don’t ever mistake these elephants as domesticated. They’re still wild. They’re just so gentle and accepting that they let us ride them.”
Mary Ann: What advice do you have for kids who want to make a difference with wildlife conservation?

Eric: The poaching crisis for elephants, rhinos and other large animals is significant. Kids need to learn about this, but the pictures are really gruesome. Local nature clubs can make adults aware of their concern--writing letters to press adults to do more. Three crucial steps can help young people take action:
#1: Awareness -- learn all you can about animals you care about.
#2: Connect -- reach out to nature clubs across the world.
#3: Advocate -- together, call for change
Mary Ann: Thank you so much for taking the time. I hope you continue to inspire young readers with your stories.

Special thanks to Armin Arethna and Emma Coleman, children's librarians at the Berkeley Public Library, for their help interviewing Eric.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Berkeley's Mock Newbery Book Clubs -- bringing 500+ readers together!!!

This year for the first time, every elementary school in Berkeley Unified School District is launching a Mock Newbery Book Club. The American Library Association awards the Newbery Award each year to the most distinguished children's book written by an American author. Kids know this award and have been so excited to add their voices, taking part in mock elections.
We thought many 4th and 5th graders would be interested, especially after the success of Emerson’s Mock Newbery Book Club these past couple of years — but we had no way of predicting the enthusiasm that burst forth at the schools. Over 500 students have joined the book clubs across the district, enthusiastically reading and sharing the best new books of the year.
Library staff, literacy coaches, and teachers are all working together to host book clubs--each site has two leaders who support each other. Children's librarians from Berkeley Public Library are coming to support several of our schools. Our goals are:
  • Honor students’ voices and their choices about reading, developing their thoughtful engagement and discussion of books;
  • Develop students’ identity as readers who enjoy sharing books with friends; and,
  • Harness kids’ enthusiasm so they could help create “book buzz” about brand new books
Earlier this month, we announced our final nomination list. Students helped us narrow down a potential list of 17 books, down to a manageable list of ten nominations. We welcome all 4th and 5th graders to come share books they've been reading. In order to vote in January, we ask that students read at least 5 nominated books.
As we've told our students, there are many many outstanding books written each year. These are the ones we are coming together to discuss--but if there's another great book, please share it with us. We want to know what you're loving!

If you want to know more about the process for hosting a Mock Newbery book club, please see two articles I wrote this summer with my public library friend and collaborator Armin Arethna:
I want to give special thanks to Berkeley Unified's library director, Becca Todd, for her amazing coordination of this effort and cheerful rallying of all the leaders. I also want to give special thanks to the donors of our Berkeley Public Schools Fund grant, the local PTAs and many publishers for helping provide books for our eager students. We could not have reached the number of readers without their support.

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

Sunday, October 16, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, August 29, 2016

Full of Beans, by Jennifer L. Holm -- (ages 9-12)

Does building resilience in kids mean they have to be able to handle everything by themselves? Or that they can weather the hard times, with their sense of self intact? I adore Jennifer Holm's newest novel Full of Beans precisely for the way that Beans struggles through hard times, learning about the consequences of his decisions, yet never losing his sense of humor or his loyalty to his family and friends. It is both delightful to read and wonderful to reflect upon.
Full of Beans
by Jennifer L. Holm
Random House, 2016
Your local library
ages 9-12
*best new book*
Beans Curry knows life is hard with the Great Depression--his dad is out of work, leaving home to look for work up north, and his mom takes in laundry, raising the family in their Key West home. Beans tries to help, sifting through the garbage looking for cans because a local con man has promised him twenty cents a can.

Life keeps throwing bum deals his way--the con man refuses to pay Beans what he promised--but Beans won't give up. He helps his mother babysit his crabby baby brother; he leads his gang of friends, challenging other kids to marbles; and he keeps his eye out new opportunities. So when a rumrunner makes him a proposition, it seems like things are finally turning up. Beans just doesn't predict how his actions might put others in harm's way. As the starred Horn Book review wrote,
Beans’s earnest voice shows a young boy trying so hard to help out and to do the right thing, but getting caught up in dubious circumstances over which he has no control.
Readers may remember Beans from Jennifer Holm's popular Turtle in Paradise (my review here), but this new story stands on its own. I think that the setting Depression-era Key West becomes even more fully realized in Full of Beans, as Holm seamlessly weaves historical details into the story. I especially like what librarian Tasha Saecker wrote over at Waking Braincells:
Holm writes with a natural ease that is deceptively easy to read. Her writing allows readers to explore Key West in a time just as it is becoming a tourist destination due to the New Deal and its workers. Beans’ personal story is clearly tied to the story of Key West with his own despair and lack of money mirroring the city’s. His own journey through to honesty and truth follows that of the city as well. It’s a clever dynamic that makes both roads to change all the easier to relate to and believe.
This would make a terrific read-aloud, either as a family or in the classroom. Terrific sayings from the 30s infuse the dialog, and short chapters keep the pace moving quickly. Readers will root for Beans, whether it's as he's playing marbles against a rival gang or as he's struggling with hard decisions that will affect his neighbors and friends.

I'm especially looking forward to talking with my students in our Mock Newbery Book Club about how Beans responds to hard situations and how he changes. I wonder how they'll envision the setting of Key West, and themes they'll identify in the story.

Join me on Wednesday -- I'm looking forward to sharing an interview with Jenni Holm. I'm especially looking forward to sharing a slideshow of images of 1930s Key West. The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher, Random House Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelley Barnhill -- deep magic (ages 10-14)

I can't wait to share The Girl Who Drank the Moon with my students and hear their thoughts; it's a story full of deep magic, wonderful characters, powerful themes and rich language. Magical stories have fascinated me since I was a young girl--starting with classic fairy tales, their all-powerful witches and the young people who outsmart them. This is sure to be a favorite this fall, especially with my fantasy-loving readers.
reading The Girl Who Drank the Moon while camping this summer
The Girl Who Drank the Moon
by Kelly Barnhill
Algonquin / Workman, 2016
Your local library
ages 10-14
*best new book*
A terrible crime happens once each year--the people of the Protectorate must sacrifice a baby, leaving it in the forest for the witch who threatens them. They believe that this child saves them all: "Sacrifice one or sacrifice all." But who is telling this story? Who makes the family sacrifice their child? And what happens when the child is left in the forest? Right away, questions start swirling in the readers' mind.

This complex story quickly unfolds, revealing that the Elders hold the power in the Protectorate, enforcing this tradition ruthlessly--and the submissive populace rarely questions them. This year, however, things go differently as the grieving mother protests vehemently when her baby is taken to be left in the forest. Barnhill quickly raises the questions of truth, power, authority and loyalty--themes that readers will reflect on throughout the story.

As soon as the Elders leave the baby in the forest, a kind witch named Xan rescues her. Xan accidentally feeds the infant moonlight, which gives her powerful magic. Aware that magic is both a power and a responsibility, Xan decides to raise the infant--whom she names Luna--as her granddaughter.

Barnhill skillfully weaves together three separate plot lines: Xan and Luna's relationship together as Luna grows into adolescence; the grief the madwoman--Luna's mother--endures after her baby is taken from her; and the questions that arise in a young apprentice to the Elders after he witnesses the madwoman's breakdown.

I cannot wait to hear what students in my Mock Newbery club say about this story. Will they react most to the characters? Or will they start thinking about the themes that Barnhill raises? How will they react to the uncertainty and complexity in the plot? It will be a terrific choice for book clubs to read and discuss.

I loved listening to Kelly Barnhill talk about the beginning of the story with my friend librarian Laura Given, in the summer reading podcast. Definitely listen to Kelly and then listen to Laura read aloud the opening chapter in her podcast PCS Reads (hopefully the podcast will embed below).

I love how Donalyn Miller and Stacey Riedmiller share their thoughts about this magical story in their NerdyBookClub review:
"It is impossible for mere mortals to adequately communicate the beauty of Barnhill’s language or the emotional resonance of Luna’s story, so we won’t even try. All we can share is our pale impressions of it like memories of a moonlit night in the woods...

The Girl Who Drank the Moon reminds us that all great stories offer readers rich explorations of what it means to be human–even when the “people” are dragons and witches. Whether our scales and warts show on the outside or not, we are all flawed, but our choices show the world who we really are."
The Girl Who Drank the Moon is a book that I want to savor, reread and talk about. It is definitely a complex story that juggles many themes and plot lines, asking readers to consider different characters' points of view and motives.

The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher, Algonquin Books for Young Readers / Workman Publishing. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, August 8, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

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

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

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

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

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, January 7, 2016

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

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

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

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

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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

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

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

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

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

2016 Mock Newbery, part 2: Bayou Magic & Chasing Secrets (ages 8-12)

Kids who are excited by a book love telling their friends about it. And the honest truth is that they listen to their friends much more than they listen to adults. But often kids start rambling too much as they summarize the story.

Our Mock Newbery discussions have helped kids focus on what really makes a story good--what aspect of the story grabbed them. Today's books have definitely created "book buzz" at Emerson: Bayou Magic and Chasing Secrets.
This summer is Maddy's turn to visit her grandmother; each summer, Grandmére sends for one of her grandchildren, asking that they spend the summer with her in the Louisiana bayou. Maddy's older sisters warn her that Grandmére is strange, a witch, and very strict, but Maddy develops a special relationship with her and realizes that she feels at home in the bayou. In fact, Maddy senses that she has a special power to feel things, to hear things like her grandmother does.
student responses (click to enlarge)
Students loved the way Jewell Parker Rhodes describes the setting--it brought them right into feeling like they were in the bayou. But I think it's more than that; Rhodes helps them see the bayou through Maddy's eyes. She's a newcomer, but one with an innate sense of the magic in the bayou. Several commented about how many sensory details they noticed in the book. You knew how Grandmére smelled, how the hot air felt on your skin, how the light sparkled through the trees.
"I love this book so much because it feels like I'm in the book." -- Meleia
Maddy becomes good friends with Bear, a young boy who lives near her grandmother. Rhodes skillfully develops the plot, as Bear helps Maddy search for the elusive mermaid she is sure she's seen, sticking by her when all logic would say she's imagining it. And this friendship helps her believe in herself and trust her intuition, her sense of family magic as an environmental disaster is about to strike.
Chasing Secrets
by Gennifer Choldenko
Wendy Lamb / Random House, 2015
Your local library
ages 9-12
*best new book*
Choldenko weaves a plot with plenty of action and suspense, full of historical details but never weighed down with too many details. San Francisco in 1900 was a growing city full of wealth from railroads and the Gold Rush, but it was also a city marred by discrimination against the Chinese American community. In the midst of this, the city leaders try to cover up an outbreak of the plague, and then try to show they are handling it by quarantining Chinatown.
student responses (click to enlarge)
Lizzie can't stand all the expectations for her to act like a lady, prim and proper, when she really wants to become a doctor just like her father. Right away readers get a sense of just how different medical care was at the turn of the 20th century when Lizzie accompanies her father on a house call.
"I really admired how Lizzie wanted to be a doctor and how being a doctor was more of a man's job. She spent all of her free time reading about diseases and sicknesses, and cures. Eventurally, the plague comes and she uses everything she knows to help her family." -- Amelie
The plot is full of twists and turns, as Lizzie overhears her uncle's newspapermen colleagues talking about the plague. When Jing, the cook for Lizzie's family, fails to return home, she sets out to help him. Choldenko's steady pacing kept students interested in the mystery, as the story built to an exciting climax.
"I loved how the plot was very sophisticated, but in a way where there are a lot of little parts to find out what the end would be. In lots of other books, you can figure out the end." -- Talia
Both of these books create a specific setting and characters, so students could create a movie in their mind and imagine being right there alongside the main character. It's interesting that both of these stories are told from the first person perspective, and this helps many young readers step into the shoes of the main character. It will be interesting to see what kids think about the secondary characters in these stories, whether they feel fully developed as individual, distinct people.

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

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

2016 Mock Newbery, part 1: All the Answers + Appleblossom the Possom (ages 8-12)

Our 4th and 5th grade Mock Newbery Book Club meets on Thursday for final discussions & voting. This week, I'll share my students' thoughts on each nominated titles (see this post for our full list). Special thanks goes to Armin Arethna, our fantastic Berkeley Public Library colleague who is a vital part of our book club--what a terrific school-public library collaboration and friendship!

As we discuss books, we start out by sharing what we like about them. We only have two or three copies of each title, so kids are reading different books all the time. We have lunch together and share about what we've been reading. If someone raves about a book, their friends start clamoring to check it out next. This "book buzz" is the best thing ever!

As more kids read a book, I start guiding the discussion a little deeper--prompting students to think about the criteria that the Newbery Committee examines, using this poster:
Students talk about these different aspects of a book in their classes, so they are able to apply them here when we start comparing books. Just like with the right committee, they end up with a few favorites and then have a terrible time deciding on which one to vote for!
All the Answers
by Kate Messner
Bloomsbury, 2015
Your local library
ages 9-12
*best new book*
My students *loved* this novel: a realistic friendship story touched with just a bit of magic. Ava is a worrier; whether it's homework or a test or her family, she gets anxious. Math tests are the worst. One day when Ava finds a pencil at the back of her junk drawer, she starts doing her math homework just like normal--but it turns into anything but normal when the pencil starts talking to her, telling the answers to any question she writes down.

This book spread through our 4th and 5th graders, getting passed from one friend to the next. Our two copies were checked out over 30 times in just 3 months! In the poster below, you can see how many kids wanted to share their thoughts. Right away students talked about how much they would like a pencil that told them the answers to test questions. But soon, they started reflecting on the characters, plot and themes.
As Kalia wrote, "The characters were really good." Josselin added right away how she enjoyed the characters (the Pencil and Ava). As we started talking more, students noticed how much Ava changed during the course of the novel, growing stronger and more self-assured. They realized how much they related to Ava, her worries and her dilemmas.
"I admired how Ava only used the pencil for good, not evil." -- Amelie
"I felt sad when she was sad, and I felt happy when she was happy." -- Gwen
Talking about these books, digging into them together really deepens all of our appreciation for the author's craft. Just look at what Norah wrote on our poster -- and remember that this is after she's been talking about it with her friends and classmates for two months.
"I also really liked how the author created Ava. Ava worried a bit about everything. So when you first think about her, you think oh Ava is not that strong. She's just a scaredy-cat that needs all the answers. But when you think about her more deeply, you realize, wow, Ava was very strong.  Like if you had a pencil with all the answers, would you be able to get rid of it? Would you be able to realize sometimes it is better not knowing?" -- Norah
In contrast, while students reported liking Appleblossom the Possom, it wasn't a book that kids shared much about. Two students liked it enough to nominate it, but it never created that "book buzz".
Appleblossom the Possom
by Holly Goldberg Sloan
illustrated by Gary A. Rosen
Dial / Penguin, 2015
Your local library
ages 8-12
Like for all young possums, there comes a day when Appleblossom has to venture out on her own and find her way in the world. In many ways, exploring the world is exciting for a curious youngster--but it quickly turned frightening for Appleblossom when she fell down a chimney and was trapped inside a human family's house.

Holly Goldberg Sloan creates an immediacy in the nighttime setting as seen from a possum's perspective, and she adds a humorous element by emphasizing the dramatic tendencies of possums as they learn how to "play dead". The story is full of adventure as Appleblossom's brothers work to rescue their sister.

I'm not quite sure why students didn't talk about this as much. Perhaps they found the dramatic asides to be overbearing, or perhaps Appleblossom didn't change enough to be satisfying for them. But it could also be that kids who like animal fantasies didn't come to our book club because they didn't find other animal fantasies to read. I was fascinated by the contrast between this book and Holly Goldberg Sloan's previous novel, Counting by 7s, which my students really responded to and nominated for our 2014 Mock Newbery.

Review copies were sent by the publishers, Bloomsbury and Penguin, and copies were also purchased for our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books