Thursday, February 28, 2013

Fun Friday: Write (and read) some poetry!

Need something to jazz up your writing life? Are you a closet poet? Does one of your children have a poetic bent?

National Poetry Month is the month of April and, to get ready, the NYPL (New York Public Library) is launching a poetry contest on TWITTER! So, think short and sweet. For details, see The Digital Shift's write up.

You might consider writing about your faith (and the Bible--it's literary!) and take the Twitter world by storm!

If you or your children need some inspiration, check out one of the following poetry anthologies at your local library (my apologies for the lack of cover images for these):

Sunflakes compiled by Lillian Moore (great for younger children through early elementary)

Any of Shel Silverstein's various children's collections (school age children especially)

My America compiled by Lee Bennet Hopkins (great for elementary school children and a little educational!)

Bury me in the Library by J. Patrick Lewis (charming poetry for childlike bibliophiles--perfect inspiration for the Twitter contest mentioned above!)

The Random House Book of Poetry for Children illustrated by Arnold Lobel

Sing a Song of Popcorn compiled by Beatrice Shenk de Regniers

You can also just head to the Juvenile 811 Dewey section of your local library and browse!!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Honest Abe

President's Day celebrates, in part, the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. There have been loads of books for kids published about Abraham Lincoln, in particular, so in honor of his recent birthday and today's President's Day, here are some solid reads about Honest Abe. I've given the first title more description since it's just out this spring and won't be as well known. (For a couple of other Lincoln books, see Emily's post at Redeemed Reader.)

Lincoln's Grave Robbers
Steve Sheinkin
Scholastic, 2013

Hitting store shelves this spring is Sheinkin's latest fascinating peak into history (Sheinkin is author of the recent heavily-awarded Bomb). True to Sheinkin's reputation, Lincoln's Grave Robbers is fast-paced and reveals some little remembered historical facts along with a fantastic attempt by some men to actually steal Lincoln's bones! Crazy.

The story opens with an examination of the widespread counterfeit operations going on during the second half of the 19th century (it's amazing how much money in circulation was fake!!). Did you know the Secret Service was started for the specific purpose of tracking down counterfeit money folks (from the engravers to those passing it in the street). When a highly skilled engraver gets put behind bars, the folks who depended on his next-to-impossible-to-detect counterfeit bills panic. What can they do to get him back? I know! Steal Lincoln's bones! That will teach that mean government who's boss. They don't put it in those words, but that's the sentiment behind this desperate plot to steal Lincoln's bones and essentially demand the engraver in return for the bones. Thanks to a "rover" (a "mole" in today's parlance), their plot is hindered--but the Secret Service men fail to capture the bad guys! A series of small things-gone-wrong drags the story out, but justice is finally served.

Kids will enjoy this peak into a part of history often left out of the history books. Sheinkin's gift for narration keeps the story moving, and he continues his usual well-balanced musings (wondering who's "fault" some things are, for instance). He also does an excellent job of sprinkling in historical slang without making the book obscure. All in all, a fun and informative read. Recommended for 4th grade and up (this one is not as complex as Bomb).

Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: the Story Behind an American Friendship
Russell Freedman
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012

Thoughtfully reviewed by Janie over at Redeemed Reader, this book is essentially a dual biography from a well known and awarded author. Freedman is no stranger to Lincoln, and his name will come up in this list again! Worth checking out for those middle grades students.

Lincoln: a Photobiography
Russell Freedman
Sandpiper, 1989 (originally published 1987)
Newbery Medal

Freedman's earlier biography of Lincoln was a landmark book in children's publishing. His blend of photography with text was remarkable, and it's one of the few nonfiction titles to ever win a Newbery Medal (this year, 2013, Sheinkin's Bomb garnered an honor). Comprehensive, well documented, this book is a standard among biographies for the middle grades set.

Abraham Lincoln
Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire
Doubleday, 1939
Caldecott Medal

Another noteworthy book about Lincoln that also was a landmark book in terms of awards--one of the first Caldecott winners and in color! The D'Aulaires are standards in the field for children's biographies and their adaptations of things like the Greek Myths for children. This biography is accessible to elementary school children, does a nice job of bringing Lincoln's character (including his funny side) to life, and gives a thorough look at Lincoln's childhood and young adulthood.

Thanks to my local library for all books save Lincoln's Grave Robbers which I received via netgalley; cover images from goodreads.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Fun February Reads

If you've ever been a classroom teacher, you know that the month of February is the "longest shortest month" of the year. It's true. Those 28 days seem to D--R--A--G on, the weather is yucky, and spring break seems like forever away!

Even if you're at home, February can be a dull month; everyone is sick, no one wants to visit because of germs, and, again, the weather....

It's time to lighten it up, folks! Try one of the books/series below this February for a quick reprieve from heavy duty school work and more intense reading. Are these books destined to be ones you'll reread? Probably not. Are they modern classics? Probably not.

BUT, will they be fun? Yes. Perhaps even laugh out loud funny? Yes. Will your youngsters enjoy the sheer delight of reading a good book on the couch while it's cold and yucky outside? Absolutely. Will this be more fun if Mom makes a cup of chai to enjoy simultaneously? Of course. And, will your kids enjoy watching YOU enjoy some light reading? Most definitely. Try one of the book/series below for some quality time with your kids--if discussion topics arise, great. If not, take note of any issues/character traits/events which might provide good fodder in future discussions (i.e. "Aren't you acting a bit like ... here?").

The Odd Squad: Bully Bait
Michael Fry
Hyperion, 2013 (comes out THIS month!)

Hilarious in a very middle school way, The Odd Squad is the latest comic/illustrated novel (a la Wimpy Kid or Dork Diaries) to hit shelves; I must say, it's a heap site better than those other two in my opinion. In fact, this is sort of Lunch Lady meets Wimpy Kid: a motley and unlikely collection of 3 misfits learns how to beat the bully with some behind the scenes help from the school janitor (there's more to the janitor than meets the eye!). But it's more than just a lesson in standing up for yourself. Along the way, the three learn how to be friends, how to look past someone's outer exterior to what might be going on inside, and how to be themselves--quirks and all. And there are definitely some quirks. The main character, Nick, reminds me of the main dude in Wimpy Kid, but I like Nick SO much better. He's a jerk at times, but he learns from it and recovers. This will have your 5th, 6th, and 7th graders laughing and nodding along, especially if they're in a school big enough to have lockers! I viewed the ARC, so the artwork wasn't final--but what I saw added to the text tremendously and was well done.

Jennifer and Matthew Holm (brother and sister!)
Random House

I have a confirmed Babymouse addict in the house in the form of one 7-year-old little girl. And I gotta say, folks, that I'd take Babymouse over Angelina Ballerina or Olivia ANY day. Is there snark? Sure. Does Babymouse have an attitude? Yep. But the Babymouse Christmas won me over: when Babymouse gets the handheld gaming gadget of choice for Christmas, she actually puts it down and goes over to play with her younger sibling and the new doll house. And, more to the point, since this is a graphic novel, the pictures were worth more than a thousand preachy words. In the Puppy Love installment pictured here, Babymouse is dying for a puppy, but she learns a lot about how hard pets are to take care of--especially when you're a bit absent-minded. When she finally does figure it out...well...  (Recommended for middle elementary--early middle)

Lunch Lady
Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Another graphic novel series, this one is for those among you who go to school and/or appreciate some great schooltime humor. Solving "crimes," the Lunch Lady and her kid cronies are ka-powing, blam-ming, and karate-chopping away (only the Lunch Lady does this with fantastic kitchen-implements-turned-secret-agent-weapons). Funny, quirky, and a terrific break from heavy reading for the 3rd-7th grade crowd (although my K5-1st grade crowd enjoy them, too).

Little, Brown

There's some serious vocabulary in these original TinTin books!! And while the movie might be fun, the comics are so much... more. More plot, more action, more TinTin! TinTin travels the world in his various adventures, solving crimes and having daring adventures. Middle grades.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Jeff Kinney

I'm not a huge fan of the Wimpy Kid series, but Janie Cheaney over at Redeemed Reader makes some worthwhile points in favor of this (admittedly hilarious) series.

Capture the Flag
Kate Messner
Scholastic, 2012

4 kids. 4 ethnicities. 1 President-Hopeful. 1 poodle. 1 missing Star Spangled Banner (yes, THE Star Spangled Banner). 1 Secret Society. 1 airport full of people stuck during a 24-hour snowstorm and subsequent grounding of all planes. And LOTS of Tootsie Rolls, crazy baggage carousel rides, and action. The only true chapter book in this lineup, Capture the Flag is a terrific adventure read for a snowy winter day or two....Middle grades (4th-7th perhaps)

All cover images from goodreads; all books save The Odd Squad from my local library; ARC for Odd Squad thanks to Hyperion via netgalley

Friday, February 8, 2013

Hoop Genius and Trashket Ball

Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball
John Coy, author
Joe Morse, illustrator
Lerner Books, 2013

Teachers are under-rated. If you've never been in charge of the education of a group of squirrely youngsters during the month of February, then you have NO idea of the level of inventiveness going on in the classroom. I'm not surprised in the least that a gym teacher invented one of America's favorite sports! Nor that it was with his students' help and based on a childhood game he seemed to have invented with his neighbors.

Hoop Genius is a terrific read, especially if you have young basketball fans in your home (as I do!). What makes this a strong informational picture book?
*Vibrant, active illustrations--Morse packs this book with energy in art form
*An insight into the origins of sports: all sports we play today were invented at some point--and many are no doubt based on the games children invent and creative adults recreate
*Some things never change: a group of bored students is always a party waiting to happen (whether that party is on their terms or the teacher's!)
*the mash-up of text and pictures works quite well in this book

Look for Hoop Genius on shelves come March 1. In the meantime, you might consider playing "Trashket Ball" in your classroom or in your home as a review game. This is a game my students taught me when I taught high school English.

Group Play:
Two teams. Teacher asks a player on each team in turn a review question. If the student answers correctly, his or her team gets a point. If they answer correctly, they also get the chance to shoot the "ball" (a wadded up piece of paper) into the "basket" (trash can works nicely) for an extra point. I need hardly tell you the motivation this gave some of my students to work hard at the review game.

Small Group/Individual Play:
At home with just one or two students? Teams are not necessary. Score each child as an individual and ask whatever level questions each child needs (this allows you to mix and match grade/ability levels). A laundry basket and nerf ball work just as well as wadded up paper and a trash can!

Enjoy! And share with us some of YOUR favorite February games and activities!

Book from Lerner Press via Netgalley (thanks!); cover image from goodreads.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Hattie Ever After

Hattie Ever After
Kirby Larson
Delacorte Press, 2013

Truly noteworthy books aren't judged just as a successor to the previous book; they're judged on their "stand alone" merits. As in, could this book be a great book without its predecessor (Hattie Big Sky, a 2007 Newbery Honor). In Hattie's case, most definitely yes!

How do I know this? I read Hattie Ever After "cold" from netgalley in ARC form.  By "cold," I mean that I haven't read Hattie Big Sky. Now, however, Hattie Big Sky has just moved much higher in the TBR pile!

Hattie's character and voice are so genuine and warm; she's the kind of book character you are drawn to and feel sort of nostalgic on behalf of. Many people have this same sort of artificial nostalgia for Laura Ingalls and her time period. Hattie Ever After brings us to the early 20th century when women are struggling with the return to the domestic homefront after helping out professionally with the war effort. This tension is dealt with well in Hattie Ever After. The importance of human relationships--especially marriage--comes through alongside the understandable interest, for young women like Hattie, in pursuing a career dream (in her case, newspaper reporting).

I really enjoyed the setting, the characters, the pacing, the plot in this little gem. I really, really liked the ending--a very appropriate balance of authenticity for the time period with Hattie's career aspirations. Historical details were thrown in naturally (such as Hattie gazing up the at the "large" 10-story newspaper building), worked into letters, and communicated effortlessly in conversations. The ending was a bit predictable, but that didn't spoil the book for me. All in all, a great read and a sweet love story just in time for Valentine's Day!

Recommended for middle grades and up; look for this book in local bookstores in mid-February and in libraries shortly thereafter! (you can always request your local library to purchase a book!)

Cover image from goodreads; ARC/book thanks to Delacorte via netgalley

Monday, February 4, 2013

Rudyard Kipling's Just So Comics: Tales of the World's Wildest Beasts

Rudyard Kipling's Just So Comics: Tales of the World's Wildest Beasts
Rudyard Kipling
Pedro Rodriguez, illustrator
Capstone, 2013

I've tried valiantly to read a few more comic/cartoon/graphic novels recently because I know so many kids who enjoy them, and I still feel like I'm in unfamiliar territory. So I jumped at the chance to read this ARC since I'm a big fan of Kipling's Just So Stories. Phrases like the "great, gray green greasy Limpopo" jog along in my head, "o best beloved," whenever I think of them.

Some classics have been translated into graphic novel form quite successfully; this is not one of those instances. These are fun to read/look at, but the tone is all wrong--a bit more snarky and "hip" than Kipling's original voice. In addition, so many of those deliciously perfect read aloud phrases, such as the ones mentioned above, have been removed in order to make the text more sparse, no doubt. The art is fun and engaging, the stories chosen are good ones ("The Elephant's Child," "How the Leopard Got His Spots," "How the Camel Got His Hump," and "Why the Rhino Has Wrinkled Skin"). [those might not be the exact wording of the titles, but you'll recognize which ones they are if you've read the originals] There are some nice extras in terms of nonfiction information on the various animals, and the book is a quick read.

All in all, this is definitely no substitute for the original tales. It might work as a suitable introduction for children who are really into graphic novels and lead them then to the originals. It might also be a fun exercise for students to read these after having read one of the originals and then try their hand at creating a comic from one of their favorite stories.

Suitable for all ages; scheduled to be in stores this month!

Cover image from goodreads; thanks to Capstone via netgalley for the ARC

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Valentine books

With Valentine's Day around the corner, it is time to stock up on chocolate (the darker the better at our house!) and books to share with those you love most. My all-time favorite, hopefully available at your library (or at least purchase a paperback copy!), is Ballad of Valentine.

The Ballad of Valentine (Picture Puffins)The Ballad of Valentine

Alison Jackson, Tricia Tusa
Dutton Children's Books, 2002

A bespectacled, shy admirer of his pompadoured neighbor tries every way in vain to tell her ardently he admires and loves her, but his every effort goes awry. He tries letters, homing pigeon, smoke signals, pony express, telegram, and more, but the message never seems to get through...still, his love is not in vain! The ending is so sweet I can't spoil it for you, so do find it if you can. If you know the tune to the original Ballad of Clementine, then by all means, serenade the book to your sweetheart (or at least make an effort)! The illustrations are marvelous.

Two other sweet-lovin' books are great to read any time of year, but this is a good time to mention them:

A Kiss for Little BearA Kiss for Little Bear

Else Holmelund Minarik, Maurice Sendak
HarperCollins, 1984

Little Bear draws a picture for his grandparents and gives it to Hen to deliver. Hen is given a kiss in return and instructed to give the kiss to Little Bear. However, the messenger soon tires of her errand-running and passes the kiss along to someone else, who also gets sidetracked and gives it to someone else, and so on. (The best part is when it gets to the skunks.) Although Hen finally objects to "Too much kissing!" it is all finally sorted out and everyone lives happily ever after.

I Kissed the Baby!I Kissed the Baby!

Mary Murphy
Walker Children's Paperbacks, 2011

This is ideal for very, very little ones because it is all black and white with just a few bright colors, so it is a book to snuggle babies with. Everyone is excited to see, sing, tickle and kiss the baby, but of course Mama's kisses are best and always readily available. Simple and sweet--makes everyone want to participate!

You might also enjoy some recommendations from our friends at Redeemed Reader.

A decade ago I ran across these printable bookmarks to celebrate "Library Lovers Month." Amazing that they're still out there!

cover images from goodreads.