Do you have a “book bag” with go-to titles for different topics? These are the books that pop into your head at the mere mention of a word. If someone says “silly books” the cover of Mr. Brown Can Moo appears in my mind’s eye.
And when someone says “sibling problems” or “jealousy” I instantly see Mama, Chester, and Ronny raccoon from the cover of A Pocket Full of Kisses by Aubrey Penn. Animal stories have a way of making life lessons easier to understand, and when they’re done well, kids can see themselves and reflect on the message.
It was Okay for a while, but now Chester doesn’t like having a little brother. Every time he thinks Mother Raccoon has given him just a little extra love, she goes and gives it to his brother Ronny, too. Finally, with a story about the stars, Chester begins to understand about a mother’s love. This story helps “big brothers” understand that parents can never run out of love for their children.
Raccoon protagonists make this a story that’s easy to swallow for “big brothers” who want to make sure that they are loved, too. It could also work in a classroom where “jealousy” is the issue at hand.
There is just enough humor that the human “big brother” can see his jealousy but not be embarrassed by it.
It offers parents a means to physically demonstrate their unconditional love in a way that is precious to a child. If you have two (or more) children who sometimes forget that they are loved equally, this is a nice reminder.
If you’re in a house with siblings (or soon-to-be siblings), this is a great story for talking about love, jealousy, and being the ‘bigger’ child.
In our house, there are no brothers or sisters, yet as a three-year-old our daughter couldn’t get enough of this book. Great books make an impression that can last a lifetime. What books fit that category for you?
“A capacity and taste for reading gives access to whatever has already been discovered by others.”
~ Abraham Lincoln
This month I have felt particularly overwhelmed with news-y articles about literacy, book awards announcements, reading-related events, and social media “discoveries.” I deleted many without botherint to read them. If it looked like it had something interesting or some analysis, I spent some time reading.
Some of it turned out to be repetitive (i.e., repackaged news I’d read elsewhere), but most of it had a nugget of information that struck me as new and “good to know.” The articles covered questions I’d never know to ask, ideas I’d never considered, and information that help with better informed decision-making and recommendations. I’m hoping you find these articles valuable, too.
Extra Helpings, a free e-Newsletter of the School Library Journal, shared its interview with LeVar Burton. Reading Rainbow has re-launched as an App for the iPad, and will be expanding to other devices and the web, as well. Two ideas really struck me:
Reading Rainbow was a television show because that was the “prevailing technology of the day.” Today, the technology for “steering kids back in the direction of the written word” is not a TV.
Burton has not forgotten his PBS roots. “My dream for our kids is that we become like a PBS for parents in the digital realm.”
It is fun to read that article next to Scholastic’s latest Kids & Family Reading Report. As you might expect, stats related to eBooks have gone up significantly since the last report, but here is the shining star …
Eighty percent of kids who read ebooks still read books for fun primarily in print.
If you listen to National Public Radio (NPR), you may have heard Tanya Lombrozo’s piece Music, Multivitamins And Other Modern Intelligence Myths. The article presents the findings of a paper published in January that looked at dozens of studies to see what (if anything) can improve a child’s intelligence in those early year. The article isn’t long, but it garnered a collection of comments that are also worth reading.
It seems that almost every book is part of a series these days. There’s a downside to that: isn’t there anything original anymore? But there is an upside, too.
When you want to hook a developing or struggling reader, series give them fast-paced stories with relatable characters they will grow to consider friends. It doesn’t hurt to mix in a little humor, too.
Meet Johnny Maverick, Stu Duncan, and Tom Morgan. Johnny and Stu have been friends for life and play on the Timberwolves hockey team. Tom Morgan just arrived in Howling, Toronto, Canada. He joins the team, but theirs is not an instant friendship. Tom is bent on picking on the overweight Stu; but by the end of Timberwolf Chase (Book One), Tom has learned some valuable lessons about friendship and teamwork.
Next time around, in Timberwolf Revenge, Johnny is Tom’s target. Tom makes the first move, playing a practical joke on Johnny. Then its Johnny’s turn … and it keeps escalating. When Tom outsmarts him one last time, Johnny finally gets the message that revenge isn’t the answer.
In each of these lightly illustrated novels, the story is fast-paced. There are peripheral characters – like parents and coaches – but most of the action centers around Johnny, Stu, and Tom. Here are some of the other reasons this series stands out for me …
There are humorous events and pratfalls kids love – like hooking Johnny’s shorts, tied to a fishing line, so that when he runs the race his shorts come down. [Timberwolf Challenge]
Life lessons relevant to preteens are woven into every story. From the choices and consequences of their actions to how to be a good Samaritan, these are examples kids can relate to and emulate. [Timberwolf Trap]
The boys’ competitive spirit is obvious … and so is the result of being too competitive. Each of the boys get their “come uppance.”
Although it might seem from the first two books I described that Tom is the main character, the stories are told through Johnny, and each book opens with what he’s doing. The key is that readers will be able to relate to each of the three protagonists.
Even as a ‘girl’ I enjoyed the series, but I’ll admit that it will more likely appeal to boys grades 3 to 6. If you’re looking for books for older readers that have that fast pace with life-lessons, I’d recommend the Orca Currents series. Here are previews for two of the newest titles.
At a Battle of the Bands event, Ace and his best friend Denny notice that girls like musicians, no matter how dorky the dudes might be. Since they have been severely challenged when it comes to meeting girls, they decide to start a band. Ace discovers that he loves playing guitar and electric bass and Denny tweets their every move. Ace tries to write a song that will win at the next local teen songwriting contest. It’s more difficult than he thought it would be. When Denny brings a great tune to rehearsal, Ace is devastated that Denny, who rarely practices, is a better songwriter than he is. The contest is only days away when Ace discovers that Denny stole the song, and Ace has to decide if winning is worth the lie. (publisher summary)
Ever since he was small, Franklin has been soothed by fire. Staring into the flames helps Franklin forget his problems. And right now, he’s got a lot to forget. Franklin’s mother has left the family home to be with her hairdresser boyfriend. Franklin’s father, the mayor of Montreal West, is too busy worrying about his public image to do anything about the family.
As a rash of local fires competes with upcoming elections for media attention, Franklin’s father has to work hard to keep the public happy. And Franklin has to reconsider his romance with fire. (publisher summary)
The Orca Currents series offers older readers (middle school) fast-paced stories that meet their interests. Unlike Timberwolf, each of these books introduces new characters. Yet just like Timberwolf , there are thought-provoking moments that readers will find relevant to the ir own lives.
As a Mom, I feel like the most over-used word in my vocabulary is “No” — followed closely by “Don’t.” I get tired of hearing myself say them, so I can imagine how weary my daughter is of listening to them. I’m sure its true for teachers, too.
Our job as parents and educators is to guide our children and help them make good choices. There is no way to eliminate “no” and “don’t” from our vocabulary, but it would be nice not to hear them so often. It would be nice to have an assistant to help with the teaching. That’s where books — especially picture books — come in handy.
There is no shortage of children’s picture books with stories whose intended purposes are to teach a specific lesson, whether it is the ABCs of friendship or the XYZs of potty training. There is a book for just about anything we want to help a young child understand. The hard part is finding a book that gets the message across without beating the theme to death.
In books like No, David! By David Shannon and No Biting! By Karen Katz — both personal favorites — the lessons and expected behaviors are explicit.
Sometimes, though, it’s better to let the kids glean the lessons from the story and/or its illustrations. What’s With This Room? by Tom Lichtenheldis another example of the kind of book helps children learn by observing the wrong way to do things. How can this help the “no”-weary parent or teacher?
You aren’t the one saying “No.” Even though [name your character] says the exact same thing you do about being sloppy, kids will believe him or her first.
The kids don’t hear “No.” The listener or young reader is looking at what happens and thinking about what’s going on. They are exploring the story by anticipating events or their consequences.
Laughter can lighten the mood. Most of the time, these stories the events and consequences are exaggerated to make sure the lessons aren’t missed.
Last but not least … the kids feel superior to the character! That little ego boost might just help their self-esteem and confidence enough to “act on” the message. The other plus is that they empathize with the characters and can suggest ways to make things better.
Often kids see themselves in the book character, but they don’t see themselves AS the book character. Because you are talking about a “third person,” you’ve eliminated the pressure your students may feel about the topic at hand.
In the child’s mind, you’ve separated the behavior from him or her, so he or she might be more interested in talking about choices and consequences.
Children’s book illustrators are an incredibly talented bunch. They often have secondary activities that aren’t directly related to the text in their illustrations. We have found stories that are just fun to read that have no specific lesson at all, but which end up being stories where we can talk about behaviors.
For example, several years ago while I was reading the words about spending the day at the beach, my five-year-old was dissecting the illustration, talking about the child pouring sand over another child’s head. I hadn’t picked the book for “teaching,” but a lesson was hiding in plain view … and I wasn’t the one who pointed out what was “wrong.”
Do you have any favorite life lesson books that you’d recommend to other teachers and parents?
I’ve always loved stories. They are windows to other worlds. A good story doesn’t tell you what to think. But if I can hook you in, maybe you’ll find yourself compelled to think, feel, imagine… and to begin a new journey of your own. ~ Beverley Naidoo
Four years ago this month I “met” Beverley Naidoo through Femi, Sade, and their father. They are a Nigerian refugee family living in London, whose lives (mostly Femi’s) were central to Web of Lies. The story was so powerfully told, that I wanted to learn more about this children’s author from South Africa. Her personal story is as captivating as the ones she’s created for young readers.
So far, I’ve read three of her works: Web of Lies, Burn My Heart, and Out of Bounds: Seven Stories of Conflict and Hope. These are books written at an upper-elementary level with stories that will interest and engage older readers, too. Each of these has been shared with young readers, and this week’s reviews focus on their reactions to the books.
Burn My Heart
by Beverley Naidoo
Book Level: 5.2; Interest Level: MG
Mathew and Mugo are friends, just as their fathers had been friends when they were boys. The Graysons, British settlers, took ownership of the land once farmed by Kikuyu, Mugo’s ancestors. As fears of the Mau Mau Society begin to grow, the boys’ worlds begin to diverge. Their friendship is being tested as they both confront prejudice, loyalty, and fear. Are they truly friends? Were they ever? This middle grade novel offers a fictional account of life in Kenya during the Mau Mau rebellion.
I picked this out of a group of books because it has a cool name and a pretty cover. I did learn a little about the British going to Africa. I didn’t know they did that.
This is a haunting story. I couldn’t put the book down. Although the story is set in 1950s Kenya, the themes of prejudice, change, and the horror that comes with perpetuating fear could just as easily apply to 1950s America.
This is a well-paced read that offers a window into a poorly documented piece of history.
These are stories that describe life in South Africa during apartheid, 1948 through 2000. Each story is narrated by a young person who is trying to make sense out of what’s happening to his or her life, family, community, and nation. This is a set of short stories about life in South Africa during apartheid.
The thought-provoking tales are set simply, providing for easy comprehension.
Each character is given a distinct, notable personality. Although their names may be foreign for some readers, the identifiable traits set each person apart.
While these short stories seems like a fairly simple, straightforward read, there are moving messages on and between the pages.
After each chapter, some main points of the subject remain hidden, leaving the reader an unanswered question sometimes without a correct answer. This aspect drew me deep into the book. I often found myself rereading some passages to hopefully better understand the situations.
Web of Lies
by Beverley Naidoo
Reading Level: 4.7; Interest Level: UG
Having fled Nigeria and resettled in London, Femi (10) and Sade (12) thought they would finally be safe. While Sade is dealing with her mother’s death and the possible intrusion of a “new woman” in their lives, Femi is getting more and more involved with a street gang. It isn’t long before their resilience as individuals and as a family are once again put to the test. This is a novel that allows you to journey with the characters (and their father) as they deal with the presence of a gang in their lives.
This book shows a harsh reality for some children worldwide. While global cultures differ based on geography and customs, Ms. Naidoo has a way of making the story of Femi and Sade universal.
The reader makes the connection that many people today face the same problems of fleeing their homeland in hopes of a better life only to encounter a harsh welcome where they land.
It would be a good book for stimulating a discussion on global current events and what’s happening to displaced citizens.
The story is believable, offering stark but not exaggerated descriptions of the realities of life. Once you start, you will want to finish the book.
When looking for books that introduce kids to other cultures and yet have universal appeal, you can’t go wrong with these. They also have high interest / low readability appeal. The characters and plots are sophisticated enough for older readers who need extra help, too.
Did you know that one in every ten households in the United States is an adoptive family?
The rise in international adoptions adds an extra dimension to a family’s way of life, because their child brings with them a cultural heritage that may not be the culture they grow up in. Most families of adoption – like many biological families – do not want to rob their children of their cultural identity. Rather, they take concrete steps to celebrate it. We can do that in classrooms, too!
Bilingual children’s books offer a way to introduce and bridge cultures. Your child or student may already speak at least some of his/her native language. If that’s the case, then bilingual books can help you learn the language, not only improving communication, but showing them that you think their culture is important.
Books that have all the text in one language – whether it is English, Mandarin Chinese, or Arabic – are not bilingual books. They are foreign language children’s books. These are wonderful books if you already know a language, but they may be a bit daunting (or downright discouraging) if you aren’t familiar with it.
así que vamos a hablar en español los libros bilingüe
(Let’s talk bilingual books)
There are two two types of bilingual picture books.
Some bilingual books tell the story with parallel text. In these books, the English and (let’s say Spanish) text are presented together on the same page, with an illustration on the facing page.
If you have had some training in the language, these books can help dust off the rust quickly, and you’ll be reading comfortably in no time.
The second type of bilingual book is a story where specific vocabulary words are inserted into the sentence, and you use the illustrations to help with the translation. “The vaca wandered from the farm.” Vaca is Spanish for cow, and the illustration would likely have a cow walking out from her pen.
This style of presentation introduces the language through context, and is very useful when you want to begin building a vocabulary. You may learn simple phrases like “good luck,” but you don’t have enough immersion to create complete sentences.
Given the portability of books these days, many bilingual books come with CDs. All of the titles in the Teach Me … series (Teach Me Tapes.com), for example, have parallel text and come with a book and CD. Hearing the language spoken correctly can help you and your child, too. I’ve not done any exploring, but I imagine there are read-to-me capabilities in children’s book apps, too.
With bilingual stories, you can share more than just the languages of your family’s heritage. You often learn about other cultural traditions and history. Myths, legends, and folklore are the foundation of every society’s storytelling tradition. Whether you are reading (or listening to) a native story in English or another language, you are celebrating all that makes your child unique and yet also part of a global world.
One of the best ways to tap into their natural curiosity and sense of humor is with a book. They may be clever, but with the right book, you can sneak a little bit of learning right past their eagle eyes.
I confess, I am a HUGE Sylvan Dell Publishing fan, and have been for a long time. Their informational picture books consistently offer young audiences quality stories. Each story is built around a practical learning topic, with additional activities in the back that are perfect whether you read the book in school or at home. The fact that you’ll find every title in both English and Spanish shouldn’t be dismissed, either.
This week’s book reviews are a selection of Sylvan Dell Publishing titles that guide kids to discovering answers to their question. These are stories that are more about the show and less about the tell.
How can this be? Someone stole Fox’s cake from the Cake Contest … on Owl’s watch, no less. Thirteen bakers and twelve cakes. There’s a thief in the house! Deductive Detective is on the case. He surveys the scene, collecting clues, and shares his process, all while eliminating suspects.
The story is fast paced. Kids will “quack” up at the clever word play. That said, some of the double entendre may be missed; and some adults may not appreciate the misspellings for effect (e.g., Moose makes a chocolate moose cake).
Bright, busy illustrations give young listener’s plenty to look at. Some pages are text-heavy, so the quality illustrations will keep their attention.
In addition to the factual data, each spread includes a subtraction problem … sneaky, sneaky!
This is a fun story to share and offers opportunities not just for prediction, but as a model on how to solve other problems.
Highly recommended for school or home. Deductive Detective would make a great gift for an elementary student, paired with a magnifying glass, a small notebook, and a pencil.
Visit and explore thirteen habitats, from the arctic to woodland forests above ground, and caves and marine environments below. Each spread asks kids to find natural objects in the imagery. Each habitat is presented with rhyme and action verbs, making it less story and more poetry like.
Readers use their visual detective skills to find the items described in each poem. Some are easy, like the animals; but others take a little more knowlege, like finding the hemlock in the forest.
Simple poems and beautiful illustrations make this an excellent selection for developing readers. The text is accessible and the imagery helps them decode words that may be unfamiliar.
Beyond the natural detective work, there is a broad array of action verbs. This can be useful for helping young writers expand their word bank with more descriptive vocabulary.
There are four pages of content in the back. The Creative Minds section is always good, but this is one of the best I’ve seen.
Highly recommended for school, and particularly home. This would be great to read before a trip to the zoo, a hike, or a walk around the neighborhood.
Two weeks ago, a neighbor called, asking for help. She is having some work done on her house so she’s taking the opportunity to clear out anything “superfluous.”
Over the years she collected children’s books. Her grandchildren have outgrown the titles (and they use eReaders!), but she didn’t want to just toss the books aside.
How could I? These are Tommy DePaola … oh, Streganona!
She knew that through the Reading Tub® we get books to readers, so that is why she called me.
When I went to look at the books, I learned the proverbial “rest of the story” about why she had collected and saved so many children’s books. It seems that many years ago, she tutored ESL students. Twice a year each child would receive a book. One year, after her student received their second book, the child declared “now I have two books.” The student was so proud. She was in shock.
This exchange motivated my neighbor to collect books – mostly gently used titles – so that she could share them with a reader in need. Even after she stopped tutoring, she kept her treasures, hoping one day that they would find an excited reader. I promised her I would get them in the right hands.
For those of us surrounded by books for as long as we can remember, the story seems unfathomable. How can it be that a child reaches school without a book to call their own? Unfortunately, it’s true. So many of us have heard stories similar to this one.
It is what motivates us to do what we can to make a difference: as teachers, as mentors, as citizens. February 14, 2013 marks International Book Giving Day. The goal is to connect a child with a book to call their own. Some suggestions from the website …
Give a book to a friend or relative. It can be new, used, or borrowed.
Leave a book in a waiting room or lobby. Deposit the book overtly or covertly in the waiting room of your choice.
Collect the books your child has outgrown and deliver them – together – to a shelter, school, or a local organization getting books to kids.
My Fifth Grader has been working on a project where she has to read an historical fiction novel then transform it into a picture book that she will read with her third-grade Book Buddy. [Personally, I think this is a brilliant project, but that's a subject for another day!]
One of the grading points for the project is the book’s cover, which must be
“engaging … with colorful illustrations.”
For better or worse, a book’s cover is often the key determinant in whether or not someone (adults included) pick up a book. When covers and content come together, there is reason to cheer.
For this week’s set of book reviews, I’ve selected three irresistible books from Dawn Publications from our Reading Tub® book bag. As you’ll see in the comments, our reviewers enjoyed them from cover to cover! Click the covers and read them on BigUniverse.com
Read on Big Universe
written and illustrated by Robert Nutt
length: 48 pages
Amy is scared of the dark. When she sees small lights are flickering outside her window, she gets an idea. She retrieves an empty jar and goes outside to catch some fireflies to bring to her room. The light of the fireflies dims because they’re confined to the jar. Amy releases them into her room, the darkness has gone away, and she overcomes her fear of the shadows on the walls, falling asleep in peace. This is a story that brings together nature and a child’s fear of the dark.
Everyone can enjoy this unique story with its dream-like quality and wonderfully researched facts about fireflies. The illustrations are quite effective at telling the story, and are wonderfully created. There is so much info here, both entertaining and educational.
This is a bedtime story and can start conversations about being afraid of the dark, but it is also about fireflies. At the end of the book is also a page of factual info about fireflies and their decline in the environment, and how to preserve them.
My children (ages 2,4, and 6) enjoyed the book. However, not really having experienced fireflies, I’m not entirely certain this book hit home for them.
This is a book about how honey is made by honey bees. Follow the day of a honey bee, with exquisitely detailed illustrations that are biologically accurate and just gorgeous to look at! This is a story about honey bees that also includes science information.
This is a great book that will catch the eye of most kids.
Gorgeous pictures, will grow with the attention span of the child. The story text is written at 2 levels: 1) a 2-year-old level, with just 2-10 words per page (short and sweet for a short attention span), and 2) a 5-year old level, with several sentences explaining the bees’ behavior in more depth.
My sons (ages 3 and 5) both loved the book. They both love learning about animals, so this book really spoke to their interests. The pictures gave them lots to look at, and the text was very interesting to them. I picked the book the first time, but they came back and asked for it a lot.
This wonderfully illustrated counting book portrays a variety of colorful ocean life. On each spread there is an underwater mother fish and her young, from 1 to 10, each with a short rhyme. This picture book is an undersea counting book that also introduces readers to ocean life.
Bright illustrations, short text, bonus material about teaching kids how to count, and “behind the scenes” looks at how the book was created make this book stand out.
My boys (2 and 4) liked this book. They both wanted to read it again, and my older son made associations between the illustrations here and other books. He also asked “what is that” about the other elements of the page. My 2-year-old is starting to learn to count, and the illustrations made counting fun.
The pages were colorful with lots to see, but they weren’t overwhelming.
There are lots of things to do with this book in addition to counting. You can explore the biology of sea life; and the rhyming lets you make it a musical story. The clay artwork may inspire kids to create their own works of art.
The idea for a group discussion came about after listening to Mitali speak at the Children’s Authors Breakfast at BookExpo America in May 2010. Mitali talked about literature being windows and mirrors. She drew on her own experiences as a reader of color to show how it has influenced her as an author of color.
“Windows and mirrors” was a new-to-me expression, and I love what it suggests: books are a way introduce worlds and characters beyond ourselves, and yet reflections of our own experiences.
To kick off that March 2011 round table, I started with this sentence: Reading widely is important for kids because ________.
Here are my panelists thoughts ..
Tanita: I would say “because reading widely shows the reader the commonality of the human experience.”
Mitali: Mine would be “the pen is mightier than the sword. The gift of literacy is power.”
Hannah: Wow, so many reasons! Reading widely is important for kids because it’s the greatest way to get people to understand from a young age that we are all more alike than we are different. Reading is such an amazing exercise in empathy, and reading widely helps children step outside the confines of their own experiences, sometimes for the first time, to put themselves in someone else’s shoes.
Books about different places, times, or people help children appreciate different perspectives and train them to find common ground with even those whose lives, from the outside, may look very different. Of course reading widely also gives children a wider base of knowledge about the world and helps them to expand the range of what they can imagine, and that’s always valuable. But I’ve always thought that the biggest benefit of reading widely, for kids and adults, is that it teaches us to identify with others and understand them, and that makes us kinder people.
Tanita: Oh! Can I add another one? Recent reading has prompted another spate of thought! I would add this quote from Ursula K. LeGuin:
We like to think we live in daylight, but half the world is always dark, and fantasy, like poetry, speaks the language of the night.
Somewhere away on the other side of the sleeping globe are people whose language and culture and stories we haven’t yet discovered, and yet books can transcend that gap, and speak a language creates a bridge.
February is National African American History Month, aka Black History Month. This year’s theme At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality gives us a chance to share familiar stories (The Emancipation Proclamation and March On Washington), and more importantly, introduce kids to stories within those times that they haven’t yet discovered.