Friday, September 30, 2011

Good Readers Stink
Review: I Stink!

There are certain things that good readers do with a certain level of automaticity.  These are some of the first skill that teachers teach children as they are reading because it helps students bring meaning to the written word.  So, along with making predictions, visualizing, and asking questions, good readers are also supposed to make connections.  The easiest connection to make is connecting the text to yourself.  Well, as it just so happens my Lil Guy made a nice connection today during a diaper change.  I had to laugh out loud when he told me; “I stink just like the garbage truck in the book!”  He said it with pride and conviction because, well, because: yes he did in fact stink like a garbage truck.  
Of course, Lil Guy was talking about the book I Stink by Kate McMullan.  Right after the diaper change we had to go find the book and giggle as we read the text; “You think I stink?  Whoooo-Wheeee, do I ever! No skunk ever stunk this bad.”  It was a nice reward for offering up such a stinky gift for his mother, right?  The point here is that connections can be made every day, everywhere.  When we connect we bring meaning to the text and makes reading real.  While books alone are a reward, connecting an experience in a book to a real life task, game, or experience makes books relatable, especially to little ones who are constantly gaining experiences.

So, keep making connections and sharing them with young readers and soon they will be making connections too.  How about you?  Have your young readers been making any great (or stinky) connections? 

I Stink

I Stink! by Kate McMullan is a stink filled picture book about a garbage truck with an attitude.  The glossy paperback is dark and dingy with illustrations showing the dirty life of a garbage truck in the big city.   The truck itself has a certain smirk and bright eyes that are expressive and ready to tell a story.  I was really impressed with all of the illustrations.  The text is written as a narrative from the garbage truck’s point of view; at some points in the story he is bragging about his special garbage truck features and other parts he is rapping about his important job.  He has an attitude too, because he doesn’t care if he stinks.  He wants you to realize that without his important job you would be sitting in your own trash.  The book also has some excellent use of onomonopia,  or sound words, like creak, burp, and plop.  In fact, all of the text is fun to read, not set in rhyme but in an excellent rhythm that begs to be read aloud.  I encourage anyone who shares books with children (of any age) to read this one aloud (and of course, make the connection next time you are in a stinky situation).

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Are You a DUFF? I Am.
Review: The Duff

The Duff

The DUFF: (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) was one of my "To Be Reads" I wrote about this month, so when I finally started reading it, I didn’t waste any time.  In fact the book was read in one evening as I couldn’t put it down.  I see why YA readers, especially teens, are creating a buzz about this book and the author, Kody Keplinger.  The book is a impressive YA read that should be popular with readers who like a little sizzle, a lot of drama, and a fun school based story.

Bianca’s emotional rollercoaster starts when a rude guy from her high school, Wesley, calls her the Duff.  That’s right, the D.esignated U.gly F.riend.  Ouch.  Bianca instantly hates the guy.  Things at home aren’t going well either, with her MIA mother and her father’s issues of his own.  How does Bianca react?   Well … a wild fling might take her mind off of things.  Unfortunately, it also takes her away from her friends, her family, and hides her true feelings.

This book is a good read.  I really did enjoy it and I look forward to reading the next of Kody Keplinger’s books.  I have read some of the other reviews about this book and some of the criticism reflects upon Keplinger’s obviously immaturity.  While I agree that some of the book lacks refinement, I liked Keplinger’s writing.  I thought the story was well developed and the characters were fun and likable too.  Bianca could be any one of us, in each of us is a Duff.  Teen readers will love this book and probably will feel a connection with not only the characters, but also the young author herself. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Review: Zoozical


ZooZical is a new picture book written by Judy Sierra and illustrated by Marc Brown.  This is the type of book that screams to be picked up and shared with children.  Those of you who love Marc Brown will really enjoy the illustrations too.  This hardcover is big and bright, so are the characters.

It all starts when the zoo animals get into a funk.  They don’t have any visitors and are in a bad mood.  When one little hippo and one little roo start jumping around, the other animals catch the excitement.  Soon there is singing, dancing, and a full-on musical.  The visitors start showing up and before you know it the animal funk is gone!  It’s a great voyage to go on with this zoo full of animals. The music is adorable too.  My favorites were: “Oh My Darling Porquipine”, “For He’s a Jolly Gorilla”, and of course “The Seals on the Bus”.  I admit I laughed out loud as I read this to my Lil Guy and he enjoyed the book too.  He was interested in the illustrations too.

This book is going to be an instant classic on my shelf.  I enjoyed it for the first read and I know that I will enjoy reading it again and again.  I think the book has wide appeal for all who love picture books.  I love, love, love the illustrations and think others will like it too.  I want a big groups of children sitting on a rug in front of me next time I read this one; it’s that kind of book.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A 16th Century Heroine
Review: Alchemy and Meggy Swann

Alchemy and Meggy Swann

Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman is a middle grade fiction book set in Elizabethan London.  Much like Cushman’s Newberry Honor winning  book, Catherine, Called Birdy, this book features old world musings, setting, and characters.  What is very different about this book was the main character who has a disability and a cast of other characters who are some likable and some loathsome.   The book tells the short adventure of a young girl, Meggy Swann.

Meggy Swan makes her way through life using rudimentary crutches that leave her winded and sore.  She has a sharp wit and good humor, which she needs to make her way in the dirty and crude world of London in the 16th century.  Meggy has come to London to be with her father, an alchemist, who she hasn’t met until now.  Not only are the London streets cruel, her father is quite unkind as are many neighbors and strangers who fear the young disabled girl, fearing that she is a wicked girl scarred with her disabled legs.  Meggy finally does find a few friends including her father’s former apprentice, Roger.  The adventure in London is full of twists and turns, good times, but mostly bad times, plus humor and quick witted remarks.

I am not sure what I expected when I began this book, but it was a short read full of humor and period details.  Much of the story was told in dialogue, so at time it was somewhat slow.  It was great to see a character with a major disability played as a strong and beautiful young girl like Meggy.  I found myself, often needing to look up words from the book and trying to picture the scenes in my head.  I don’t know a lot about the time period so it was more interesting to me than distracting.  While I enjoyed the book, I found it not as wonderful as Cushman’s original favorite, Catherine Called Birdy.  That being said, if you liked Catherine, you will find this a good read.  I do have to say the cover isn’t too inspiring, or maybe just not my style. If you do enjoy period reads, strong female characters, and books by Newberry honor winners, this is a book you should check out.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Monsters ! ! !
Review: Creepy Monsters, Sleepy Monsters

Creepy Monsters, Sleepy Monsters

Creepy Monsters, Sleepy Monsters by Jane Yolen is a Monster themed lullaby for little book-loving monsters. Yolen is also the author of the very popular series of books “How Do Dinosars _______?” We chose this book at our library because of the fun and cute cover showing 2 monsters playing ‘peek-a-boo’. The book is an oversized hardcover with shiny and colorful pages. The illustrations are somewhat muted, with dark backgrounds, adding to the eerie effect. There are plenty of scenes showing various monsters doing kid and family things, such as going to school, swinging on swings, eating dinner, and taking a bath. The monsters are drawn with soft fluid lines, lots of eyeballs, and smiling mouths (sometimes full of sharp, but not scary, teeth).

Each 2 page spread has only 2 simple lines, like this one: Monsters run, Monsters stumble. Followed by the next 2 page spread Monsters hip-hop, Monsters Tumble. The story takes you on a day with the monsters from beginning to end, ending with the monsters getting into bed and making some monster noises: gurgle, burp, and snarf. The last page showing the lil monsters finally asleep.

Creepy Monsters, Sleepy Monsters could have had a better name, it's such a cute book, and I am not sure I want to read something too creepy to my 2 year old! I think the illustrations are cute and they kind of remind of Ugly Dolls, which are just adorable. If little ones like monsters and think they are cute, this is a great book. I also think the use of monster sounds was fun. Because there were only a few words on each page with a very simple story, this book would be best for children ages 6 and under. I do wonder why the board book format wasn’t chosen. Enjoy this book, making monsters sounds, and watching the fun scenes with monsters.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Reader’s Theater at Home

Reader’s Theater is a teaching strategy in which students read a book or play as a script, having assigned roles and characters.  Unlike a full performance, props and physical acting are not generally used, instead focusing on the reading.  In the classroom students might act out a short story, a folk tale, a poem, or even a section of a novel.  Kids love this because it is interactive.  They get to step into a role without having to go up on stage.  Reader’s Theater also helps with fluency, one of the often missed components of reading.  As students read they are talking mostly in dialogue, adding expression and emotion into the spoken word.  Another aspect of Reader’s Theater is that the story is often familiar, read several times to allow students to practice and hone their roles.  Repeated exposure to the same text is recommended to students learning to read because it gives practice with fluency without having to worry about stumbling over unfamiliar words.  It also gives students a chance to study the literary devices and techniques employed by an author as they read the text a second or third time.  They already know the story, so they can dig deeper as they read.

All of this to say that Reader’s Theater can happen outside of the classroom too!  Even the youngest readers can begin to practice reading using this technique, even if your child is at the pseudo reading stage, meaning that your child just pretends to read, memorizes parts of the book, or retells a story from looking at pictures.   (All are excellent indicators that you are raising a child to read!)   We began to read one of our books at home in Reader’s Theater style quite by accident.  Here is a review of the book with some details about how we started our own Reader’s Theater at home.

The Three Billy Goats Gruff

This book is a version of the popular folk tale The Three Billy Goats Gruff written by Stephen Carpenter.  While new books are often given a lot of time on book blogs, I will admit: this is a book published ten years ago, although it is still in print today.  The book is a simple 8 by 8; this means that it’s one of those small 8 inch paperbacks that are popular and cheap, albeit mass produced and sometimes …. not the best quality.   This book however is well written and illustrated.  It’s the same cast of characters: goat, goat, goat, bridge, and troll.  The dialogue is simple but with some humor.  (As an added benefit, the dialogue is easy enough for my Lil Guy to remember at age 2.)  The story is also short enough to be a successful little Reader’s Theater at home.

My Lil Guy liked this book enough that we were reading it a couple times a day.  He giggled when we would use funny voices.  In fact, my husband decided to add a Scottish brogue to the Billy Goats’ voices.  (Or at least I think that is the effect I think he was trying to accomplish.)  Soon, the Troll’s voice changed too, it was gravely and rough.  My Lil Guy began to imitate us reading the story and took over the part of the Troll.  By this point, I was being a narrator (or the reader as my son was calling me), Lil Guy was doing the Troll’s voice, and my husband was doing the Goats.   The best part of the story is when the Troll tells each Goat; “I am going to gobble you up!”  This always gets us all laughing.  After several days of reading the book in this manner, we were ready to go mainstream and share our Reader’s Theater at home with an audience.  Nana was our first critic.  Via Skype we read along with the story, each doing our part and I must admit the effect was very successful.

This is a great version of the classic folk tale.  I do enjoy bringing old favorites to life and this book does an excellent version of that.  I am always on the lookout for good versions of classic tales, because well, because there are so many bad ones!  This book stands up to the test and classic tale lovers and those of you who are new to the story will enjoy this book, the illustrations, and maybe even a little theatrical flair.  Great for toddlers and emergent readers.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Technology Alert!

Technology Alert!  I will admit, while I am a solid bookie, I love books, I read them, heck I even sleep with them!!  (Admit it, you have slept with them too!)  While I can’t deny my love of books, I also have a Nook Color.  That’s right, I am a Nookie.  Maybe I should add to my blog title:  Teacher.Mother.Reader.Nooker.  I have had the Nook for 3 months now and have read a ton of books on this format.  It’s not the same as a book, but it’s not half bad.  I also enjoy sharing my Nook with my Lil Guy.  He has about a dozen books/apps that he can manipulate with help.  I had read that e-books and apps were beginning to be part of KidLit Blogosphere, and thought I should find something to review.  Anyway, I decided to do a review for a e-book/app I recently bought on my Nook. 
My First Zoo: Sights and Sounds

My First Zoo: Sights and Sounds brought to you by Tipitap is a treasury of animals for young ones to explore.  Each page is a single photograph of an animal with the animal’s name clearly labeled over the photograph, like with many children’s e-books, as you turn the page the text is read to you.  The other feature of this e-book/app is that by touching the animal you can hear the animal’s sound.  Before I bought the app I saw that there was some issue with sound, but following the directions on the overview, provided by the developer, I was able to turn up the volume sufficiently.

The animals in My First Zoo are shown on big beautiful color photographs.  The animals range from domestic, such as cat and dog, to exotic, like cheetah and peacock.  There were enough animals to keep me and my Lil Guy tap, tap, tapping for quite a while.  My Lil Guy, at age two, was able to turn the pages and tap to hear the sound independently after the first few pages.  This is part of what makes e-books (especially interactive books like this) a good match for toddlers:  we made the app into a game.  First we would see the animal and hear the name, sometimes I would repeat the name or he would repeat it.  We would try to guess the noise the animal would make and listen, once, twice, sometimes several times.  We were howling and imitating lots of the animals.  Just like reading a book, Lil Guy is seated and cuddled on my lap as we read, talk, and share. 

I thought this interactive e-book/app was fun and even educational.  It would be a great fit for toddlers or young children interested in animals.  It is very well done and easy to manipulate.  If this was part of a series featuring other sight and sound collections, I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase more.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Can You Imagine?

Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn't Have)

Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn't Have) by Sarah Mlynowski is a hot YA read and I had to read to find out what the buzz was all about. The title and the cover are both intriguing; from the beginning you can tell this is going to be a bit racy. The book does list 10 major ‘mistakes’ the main characters make and uses these as chapter headings. The book also spends a lot of time going back and forth using flashbacks to set the stage for various scenes. At times this was a bit distracting. Due to the content of the book I would rate it for older YA readers.

April is a high school teen with a steady boyfriend who so is totally in love with. She is ready to take things to the next level, but her family decides to move quicker than she can and relocates several states away. Somehow, (and by somehow I mean by lying, cheating, and breaking some laws) April and her friend Vi convince her father that April should be allowed to stay behind, on her own, living with Vi and her very absentee mother. That’s right, April and Vi are a junior and senior in high school with a house, an endless supply of both money and alcohol, and zero parental supervision. Can you imagine?

Everything you can imagine does happen in the book, including … everything. I really did think the concept of the book, albeit a little farfetched, was cute, but for me at least, a little too over the top. Between the drinking, bad boys, lying, and irresponsibility, it just wasn’t a fun read for me. There were times the book was a nice, fun read and some of the characters were good to get to know, but if teens read this book and find it realistic, I am not convinced. Overall I liked the style of the writing, I think the set up was unique, but I couldn’t get past the flat characters that only had one thing on their minds. If you are a older YA reader looking for a book that is exciting, easy to read, and a bit unrealistic at times, you might want to give this one a try.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Character Spotlight: Duck & Goose

For today’s character spotlight, we are meeting Duck & Goose, two lovable characters created by Tad Hills. Duck & Goose are both fun and silly, and they are best friends. Each of these books featuring this duo are sturdy board books with colorful illustrations, simple text, and laughable humor. All of the books follow similar patterns in text, very predictable and easy to read. Along the way, you will also meet Duck & Goose’s friends Thistle and Bluebird who are just as cute and sweet.

My Lil Guy loves Duck & Goose. This series was one of the first books he felt comfortable holding and ‘reading’ on his own. (And that was a big accomplishment!) As you read the dialogue between the two friends, you can’t help but read with a expression, even my Lil Guy says, “Come On, Goose!!” at the end of the Christmas book. The opposites book and feelings book are great examples of how an author should tackle these topics for little ones. The opposites are clear and have the cutest pictures that match each pair, same with the feelings. I love the feelings book too because my Lil Guy is starting to develop a vocabulary to really express himself. Being patient is a virtue that every mother of a two year should hope for, right?

Duck & Goose are perfect storybook friends for toddlers. Reading one book or all of the books in the series, these books are a must have for a little one’s library. I should also mention that author Tad Hills has another book in the series coming out this coming spring, so those of us who are already fans have something to look forward to from him.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Must Read for 2011

The Berlin Boxing Club

The Berlin Boxing Club is a powerful new YA book written by Robert Sharenow. The book is a solid YA read that will draw readers into a historical fiction story set in World War II. This is only Sharenow’s second novel and he drew his inspiration from some real-life stories about World War II.

Karl Stern is a teenager living in Berlin in the 1930’s. He wasn’t raised in the Jewish faith, but that doesn’t stop his classmates and others in his community from identifying him as a Jew. He is bullied as is his family. Karl turns toward 2 secret loves: boxing and cartooning. In the 1930’s boxing was a worldwide phenomenon. Karl is introduced into the boxing world by a very famous German boxer, none other than Max Schmelling. Schmelling teaches Karl about boxing and gives the young teen advice when he is in town, which isn’t often. Schmelling, however, remains somewhat neutral to the political turmoil that is turning Karl’s life upside down. Throughout the book we are also shown illustrations of Karl’s work and see comic strips created by the character.

I hope this book gets noticed by other YA readers, librarians, bloggers, and teens. It’s on my list of must-reads for 2011. I have read other books that have similar themes, but none that were from such a strong perspective of a teen living through the devastating changes that Hitler and his Nazi party brought to Berlin. If you know a teen or even an adult that is interested in WWII history or fiction, this book is a great read. I really appreciated the amount of historical scenes we are given as we read the book as well. All of this plus the dramatic world of boxing are brought together in a well written book. The descriptions of the boxing are well done and easy to follow when the action gets intense. The book is amazingly true to life in the portrayal of a teen dealing with something so unreal, so unfathomable, so devastating, that it tears the character (and reader) apart. I would have to say, for me, this was a difficult read because of the subject matter. At times I had to put the book down and walk away because my emotions were riding a little too high. I will just recommend that if any part of this review interested you; you won't be disappointed by the read.

Grades 8 and up.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Weekend Theme: Autumn

This week here in the Midwest (and all over the Western hemisphere) we welcome Fall.  Fall or Autumn is so wonderful here in this part of the Midwest with the chill in the air and the beautiful changing of the leaves.  We won’t see the full colors for a couple weeks, but I couldn’t resist making Autumn my weekend theme and share these books with you.  There are 2 picture books and one middle grade fiction book.

Fall Mixed Up

Fall Mixed Up is written by Bob Raczka and illustrated by Chad Cameron.  The book is available in hardcover and is a large book with bright colorful pages.  This silly story is told in rhyme and fits perfect with the start of the season.  The books would make a perfect read aloud for ages 3 to 8.

Throughout the book Fall Mixed Up, the scenes and characters are mixed up indeed, wearing gloves on their ears and eating apple syrup.  My Lil Guy, age 2, was giggling at the pictures of the squirrels flying south for the winter.  The illustrations are cute and add much to the story since the text moves fast and it might be difficult to visualize the scene the author is trying to create. 

This book screams, READ ME ALOUD!  It’s colorful, funny, and set to rhyme!  I can see it being used in a primary classroom to introduce the season.  (A teacher could take  post-it notes to re-arrange the words to make sense after reading to the students, or even , in have the students create their own silly spoofs on the season.)  I really enjoy books like this and would recommend this for a fun seasonal read.

Leaf Man

Leaf Man comes from popular children’s Author and Illustrator Lois Elhert.  Elhert is known for her collage style of illustrating, using found objects to create colorful and beautiful scenes.  Leaf Man is available in a hardcover edition with glossy printed pages, each scalloped on the top to create a layered effect within the book.

Leaf man has landed in your yard, that’s right, look carefully and you will see the outline of a little man in the leaves.  His body is a bright maple leaf and his hat is an acorn, do you see him now?  Yes, that’s right; it is just like looking for shapes in the clouds.  Each page tells an adventure of the leaves creating movement and shapes out of nature.  The story is very simple, but the story is more than beautiful with the collages and your imagination.

Not only is Leaf Man a beautiful book, it’s the perfect jumping off point for exploring nature and creating your own nature crafts.  Elhert simply introduces how delicate leave can set the scene for anything, just add imagination.  I plan to re-read this with my Lil Guy and go on a leaf hunt in our own yard.  The leafs guys we create will be so much fun!  This book would be perfect for all children who like nature, like to create, and like to imagine.  (That’s all children, right?)

The The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. 

The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. by Kate Messner is a middle grade fiction book that deals with a very real family situation.  Gianna is a very likable character who loves to run and doesn’t enjoy science class.   When her class is assigned one of those, leaf collection assignments, Gianna quickly gets overwhelmed.  Personally she is dealing with a lot in her family.  Her mother is distant and cold, her father is not understanding and business focused, her little brother is annoying, and her grandmother is loving, but more than forgetful.  Nonna, Gianna’s grandmother, is so forgetful that she wanders away from the family in a farmer’s market in Montreal, she leaves cookies in the oven and goes to take a nap, and she seems to be caught up in her own little world.  All of this scares Gianna, but why doesn’t her family seem to think this is important?

There are not enough books like this that deal with real family issues like memory loss of elderly grandparents.  This book deals with the emotions of the entire family, Nonna’s daughter (Gianna’s mom) being distant and not wanting to face the facts, and Gianna being scared and feeling responsible.  The story is full and emotional, rushing towards a climax that brings everything in Gianna’s life together, and forces her to focus on what’s important.

I liked this book for several reasons.  First, there are not enough family based fiction books that deal with tough subjects like this.  I would recommend it to 5th grade and up.  This book would benefit from a book talk that mentions Alzheimer’s disease, as some readers may already be struggling with this in their family life.  On a side note, the cover really reminds me Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan, I thought I had already read it in fact!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Books Worth a Second Look

Like many of you, I can’t seem to get to many of the books on my “To Be Read Pile”.  I even have some from the library and haven’t gotten to reading them yet.  Putting my thoughts about these books in print might coax me into actually picking one up, or maybe it will catch someone else’s eye.  If you read any of these books, I would love to hear what you have to say about it.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

This book will be read in the next month!  I swear!  You see, every time I go to the bookstore I use an hour of their in-store Wi-Fi to read part of this book on my e-reader.  But, an hour of in store reading time is always interrupted by lots of jumping from my Lil Guy.  I don’t mind, I go to the book store for him.  (Okay, I go to the bookstore for me ... you caught me.)  Regardless, I have gotten only about 70 pages into this book, but I swear I will finish it soon.

Sean Griswold's Head by Lindsey Leavitt

Something about this book just sounded so cute to me.  I remember just sitting in class focused on the back on the head in front of me!  In this book though, the main character, Payton is using the back of Sean Griswold’s head as a focus point.  A focus point as in: focus your thoughts and mind on one object and then use this journal to put down how you are feeling.  Well, from everything I have read about the book, Payton finds that Sean Griswold’s head might just help her focus and deal with some of her family issues.  I will have to check for this at the book store, but it might have to go towards the bottom of my list, I am not sure.

The Duff by Kody Keplinger

The Duff was written … get ready … BY AN 18 YEAR OLD GIRL!  That is enough to make me think the book will have an interesting perspective.  I also am very interested since several of my students this past year were reading this book, but they wouldn’t really tell me much about it.  I think the premise totally rings true with High School culture.  The main character Bianca is called out by a guy that she is in fact, a DUFF, that’s right, the D.esignated U.gly F.riend.  I am sure you can imagine how a 15 year old would react to this.  The book has gotten lots of attention, both good and bad, but I want to read and judge for myself. 

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda  and Darth Paper Strikes Back both by Tom Angleberger
I just want to read these books because they seem fun and have the added Star Wars theme that might hook middle grade boys.  I requested them from the library and have been waiting to hear back.  I guess that means they are popular which is a good thing, right?  In the first of the books, you meet Dwight who is more than introverted.  He is so bad off that he sends messages to his classmates via an origami Yoda.  I doubt I will be bored with this book.  I am looking forward to the read.

Well, these are a few books on my To Be Read pile.  How about you?  What’s in your pile?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Retro Reading

I was read to often as a child, mostly by my mother before bed. I loved books for as long as I could remember. Since I was a child of the 70’s and 80’s, I didn’t have the vast choices of board books and children’s literature that was available today. I was read some of the classics of course like Dr. Seuss and Little Golden Books. I vaguely remember having some kind of book club that delivered books through the mail. I have to admit I didn’t make an effort to find my childhood books when I had a son of my own, but a friend had given me a gift of 2 little books that came right from the 80’s and reminded me of being read to as a child. While difficult to find in print these days, although not impossible, these books are a treasure especially for those of us who remember the originals from the 70’s and 80’s.

Some of these books I am 100% sure I had in my house when I was a child, others seem familiar. (Remind me to ask my mom about which we had!) I did just a little research and found out that the books were a series that was offered from Parent’s Magazine as a books club. The illustrations, at times, scream 70’s and 80’s, but I don’t mind and neither does my Lil Guy. While the books are sweet and simple, they do lack diversity. Here are some of titles that I remember:

Pigs in the House

Pigs In The House by Steven Kroll is one of these books we have at our house for Lil Guy.  The book is paperback, but laminated and made from heavy weight paper, so it is very durable.  The illustrations are sweet and simple with characters and scenes but plain white background images.  The story is set in rhyme with short phrasing but a complete story of these three little pig’s adventure.

Everything seems calm on the farm until the pig pen gate is left open.  No one even notices when the pigs sneak into the house!  They go through all the rooms in the house, finding trouble everywhere they go.  The pigs even find items in attic to make costumes.  Throughout the book, the pigs are not humanlike in their behavior, rather they act like wild beings, eating entire cakes and jumping on beds.  After the entire adventure, they escape thanks to some outrageous costumes.  (One pig is wearing a Santa beard, red high heels, and a pink and white lacy dress.  Another pig costumes a lampshade hat, a glove on his behind and a stripy shirt.)  Yes, the illustrations are laugh out loud hilarious.
Lil Guy and I like this book a lot and we read it quite often.  It has an enjoyable story and makes us laugh.  There is plenty to talk about in the story.  One of the other bonus’s of this book is that it is light and slim, easy to tote around in the diaper bag, in the car, and everywhere in between.  I also think this is a story that will be a favorite for quite a long time.

But No Elephants

But No Elephants by Jerry Smith is one of those silly books that has a story that doesn’t quite make sense, but makes you smile.  Again, the book is paperback with heavy weight paper and cute illustrations.  The story this time is in prose, but has a predictable pattern to the story, with the main character, Grandma Tildy refusing to let an elephant join her menagerie of pets over and over again.

Grandma Tildy is a sweet old lady living by herself.  She is rather busy taking care of her life, her little cabin, her shopping, and her cooking, until one day she is visited by ‘the pet man’ who sells her a little bird.  The bird lightens Grandma Tildy’s mood, so when the pet man come again and again she doesn’t hesitate to by more pets.  Grandma Tildy’s only rule is; “But No Elephants!”  Well, as you probably already guessed, an elephant becomes Grandma Tildy’s uninvited guest and he doesn’t make friends with Grandma when he eats all of the food and even breaks the house.  Finally, just when things are going from bad to worse, the elephant helps Grandma Tildy in a very unexpected way.

I do like this book, especially for hearing my Lil Guy say, “But Nooooooo Elephants!” The story is cute, but flat with this strange character of the pet man who dresses a little like he should be in a circus with clown like pants, shoes, and bowtie.  (Who ever heard of a door to door pet salesman, anyway?)  This book shows its age both in the illustrations and in the flat characters, who don’t show much emotion or thought.  I like this book enough to keep it in our popular stack, but wish it offered a little more.

What about you?  Have you read any retro books lately?  Do you share your childhood favorites with your little ones?  Did you ever belong to one of these book club when you were a kid?  What do you remember?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Prom and Prejudice and Beatles

In the world of YA fiction, it seems that some themes are forever, such as first romances, broken hearts, and true friendship. I certainly remember reading many, many books in my teen years that fall into to these categories. These books are also a favorite of teen girls, who tend to share books like these, recommending them to friends and passing the books within groups. Don’t you just love when a book is so good you just can’t help but pass it on to your friends? That’s exactly what happened in my classroom this past year with 2 books by Elizabeth Eulberg. Eulberg has 2 perfectly sweet novels about first romances, broken hearts, and true friendship. Both of these books created such a buzz that I had to read them for myself, in fact the teen girls in my room recommended them to me. (I couldn’t refuse that, could I?)

Prom and Prejudice

Books based in a High School always strike a chord with me. I enjoy all of the drama, friendships and cliques, and academia all wrapped up in one story. (Maybe this is why I am a teacher?) For all of these reasons, Prom and Prejudice really was the perfect recommendation for me. While you can guess from the title that the book plays off of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, you don’t have to be an Austen lover to fall in love with this book. But … if you happen to be a Austen lover, this book is full of connections to Austen, so of course, you will love it too.

Lizzie is a student at a scholarship student at Longbourn Academy. Her passion is music, as is her scholarship, and while this gives her focus and purpose, it also makes her very different from the rich teens with whom she shares her classes, dorm, and campus. Other girls are focused on prom and the boys at a neighboring school; Lizzie could care less. The story has enough surprises and quirky connections to keep readers absolutely entertained and wanting more. I think the book would be perfect for girls thinking about prom and girls slightly younger teens who are already dreaming of going to prom.

I guess you can already tell that I loved this book. It was so easy to read and get to know the characters. This book is almost an anti-prom story to tell the truth, and that’s perfect for me. Eulberg’s writing seems effortless, she taps into the voice and feelings of teens from many different ways of life in a very personal way. I particularly enjoyed meeting the family’s of the characters in this book and wish there was more and more to read. I really would give this book to most teen girls who like cute and fun stories about teens.

Lonely Heart’s Club

Before I begin this review, I should explain that I am new to blogging. You see, my son, Lil Guy (now two), joined our family, I finished my Master’s in Reading, and I had some significant changes in my teaching job all within 2 years which sent me on a whirlwind that left me spending a lot of my free time reading, a lot of my professional time reading, and a lot of my family time reading too. I was inspired by following some excellent reading blogs, hitting bookstores, libraries, and book networking sites. Just as all this was happening I read and fell in love with some YA books. I had always read YA books and enjoyed them but a few books I couldn’t stop talking about. The Lonely Hearts Club was one of those books.

Finally after tell everyone I knew about the book and encouraging others to read it or at least listen to my strong feelings about the book, I decided to research the author and send her an e-mail about how the book was totally awesome. I sent off a heartfelt note about why this book had connected so much with me (and my students). I was actually surprised when I heard back from Ms. Eulberg. She sent back a beautiful and personal note with a little aside about her next novel ready in about six months. She didn’t have to convince me, I can’t wait to read more from this author! So, after all of this, I gradually began to toy with the idea of starting to share my own YA and children’s literature blog, drawing from my experiences and expertise. After all, it is so much of what I enjoy about teaching: sharing books with others. So I jumped into this blog, and it has only been a week, but here I am!

And now introducing: The Lonely Hearts Club a beautifully clever book about one teen’s experiences dealing with a broken heart and learning how to lean on her friends, accept her family (with all their quirks), and possibly get revenge on teen boys. Penny Lane is named after the Beatle’s title character and she is almost as passionate about the Beatles as her parents, who are quite obsessed. Penny starts off in l.o.v.e. with a boy that she just knows is the one. the one! When he does the ultimate bad guy deed, she vows that all boys are jerks. She swears off dating and decides to focus on being the best she can be as a friend, sister, and daughter. Everyone around her see what she is doing and some girls even follow suit, forming this club, The Lonely Hearts Club. This book has a very loud Girl Power theme to it! The best part of this book isn’t the constant reference to the Beatles or the fun and quirky characters, it’s the surprising valuable and palatable lesson that Penny and her friends learn by the end of the book.

You already know that I love this book; I just hope that others are reading it and enjoying it as much as I did. I hope teen girls are talking about it. I hope, hope, hope, Eulberg writes more about these characters! (She has already hinted that she may return to these characters in the future.) The book isn’t too girlie, so it has appeal to a wide range of readers. I think it has a few mature scenes and should be reserved for teens. If you haven’t found Eulberg on your to be read list yet, I strongly suggest adding her books to your list.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Little Favorite

Little Blue Truck

Everyone likes a story about a cute little truck right? I remember reading Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel when I was very young, it was one of my favorites. I think there is just something about big trucks and machinery that captures young imaginations. Lil Guy loves his board book version of Little Blue Truck written by Alice Schertle and illustrated by Jill McElmurry. Little Book Truck and its sequel, Little Blue Truck Leads the Way are board books written for the pre-school set, oversized with 4 to 8 lines per page and big colorful illustrations of the blue truck and his friends.

In Little Blue Truck, Blue is happily driving through the country side, saying hello to farm friends when Dump, a much larger truck comes by him. Dump rushes through but runs into trouble. Blue and his friends are there to help Dump find his way to safety. The story offers a sophisticated selection of words that includes this bit of phrasing, “His heavy duty, dump-truck tires, were sunk down deep, in much and mire.” The rhythm and rhyme is sweet and lulling. The illustrations are adorable with enough details to make the trucks look alive without looking too cartoonish, and the animals look dynamic without being too human-like. Everything seems ‘just right’ in this tasty little book.

I already mentioned that Lil Guy loves this book and so do I. Reading this book is so much fun because it’s a cute story with a little life lesson about getting help from your friends. Soon after we added this book into our daily routine Lil Guy was finishing the phrases on each page and pointing out the characters too. I have to share this story that one day we were out for a drive and saw a blue truck driving down the road. Lil Guy asked me to tell him the Little Blue Truck story and without even thinking about it we were able to recite nearly the entire book from memory. (He helped some too!) Overall, this book is so cute; it has to be shared with preschoolers. I think this book also would be ideal as a gift for a young one.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Getting a Little Spooky

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

In a world where paranormal is a favorite of YA readers, I have a confession to make.  It scares me.  I have never been a fan of the scary, gruesome, ghostly, or even the slightly spooky.  I appreciate how this genre draws in readers.  I understand that books are the perfect avenue to suspend your beliefs and get lost in another world, but for me at times it’s a little too much.  Well, I decided to suspend my own feelings and try out the book Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. This is the first novel from Riggs.  One of the things I should tell you about the book is that the front cover of the book seen here is just the beginning of the fascinating and bizarre photographs that are integrated into the novel.

In the book, Jacob is a high school student in boring Florida when a series of events sends him to his grandfather’s childhood stomping grounds to explore a small island and boarding school.   We find out, Jacob’s grandfather had told him all about his childhood with fantastical characters, often sharing photographs which as a reader we also get to see.  Now as a teenager, Jacob is trying to piece together his grandfather’s past including the spooky boarding school that was the backdrop for many of these bizarre photos.  Murder, monsters, and mayhem are all part of this paranormal adventure, as well as the beautiful and dreamlike photographs.    

Well, I read the book in one sitting.  I couldn’t put it down despite myself!  Not only were the photographs vivid and graphic, the words painted a picture that played like a black and white movie in my mind.  I felt fear when I read some of the more gruesome scenes, even groaning out loud at parts.  I have the feeling this was all the intent of the book.  I think older YA readers will eat this book up.  It’s so different from other books; did I mention that part of the story is told during WWII Wales?   One part of the book that was more than a bit odd was the main character Jacob having kind of a romance with his own grandfather’s ex-girlfriend.  Maybe YA readers don’t mind this on a paranormal level.  Overall, I would recommend this book to older teens, book clubs in particular (since there is a lot to talk about), and anyone who likes the bizarre, weird, and strange.   I can’t help but think that the author will soon be writing about more adventures about peculiar children soon.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Weekend Theme: Sports

In honor of the start of the football season I thought I would share some books that are sports themed for all ages of readers. I hope to share something for both sports fans and those reluctant to watch sports. All my life I grew up around sports. I am the daughter of a referee; I spent many hours watching my father play softball during summers as well. All during high school I would attend countless games watching my brother play tennis, football, and basketball. I became an avid fan of sports during college as well, going to football, hockey, and basketball games. When there is a high-stakes game, I want to be watching! As a teacher I have been able to connect with students who are interested in sports, impressing eighth grade boys with my fantasy sports knowledge, challenging a fifth grade class to name more baseball teams than me, and even taking my class to a live hockey game, spending time before the game to prepare them with lessons about what to expect. What I found was that universally, children love sports. Furthermore, when given the chance, students will make connections to others through sports, even to literature.

Mickey & Me

Mickey & Me is from popular children’s author Dan Gutman. It's a great choice if you are looking for a series book that can hook readers. This book is also interesting because the book is actually historical fiction and is set in the 1940’s. Mickey & Me is part of a series (& Me series) about a young kid Joe who travels in time to meet famous players. Among the sub plots for Joe are a father in the hospital, a bratty little cousin, time travel, equal rights, and even World War II. While this historical fiction novel opens the opportunity to discuss many of these historical events, the sport theme is more like a vehicle for adventure.

Joe Stoshack has the magical ability to travel through time to whatever year baseball card he is holding. When his father is in a car accident he learns about a 1951 Mickey Mantle rookie card hidden under the floorboard in his room. Joe has the task of going back in time to save Mickey Mantle from hurting his leg in a game in 1951. Joe finds the card but gets mixed up with his cousin’s cards for another player named Mickey Maguire. Mickey Maguire is female baseball player in an All American Girls Professional Baseball League (think of the movie ‘A League of Their Own’). Joe becomes involved with the team learning about the all female league in the process. Finally, at the end of his trip back in time, Joe does meet a young 13 year old Mickey Mantle on a train. Joe is able to obtain Mantle’s autograph just before he returns to 2003. The book also contains a section called “Facts and Fiction” which outlines real characters, places, and events.

Overall I enjoyed the read. I liked the surprise element of there being two Mickeys. I could see intermediate students enjoying this book especially because it’s a series. Author Gutman has a great sense of humor and kids will just eat this stuff up. Mickey & Me and the other Baseball Card Adventure Books are perfect for targeting sport loving boys (and girls) who also want adventure in their books.

Travel Team

Among sports books, Travel Team is a star. In his novel, Mike Lupica was able to do what the other authors cannot always accomplish: He told a powerful story full of strong characters all using sports as a background. As an added bonus, anyone who knows sports will instantly trust Lupica as a sports authority, because he knows his stuff. He can talk basketball, football, baseball: any sport. When he mentions a famous professional athlete, chances are Lupica has met the player and that too offers him credibility. If you are not knowledgeable about sports, Lupica will become your teacher. His sports background isn’t even the best thing about the his book, it’s the well written plot of the book that pulls you in to learn about characters with real problems, dialogue that sounds like it could come from a real home or classroom, and drama that real adolescents can relate to themselves.

In Travel Team, Danny Walker is a gifted basketball player despite being the shortest kid in his grade. His skills remind everyone in his little town of his father who was also small and talented and made it to the NBA for a season until he ruined his body in a car accident. Now Danny rarely sees his father except for watching clips of him on YouTube. When Danny doesn’t make the local ‘travel team’ his father, Richie, comes back to town and starts a team for his son. The ragtag group of kids lack skills, height, and commitment. They struggle through the season until a series of events give them hope for the play-offs.

Wow, I loved this books and I have enjoyed all of Lupica’s books. I thought Lupica’s Million-Dollar Throw was a really great book as well. Travel Team is the type of book that has something for everyone, both boys and girls will like this book since it’s driven by such a solid storyline. The audience on this book solidly middle school readers. If you are in the classroom, this book would really benefit from a book talk. (A book talk is when a teacher or guest introduces the book with a few plots points to get people interested in reading more.) If you haven’t yet checked on Lupica’s writing, run to the bookstore and pick up one of his YA novels.

Z is for Zamboni 

From Sleeping Bear Press comes another installment of their alphabet books.  This book is similar to ones you have seen for in stores for a variety of topics like sports, nature, and geography.  I have read ones for a few different states and nature topics and this book follows the same pattern.   The illustrations on each page are beautifully done with nice details for sports lovers of all ages.  Lil Guy got this book as a gift for his second birthday.  He sure enjoys it and is interested in pointing to the pictures as we read together.
Z is for Zamboni, each letter shares an aspect of the game of hockey.  What I like about this book is that it doesn’t just rely on simple objects, but also introduces us to different parts of the game including Hall of Fame players and special events in the history of hockey.  Each page has a short “read-aloud-able” rhyme but also includes a few detailed paragraphs sharing more details.  Adults and children can both learn from this kind of book.  Some of my favorite pages are; “L is for Lord Stanley’s Cup” , “ Q is for Quebec” , and of course “Z is for Zamboni”.

Lil Guy is only 2 years old but has been to a dozen live hockey games, so the book was perfect for him.  He recognized many parts of the game of hockey.   I think this is a book that will be something that he can enjoy for years because of the parallel text on each page.  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Sleeping Bear Press books to readers of all ages.  I was so pleased when Lil Guy got this as a gift; I think they would make an excellent gift for children ages 3 – 8. I plan to check for the books at my local library too, I can’t wait to start learning more!

Story Time

Today I took Lil Guy to the bookstore for story time.  It was our first outing like this going to the bookstore for a story time and this was a special story time with a guest from a story character, Biscuit.  Lil Guy was super excited when the giant Biscuit character started walking toward the crowd.  Lil Guy kept jumping up and waving at Biscuit and saying hello.  I have to admit it was super cute.  Everyone at the bookstore was super nice and most of the children were really excited to see Biscuit.  My Lil Guy had 'read' his Biscuit book all the way to the store so he was already pumped and added his 'woof, woof' as the storyteller read the books.

Biscuit books

Friday, September 9, 2011

Just one more book ...

My son is 2 and a half years old and he is all boy.  He also very persuasive when he wants something.  He has learned the power of making a pouty mouth and saying, "Please, mama, please."  Before naps and bed he is also often saying, "Two more books!"  His love of books can't be satisfied!  Am I a sucker for always reading one more?  There are days we read ten books before bed.  In his bedroom now, we have a full sized bed that we use to jump, play, snuggle, and read books.  Lil' Guy chooses his books and throws them up on the bed.  Some nights there is barely room for us to lay down because of all the books!

Lately Lil' Guy has been asking for his turn in reading books aloud too.  Usually its short books like Tad Hills's Duck & Goose Books or the Usborne Thats Not My (Pirate, Lion, Monkey, Dragon, etc.) series.  These are some of my favorties because they are short and sweet.  Lately though there are a few books that are actually longer that he has been enjoying.  One is Lily's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes.  I forgot how cute these books were!  The little mice characters have so much heart.  Although the story is a little complex for Lil Guy, he doesn't seem to mind and offers some comments as we read the book. 

In the end, I guess that Lil' Guy is a little bit too much like me.  Every night I try to make the habit of reading to myself too, and often I want to read just one more page or one more chapter.  I guess I can't complain about my Lil' Guy loving books.  It was a major goal in our parenting!  I just hope I can continue the tradition of reading before bedtime for many years to come.

So, what is your bedtime routine for reading?  Do you read in bed?  Do you share stories and books before bed?  Any suggestions for helping me limit my book reading to less than twenty minutes? 

Thursday, September 8, 2011


I am a teacher, a mother, and a reader.  I enjoy books!  I decided to start a blog about books to chronicle reading, being a teacher, and being a mother.  I am so excited, I don't even know where to start.  I guess I will start at the beginning...

I loved growing up with books.  I guess I didn't start reading until I was well into 1st grade, but even before that I was enjoying books.  I loved listening to stories and looking at the pictures on the pages, often making stories myself.  By the time I started reading in first grade I discovered that books were a magical place to  find friends and adventures.  I was told that I would sit and read to my dolls and stay up late with a flashlight reading under covers.  I never grew out of these habits!

When I became an independent reader, the library was my favorite place.  I would get piles of books and read, read, read.  I had already read all of my books at home multiple times!  My favorite books were picture books, fairy tales, and adventure books.  
One May, just as the summer was about to begin, I fell from a tree and had a severely broken leg which required a hip to my cast.  I was basically immobile, hot, and bored since most of my friends were off running and playing.  That summer it seemed like books were my only friend.  I started a reading summer challenge at my local library and read more than ever.  I remember reading longer chapter books and discovering new genres like fantasy and even poetry.  My summer was long but it was full of books...

After that I went off to a middle school with a huge library that I tried to spend as much time in as possible.  The librarian in that library would give me wonderful suggestions and I was reading more than ever. (Oh, how I wish I had such eager students!) But, like many eager readers I didn't connect my enjoyment of reading to school or even to the books I was reading in the classroom which, as I remember, were few.

By the time I got to High School I was a closet reader.  I read at home and flew through books in the classroom when they were assigned, but I didn't really connect with anyone about reading.  I remember when I was in high school my mom suggested that I try reading one of her (very tame) historical romance novels.   I loved it!  I also discovered one shelf of books in my local library with YA novels.  Wow!  I was in heaven as I read, read, read.

So, thats it for my first post.  Before I go for now, I was wondering: What are your earliest memories of books and reading?  I had my students once write an essay about reading, asking them to recall their earliest books, memories, and reading.  Many wrote about reading on parents laps, but some could only recall reading books with their Kindergarten teacher.  So, thanks for reading, I hope to have some 'views' soon.