The Next Step for A Life Spent Reading

From the desks of Joanna and Katie

Hello faithful readers! We’ve been writing our blog for 2-1/2 years now, and have learned so much about ourselves, our readers, and the field of children’s literature. 2015 is just around the corner–and feels like the perfect time for us to upgrade your experience of the blog with more varied content, an improved look, and increased opportunities for us to interact with you.

Over the next few months, we will slowly integrate new types of content, including interviews. We want to make sure the content remains fresh, interesting, and encourages you to share the blog with others. To do this, we need your help! Please take a minute to complete the poll below, or click over to our site if you are an email subscriber. The poll will remain open until Friday, October 31st. Your feedback will help us make the updated blog a great one.

We appreciate your time and input!

Review: Mouse and Mole, A Perfect Halloween

One of my favorite Halloween books this year (last year, too) is Mouse and Mole, A Perfect Halloween, by Wong Herbert Yee. Yee wrote the Fireman Small picture book, which my son loved as a preschooler. When I saw this easy reader, I knew we had to have it.

Divided into four chapters, the book follows best friends, Mouse and Mole, as they prepare for Halloween. Mouse is whimsical, brave, and laughs at everything, while Mole is serious, timid, and does things by the book. As they decorate houses and carve pumpkins, Mouse is the one holding Mole’s hand throughout the scariness of the holiday. But don’t be fooled–there are plenty of twists to keep things interesting!

A Perfect Halloween is suitable for young independent readers, though it’s wonderful to read aloud, too. Mouse and Mole seem like a modern Frog and Toad, and their friendship is just as fun to watch. Yee’s accompanying artwork is also very charming and funny. This story is one of seven books written about Mouse and Mole. So far it’s the only one I’ve read, but the more times I read it, the more I want to read them all.

This would be a fun book to read before carving pumpkins. (You’ll just have to read to find out what happens to Mole’s jack’o’lantern!) Also, it would be a nice choice if you have young ones that might be a touch scared by Halloween–they will be able to see themselves in Mole’s story and find fun in the end.

Point of View

I am working on a new novel, and have been struggling with the appropriate point of view for my characters. There are two teenage girl protagonists, so I initially challenged myself to write it in a close third person. The problem is, close third does not feel close enough.

After much internal wrangling, many discussions with my critique group, and the opinions of some teachers/published authors, I have decided to try first person with alternating chapters. I have not ready many middle grade/young adult novels that successfully alternate between two distinct characters, especially of the same gender. A few books have been recommended to me, including Because of Mr. Terupt (multiple voices) and Gemini Bites.

Are there other books that you have read that you would recommend? 

Wish me luck! I’m off to rewrite the beginning, where hopefully I can make these two girls jump off the page.

Review: Found

Found by Salina YoonFound

Written and Illustrated by: Salina Yoon

Walker Books, 2014, Hardcover

Target Audience: Ages 3-8

Genre: Fiction

Theme: Responsibility, friendship

How We Discovered This Book: This was in the new books bin at our library, and I immediately loved the illustrations. My son thinks it was created in oil pastels.

Summary:

This is a book of few words, with a simple but important premise. What do you do when you find an adorable stuffed bunny in the forest?

What I Liked:

This book is so sweet. You think you know how this book will turn out, but it takes a little twist at the end. The illustrations perfectly express the sweetness of the story.

What Did My Kids Think?

A bulletin board of lost notices plays prominently in middle of the story. It is full of tongue-in-cheek references, as well as jokes from other stories and fairy tales. I thought some might be over my kids’ heads, but they got most of them, and giggled like crazy. There is something to be said for books that don’t talk down to kids.

Resources:

Have your kids/students make their own lost sign for something they have lost – the more creative the better!

Brainstorm with your kids or students on what would be the best thing to find. And then what would they do with it? Play? Share it? Give it to someone else?

The Last Weekend of Summer

According to the Farmer’s Almanac, fall begins in the Northeast with the autumnal equinox on September 22nd at 10:29 PM EST. So we technically have one last weekend of the summer. The weather has already started turning cooler and the kids are back in school, but we can still claim a summer state of mind.

I know it’s hard – I find myself barraged on a daily basis with Halloween candy, Christmas layaway programs, and pumpkin spice lattes. I love the holidays more than a lot of people (my dad calls me a Christmas Nut), but this year I am resisting the push. Getting caught up in the mad rush just leaves me harried and exhausted on January 2nd, wondering what just happened.

I have decided no fall decorations until October – that leaves 2 full months to fully enjoy the season. It also means that any mums I eventually buy won’t have to try and hold on for an extended period of time. While I will still slowly work on all of the Christmas projects that I began over the summer (in an attempt not to be stressed in December), I will wait to fully embrace Christmas until Black Friday.

I am hoping this holding back approach will translate to other areas – a calmer approach to fall house cleaning and more time spent outdoors enjoying the crisp air. I’m also looking forward to its effect on my writing. I have so much that I want to accomplish – new novels to write, other work to revise, blog posts to write, contests to enter, and agents to get. Because I never have as much time as I would like, I sometimes feel paralyzed with what to do in the limited time that I have.

So I will take it one item at a time. This week I’m going to tackle the planning for my novel, and spend time with my son this weekend writing a picture book story we’ve been talking about. Maybe we’ll write it outside – and take lots to deep breaths to remind ourselves of what we loved about summer, and then open our hearts to autumn.

summer into autumn

Middle Grade Review: The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove

World building is no small task, and S.E. Grove raises the bar exponentially in her debut book, The Glass Sentence. The story follows thirteen-year-old Sophia Tims as she rushes to save her kidnapped uncle, Shadrack Elli, a renowned cartographer. But Sophia isn’t simply riding trains and sailing ships through a familiar world. Years prior, the Great Disruption altered time, leaving each continent in a different age, some countries a mixture of various eras in human history. And hot on Sophia’s tail are the very people who abducted her uncle!

Overall, I enjoyed The Glass Sentence. I cared about Sophia, a spunky, precocious, but ultimately lonely girl who barely blinks at the tasks ahead of her. Each chapter provided an unexpected twist, making it very difficult (for me anyway) to predict where the action of the story would take Sophia. This book required patience to read (and to write, I’m sure!), but I did find that each time I had a question about how the world worked or why a new character was introduced, Grove provided an answer or at least the suggestion of one. There were a lot of characters–at every turn Sophia ran into a new person, it seemed–and at times I wondered if there were too many to flesh each one out adequately. That said, as the story develops, each character fell into place. I had many “aha!” moments (and I did say them aloud) during the second half of the book, and I’m glad I didn’t put it down. This story is definitely one to stick with.

I recommend this book to anyone who loves new worlds with unexpected rules and lots of plot twists and characters. There’s a few scary people (the men with grappling hooks on the cover were creepy to me), and a few moments of very age-appropriate romance.

Don’t be surprised at the end, as I was. This is a series! One of my pet peeves is reading a book thinking it’s a stand-alone, only to discover that the story isn’t over. Nothing against series in general. I just like to know ahead of time. :)

I learned about this book from Indie Bound’s Indie Next List newsletter. I get the newsletters at my local independent bookstore, and find it them a great resource for new books. To check out their summer recommendations for kid lit (the fall link wasn’t available), find them here.

And here’s my plug for independent book sellers. I picked up my copy this summer at Powell’s City of Books, one of the largest independent new and used bookstores in the world. If you’re in Portland, Oregon, visiting Powell’s is a must! I never leave without a sizable stack of books. To buy The Glass Sentence from Powell’s (they ship), click here.

Review: Chloe and the Lion

Chloe and the Lion CoverChloe and the Lion

Written by: Mac Barnett

Illustrated By: Adam Rex

Disney-Hyperion, 2012, Hardcover

Target Audience: Ages 3-8

Genre: Fiction

Theme: Creativity, Friendship

How We Discovered This Book: Aidan chose this book from our new book bin at the library. The cover peaked his interest, since the author and illustrator appear on it in claymation form. He wondered, “what would be in this book?”

Summary:

The author and illustrator attempt to tell a story about Chloe and how she meets a lion, but they have a falling out. The author fires the illustrator, and tries to replace him with others, but no one knows how to draw the lion (or save the story) quite like the illustrator. Chloe herself has to intervene to get the pair back together.

What I Liked:

This is a unique book that really smashes the fourth wall. The author and illustrator talk directly to the reader from the beginning and throughout. The main character has to get involved to drive the story to its conclusion. Interestingly, the main “story” within the story is somewhat incidental.

What Did My Kids Think?

Aidan liked how the author kept doing things that just made the situation worse. Not only were the author’s actions funny, but the dialogue was sharp and witty at a child’s level. The illustrations change along with the action, which just adds to the humor. Elizabeth thought it was funniest when the author tried to illustrate the book himself, and failed miserably.

Resources:

Check out the book trailer on YouTube – it gives you a flavor of the dynamics between the author and illustrator.

Now make your own book trailer: Take a favorite book, write down what you like most about it and a short summary, and get to filming! Use of humor, props, or reenactments get you extra bonus points.

Get out some clay or play dough and make soft versions of yourself – or even better, versions of your friends and family!

Back to School!

It’s that time of year again: it’s cool in the mornings, but still warm mid-day. In my house, counters are covered with lunch containers, water bottles, new pink erasers, and sharpened pencils.

School is back in session!

photo 3

For me, this means getting back to a more “normal” schedule now that my kids are back in school. Hopefully this schedule means more time for writing. I have just begun writing a new middle grade novel, and I want to keep the momentum going. I haven’t decided if the pumpkin spice lattes at my local coffee shop will be a motivator or a distraction, but I’ll guess I’ll have to try and find out.

I’m not sure why, but I also find that back to school and the fall season are prime times to read. My son and I read quite a bit this summer, but there is something about fall that inspires me to dig into the long list (and pile) of books that I have been wanting to read.

My son did not meet his goal of reading 20 chapter books this summer, but it was a good kick-start to a new summer tradition. We enjoyed reading together, and discovering new characters and worlds. I think the biggest accomplishment for the summer was when my husband asked my son if he wanted to watch a particular family movie, and my son responded, “but I want to read the book first!” Yay for reading! Aidan and I will continue to work our way through the chapter books on our list, which will be a nice compliment to the non-fiction books his teacher has already begun sending home.

I hope you all had a lovely and relaxing summer, and will make time for reading (and writing?) as you ease into fall.

Review: Rosie Revere, Engineer

Rosie Revere Engineer CoverRosie Revere, Engineer

Written by: Andrea Beaty

Illustrated By: David Roberts

Harry N. Abrams, 2013, Hardcover

Target Audience: Ages 3-8

Genre: Fiction

Theme: Creativity, Persistence, STEM

How We Discovered This Book: This book was in the new books bin at our library, and it caught my eye.

Summary:

Rosie loves to create and invent things. She takes what other people would discard (broken toys, gears, etc.) and makes things. She tries to create solutions for people she knows, but it does not go well. Then her Aunt Rose stops by to give the right kind of encouragement just when Rosie is ready to give up.

What I Liked:

Both of my children are very mechanically-oriented, and they are fascinated with how things work. As I consider their education, I seek opportunities for them to expand their talents through science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs and activities. I also believe that girls need just as many opportunities to succeed in these fields as boys. This book showcases a girl who uses her creativity (and her apparent obsession with cheese) to make the world a better place with a few stumbles along the way. Additionally, there is an inference that Aunt Rose was a Rosie the Riveter-type trailblazer during WWII. The author includes a note at the end about this time in history.

What Did My Kids Think?

My kids liked Rosie’s persistence – she kept trying difference things until she figured out what worked. Elizabeth especially liked the silly parts – like when she made helium-inflated pants.

Resources:

Abrams Books has two whole pages of great activities related to this book. Check them out!

Book Recommendations: Our Favorite Picture Books

A few months ago, we shared our favorite books for children 1 year and under. Next, we are sharing our favorite picture books. It is a good mix of recently published and rediscovered classics. To choose our list, we considered several criteria. First, did we enjoy reading it as adults (quality of craft and/or a multilayered story)? Did our children ask to read it repeatedly? Did we feel compelled to buy it and add it to our permanent home library? Can we anticipate saving the book for future generations?

As before, each of our personal lists brought back many memories. We will have to read some of these again soon!

Here are our favorite picture books for children, in alphabetical order by author:

An Egg Is Quiet, Dianna Ashton

The Mine-o-saur, Sudiptha Bardhan-Quallen

The Curious Garden, Peter Brown

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, Peter Brown

One Cool Friend, Toni Buzzeo

If You Find A Rock, Peggy Christian

That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown, Cressida Cowell

Llama Llama Red Pajama, Anna Dewdney

Moonshot, Brian Floca

Whoever You Are, Mem Fox

Ox-cart Man, Donald Hall

Bread and Jam For Frances, Russell Hoban

The Horse in Harry’s Room, Syd Hoff

The Story of Ferdinand, Munro Leaf

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Bill Martin, Jr.

Me…Jane, Patrick McDonnell

Race You to Bed, Bob Shea

Born Yesterday: The Diary of a Young Journalist, James Solheim

The Stinky Cheeseman and other Fairly Stupid Tales, Jon Scieszka

Grandpa Green, Lane Smith

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Mo Willems

Owl Moon, Jane Yolen

You are a Lion, Taeeun Yoo

Do have other favorites not on this list? Please share!