What Are We Reading This Summer?

Now that summer is in full swing, me and my kids are very happy to have more time for reading in our schedule. We all have varied reading interests, so our lists cross genres and types. So what are we reading?

Aidan (8 years old):

  • Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Judy Blume
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling
  • Shiloh, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
  • Because of Winn-Dixie, Kate DeCamillo
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Reptile Room, Lemony Snicket
  • James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul, Jeff Kinney
  • How to Train Your Dragon, Cressida Cowell
  • Geronimo Stilton: The Kingdom of Fantasy

Elizabeth (5 years old):

  • Fancy Nancy and the Mermaid Ballet, Jane O’ Connor
  • Blue Hat, Green Hat, Sandra Boynton
  • How to Be a Viking, Cressida Cowell
  • Red: A Crayon’s Story, Michael Hall
  • Little Bear, Else Holmelund Minarik
  • Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes, Eric Litwin
  • Lots of Early Readers!

Me (did you think I would tell you my age? Ha!)

  • The Chaperone, Laura Moriarity
  • The Garden of Letters, Alyson Richman
  • All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
  • Raising Steam, Terry Pratchett
  • Some of the books on Aidan’s list
  • All of the books on Elizabeth’s list!

I’m sure we’ll be adding and changing books as the summer goes on, plus adding some audio books. What are you reading this summer? Please share in the comments!

 

 

Schools Out!

Schools across the country are letting out, to the joy of children everywhere. My children’s last day of school for the year is today, and while they enjoyed school and are both looking forward to moving up to new schools in the fall, they have many plans for the summer.

Every summer we try to learn new things, both children and adults alike. This summer my daughter will try learning to be a better swimmer, tying her shoes, riding her bike with training wheels, and starting to read independently (whew!). My son wants to try some new sports for him – running, swimming, and tennis. For me? I’m going to work on learning to be a better runner, writer, and mom.

For all of us, reading is a central part of summer. We have longer stretches available for reading books – whether it is during road trips, cuddled up on the couch in our PJs, or while sitting on the front porch in between bike riding adventures.

I’ll share more next week about what we are each reading this summer, but I will tell you that Aidan and I will be doing another reading challenge. We are challenging ourselves to read 20 books again this summer. We took this challenge last year, but didn’t quite make it. We learned from that experience that while we enjoy reading to each other (and will still do so from time to time), we both read faster independently. So this summer we are taking more of a book club approach (if you can have a book club with only 2 members) – we are each reading a book at the same time, and then we’ll have a special sit down at the bakery or elsewhere to discuss it. We are already 2/3 of the way through Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, so we’re off to a great start. I’ll keep you posted on how we progress.

Happy summer reading to all of you!

Author Profile: Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

Often, we enjoy particular authors and read many of their books. Today, I am featuring Sudiptha Bardhan-Quallen, an author who started her career in biology before finding enjoyment in telling stories to her young children. She began writing non-fiction for children focused on science topics and then biographies of famous Americans.

She then branched into picture books, and has written a range of stories. With some authors, you can identify immediately that it is their book based on the style of prose, humor, or topic. In Ms. Bardhan-Quallen’s case, she loves animals (especially pigs), but otherwise each book is different.

Some of the books are simpler and more suited for the 3-5 year old range, and some are more complex and may appeal to the 5-8 year old target audience.

Our favorite Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen books are:Snoring BeautyPirate PrincessMineosaur

The Mine-o-Saur is our favorite of the three. It is full of humor, and makes a point about not sharing without it feeling heavy handed. The other dinosaurs also demonstrate different ways to respond when someone else is not sharing. Look for the part where they look down at their knees- one dino in particular is taking it very seriously!

My daughter would love to be a Pirate Princess herself, and the princess in that book stays focused on her dream of being a pirate, despite her parent’s objections and her inability to successfully complete pirate chores. Snoring Beauty is a twist on the traditional tale, told from the perspective of a mouse who really just wants to get some sleep.

Some other books from this author that we have not yet read: Orangutangled, Hampire!, Chicks Run Wild, Quackenstein Hatches a Family, and the Hog Prince.

What is your favorite Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen book? Please share in the comments!

Children’s Book Authors are Rockstars (at least I think so)

My children’s school district sponsors author visits a few times a year. This week, they were visited by children’s book author/illustrator Brian Lies. My son enjoyed the visit so much, he insisted we stop by our local bookstore to see if they had any of his books.

As we parked in front of the bookstore, I looked across the street and I saw this:

Bat Car

It’s Brian Lies’ bat car for his current book tour (which, by the way, is an AWESOME idea). He had stopped by our bookstore to sign some more copies of his books. So not only did we get a Brian Lies book, we got one with a personalized inscription for Aidan.

Book Inscription

We were able to talk to the author/illustrator, and he was very nice, warm, and easy for children to talk to. I even got to talk to him a little about SCBWI and children’s book writing. Aidan and I were so amped leaving the store, it was all we could talk about all evening.

Brian Lies’ latest book, Bats in the Band, is about bats who love being musicians. A few of them fancy themselves rock stars, and I began to think about my reaction to this writer. It is the same reaction I have to other published children’s books writers- awe, respect, and admiration. Perhaps after many years of working on my own craft, I have a personal appreciation for the hard work and persistence required to actually get published. Add in the impact that children’s book author’s can have on children’s lives, and I can completely understand the adrenaline rush in meeting them.

I have been fortunate to meet many children’s book writers, and several of them have inscribed books for my children. I hope this book has a special place in their collection along with signed books from Jane Yolen, Mo Willems, and Julie Andrews.

Best wishes to Brian Lies on a successful book tour – and that he gets to enjoy his rockstar status a little (even if he doesn’t know he is one).

 

Picture Books About Nature

Now that June is almost here and the weather is perfect for nature hikes, I thought it was worth a profile of some of the nature books on the shelves at our house. I selected non-fiction picture books about nature, with my children piping in to make sure I included their favorites. This list is by no means comprehensive – just a snapshot of what’s at our house. Maybe there are a few on here that you can add to your “Must Read” list.

General Nature/Weather

The Magic School Bus: Inside a Hurricane (Joanna Cole, ill. Bruce Degen)

Inside a Hurricane

Cactus Hotel (Brenda Z. Guiberson, ill. Megan Lloyd)

Cactus Hotel

Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain (Verna Aardema, ill. Beatriz Vidal)

Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain

Here is the African Savanna (Madeline Dunphy, ill. Tom Leonard)

Here is the African Savanna

Are Mountains Growing Taller? Questions About the Changing Earth (Melvin and Gilda Berger, ill. Robin Carter)

Are Mountains Growing Taller?

Animals/Insects

Big Sharks! (Toru Kosara)

Big Sharks!

Birds (K.M. Kostyal- National Geographic Nature Library)

Birds

Where Butterflies Grow (Joanne Ryder, ill. Lynne Cherry)

Where Butterflies Grow

Gray Wolf Pup’s Adventure (Stephanie Smith, ill. Robert Hynes)

Grey Wolf Pup's Adventure

Predators of the Sea (Mary Jo Rhodes, ill. David Hall)

Predators of the Sea

Whales (Kevin Boon)

Whales

Insects (Robin Bernard)

Insects

Gorillas: Gentle Giants of the Forest (Joyce Milton, ill. Bryn Barnard)

Gorillas

Penguins (Jane P. Reznick)

Penguins

Ants (Christine Young, ill. Andrea Jaretzki)

Ants

Additionally, we have 2 fiction favorites that should be mentioned: Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer.

I’m sure you have other good nature books that you enjoy – please share them in the comments. We’ve love to discover some new nature books!

Review: Hermelin the Detective Mouse/ Max’s Review

Hermelin cover

Max is back! See what Max thinks of this month’s book.

Email subscribers: Please click over to this post on the website to see Max’s complete video.

Hermelin the Detective Mouse

Written and Illustrated by: Mini Grey

Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2014, Hardcover

Target Audience: Ages 3-8

Genre: Fiction

Theme: Mystery, Finding what you’re good at

How We Discovered This Book: We found this one in the new books bin at our library.

Summary: Hermelin is a mouse living in a little girl’s attic on Offley Street. Things go missing, and Hermelin decides to play detective and find their things. As he solves the mysteries, he leaves notes for the owners to tell them where to find their belongings. What would people think if they knew that Hermelin was a mouse?

What I Liked: Hermelin is cute, and the author/illustrator gives him a lot of personality. The illustrations are so rich, you can linger on each page just looking for all of the hidden details. I love that he names himself after a brand of cheese, rather than something like Bob or Squeaky.

What Did My Kids Think? My kids loved trying to solve the mysteries, and felt very smart when they figured them out. As soon as we were done reading, they immediately wanted to go back and read it again.

Resources:

Type secret notes for a friend or family member. Hermelin uses a typewriter, but a computer and printer will do. You could find something they’ve been missing, or do an act of kindness.

Imagine you are a mouse. Get down on the floor and discover what you might find if you are at Hermelin’s level.

Using Character to Move Your Story Forward

I belong to a women’s book club, and this month we read The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. I enjoyed the book, but how the author develops her main character made me reflect on how I structure my own stories.

In The Language of Flowers the main character is Victoria, a damaged young girl on the cusp of aging out of the foster care system. She loves flowers, and uses their inherent meanings to communicate to others what she cannot.

The author lets us learn about Victoria through her actions, not exposition- we learn why Victoria is the way she is through her experiences. But the focus is not on what happens TO Victoria, but instead it is on the choices that she makes.

Somewhere in my ongoing education as a writer, I read that you should figure out what is the worst thing that you could do to your character at that point in the story. And then you should do that exact thing to them, which will propel the story forward. I understood the concept, but was always hesitant to torture my characters. After reading this book, I realize there is an alternate approach. Rather than think of what could happen to my character, I can think of what the choices are that the character might make and which one will move the story forward the most. I suspect it will be the choice that is the hardest, and the one that will require the most significant consequences.

For those of you organized thinkers like me, think of it as a decision tree. As you write your character and they reach a decision point, what are the different choices they could possibly make? And then for each choice, what would be the consequences? And if you later don’t like where the story headed, you hopefully have multiple decision points with which to go back and start a new path.

I’m looking forward to trying this on my novel in progress. Maybe this will help me to get some energy behind more novel writing!

Spring Has Finally Sprung

Here in the Northeast, we finally had a weekend worthy of being called Spring. The temperature was in the mid-70’s, it was mostly sunny, and the flowering trees decided it was time to bloom.

Magnolias

We spent as much time outside as possible- riding bikes and scooters, climbing trees, and even sneaking in a book while laying on a blanket. A visit from Grandma and Pa made it even more special.

Bike Riding

These are the weekends that lift my spirits and inspire me. Each spring I realize how much the winter weather has weighed on my mood, and how much I enjoy the fresh air and the warm sun on my skin.

Each Spring, nature begins again. Maybe last year the daffodils didn’t put on their best show, but this year could be different. Each Spring the Earth is given a new start and a fresh approach. So how can we not be inspired? This may be the 5th time we’ve worked on that first chapter. We may feel like there is no way to get that picture book right. But we must begin again. Maybe we need to let a story hibernate for a while, but then it’s time to start again with fresh new eyes and bold determination. And maybe, just maybe, this will be the revision that makes that chapter feel just right.

Photo by Katie Cullinan

Review: Ninja Red Riding Hood/ Max’s Review

Ninja Red Riding Hood Cover
Ninja Red Riding Hood

Written by: Corey Rosen Schwartz

Illustrated by: Dan Santat

G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2014, Hardcover

Target Audience: Ages 3-8

Genre: Fiction

Theme: Independence, Creative Problem Solving

How We Discovered This Book: We found this one in the new books bin at our library.

Summary: Red is on her way to Grandma’s house as you would expect, but how would the story be different if Red and the Wolf had taken ninja lessons? (And Grandma had taken tai chi).

What I Liked: This is a fun twist on a traditional fairytale. Each time you think you know what to expect the author throws you something unexpected.

What Did My Kids Think? I have a son who thinks ninjas are cool, and a daughter currently taking karate lessons. What’s not to love?

Resources:

There is a Pinterest Board with all kinds of ideas for companion activities, including stick puppets, worksheets, story mapping, story element activities, and even a template for writing a letter to the wolf. My favorite is a blank wanted poster where you can add in a picture of the wolf and all his “crimes.”

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Last month we introduced you to Max, a new contributor to our blog. He has his own YouTube Channel called Puppets Love Children’s Books. We’ve asked him to stop by every so often to give us his own unique perspective on picture books. Check out what Max has to say about Ninja Red Riding Hood.

Email subscribers: Please click over to this post on the website to see Max’s complete video.