Schools Out! Summer Reading Challenge

School has been out for a few weeks now, and we are fully embracing all parts of summer: lots of swimming, bike riding, tree climbing, camping, and reading. My kids will read anywhere – on the couch, in a nice shady spot on the grass, or even up a tree!

While my son is an avid reader and my daughter is an excited emerging reader, I want to make sure their summer is full of adventures, creative stories, and high quality children’s literature. So I am giving them each a summer reading challenge. They each received a list of 20 books tailored to their ability, grade level, and favorite author/genres. If they read 10 books from their lists by the end of the summer, they get a toy or book.

So what’s on their lists?

Aidan

  1. Harry Potter – Order of the Phoenix, JK Rowling
  2. The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
  3. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsburg
  4. The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart
  5. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, Chris Grabstein
  6. Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things, Cynthia Vogt
  7. An Army of Frogs, Trevor Pryce
  8. The Tale of Despereaux, Kate DiCamillo
  9. Homer Price, Robert McCloskey
  10. Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Patterson
  11. Book of Scavenger, Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
  12. Dragon Rider, Cornelia Funke
  13. The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop, Kate Saunders
  14. The Zoo at the Edge of the World, Eric Kahn Gale
  15. The BFG, Roald Dahl
  16. A Long Way from Chicago, Richard Peck
  17. The Island of Dr. Libris, Chris Grabstein
  18. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
  19. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne
  20. I Am Malala (Young Readers Edition), Malala Yousafzai

Elizabeth

  1. I Am a Rock, Jean Marzollo
  2. Hop on Pop, Dr. Seuss
  3. Cat the Cat Who is That? Mo Willems
  4. See Me Run, Paul Meisel
  5. Mitten, Lois M. Shaefer
  6. When I Get Bigger, Mercer Mayer
  7. Swimmy, Leo Lionni
  8. The Thank You Book (Elephant and Piggie), Mo Willems
  9. Can I Play Too? (Elephant and Piggie), Mo Willems
  10. Let’s Go For a Drive (Elephant and Piggie), Mo Willems
  11. I Will Take a Nap (Elephant and Piggie), Mo Willems
  12. Are You Ready to Play Outside? (Elephant and Piggie), Mo Willems
  13. A Big Guy Took My Ball (Elephant and Piggie), Mo Willems
  14. The Magic Rabbit, Annette LeBlanc Cate
  15. The Worst Helper Ever, Richard Scarry
  16. Pete the Cat: Pete at the Beach, James Dean
  17. Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, Doreen Cronin
  18. Llama, Llama Time to Share, Anna Dewdney
  19. Oliver, Sid Hoff
  20. Finding Nemo: Best Dad in the Sea

Lots of fun things to read, and much for me to enjoy reading aloud and along with the kids.

What children’s books do you consider essential summer reading? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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Getting Ready for Spring with Some Favorite Picture Books

This week in the Northeast US, we have had multiple days of above average temperatures, including one day in the high 70’s. We were able to get outside, play, complete some yard work, and generally enjoy pretending that Spring was already here. Even after a relatively mild winter here, we are ready for the flowers to begin blooming, the grass to peek up, and to wear much thinner coats.

So in preparation for actual Spring (in just 10 days!), today I am sharing some of our favorite books inspired by and about Spring. These books feature gardens, the sun, the outdoors, rain showers, rainbows, and Spring sports.

Grandpa GreenGrandpa Green- Lane Smith

A sweet tale of a man’s life told through the eyes of his great grandson throughout his lush and creative topiary garden. Check out our author profile of Lane Smith.

 

My GardenMy Garden – Kevin Henkes

A girl grows all kinds of unusual things in her garden.

 

 

 

Gossie

Gossie (and the other books in the Gossie series) – Oliver Dunrea

A totally adorable gosling has adventures (and sloshes around in his rain boots) with the other animals in his barnyard.

 

 

The Very Hungry CaterpillarThe Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle

This classic reminds us each Spring of the miracle of metamorphosis.

 

Hooray for Spring!Hurray for Spring! – Patricia Hubbell

A fun rhyming book about Spring.

 

 

 

Where Butterflies GrowWhere Butterflies Grow – Joanne Ryder

This beautifully illustrated book gives you a bugs-eye view into a garden where butterflies grow. Interested in more books about nature? Check out our previous blog post with other nature favorites.

 

Joy in MudvilleJoy in Mudville – Bob Raczyka

We learn what might have happened after the Mighty Casey struck out, and a unique girl named Joy is put in to pitch and save the day. We reviewed this book previously.

 

Some other Spring books we are looking forward to reading: Maple Syrup Season by Ann Purmell; Mud by Mary Lyn Ray and Lauren Stringer; and Listen to the Rain by Bill Martin Jr., John Archambault, and James Endicott.

What other Spring books are your favorites? Please share in the comments.

Our Favorite Books of Winter/ ALA Awards

Happy winter day! Here in the Northeast US, this winter has been a mix of sun, wind, and more temperate days. We finally got enough snow to play in last week, so we’ve been in the mood for some picture books about winter and snow. Since winter has come around every year since the beginning of time, it makes sense that we enjoy both classic and contemporary snow/winter books.  Here are some of our favorites:

  • The Mitten, Jan Brett
  • Katy and the Big Snow, Virginia Lee Burton
  • Snowmen at Night, Caralyn Buehner
  • The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats
  • Owl Moon, Jane Yolen
  • Snowballs, Lois Ehlert
  • The Snow Cat, Dayal Kaur Khalsa
  • Bear Snores On, Karma Wilson
  • Snowflake Bentley, Jacqueline Briggs Martin
  • Penguin and Pinecone, Salina Yoon
  • Jack Frost, William Joyce

What are your favorite winter picture books? Do you love a book that’s not on this list?

The other great thing about this time of year is the announcement of the American Library Association (ALA) Book and Media Awards. You can find the complete list on their website, but I wanted to highlight a few of the awards here. This was an unusual year for the John Newbery Medal, which frequently goes to a middle grade or young adult novel. This year it went to a picture book, Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña. This story about a boy riding the bus with his grandma not only won the 2016 Newbery Medal, it also earned a 2016 Caldecott Honor and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor for Christian Robinson. Congratulations to Matt de la Peña, Christian Robinson, and all the other award winners!

Have you read Last Stop on Market Street? Did you enjoy it? What are your thoughts? Please share in the comments!

Books About Autumn

Fall is now in full color here in the Northeast US, and the leaves are slowly working their way towards peak colors. So many oranges, brown, red, and yellows! It’s amazing that trees know how to do this beautiful show each fall.

So in the spirit of fall, I’m sharing some of our favorite picture books about autumn. Since Halloween is technically a part of autumn, there are few Halloween selections in here.

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Our favorite autumn books that we get out year after year:

  • Fletcher and the Falling Leaves by Julia Rawlinson (check out my previous review here)
  • Dinosaurs’ Halloween by Liza Donnelly
  • Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert (as well as Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf)
  • We Gather Together, Now Please Get Lost! by Diane deGroat
  • Happy Halloween, Curious George! 
  • Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson (review here)
  • Mouse and Mole, A Perfect Halloween by Wong Herbert Yee (see Joanna’s review here)
  • Various Books about Johnny Appleseed

We recently discovered another autumn book to add to our collection that I will review next week, Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller. My daughter also insisted that we included Fancy Nancy: Halloween or Bust by Jane O’Connor.

So grab a few of these books, warm up a mug of apple cider, and settle in under a blanket. Enjoy!

What other autumn favorites do you enjoy? Please share in the comments!

Graphic Novels

I admit, I wasn’t always in favor of graphic novels for my son. I thought of them as glorified comic books- with not as much value as chapter books or novels.

But my son really seemed to enjoy them, and insisted on reading them multiple times among other (more traditional) reading. So I looked a little closer, and discovered that just like with any other type of book, the quality is more important than the genre.

For Aidan, graphic novels have provided a bridge between picture books and novels. He enjoys illustrations, and going abruptly to a book with no pictures was disappointing.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was managing this transition himself. He started with Geronimo Stilton books which are not graphic novels, but use colored text and intermittent illustrations that ease the reader towards more complex books. Aidan tried the BabyMouse series and Squish series by Jennifer Holm, the Lunch Lady series by Jarrett Krosocszka, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney, and the Big Nate series by Lincoln Peirce. He then moved on to more sophisticated graphic novels such as The Origin Story of Batman and Redwall. I even introduced him to intelligent comic strips along the way (Calvin and Hobbes!), which he loved.

Contrary to my fears, he still reads regular novels, and he still loves reading. When we run errands or travel, his companion of choice is a book. So I’m glad I’ve learned to expand my perspective on graphic novels. Just in time for my next emerging reader.

Follow Up on Our Summer Reading Challenge

Now that school is back in full swing, I am looking back on the summer reading challenge we gave ourselves and reviewing how we did. Aidan and I challenged ourselves to read 20 books over the summer, and we had shared our list of planned books with you.

So how did we do? For quantity, Aidan completed his 20 books and a few more. For me, I read closer to 10 novels (several over 700 pages each), but over 50 picture books with Elizabeth.

We met our number goal, but how was the quality? Even though we didn’t necessarily stick to the list we had planned (Aidan in particular), overall we read good quality books. Aidan began his summer devouring Calvin and Hobbes collections (which is technically reading, but not what I had in mind), and then reading some good novels including Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. He re-read some favorites including some Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, sprinkled in with a bunch of graphic novels from our library. He finished up the summer with a keen interest in non-fiction books about animals and geography (go figure). We are still planning to finish Shiloh together, which we got about halfway through.

For all of us, we read some good books and some not so good books. That is to be expected. I will still encourage Aidan to supplement his graphic novel/comics interests with meatier novels. However, the most important thing I saw this summer was my kids reading. Not “Mom made me sit down and be quiet” reading. Book-loving reading – fully engrossed, bring a book everywhere, “Mom, can I bring the book in the store?” kind of reading. Perhaps that is the best measure of our summer reading challenge, which I declare a success.

What did you read this summer? Any good finds?

Revisiting the Picture Book Classics

In our house, I like to balance classic children’s picture books with modern and new titles. I prefer variety as a reader, and my children like reading lots of different books in the search for the gem that will become their new favorite.

While I am well aware of the changes in the publishing industry over the last 50+ years, I am struck by which of the classics hold up and are still engaging for a modern reader.

Classic Books

Certainly American society has changed over that time (forgive me for my US-centric perspective on this topic). What competes for children’s attention has changed – the prevalence of video games and bright, assaultive entertainment may make plain illustrations uninteresting. Topics that were once taboo such as death and social concerns are freely discussed now, and some topics acceptable in an earlier generation are sometimes “sanitized” to ensure no political incorrectness or cultural intolerance.

However, I think the challenge for authors and illustrators remains the same – write an engaging, creative, and simple (not simplistic) story that leaves readers wanting to read it again (which is quite the daunting task!).

I was also pleased to find plenty of classics that capture the common experience of childhood, which made them more likely to still appeal to me and my children. As my daughter prepares for kindergarten, our local library has collected a wide range of new and old books for her to read this summer. There are so many books that are new to her, or were really enjoyed by my son when he was her age. We have been taking 15-20 picture books out each week, and it has been an interesting experiment in reader tastes and literature quality.

While we have read some classics that underwhelmed us (Caps for Sale, George and Martha, Millions of Cats), there were many that we love (Are You My Mother?; Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?; Chicka Chicka Boom Boom; Curious George; Little Bear; Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel).

My brother and I had favorite books as a child that we had to have serious discussions about to determine who got which books when we left for college. I got Jumping Beans by Judith Martin, and my brother got Seals on Wheels by Dean Whalley. Jumping Beans has certainly held up literature-wise, with just a little tape to help it physically survive another generation.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the classics, and which ones hold up for you. Please share your thoughts in the comments!

 

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!

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).