Review: Last Stop on Market Street

Last Stop on Market StreetLast Stop on Market Street

Written by Matt De La Peña

Illustrated by: Christian Robinson

JP Putnam Sons for Young Readers; 2015, Hardcover

Target Audience: Ages 5-9

Genre: Fiction

Theme: Urban Living, Perspective, Gratitude

How We Discovered This BookLast Stop on Market Street won the 2016 Newbery Medal, and was a Caldecott Honor Book and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book. With all the talk about this book, we had to check it out.

Summary: Young CJ and his Nana take the bus from church across their city. CJ has many questions, and his Nana provides him with insightful and creative answers. Their conversation continues until they reach their final destination, which provides even more context for their blessings.

What I Liked: I haven’t read many books like this – focused truly on urban living and seeing the beauty in everything around you. The author captures CJ and his Nana’s personalities clearly through carefully chosen dialogue and specific speech patterns. I can almost hear their voices.

What Did My Kids Think? They liked the story, and the author manages to make CJ endearing rather than whiny. My children have never lived in a city, so it was interesting for them to imagine someone else’s life where they don’t own a car and they interact with a wide cross-section of people.

Resources:

 

Take a field trip into your nearest city. Make it a point (or even a scavenger hunt) to find all the things that are different from where you live. Now look for the things that are the same.

The Classroom Bookshelf site has activities related to this book for kids of varying age groups, focused on imagery, special people in your life, beauty, and sharing stories.

Identify ways that you can interact more deeply with your community. Join a book group, volunteer at a soup kitchen, or even just strike up a conversation with someone at the park.

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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.

Review: Trombone Shorty

Trombone Shorty
Trombone Shorty

Written by Troy Andrews

Illustrated by Bryan Collier

Harry N. Abrams Books for Young Readers; 2015, Hardcover

Target Audience: Ages 5-9

Genre: Non-Fiction

Theme: Having a dream, Persistence, Overcoming obstacles

How We Discovered This Book: I requested several books from our library from this year’s ALA Awards list. This is a Caldecott Honor Book and the winner of the Coretta Scott King Award.

Summary: A young boy growing up in the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans doesn’t have money to buy an instrument, but he loved music. He and his friends made instruments out of whatever they could find. One day, he found an old trombone, and taught himself to play. He became known as “Trombone Shorty” because the trombone was twice his size. He played throughout his neighborhood, with his own kid band, and one day was pulled from the crowd at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival to play with Bo Diddley.

What I Liked: I’m on record as not being a big fan of non-fiction books, but this kind of interesting storytelling and visual imagery is winning me over. This is a true story, written by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews himself. It is inspirational, demonstrates the hard work he put into his craft, and all of the influences on him including his town and his mother. The illustrations are creative – a combination of paintings and photographs. The illustrator uses an interesting method of overlaying faded sections to draw attention to the main focus of each panel – usually Trombone Shorty.

What Did My Kids Think? They enjoyed his story, and wanted me to read all the way through the author’s notes. We even went on YouTube to hear some of his music (see below).

Resources:

 

Make your own instruments at home!

Watch Trombone Shorty in action with his band, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue.

Learn more about the Trombone Shorty Foundation, and its work to promote music to the next generation, especially those in New Orleans.

Review: Chalk and Cheese

Chalk and Cheese CoverChalk and Cheese

Written and Illustrated by Tim Warnes

Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing; 2008, Hardcover

Target Audience: 3-8

Genre: Fiction

Theme: Friendship, Respecting Differences

How We Discovered This Book: My daughter found this book in our library’s new books bin. It was published a few years ago, but we’re glad to discover it now!

Summary: In researching the odd name of this book (I could understand the name Cheese for a mouse, but I was stumped with why a dog was named Chalk), I learned that “Chalk and Cheese” is based on an obscure British saying – as in, “They are completely different. As different as chalk and cheese.” This book takes the concept and tells a story about a British country mouse and an American dog. They are friends and pen pals, and one day Cheese comes to New York City to visit Chalk. They each look at the world differently, so we get to see two different perspectives on what they see and experience.

What I Liked: I enjoyed the illustrations and the narrative – spare text with simple illustrations. There are visual jokes and gems to find throughout. The message of embracing each other’s difference was nicely delivered without being heavy-handed.

What Did My Kids Think? Most kids like animals in their books, and my kids are no exception. They followed right along with Chalk and Cheese’s New York City adventure. They enjoyed when Cheese didn’t understand something – just like kids sometimes – and Chalk patiently explained it to him (or even better – showed him).

Resources:

 

Brainstorm things that are very different (story characters in other books, inanimate objects, family members), and give them an adventure. What would they do? Where would they go?

Illustrate your own adventure story set in the place you live. Are there secret places for hiding? Are there things a visitor to your town MUST see? No worries if you don’t consider yourself a strong illustrator – stick figures will do. Adding some color and an interesting perspective make all the difference.

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Max is back from Spring Break with his review of Chalk and Cheese. Check out his video to see what he thought!

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

Review: Earmuffs for Everyone!

Earmuffs for Everyone CoverEarmuffs for Everyone!

Written and Illustrated by Meghan McCarthy

Simon & Schuster Books of Young Readers; 2015, Hardcover

Target Audience: Ages 5-9

Genre: Non-Fiction

Theme: Creativity, Inventions

How We Discovered This Book: My daughter picked up this book from the new books bin at our library. Our librarians save the day yet again!

Summary: A young man in Maine in the late 1800s named Chester Greenwood wanted a better solution for warming his ears during the cold winter. He improved on the idea of basic ear covers and patented his idea when he was 19. His version is what we recognize as earmuffs today. The author adds into the story information about patents and some other famous inventions in order to help children understand what Chester really accomplished.

What I Liked: In general, I’m not a big fan of non-fiction books. However, I do have a big appreciation for non-fiction books that incorporate more traditional storytelling techniques to make the concepts more interesting. In this case, my kids finished the book with a basic understanding of patents and how valuable improvements can be in the invention process. (Does anyone really remember those people who first invented the light bulb? And no, it wasn’t Thomas Edison!)

What Did My Kids Think? My kids found it a whimsical story, especially how Chester’s hometown still celebrates him with a parade every year. Their father holds 7 patents in the medical device field, so this really hit home for them. They had a lot of follow up questions afterwards. After all, that’s what a non-fiction book should do, right?

Resources:

 

Interested in more information on the creation of the book? Check out the author’s introduction and backstory here.

The US Patent and Trademark Office has a special website set up with games for kids, to help them understand the patent and trademark processes.

The Kids Discover website outlines a classroom project for kids to create something and then prepare to patent it.

Review: Finding Winnie

Finding WinnieFinding Winnie

Written by Lindsay Mattick

Illustrated by: Sophie Blackall

Little, Brown, and Company; 2015, Hardcover

Target Audience: Ages 5-9

Genre: Non-Fiction

Theme: Storytelling, Families, Friendship

How We Discovered This Book: Finding Winnie recently won the Caldecott Award, and I was thrilled to see it in the new book bin at our library.

Summary: The great-granddaughter of Captain Harry Colebourn (Lindsay Mattick) wrote this story about how her great grandfather adopted a bear during his deployment to World War I. He named the sweet bear Winnipeg (Winnie) after his home town. After Harry gave her to the London Zoo when he was shipped off to France, Winnie became friends with a young Christopher Robin Milne and became the inspiration for Winnie the Pooh.

What I Liked: The story is framed as Lindsay (the author) tells her son a bedtime story. He asks for a true story, and she tells him the story of Harry and Winnie while interweaving interesting details that put you right into the story. The last several pages of the book are actual photos of Harry, his regiment, Winnie, and Christopher Robin. The photographs add another level to the story, and remind the reader of the reality of the story.

What Did My Kids Think? In the first week we had this book in our home, my kids requested it for bedtime reading every night. We were amazed at all the things that had to happen for Winnie the Pooh to be named – Harry happened to meet and buy Winnie, his regiment allowed Winnie to be adopted as their mascot, the London Zoo took Winnie in, and Christopher Robin became friends with her (after he was allowed to play in her enclosure!). My son still wonders where the “Pooh” part came from, but I guess that’s another story for another time.

Resources:

The DIY Homeschooler has printables, activities, and more history about the origins of Winnie the Pooh and his friends.

Choose a favorite stuffed animal or doll from the classroom or your child’s bedroom, and develop some creative stories about where their name might have come from.

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.

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?

A Sequel to a Classic and a Poll Update!

Many of you may have read in the news this week about Harper Lee, the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird. Ms. Lee is now 88 years old, and the manuscript she wrote before To Kill a Mockingbird back in the 1950s was recently discovered, and will be published in June. It takes place 20 years later, when an adult Scout comes back to visit her father.

Besides my curiosity on what this story might contain, what struck me most was a statement that the publisher made. They stated that the story would be published in its entirety (300 and some pages) without revision. Why no revision? Is it because Ms. Lee’s capabilities at 88 aren’t what they were 50 years ago? Because it is so perfect that no revision is required (I doubt it)? Or perhaps as Joanna noted, if it were revised it would be through a completely different lens than she would have had 50 years ago. Her experiences and perspective would have colored and changed how she writes, for better or worse.

I am most interested in a more craft-driven academic comparison of the two works, rather than excited for the story itself. My experience with To Kill a Mockingbird is the reason for my current approach to movies made from books. Back when I first experienced To Kill a Mockingbird, I saw the movie first. Once I read the book, it did not have any chance to be as interesting – how the story played out in my head was completely driven by the black and white images of Gregory Peck that I had already seen. Today, I swear by reading the book first, before I watch the movie. Then my own images are already rooted in my mind, and I can enjoy the movie from the perspective of seeing how the filmmaker might interpret the material. Often my mental images are richer, but sometimes the filmmakers can use technology to create some pretty amazing things (especially with fantasy or sci-fi materials).

Are you interested in reading Harper Lee’s new book, Go Set a Watchman, when it comes out in June?

An update on the poll we ran a few weeks back: There was a glitch in the poll that prevented us from getting complete results. Here’s your second chance to participate! Take a minute to tell us in the comments what type of book is your favorite, and we will choose a winner who will receive a book from a Connecticut or Wyoming author.

Some possibilities:

Funny

Fantasy/ Science Fiction

Realism

Non-Fiction

Mystery/Suspense

Thriller/Crime

Textbook

Other- whatever else might trip your fancy!