Author: Angela

Big List of Books to Give to Kids, 2017 edition

It’s that time again! Time for me to gush about some of the books I read this year in the hopes you will buy some.

Lucky for you, that makes gift giving easy. Books make great gifts for kids and with so many new and classic books, you can find something for every kid.

I’ve broken down the book recommendations into helpful categories. These let you find books that are appropriate for the age and reading ability of the child. If you want to get into the nitty-gritty of how children’s books are classified, check out this post.

For independent readers, this guide will help you determine if a book is appropriate.

You can also check out the lists for 2015 and 2016.

BOOKS FOR BABIES AND EXPECTANT PARENTS

Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering cover

No one is too young for a book! Nothing says love more than cuddling up in the lap of a grownup and listening to a story. And since reading to children is the number one best thing you can do to promote school success, you’re also making an investment in their future success. These books have stiff, durable pages perfect for the littlest readers.

Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering

Besos for Babies

Goodnight Jesus (You just knew that was coming, right?)

 

FIRST PICTURE BOOKS

Marta Big and Small Cover

These picture books are perfect for kids that are ready to graduate from board books. They have shorter texts (to match short attention spans) but big humor. These are a great fit for preschool through lower elementary.

Marta Big and Small

Sophie’s Squash and the sequel Sophie’s Squash Goes to School

Bitty Bot

Stick and Stone

Water Song

 

PICTURE BOOKS FOR KINDERGARTEN – ELEMENTARY

Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake cover

These texts are a tad longer. Perfect for the slightly older kid that still loves picture books.

Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors

Nothing Rhymes with Orange

Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast

Charlotte and the Rock

Great Now We’ve Got Barbarians

READ ALOUD CHAPTER BOOKS FOR PRESCHOOL AND KINDERGARTEN

Kids can begin listening to chapter books as young as preschool or kindergarten. These books have short chapters and pictures can help ease the transition. They’re also free of mature or scary content.

No. 1 Car Spotter

Winnie the Pooh and while you’re at it read about the true story behind the fictional bear in Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear

BOOKS FOR NEW READERS

Is That Wise Pig cover

These books are great for kids that are still learning to read. These are arranged from easiest to hardest. Choose the one that seems just right or a little ahead of where your reader is currently.

Is That Wise Pig? and Jan Thomas’s other books are always a big hit with my kids.

 

Ballet Cat: What’s Your Favorite Favorite?

Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea

 

BOOKS FOR KIDS THAT DON’T LIKE TO READ

Catstronauts: Mission Moon cover

Comics and graphic novels have been the gateway to reading for many kids. Apparently, I didn’t read many graphic novels this year, but what I lack in numbers I make up for with quality. I love all the books in this series (and stalk Drew Brockington’s twitter to find out when there will be more).

Castronauts: Mission Moon

 

BIG BOOKS FOR BIG KIDS

Wonder cover

The one category where I read significantly more than in any previous year: middle grade. Middle grade is the term for upper elementary to middle school readers. I tried to thin down this list. I really did. But…. I can’t. #sorrynotsorry To help you sort through, I’ve added the genre of each but these should be taken with a (large) grain of salt.

Wonder – Realistic

Book Scavenger – Realistic/Mystery

Refugee – Modern Historical Fiction

Amina’s Voice – Realistic

The Metropolitans – Fantasy/Historical Fiction

The Mysterious Benedict Society

The Girl Who Drank the Moon – Fantasy

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library – Mystery

The First Rule of Punk – Realistic

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls – Fantasy

The Detective’s Assistant – Historical Fiction/Mystery

The Case of the Missing Moonstone – Historical Fiction/Mystery

 

YOUNG ADULT

The Hate U Give cover

There is only one book on this list, but it was the most powerful book I read all year. If you’re only going to read one YA novel all year, let it be this one.

The Hate You Give

 

TRUE STORIES FOR TRULY AWESOME KIDS

Over and Under the Snow cover

It’s a great time for people that love nonfiction. There is some terrific nonfiction out there right now. This list was just as hard to thin down as the middle grade novels. After each book, I’ve listed the age category. PB = picture book and can range from preschool to upper elementary. MG = middle elementary to middle school. YA = middle school to teen.

Over and Under The Snow – PB

I’m Trying to Love Spiders – PB

Kate Warne: Pinkerton Detective – PB

Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World about Kindness – PB

Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code – PB

Spot the Mistake: Lands of Long Ago – PB

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, A Young Civil Right’s Activist  – older PB

Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower – MG

Hidden Figures Young Reader’s Edition – MG or YA

Bomb: The Race to Build – And Steal – The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon – YA

Radioactive! How Irene Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World – YA

Blood, Bullets, and Bones: The Story of Forensic Science from Sherlock Holmes to DNA – YA

 

Still looking for inspiration? Check out these 500+ Great Kid’s Books.

Note: I get no compensation for making these recommendations. I just really, really like books.

Ultimate Gift Guide for Writers

Ultimate Gift Guide for Writers

Tis’ the season for gift giving. It’s easy to know what writers want: a five-book deal at a top publisher. Barring, that check out these suggestions to help you find gifts for the writers in your life.

FOOD ITEMS

happy coffee

Caffeinated beverages

If you hang out with writers, you will soon learn that we love our caffeinated beverages.

Most writers don’t earn a full-time income from writing and may take many years to “make it.” Which means most of us write early in the morning or late in the evening and subsist on caffeine. Liquid motivation can go a long way to making the writerly lifestyle work around full-time employment and other life demands.

Or maybe there’s just something about a steaming cup of coffee that’s downright magical.

In any case, find out the preferred caffeinated beverage of your writer and go to town. Options include:

  • a sampling of teas
  • a really large bag of coffee
  • membership is a tea or coffee of the month club
  • Gift card to a coffee shop or tea house

Go ahead and spring for the good stuff. A really good cup of home-brewed coffee is a nice luxury at cents to the cup.

 

I turn coffee into books mug
From: https://www.etsy.com/listing/532010884/writer-mug-green-i-turn-coffee-into?ga_order=most_relevant&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_search_query=mug%20write&ref=sr_gallery_8

Things to put caffeinated beverages into/make them with

Again, writers like caffeinated beverages. So why not give them the gift of making a swanky cuppa at home. Or a fancy mug to hold that steaming cup of inspiration.

Consider:

If you’re feeling crafty, you can even try one of the millions* of ideas on Pinterest for decorating a coffee mug with a permanent marker.

 

Writing with chocolate

Comfort foods/drinks

Aside from caffeinated beverages, comfort foods and drinks are also a good bet.

The path to success is paved with rejection and angst. The angst of showing your work to the world. The rejection when it’s not immediately accepted as the most amazing things since Harry Potter. The angst of wondering if you will EVER get published. The angst of worry when you finally are published. It doesn’t end.

Which is why, in addition to caffeinated beverages, writers are awfully fond of our comfort foods. Ferret out the comfort food of choice for your writer and then get creative. Common choices include:

  • Chocolate
  • Wine
  • Chocolate of the month or Wine of the month club

Like coffee and tea, a little splurge can go a long way. So skip the checkout chocolate bar and go for the Godiva.

 

STATIONARY

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer

must be in want of stationary

– Not Jane Austen

Ok, not as eloquent as Jane’s opening line about marriage, but it does seem true that writers love the physical tools of the trade. Even those of us that do our writing on a computer, still love the old-fashioned stuff.

 

Fountain pen

A Fancy Pen (or two)

A good pen is a wonderful thing. I like to use pens as a tangible celebration of accomplishments. Like a bottle of wine, I find the price bump from “mediocre” to “good” is not too bad. But you can easily spend upwards of “that could have been a mortgage payment.”

Here are two pens that I currently own and love but won’t break the bank:

If your writer is a true pen lover out there, check out these pen recommendations.

 

Notebook

Notebook or Journal

A nice notebook pairs well with those new pens your buying. If your favorite writer has not yet discovered the joys of Bullet Journaling, they will. Trust me. I give it a year or until they open an Instagram account, whichever comes first.

Whatever they’ll use it for, you really can’t go wrong with a nice notebook:

 

Traveler's notebook
From: https://www.etsy.com/listing/552819580/custom-travelers-notebook-cover-free?ga_order=most_relevant&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_search_query=traveler%20notebook%20leather%20feather&ref=sr_gallery_21

Traveler’s notebook

Really want to wow your favorite writer? Let them know you believe in them and that you have impeccable taste? Well, let me introduce you to your newest obsession: traveler’s notebooks.

The concept is easy: It’s a leather cover with elastic strings that let you slip in and out different notebook inserts. All the joy of a new notebook but it just keeps going forever.

(I may be slightly obsessed.)

A traveler’s notebook is an investment. Do a favor for your favorite starving artist and make the investment for them.

You can buy from the Midori, the company that originated travelers notebooks, or you can choose one of about a million gorgeous examples from around the interwebs. For instance:

 

FUN

Ok, if you have made it this far and still haven’t found anything to give your favorite writer, try these:

Story Cubes Game

StoryCubes

Story Cubes are a fun and simple game, perfect for your favorite writer ages 8+. It’s simple – roll the picture dice, and use the picture you roll to help build a story.

 

Books

Books

I left this to last because it seems…. obvious….?

Every writer is also a reader. Period. And most of us could use help financing our book addiction. If you don’t have a book in mind, try one of these suggestions:

  • Gift card to a bookstore
  • Payment of library fines (No idea how this would work but boy would it be nice.)

The ultimate (and free) gift for any writer

Whatever you’re purchasing for your writer, there’s one thing you absolutely MUST give them: your support.

It’s simple. It’s free. But it’s the one thing most writers can’t do without.

Writing can be a lonely endeavor. It takes persistence and years of dedication. Let your writer know you support them.

Support can come in many forms:

  • understanding that a friend may need to stay in and write rather than hit the town with you
  • knowing that it’s a long process and that lack of tangible progress (like a book on Amazon) is not a sign of failure
  • gifting them with the time to write
  • realizing that this is a commitment and a passion, not a hobby

However you show it, shower your writer with support, and they will thank you every time.

My October: Back Pain, Binge Reading, and NaNoWriMo

Three weeks ago, I threw out my back. It’s not the first time and won’t be the last.

I’ve been trying to convince myself that this is like a forced vacation. A chance to catch up on reading and Netflix.

I have, indeed, done a ton of reading. According to Goodreads, I’ve clocked an average of one middle grade or young adult book every two days. That’s great for my 2017 reading challenge, but the novelty has worn off.

2017 Goodreads Books reading challenge status

So now that I can sit upright again (at least for awhile), I’ve been back to writing.

And with November on the horizon, that means NaNoWriMo.

This will be first year participating in NaNo – the challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in November. In my case, I’ll be writing a middle-grade novel, so I’m aiming for closer to 30,000 words.

Last year, I was hesitant. I had never written any fiction longer than a short story. I wasn’t sure I could maintain a story for that long. So I signed up for a NaNo account but never did much.

Then this summer, an idea hit critical mass. It had been simmering on my brain’s back burner for months before suddenly hitting a roiling boil. After some intensive brainstorming, the entire rough draft came together in about four weeks.

Rough draft is the key phrase. I knew from the get-go that I would need many rounds of revisions. I was not wrong. In my first pass of revisions, I had to backfill character motivations, add subplots, and make sure my characters were three dimensional. It’s a work in progress, but I can already see it taking shape.

I was not wrong.

In my first pass of revisions, I had to backfill character motivations, add subplots, and make sure my characters were three dimensional. It’s a work in progress, but I have hope that I’ll come out the other side with something people want to read. More importantly, I have confidence now.

So this year I’m embracing NaNo wholeheartedly. This idea has been simmering for a few months now. I’ve been itching to work on it. Now that other projects are wrapping up, I’m ready to stoke up the fire and get things going.

Plot twist: it will be my first historical fiction piece. It’s the perfect marriage of my love of story and my love of nonfiction.

I’m using the month of October to prepare (Preptober). For most NaNoers that means fleshing out characters, figuring out plot points, and the like. I’m doing all that plus having to research the real events and places where my novel is set.

Right now I’m neck-deep in research. I’m not quite drowning, but I do feel a bit seasick.

I just hope that by November, I’m back on my feet, literally.

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, Goodnight Jesus!

 

Happy Birthday, Goodnight Jesus
Thanks to Emma at Charming the birds from the Trees for letting me use her lovely photo.

I can’t believe it. It’s been a whole year since my first book, Goodnight Jesus, was published.

I’ve been feeling a bit mushy about this all month. Publishing a book is a big deal. Years of work and effort go into it. And then to see people hold it in their hands, to hear them tell you how much their children love it…. It’s a feeling that’s hard to describe.

Can I let you in on a secret, though? I have no idea what this book’s birthday is.

Usually, that date is tattooed on your heart right after your wedding anniversary and your children’s births. But after years of waiting for a signed contract to become a book, I missed it.

The week that Goodnight Jesus was published was a blur for me. I was sitting at my stepmother’s bedside in hospice as she lost a battle with cancer. That week I lost a stepmother and gained a book.

Like I said, mushy.

It’s now been a year. All my plans for book launch happened eventually. Announcement and blog posts rolled out over the next weeks and months. The Goodnight Jesus activity pages I wrote took a bit longer.

I guess Goodnight Jesus is written on my heart after all. But it’s written with a name rather than a date.

Here’s to you, Bettie.

Help! How Do I Find Books for My Child?

HELP! How do I find Books for my Child-

Having a child that loves books is a wonderful thing. But often in the next breath, parents lament “how do I find books for my child?”

Kids in middle to late elementary seem to inhale books. Parents often find that keeping their child supplied with books is an impossible task. How can a parent tell if a book is going to be appropriate? Is it the right reading level? Will there be content that is too mature?

Mature content is especially a problem if your child reads above their grade-level. A child may be capable of reading a book but not have the emotional maturity to handle it. Imagine a sensitive 8-year-old reading the death scenes in the Hunger Games.

So what’s a parent to do?

Most of us can’t quit our day jobs to read children’s novels full-time. (Even if we would like to.)

I’ve gathered together some resources to help you wade through it all.

Help! How do I find books for my child?

First, you can check out lists of book recommendations. I read widely, and every year I made a list of my favorite books from the year. Check out the lists from 2016 and 2015.

2016 Big List of Books to Give to Kids

Big list of books to give to kids

Second, I also have a Pinterest board full of book recommendations. Need ideas for a 2nd grader? Or books set in Asia? Or adventure books for girls? Books for reluctant readers? Scroll through, and you’ll probably find something.

500+ Great Kid's Books to Read

Ok, but how can I tell if the reading level is right?

If your child’s reading-level is different from their grade level, then recommendations for their grade may not be a good fit.

The Accelerated Reader website lets you search for books. It tells you the reading level and word count for each book. Not every book is listed, but most often I can find what I need. Let’s look at a recent favorite of mine: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

Screen Shot of THE HATE U GIVE from Accelerated Reader page

The ATOS level is the grade level. In this case, this Young Adult book is readable to a student who is in the 9th month of 3rd grade.

Other things to note are the Interest Level and Word Count. The language of this book might be understandable by a 3rd grader, but it is interesting to a much older child – 9th to 12th grade. Plus, I don’t know any 3rd graders that wouldn’t balk at the sheer volume of a 95,000-word book.

Compare this to a book like Wonder by R.J. Palacio:

Screen Shot WONDER on Accelerated Reader website

 

Here the book is a bit more balanced: The reading level is later in 4th grade, and the interest level is 4th-8th grade. The length is also better for a 4th grader at 73,000 words.

But how do I know what my child’s reading level is?

You have a few options. You could grab a stack of books that your child read recently, and look them up on the Accelerated Reader website. Get an average of the ATOS level, and you’re good to go.

The Scholastic website also lets you look up books to find their reading level. It uses a different measurement of reading level: Lexile scores. Lexile scores are widely used but don’t translate easily to a grade level.

You could give them a test such as the reading level test on the free website Moby Max. You will need to make an account, but the website is free to use.

Great. Now how do I tell which books are appropriate for my child?

The Common Sense Media web page rates media designed for children. It will flag any mature content. That means you don’t have to read a whole novel to find out there’s a sex scene in chapter 37. Let’s take a look at our two books:

Screen Shot of THE HATE U GIVE on Common Sense Media

At the top, there’s a rating of quality (5 stars) and approximate age appropriateness. The age rating takes into account both reading ability and mature content. As we saw before, The Hate U Give has a low readability level, but the high-interest level bumped it up here. Further down, it breaks down mature content by type. You can click on each to get more information. The “What Parents Need to Know” section, gives you an overview.

Reading over this, I could tell that this is a powerful book that would be perfect for a high schooler or mature middle schooler.

Now let’s look at our other book example.

Screen Shot of WONDER on Common Sense Media

Wonder is a better bet for an elementary school child. The rating of age 11 reflects that there is some minor mature content (bullying and kissing).

 

Though I read a lot of children’s books, I still have to use these tricks to help my kids. Hopefully, now you feel confident helping your child find books. Do you have any tips or tricks to add?

A New Book, a New Pen, and Weathering the Storms of Rejection

Signature on New Publishing CotnractLast week I signed the contract for my second children’s book with Ancient Faith Publishing. I bought a fountain pen to mark the occasion.

When I signed my first contract 3.5 years ago, they warned me that the next slot in the production cycle was a few years away. I had an inkling of how slow publishing could be. I started my writing career working with textbook publishers. I saw first hand how many people and how many hours go into each book. In the end, it took 2.5 years for that contract to become Goodnight Jesus.

Writing can be an intense business. Even big-name authors still get rejections.


 

You have to hold onto the successes like a buoy when your inbox is nothing but a lightning storm of rejection. I got a rejection the very day I signed this new contract. Zap.

Eventually, contracts become books, and you have a solid reminder of the victory. But two and a half years is a long time to hold onto the excitement of a signature.

A pen is a physical reminder. A small joy that I can use every day to remind me that one day I’ll get to sign a book with that pen.

Here’s to all the pens to come.

Publishing Agreement

Solar Eclipse 2017 Part 2: See The Eclipse

 

SOLAR ECLIPSE 2017: PART2 - SEE THE SOLAR ECLIPSE

The 2017 Solar Eclipse is fast approaching on August 21st!

In the first post of the series, I covered resources for learning about solar eclipses. There are book and video resources as well.

Today’s post will cover the ins and outs of viewing this eclipse. We’ll also take a small detour through eye anatomy and sunlight experiments along the way.

Next time I’ll share some hands on activities to try.

 

WHERE TO SEE THE ECLIPSE

The 2017 full eclipse will be viewable in the Continental US. As I explained in the last post, a solar eclipse happens when the moon moved between the sun and the Earth. The moon blocks out the light from the sun so it casts a shadow on the Earth. Since the moon is moving, the shadow moves, too.

Map of the solar Eclipse path
Map of the Solar Eclipse Path

That means that people all across the country will have a chance at seeing a full eclipse. 

Being the science geek that I am, my family is making the trek to Carbondale, IL – the official location that NASA is using to study the eclipse.

It’s also only 3 hours from my home in central Illinois. When you live in the cornbelt it’s not often that things are conveniently located to you.

Path of the full eclipse not coming to your town? No problem. Most of the continental US will be able to see a partial eclipse. Check out this interactive map to see what the eclipse will look like in your hometown.

Partial eclipse
Partial Eclipse

If you are traveling to see the Eclipse make sure to check availability of lodgings in advance. Many prime locations are booked up solid. I had to call 5 campgrounds to find a campsite. And I was calling last January. Even I didn’t know people were that passionate about eclipses.

DON’T BE THE TOY SOLDIER!

If you’re going to watch the eclipse, make sure you do it safely. Looking directly at the sun is a bad idea. Here’s why:

Remember that scene in Toy Story where the little boy next door uses a magnifying lens to focus the sun’s light and melt a toy soldier? I’m not sure about the melting point of toy soldiers but you can use a magnifying glass to start a fire:

Starting a fire with a magnifying glass.

It works because the lens changes the path of the sunlight. All the light then comes together at a single point which makes things super bright and super hot. Put something flammable right at that point and it will catch fire. Like this:

Lens bends light

Now let’s take a peek at a normal human eye and see what we find:

Yep. Your eye has a lens in it. Just like the lens in a magnifying glass, it changes the path of light so that it focuses on a single point. If your lens doesn’t focus the light just right, you’ll need even more lenses (glasses or contacts) to help with focus.

But the human eye is not really designed for the super brightness of direct sunlight. So let’s look at what happens when you look directly at the sun:

Eye da

OUCH. No, your eye won’t actually catch fire but you can cause permanent blindness.

Be safe. Do not be the toy soldier.

BE SAFE

So hopefully I have convinced you not to look directly at the solar eclipse. Luckily, there’s a simple solutions.

Regular sunglasses won’t do. You’ll need eclipse glasses like these to protect you. Luckily they’re fairly cheap and easy to get. Get a pair for the whole family!

All the eclipse viewing wonder without the ouch.

 

Next time I’ll post about other fun activities you can do for the eclipse.

 

Solar Eclipse 2017 Part 1: Learn About Solar Eclipses

If you’re not living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the upcoming solar eclipse. Which I like to call eclipsapocalypse. (If you do live under a rock, I don’t judge.)

I’ve gathered together some resources so the children (and inner children) in your life can have enjoy the eclipsapocalyse in style. In this first post, we’ll look at resources for learning about solar eclipses. Scroll down for videos and book recommendations.

Later posts will cover viewing the eclipse and hands-on eclipse activities.

LEARN ABOUT SOLAR ECLIPSES

Solar Eclipse diagram

A solar eclipse happens when the moon moves between the Sun and the Earth. The moon blocks the sun’s light and casts a shadow on the Earth. If you’re standing on the part of the Earth where the shadow falls, you’ll see the moon move in front of the Sun and block out the light.

It’s a big deal because full solar eclipses are rare. It’s been nearly a 100 years in In a full eclipse the moon lines up exactly with the sun to completely cover it. Around the area of the full eclipse there’s a much bigger area that will see a partial eclipse. The sun and moon don’t line up exactly, but part of the sun’s light will still be blocked.

Partial eclipse
Partial Eclipse

BOOKS:

You knew there would be books, right?

Eclipses

Eclipses: The Night Sky and other Amazing Sights in Space by Nick Hunter

This book all about eclipses is perfect for younger children.

Looking Up! The Science of Stargazing

Looking Up! The Science of Stargazing by Joe Rao and Mark Borgions

This fun book has a short chapter on eclipses. Perfect for newer readers or as a read aloud to a younger child.

Space Encyclopedia

Space Encyclopedia: A Tour of Our Solar System and Beyond by David A. Aguilar 

My favorite space encyclopedia has sections on eclipses, too.

 

VIDEOS:

This NASA video explains how it works and what it will look like. (Appropriate for young kids to the young at heart.):

If you want to dive deeper into the science of eclipses, this video from Crash Course is great (Appropriate for Adolescents+ (or really nerdy little kids)):

 

Tune in next time to learn how you can see the 2017 Solar Eclipse.

 

 

 

I’m now on Goodreads

Lookit! I’ve got a Goodreads Author page now.

Goodreads Author Badge

I’ve actually been on Goodreads for awhile. I use it to track the hundreds of books a year that I read. I also use it to keep track of the books I read with my kids. (Not that I don’t love Thomas the train but only a parent’s love would compel me to read every title in our library. Repeatedly.)

But now I’m also a Goodreads author. That means if you want to checkout what others are saying about my book, you can click over to my Goodreads Author profile and see.

 

An Open Apology Letter to My Blog

Dear Blog,

I’m sorry we haven’t written recently. What with actual writing and all, I just haven’t had time to blog regularly. I hope you understand.

Don’t be alarmed but you should know that I’m seeing another website. I’ve volunteered to help the good people at KidlitNation get their website off the ground. It’s been a big job and I’m sorry I haven’t had as much time to spend with you. I promise I haven’t forgotten you Blog and it’s for a good cause. Things should settle down soon and I’ll be back around more regularly.

Sincerely,

Your Blogger