Tag: kidlit

Kidlit Karma Reviews: March 2018

Kidlit Karma March 2018 graphic

 

At the end of 2017, I made a pledge. I challenged myself to review good books every month in 2018, particularly books that haven’t gotten as much love as I feel they deserve. I call it Kidlit Karma because I’m aiming to spread the love for books that I love.

March is Women’s history month and many of us are banding behind the banner of #kidlitwomen to support fellow women writers. So today’s post features all picture books written by women about pioneering women and girls.

 

Picture Book: KATE WARNE, PINKERTON DETECTIVE by Marissa Moss and April Chu

Cover art for KATE WARNE, PINKERTON DETECTIVE

I love both mystery and history when they’re well told and this is both! Kate Warne was the first female detective in the United States. But in the 1800’s, not many people believed that a woman could be a detective. Kate didn’t just want to be a detective, she wanted to be a detective for the foremost detective agency: the Pinkerton detective agency. This picture book tells how she foiled a major robbery plot and convinced the critics that she was a worthy detective.

I had already fallen in love with Kate Warne after reading the fictionalized account in THE DETECTIVE’S ASSISTANT. KATE WARNE, PINKERTON DETECTIVE is a biography and I really enjoyed learning more about Kate Warne and her real exploits.

KATE WARNE, PINKERTON DETECTIVE on Amazon

 

ONE PLASTIC BAG: ISATOU CEESAY AND THE RECYCLING WOMEN OF THE GAMBIA by Miranda Paul and Elizabeth Zunon

Cover art for ONE PLASTIC BAG

This is the inspiring story of Isatou Ceesay who saw a problem in her community and turned it into an opportunity. Mounds of trash, especially discarded plastic bags, were everywhere. They were an eyesore and a health hazard. When the families pet goat ate a bag and died, she knew she had to do something. She transformed the discarded bags into a way to make money, not just for herself but for other women.

ONE PLASTIC BAG on Amazon

 

Picture Book: THE YOUNGEST MARCHER: THE STORY OF AUDREY FAYE HENDRICKS, A YOUNG CIVIL RIGHT ACTIVIST by Cynthia Levinson and Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Cover Art for THE YOUNGEST MARCHER

I had heard of the children’s march before reading this book but not Audrey Faye Hendricks. Reading this with my kids, I felt like they finally connected with the civil rights movement. We’ve read a lot of excellent books about the civil rights, but it feels distant. It was a long time ago for them and mostly involved adults. But seeing kids taking action and participating – now they get it. By the end of the book, I was sniffling, too. I hope this book encourages them to stand up for things they believe in, even if they feel small.

THE YOUNGEST MARCHER on Amazon

 

If you’re looking for a young adult book written by a woman about women, check out my January review of RADIOACTIVE! HOW IRENE CURIE AND LISE MEITNER REVOLUTIONIZED SCIENCE AND CHANGED THE WORLD by Winifred Conkling.

A Manual for Moving Forward: What Science Says about #kidlitwomen and #metoo

A Manual for Moving forward: what science says about #kidlitwomen and #metoo

The #metoo movement has swept the world. Last month, that tidal wave crashed into the kidlit community. It started with an article by author Anne Ursu on sexual harassment within the children’s book industry. She conducted an anonymous survey and shared her eye-opening results. Then things really took off with a post by the School Library Journal. I don’t often say this, but the comments are enlightening.

 

MOVING FORWARD

The kidlit community is still struggling with how to handle this situation. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) revamped their sexual harassment policy. Abusers have been formally barred from the organizations and conferences. Agents and publishing houses have been slower to drop abusers who they represent and have published, but it is happening. One publisher has even made the decision to delay publication of a book so it could be re-illustrated after the first illustrator was outed as a serial abuser. And women are banding together under the #kidlitwomen movement to take back our industry.

It’s a start. But if we’re going to reshape the kidlit community, we need more people acting to make that happen.

I’ve considered how I can contribute to #kidlitwomen and support my fellow female writers. My other great passion (besides writing) is science. In a former life, I was a PhD-track academic studying language and the human brain. So looking for answers naturally led to science and what it can tell us about this moment and this movement.

 

COGNITIVE DISSONANCE: Now what?

The recent revelations of sexual harassment in kidlit were jarring. (I wish I could say that’s it’s equally jarring to see how men have consistently been supported to the detriment of women, but many of us saw that one coming.)

It’s jarring partly because the view from the outside is a very loving and supportive community. And from the inside, that is the predominant experience. It’s one of the best communities I’ve ever been privileged to participate in.

But predominant experiences aren’t the only experience within our community. Some have experienced harassment, assault, and manipulation. Professional organizations have allowed this to continue for years.

Realizing that the mostly warm fuzzy community you love was also hiding predators is unsettling. Cognitive dissonance is the scientific term for this feeling. It’s the jarring sensation you get when you have two contradictory ideas. It’s like realizing your sweet uncle Bob, that always brought you the just-right book to shepherd you through the turbulent teen years, was also a hit man for the mob. It’s upsetting. It makes you question EVERYTHING.

You have two options:

  1. Deny or downplay the new information that caused the cognitive dissonance. (“Uncle Bob would never do that!” or “But he’s a really nice guy.” or “He’s just been having a really hard time in his marriage.”)
  2. Accept the new information and change your worldview. Taking apart your broken set of beliefs and putting them back together is a truer, better way. It’s uncomfortable, but in the end, it’s better. And it’s the only way to move forward.

Cognitive dissonance doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Reassessing is a necessary part of life. You might still care about uncle Bob, but given what you now know it would be plain stupid not to change how you interact with him.

So in this moment, when our view of the kidlit community has been flipped inside out, take a breath. Don’t resist the discomfort with a “no they didn’t” or “nothing is wrong” or “it’s not a big deal.” Resist the urge to defned or rationalize away what you now know.

Pause. Listen. Process.

Then let your worldview shift. Accepting and acting on this newly discovered reality is how we move on.

 

BYSTANDER EFFECT: How do I stop sexual harassment?

Ready to take action? Great! You’re determined to be a part of the solution and put a stop to sexual harassment. How do you do that? Let’s start somewhere a little easier.

Imagine you’re in a crowded grocery store – everyone is rushing to get food for the next big holiday. And in the middle of a crowded aisle, an older woman trips and falls. She’s sitting there, leaning against cans of corn beef.

You’re just as harried as everyone else – you’ve got food to buy, preparations to make, kids whining. Do you stop and ask if she’s ok? If she’s fine, you lose time, look a bit foolish, and maybe embarrass her. Lots of other people are there and none of them seem to be rushing to the woman’s aid.

Research says you’ll most likely keep going. It’s called the bystander effect – the more bystanders that see the little woman in the canned-meat aisle, the less each one feels responsible for her.

If you saw that same older woman trip on a remote mountaintop it would be obvious that you should act – no one else is around, and she has no other way to get help. But when you’re surrounded by other people, you don’t feel quite as responsible.

It’s often unclear if help is needed. The woman may just need a minute to regain her composure. Or she could have had a stroke. She might not be able to call out for help because of her physical condition in the moment. But if everyone is looking and waiting for someone else to act, then no one ever gets around to it.

There’s a really simple cure for the bystander effect.

  1. Know that it exists and realize that people are unlikely to act.
  2. Act on that realization.

It’s the same concept that underlies the phrase “if you see something, say something.”

Smile and say hi to the women. Maybe make a joke or tell an anecdote to put her at ease and relieve her embarrassment. “Sometimes I think they put ice on these floors.”

Then offer her a hand up. She may turn it down. She may gratefully smile back, take the hand up then finish her shopping. Or she may be unable to get up or unable to respond. No more ambiguity, call an ambulance. If you need help, single out a specific person in the crowd. Make it obvious that that person, yes, you in the red shirt are now responsible for calling the ambulance. Now you’ve broken through another person’s bystander effect, too.

Now imagine that instead of a feeble woman at the grocery, you’re in a crowded post-conference get-together. Lots of those lovely kidlit folk are chatting about their favorite topic – books! – while sipping wine. You notice a man putting an arm around a woman. She looks a bit uncomfortable but doesn’t pull away. Everyone else keeps chatting, unconcerned. She hasn’t pulled away or asked for help; does that mean she’s fine? Or is it like the lady in the grocery store where everyone is assuming someone else will act. Is she trapped by the social situation in the same way the grocery lady might be trapped by her physical situation? Anyone who has given in to middle school peer pressure knows that you can be manipulated by a situation or a powerful person, be they the popular girl, a schoolyard bully, or a sexual predator hiding among the kidlit sheep. Anne Ursu’s survey results were full of examples of situations where women did not feel they could speak out on their own behalf.

What to do? Like the lady in the grocery, if you see something, do something. Approach with compassion. Try to ease awkwardness and embarrassment. And if you sense a dangerous situation, get help.

If it were me, I would walk up and say “Excuse me, do you know where the ladies room is? Could you show me?” I’ve now engaged, I can better judge the situation. And I’ve given her a valid excuse to leave the situation on good social terms. She can choose to take the hand I extend or not. But if I sensed she was in real danger – like a man separating her from me, trying to pull her away, or preventing her from grabbing that metaphorical hand, I would be more direct. “You look uncomfortable. Do you need help? Would you like me to call someone?”

Would I be embarrassed? VERY. I would probably be beet red and feel like an intruder, but it’s important. If I misread the situation, they can laugh at me later. But if I didn’t….. I don’t want to be complicit through my lack of action.

So you reading this, yes you with the good intentions feeling uncertain how to proceed, step out of the crowd and act. Act when you see someone in need. Act even if you’re not sure help is needed. Act even though you feel embarrassed. Just ACT.

 

TEND AND BEFRIEND: How do I prevent sexual harassment?

Long ago, researchers found that people have one of two reactions to threat: fight or flight. So when you stumble into a bear in your backyard, you can either fight it or run away.

That research was based on men. New research found a wider variety of responses. They found that women, in particular, are more likely to protect their children and band together for group protection. Since scientists like rhyme as much as writers, they coined the phrase “tend and befriend.”

Tend and befriend is a powerful way of dealing with threats. You can see it in action in many cultures and times. When deforestation threatened the lives of people in Africa, it was women who banded together to replant the trees. In Liberia, women organized after 14 brutal years of civil war and won peace. In the US, women have banded together again and again to create change for women and minorities.

A single person may seem to have little power, but when those small actions are put together for a common purpose, they can effect enormous change.

So how can tend and befriend work for creating change in the kidlit community?

  • TEND: First, we need to protect the most vulnerable. That means protecting those that have already suffered sexual harassment. It also means creating protections for those who are more vulnerable such as women who may be harassed by a more powerful abuser. Or women of color who are doubly vulnerable. Acting in the moment is powerful and necessary. Tend to the woman at cocktail hour with the unwelcome arm around her shoulders.
  • BEFRIEND: If we want to effect large change and create a community where sexual harassment is not tolerated, we need to join together as a band of brave women and their allies. We are stronger together, so let’s use that power.

As a band of women and allies, we can push the gatekeepers of our industry to guard the gates and keep the harassers out. Agents, editors, conference organizers – we as a group should demand that all these people have clear policies and practices that protect us all. SCBWI has begun that process as have some agents. Perhaps others are doing it behind closed doors. But I won’t assume others will act, it’s too important. I will say something.

Throughout the month of March, many women and allies will be sharing their #kidlitwomen stories. Including many ways that we can work together to create a better community for everyone. I will be supporting those people by sharing their ideas and taking action. Be engaged on social media. One voice alone is quiet, many together is a roar that can’t be ignored.

 

YOUR MANUAL FOR MOVING FORWARD:

  • Listen and accept that something is broken within the kidlit community.
  • Shift your view to a healthier, truer one.
  • Decide to act.
  • If you see something, say something. Even if you’re unsure if help is needed. (Especially if you’re unsure.)
  • Support one another but especially tend to the most vulnerable in our community.
  • Band together and put all out small efforts together to create a big change in kidlit. A change that makes our whole community a safer place.

 

CLOSING

The #metoo and #kidlitwomen movements are much larger than I can address in a single post.  I limited myself to only discussing sexual harassment and how to prevent it. But I could easily have talked about the culture that allowed the harassment to occur. Or about how the system promotes male authors at the expense of female authors. Or how the double-whammy of sexism and racism makes it especially difficult for women of color. Or the role that men need to take to help us reshape this industry into something safer and more equitable for all. I’m leaving those topics to others who are better equipped to speak to that experience. We’re a band of brave women, after all. We don’t need to deliver every message, sometimes it’s enough to pass the microphone.

A Manual for Moving forward: what science says about #kidlitwomen and #metoo

Kidlit Karma Reviews: February 2018

Kidlit Karma February 2018 post picture

At the end of 2017, I made a pledge. I challenged myself to review good books every month in 2018, particularly books that haven’t gotten as much love as I feel they deserve. I call it Kidlit Karma because I’m aiming to spread the love for books that I love.

Last month, I shared my first batch of books and today I’m sharing another batch.

With Easter on the horizon, I considered going with a theme and posting all Easter-related books. But my good friend and fellow Kidlit writer, Charlotte Riggle, has already put together several roundups of Easter-related picture books. Like this list of multicultural Easter books and this list of Easter books for toddlers. 

So instead, today I’m going to save my gushing for Charlotte’s book itself along with some other great, non-Easter books.

 

Picture Book: CATHERINE’S PASCHA by Charlotte Riggle

Cover for CATHERINE'S PASCHA by Charlotte Riggle

 

Catherine can’t wait for Pascha, the middle of the night Easter celebration at her church. And this year, she is definitely not going to fall asleep and miss Pascha. She’ll keep her eyes open all night for the candles and giggles with her best friend. Plus, there’s a giant feast afterward! But she might close her eyes for just a minute…

I love this book for two reasons. It’s a peek inside how another culture celebrates Easter. But it’s foremost, a really amusing story told from a child’s perspective.

A disclaimer: Charlotte and I have never met in person, but we travel in many, many of the same online circles. Over the years, she has firmly come over to the side of being a friend rather than just a colleague. However, I bought her book for my own kids long before we “met” online. Her work speaks for itself in its quality. The best testament I can give is that my kids pull it off the shelf all year long to read. They quote it at Easter time. We’re on our third copy because we loan it out and the little readers can’t part with it.

CATHERINE’S PASCHA on Amazon

 

Middle Grade: THE METROPOLITANS by Carol Goodman

Cover for THE METROPOLITANS by Carol Goodman

Four kids from very different walks of life, all find their fates bound together at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They are entwined in centuries of secrets and magic but the Japanese just bombed Pearl Harbor and they’ll have to stop something even more catastrophic in New York City.

The author has woven together solid history with fantasy and the results are engrossing. I devoured this book and I’m hoping it will become a series.

THE METROPOLITANS on Amazon

 

Young Adult Nonfiction: ALEXANDER HAMILTON REVOLUTIONARY by Martha Brockenbrough

Cover of ALEXANDER HAMILTON REVOLUTIONARY by Martha Brockenbrough

Brockenbrough does a great job of stringing together the relevant facts in a way that both tells a true and complete story of Alexander Hamilton’s life, and also keeps the reader engaged way past their bedtime. If you think you don’t like history books, try reading this one to change your mind.

I am obsessed with Hamilton the musical. Lin Manuel Miranda is a musical genius, but he also had a really great subject to work with. Alexander Hamilton’s life was a real-life soap opera (just add musical score). I’m not alone in my obsession and the glut of Hamilton books on the market in the last year is a reflection of that. If you’re going to read only one of the Hamilton biographies, this is an excellent choice.

ALEXANDER HAMILTON REVOLUTIONARY on Amazon

Kidlit Karma Reviews: January 2018

At the end of 2017, I made a pledge. I challenged myself to review good books every month in 2018, particularly books that haven’t gotten as much love as I feel they deserve. I call it Kidlit Karma because I’m aiming to spread the love for books that I love.

Today, I’m proud to share my first batch of books. Yes, batch. While my stated goal is one book a month, I read and fall in love with many more books than that.

 

Picture book: MY BEAUTIFUL BIRDS by Suzanne Del Rizzo

Cover of MY BEAUTIFUL BIRDS by Suzanne Del Rizzo

Sami loves living in Syria with his family and his pet pigeons. But when the war forces his family to leave, he worries about his pigeons. He is now safe in a refugee camp, but he finds that the world still feels black. Until one day, three beautiful birds find him and he rediscovers a world of color.

This book brought tears to my eyes in a good way. This book deal with a heavy but important topic: the ongoing crisis in Syria. It does it in a way that doesn’t oversimplify a complex issue but is appropriate in tone and content for a young child. This book is great for showing how hope and beauty can be found in the hardest of situations. Also, the illustrations are simply GORGEOUS.

MY BEAUTIFUL BIRDS on Amazon

 

Middle Grade: THE EXACT LOCATION OF HOME by Kate Messner

Cover of THE EXACT LOCATION OF HOME by Kate Messner

Zig’s dad suddenly cancels his visit and his mom won’t tell him why but Zig has a plan. With a new-to-him GPS unit and his faithful friends, he’s going to track down Senior Searcher, the geocaching alias he’s sure is his dad.

This is another book that I think sheds light on an important social issue without sacrificing good storytelling or becoming didactic. Homelessness is common for children in the United States, but it’s rarely addressed in books. This book does a good job of showing the reality and difficulties that homelessness can create for kids and families, while also maintaining the character’s dignity.

THE EXACT LOCATION OF HOME on Amazon

 

Young Adult Nonfiction: RADIOACTIVE! HOW IRENE CURIE AND LISE MEITNER REVOLUTIONIZED SCIENCE AND CHANGED THE WORLD by Winifred Conkling

Cover for RADIOACTIVE! by Winifred Conkling

I love a good nonfiction book, particularly when true events are woven together to make a compelling story. And this book does exactly that.

This book is equal parts science and intrigue. You’ve probably not heard of these women (though Irene’s mother, Marie Curie, may ring a bell), but they each make enormous contributions to science and, in particular, the development of the atomic bomb. They did it all in the midst of two world wars that put them on battlefronts and made them part of elaborate conspiracies to flee Nazi’s.

If you like Steve Sheinkin’s BOMB, you will love this book that dives into the science and the women behind the race for the Atomic bomb.

RADIOACTIVE! on Amazon

 

What about you? What books have been bringing you joy this month?

The Kidlit Karma Project

2018 Kidlit Karma Challende

Every year I spend some time thinking about what I want my life to look like in the New Year. I know that my life is better when I spend time on the things that are meaningful to me. That’s why I make it a goal to write five days a week, why I try to read a bit each day, and why I carve out time to volunteer for causes I believe in.

Quote: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit." Will Durant

The little things add up. This year I wrote more than ever before. I’m on target to read 500 books for the 3rd year in a row. And I’m proud of how much the charities I support were able to achieve.

Those little habits can be just as powerful for making positive changes in the world.

My local food cooperative, Common Ground, allows you to round up your purchase to the nearest dollar and donate the change to a monthly charity. The pennies add up. Even in our small community, we routinely raise thousands of dollars each month for community charities.

Quote: "Sometimes," said Pooh, "The smallest things take up the most room in your heart." A. A. Milne

Money is easy to measure. It’s harder to quantify the small acts of kindness. A friendly smile to someone who is lonely, a willing ear for someone who is hurt, a hug for a child who is struggling – we can’t know the exact impact of these things. But these things are no less important.

Small acts of kindness, done thoughtfully and consistently, can have big impacts.

So I have been thinking: how can I harness this power of the small habits to create the kind of world I want to live in? I’ve been thinking about this in all aspects of my life. Here, I will talk about how this relates to writing.

Quote: "Be the change you want to see in the world." Mahatma Gandhi

I love to read. That’s not news, nor is it news that I am passionate about children’s literature.

Books also have powerful effects on growing minds. Children can become more compassionate just by reading books. They slip into a character’s skin and get a view of the world from a different point of view. All while exercising their minds and having a good time.

In the last few years, I have taken time to recommend many books that I truly believe in. In true fangirl fashion, when I find something I love I just can’t help but gush about it. But it’s also one small way that I can help adults and kids connect with some of the amazing stories out there.

It’s also been a way for me to highlight overlooked books. These are excellent books but, for whatever reason, they haven’t gotten as much attention as they deserve.

Quote: "No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted." Aesop

In 2018, I want to take it a step further.

A good review is like a love letter to the author and illustrator. We rarely get direct feedback on our writing. We don’t speak to the people buying our books or see how they affect the lives of our readers, so we don’t get to see their impact. Unprompted, honest support of our work can mean the world to an author.

Reviews also have tangible positive effects for authors and illustrators. Leaving reviews on Amazon and Goodreads is one of the best ways to support authors. Books with more honest, positive feedback will show up higher in search results. They are more likely to be suggested as additional purchases or “books you may like.” That translates into more sales.

I’m already reading lots of books. I’m already evangelizing about great kidlit. But I’m not taking the small next step of posting the reviews. I’m not reviewing in a way that will best help readers reach those books. And I’m not sending my love and appreciation to the authors and illustrators who worked so hard to create those books.

Quote: "A good review is like a love letter to the author."

I’m going to fix that.

The Kidlit Karma challenge: Every month in 2018, I will leave an honest, positive review on Amazon and Goodreads for a book I love.

The nitty gritty:

  • Once each calendar month I will review a book on Amazon and Goodreads.
  • I will only review books that I can honestly rate with 4 or 5 stars.
  • I will leave at least one paragraph explaining why I love this book.
  • To increase visibility, I will also crosspost my kidlit love letter on my blog and social media accounts.
  • I will use the hashtag #kidlitkarma to make postings searchable and to create buzz.
  • To have the biggest impact, I will reserve my reviews for books that have smaller numbers of reviews.

One book a month. One paragraph a month. It’s a small gift of my time that can have a big impact on others.

Here’s the thing: small acts build up more quickly when you join forces. Are you a writer, a reader, a librarian, an educator, or a lover of kidlit? You can spread the love, too.

Take the pledge!

2018 Kidlit Karma Badge

Grab this graphic and proudly post it on your blog, webpage, or social media accounts. Let others know you’re going to make your world a little better, one kid book at a time. Post in the comments with your URL, twitter handle, etc. so we can see what great books you’re reviewing each month.

 

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.

FREE GIVEAWAY! Alexandra the Great: The Story of the Record-Breaking Filly who Ruled the Racetrack

Free Book Giveaway: Alexandra the GreatDeb Aronson is my critique partner and all around great person. She’s also has a fabulous new book Alexandra the Great: The Story of the Record-Breaking Filly who Ruled the Racetrack. This book for ages 9-13 tells the story of Rachel Alexandra’s, the filly that beat the boys and broke records while running her way into our hearts.

I’ve been so excited to share this with you. It’s a great book. Plus horse racing is part of my heritage. I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky home of the Kentucky Derby – the biggest horse race of the year.

The Derby is a big deal there. Horses are everywhere – from statues to subdivision names. It’s such a big deal, that local schools close on the Friday before. And once a year, they hold a month long party all in preparation for 3 minutes of colts racing.

Once in a great while, a filly comes along that can keep up with the colts. Rachel Alexandra didn’t just keep up, she left them in her dust.

So I was very excited to get a sneak peek at the manuscript a few months back. I read it in one sitting! This book tells Rachel’s story – from her troubled birth to her triumphant wins. By the end you’ll be rooting for Rachel just like I was.

And now is your chance to get it for free.

I’m happy to be giving away one copy of Alexandra the Great: The Story of the Record-Breaking Filly who Ruled the Racetrack.

FINEPRINT: The giveaway will be open until April 12th at 8pm Central Time. To enter you must leave a comment on this post and use the rafflecopter widget below. The winner will be chosen at random and notified. If the winner cannot be reached within a week, a new winner will be chosen at random.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Announcing the Little Elephant’s Big Adventures Series

I’ve hinted a few times that I have a big project in the works. Today I finally get to share it with you.

Since last fall I’ve been writing the Little Elephants’ Big Adventures series. The books are about the adventures of  brother and sister elephants, Benjamin and Lucy. They’re humorous and fun. They’re also designed to teach math to preschoolers.

The series is the brain-child of a team of early childhood researchers out of Purdue University. They did research on math language in picture books. Preschool children who were read books that used math language improved their math skills. And not just on the skills taught in the books.

That’s astounding. Imagine being able to give kids a leg-up in school just by reading them a book. It’s already something preschool teachers and many parents do. No expensive equipment or fancy degrees required.

Just one problem. There weren’t many books for teaching the concepts. So they got grant funding to create books for preschoolers based on their research findings.

That’s where I come in.

I was asked early on if I would be interested in the project. Boy was I! My degree in Cognitive Psychology and my experience creating curriculum and writing children’s books made me a perfect fit for the project.  I was thrilled. It’s a great combo of my professional training with things I’m passionate about: education and children’s literature.

The first three books have been written and are in the process of being illustrated. Every week I get a new peek at my words coming to life in pictures. As a writer that’s just about the most exciting thing imaginable.

The process was a whirlwind. Anyone who has written children’s books knows that the process is excruciatingly slow. Years to write manuscripts. Years to submit.  Then, if you’re lucky, you find a publisher and get to wait a couple of more years for production.

Not this project. Starting early last fall I developed character and story concepts with the Purdue team. Then I wrote and delivered three books. Each went through multiple rounds of revision with the Purdue team. We made sure the stories correctly conveyed the math concepts without sacrificing good storytelling. The illustrations for the first book are almost done. The books are being translated to Spanish as we speak. And all of this has happened in less that 6 months.

The full series will be available sometimes in the next couple of years. I couldn’t be more excited or more proud.

Big List of Books to Give to Kids

Big list of books to give to kids

The holidays really snuck up on me. I was lured into a false sense of security by the bizarrely warm weather. Now the soul-suckingly cold weather has returned and I just realized Christmas is less than a week away.

If you’re scrambling for last minute gifts for the kids in your life, you’ve come to the right place. Books make amazing gifts for kids. But the kid’s book market can be a bit dizzying.

So let’s make it easy.

Here’s my book gifting guide for kids:

 

Board books for babies

Board book for expectant parents and little babies

Babies love books. They get cuddles and attention from their favorite adults. The get to learn about the world around them. They’re also great for teething….. I recommend board books with stiff, durable pages and short texts for baby bookworms.

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes

Moo, Baa, La La La

Llama Llama Time for Bed

I Love You Through and Through

And of course Goodnight Moon

 

Board books for active babies and toddlers

Books for active babies and toddlers

They’ve just learned how to use their bodies so they want to use those newfound skills. A lot. Don’t fear, in a few short months they’ll want to cuddle again. Until then offer books that appeal to their desire to move and do. Durability is still important while they learn the fine art of turning (not tearing) pages.

Where is Baby’s Belly Button and other lift-the-flap books

Animals: Baby Touch and Feel and other touch and feel books

I Can Do It Too!

 

Picture books for preschoolers

Picture books for preschoolers

Big kids enjoy longer texts and a bit of humor.  These books are tried and true favorites.

Llama Llama Time to Share

Press Here

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus

Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site

Is Everyone Ready for Fun?

 

Picture books for kindergarten and elementary

Read aloud picture books for kindergarten and elementary

Picture books aren’t just for little kids! Even kids that are reading themselves will enjoy these longer picture books. And it’s beneficial, even for kids that are already reading.

Rosie Revere Engineer

The Day the Crayons Quit

Corduroy

Click, Clack, Moo: Cow that Type

If I Built a House

 

First chapter books for reading aloud

First chapter books for reading aloud

Most kids will enjoy some longer, more complex stories when they are in preschool or kindergarten. At least some of the time. These chapter books are shorter with some pictures to help along the listener. They’ve also been chosen to have mild, non-scary content.

Little Bear

Frog and Toad

Mercy Watson to the Rescue

 

Read aloud chapter books for preschool and kindergarten

When your child is ready for something a little meatier, try these books. These classics are much loved in our house. They’re also free of scary or mature content* that wouldn’t be appropriate for young listeners.

My Father’s Dragon

Winnie the Pooh

Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Anna Hibiscus

* I adore Anna Hibiscus. Adore. The characters and stories are hilarious and beautiful. I also adore that the author tackles big issues like poverty, inequity, and race in a way that isn’t scary for young kids. Even my very sensitive 4 year old was able to handle the content in this book. Use your judgement.

 

Books for brand new readers

Books for brand new readers

Reading is a skill. It takes a lot of practice to master. These shorter books are light on content but high on entertainment. That makes them the perfect place for a new reader to flex those reading muscles. The first chapter books for reading aloud are also great for kid’s just starting to read.

I Broke My Trunk and the other Elephant and Piggie books are pure gold

The Cat in the Hat

Fox in Socks

Ten Apples Up On Top

 

Short chapter books for less new readers

Kids that are ready to read longer books but aren’t ready for novels will love these shorter chapter books.

Amelia Bedelia Means Business (Amelia Bedelia Series)

Dinosaurs Before Dark (The Magic Treehouse Books)

Rapunzel Let’s Down her Hair (After Happily Ever After Series)

 

 

Books for kids that don't like to read

Books for kids that don’t like to read

Most teachers (and authors!) believe that kids that don’t like to read just haven’t met the right book yet. Some kids also get stuck because the books at their reading level just don’t appeal to them. Do you know what almost all kids love? Comics. Know what’s easy to read? Comics. Know what builds reading skills? Reading comics. These books may not be high fiction but they’re a lot of fun. And comics have been the gateway to reading for many kids.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Captain Underpants

Star Wars: Jedi Academy

 

Big books for big kids

Big books for Big kids

If you’ve got a bigger kid that’s comfortably reading bigger novels, these are the books for you. These books have more adventure and scarier villains suitable to bigger kids.

8 Class Pets + 1 squirrel/1 dog = chaos

The Mouse and the Motorcycle

The Tale of Desperaux: Being a Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread

The Genius Files: Mission Unstoppable (Genius Files series)

The Lightening Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians series)

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia series, book 2)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Harry Potter series)

The Hobbit

 

True stories

True stories for kids

So far I’ve listed all fiction books. There’s a reason for that. Most kids like a good story the best. Some kids love true stories best of all.

Pluto’s Secret: An Icy World’s Tale of Discovery my daughter wouldn’t forgive me if I left out her favorite book

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel

Separate is Never Equal

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker

The Boy Who Loved Math

Ghandi: A March to the Sea

The Planet Hunter: The Story Behind What Happened to Pluto

Emmanuel’s Dream: the True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu

 

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

Find the Perfect Book for Any Kid

Find the Perfect Book for Any Kid

The holiday season is upon us. Hopefully, you’ll consider gifting the kid in your life with a book or two. But what to get? You can find guidelines online but they’re not the best. A clerk at a big box book store will be even less helpful. Why? Most recommendations are based on a lot of assumptions. 

They assume that all kids learn to read at the same time and with the same skill. They assume that younger kids will only get read alouds and older kids will only read independently.

We can do better.

There are two important things to know.

  1. Reading level is different from comprehension level. By the time children start learning to read, they are already speaking fluently. A 5 year old’s reading level might be “The cat sat on the mat” but their comprehension level will be far higher.
  2. What book category do you you want? Children’s interests and abilities change over the course of childhood. The children’s book industry has created categories to reflect this:
    • Board books are written for babies and toddlers. Example: “Moo, Baa, La La La” by Sandra Boynton.
    • Picture books range from young toddlers to older children. These books are meant to be read aloud by a parent. That means the book is written at a child’s comprehension level. Example: “Rosie Revere Engineer” by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts.
    • Leveled readers or easy readers are for children just learning to read. They have simple sentences and tightly controlled vocabulary. These are written at a child’s reading level. Example: “The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss.
    • Chapter books are generally written for older children to read themselves. These are longer, with more mature content. There are categories within chapter books, as well. First chapter books are for newly minted readers. Middle grade books are for older elementary kids. Young adult books are for middle and high school students.

Age ratings on easy readers and chapter books assume that a child is going to read the book themselves. A book that is rated for an older child often is suitable for read loud with a younger child.

Adults often feel that kids are too old for read alouds once they can read. Just the opposite. Reading above a child’s reading level builds comprehension skills and vocabulary.

Plus reading is just plain fun.

But be aware: content maturity also goes up. A younger child may not be emotionally ready for a book intended for older kids. If you pick a read aloud book rated for older children, take the time to check out a review or two.

So, here’s my guide to finding the perfect book for the child in your life:

  1. How old is the child? How skilled are they at reading? Do they like to read?
    • Older children and more skillful readers usually can handle more difficult books.
    • Not all kids like to read. For these “reluctant readers” shorter, high-interest books are the way to go.
  2. Do you want a read aloud book? Or one to read independently?
    • Very young children can’t yet read.
    • Adolescents and teens probably won’t be interested in a read-aloud if you haven’t built the habit. (Sorry.)
    • Kids in that middle sweet spot can go either way. They can cuddle up for a juicy read aloud chapter book or pick up a shorter book to read alone.
  3. What are they interested in? Once you’ve got an idea of what category you want, you can check out some book recommendations to get ideas. I’ve gathered over 500 recommendations for kid’s books.

Want something easier? Next time I’ll post my book gifting guide.

Do you have favorite books to recommend?