Friday, December 24, 2010

On the twelfth day of Christmas... true love gave to me, Santa Claus!

Merry Christmas Eve everyone!  On this last day of Christmas I present to you three of my favorite books about Mr. Claus.  Whether you celebrate Christmas or something else, I hope you all have a joyful and blessed holiday season!

The Polar Express
ALL ages!

Chris VanAllsburg let this Christmas classic into the world back in 1985.  But every year, a whole new generation of kids is introduced to it's magic.  A young boy hops on a train that takes him to the North Pole.  Here he receives a special gift from Santa Claus himself, a silver bell from the harness of a reindeer.  But on his way home, he loses the bell.  On Christmas morning he opens a box to find that the silver bell is inside.  But his mother says the bell is broken when she can't hear the sound it makes...but he can.  A beautiful tale with subtle pictures, that will easily become a new Christmas tradition in your family.  (P.S.  MUCH better than the movie!)

The Autobiography of Santa Claus
ages 9 to 12

That's right, not a biography, an AUTObiography.  I picked this up when I was in highschool and I thought it was so cleverly done.   Nicholas, as he reveals his name to be, was born in a Middle Eastern city called Lycia.  As he changes from an ordinary orphan to the icon we know today, he answers all the questions we have ever had and explains how all the different customs about him come together.  As he moves through history, he starts to employ some help.  No, not the elves.  Folks like St. Francis, Attila the Hun, King Arthur, Christopher Columbus, and more are introduced as their paths in history cross Saint Nick's.  Oh yes, and he will tell you how he met Mrs. Claus.  This is a great story that leaves you wondering, could it be true?

Merry Christmas all, enjoy the magic!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

On the eleventh day of Christmas... true love gave to me, the arts!

There are many good books written about artists, musicians, dancers, poets, and more.  Some are quality biographies, some are about the the art itself.  Here are a few well done books about those who make art.

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams
ages 8 to 12

So much depends upon a brightly colored book...  Jen Bryan and Melissa Sweet combine their talents to highlight the work of "Willie Williams," a poet who sought to capture the beautiful simplicity of our world.  The book is a kind of scrapbook of his life, winding the words of his poems around the story of his life.  This book won a Caldecott Honor Award for the beautiful river of words flowing through the pages.

When Marion Sang
ages 7 to 10

Another beautiful picture book by Pam Munoz Ryan and Brian Selznik.  This tells the tale of Marion Anderson, an African-American opera singer who overcame many racial barriers before being allowed to sing in the United States.  Completely in sepia-tone, Selznik appropriately structures this book as a stage with the curtains opening to the story of her life.  This story gives us all hope to pursue our dreams, despite the difficulties we might face.  Marion finally sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and the United States finally realized what the rest of the world already knew, that Marion could sing.

Action Jackson
ages 5 to 9

This book inspires children to get messy!  Jackson Pollock's splatter painting was unconventional, and even unwelcome, at the time he introduced it to the world.  Now, however, we recognize the art as soon as we see it.  Not everyone knows just who the artist is but they will after reading Action Jackson co-authored by Jan Greenburg and Sandra Jordan, let's us into the world of Pollock.  Despite the spray of paint on his canvas, Jackson's life is quiet and reflective.  We learn how he was inspired to put the colors of the world in paint for all the world to see.  This book will definitely inspire your child to get out a paint brush!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

On the tenth day of Christmas... true love gave to me, girl books!

I featured some spectacular boy books a few days ago so it is time to feature these books with strong girl characters.  I must say though, that my "boy books" and "girl books" are not just for boys and girls.  All kids will love these books because they are all AMAZING!  Anyway, here they are!

Amelia and Eleanor Go For a Ride
ages 7 to 10

Amelia Earhart was visiting Eleanor Roosevelt when they decided to take a trip in Earhart's plane.  These two women challenged the world set in front of them and individually achieved great things.  In this fictionalized account of a true story, Pam Munoz Ryan shows us what happened with Amelia and Eleanor get together and have some fun.  Talk about a girl's night out!

Gooney Bird Greene
ages 5 to 8

Gooney Bird Greene walks into second grade ready to be in charge.  She wears random things (think tutus and cowboy boots), she tells outrageous stories that she says are all true, and she on her first day in Mrs. Pidgeon's class she announces, "That's Greene with an 'e' on the end, and I'd like to have a desk right smack in the middle of everything." Gooney Bird will make your children giggle and then beg to wear their pajamas to school. This book will make you all want to be your own unique kinda person. Lois Lowry, known for many of her teen books, most famously The Giver, takes on a new audience with her delightfully silly Gooney Bird Greene.


Kira Kira
ages 9 - 12

Be prepared, this Newbery Medal winning book by Cynthia Kadohata covers a lot of big issues. Katie is just a girl when her Japanese-American family moves from Iowa to Georgia and find themselves in a world they don't understand. Katie and her older sister Lynn are left to take care of themselves as their parents put in extra hours at a chicken processing plant. Tensions rise when Lynn becomes very sick and her parents, despite the extra time they spend working, do not have the money to take care of her. This book will touch your soul as you read about the bravery of two little girls, lost in a world they don't understand, but looking for kira-kira (the Japanese word for glittering) wherever they can.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

On the ninth day of Christmas...

... my true love gave to me, nonfiction!

And a cold!  As the days get closer to Christmas I find my body is ready for a break.  So tonight, after a much needed nap, I grabbed by favorite nonfiction books and I am passing them along to you.  Nonfiction for kids has come a long way.  There are way too many good books to begin to capture here.  Anything you want to know, anyone you want to learn about, it is all out there!  Here are just some to get you thinking!

ellington was not a street
ages 8 to 12

Ntozake Shange's poem "Mood Indigo" is partnered with stunning illustrations by Kadir Nelson in this autobiographical account of Shange's childhood.  Imagine growing up surrounded by influential folks, or men "who changed the world" as Shange recalls.  Duke Ellington, W.E.B. DuBois, and Paul Robeson are just a few who were around for her childhood.  Young children will probably not understand the references but short bios of the men mentioned are included in the back.  This book reminds us that the world has changed and that Ellington was not always just the name of a street.

ages 8 to 12

Cool.  That is the best word to describe the works of Seymour Simon.  Simon is known for tackling the world of science and children's literature.  His books not only teach you important vocabulary, interesting facts, and all you need to know about a subject, they also show you some kick-butt photographs.  Lightning is just one of many of his titles I suggest picking up.  I saw some amazing lightning storms and learned some interesting trivia.  Did you know, for example, that when lightning strikes sand, the heat fuses sand particles together in the shape of the bolt's path??  (For those chick-flick fans, yes, this is what we saw in Sweet Home Alabama.)   The "thing" that you find when these sand particles fuse together is called a fulgurite, from the Latin word for lightning.  What did I tell you?  Cool.

The Tree of Life: Charles Darwin
ages 8 to 12

According to Peter Sis, author and illustrator of The Tree of Life, Darwin always regretted that he couldn't draw.  Enter Peter Sis.  Based on the "dense and vivid written passages" of Darwin, this book introduces a younger audience to the adventure of his life.  Darwin's controversial thinking springs to life though many layered pages.  Sis starts with Darwin's childhood, those who influenced him, his contentious relationship with his father, and the beginnings of his thoughts on evolution.  Sis then dives into the journey aboard the Beagle with pages of illustrations and diary entries, facts on all corners of the page.  He ends the book with the culmination of Darwin's book Origin of Species, as well as his personal successes and hardships.  Darwin's public life is well-known but Sis opens up the world of his secret-life.  Don't let this picture book fool you, there is a lot to read and learn from The Tree of Life.

Monday, December 20, 2010

On the eighth day of Christmas... true love gave to me, wordless books!

Wordless books are a genre dedicated to the imagination.  The pictures tell the story and each reader can imagine his or her own details.  I use wordless books in my classroom all the time.  They are extra fun to read over and over again, each time making up a new story to go along with the pictures.  Here are a few sure to leave you speechless, hehe.

The Lion and the Mouse
ages 5 to 8

Jerry Pinkney won a Caldecott Award for this "nearly" wordless book in 2010.  He beautifully retells Aesop's fable with a combination of water color and colored pencil.  The only words to appear in the book are the sounds of some animals.  My favorite part is when the mouse rescues the lion from a net.  Pinkney builds suspense by breaking this part into storyboards, each panel capturing the courage of the mouse.  In his author's note, Pinkney says he set the story in the African Serengeti of Tanzania and Kenya because the wildlife is, "so awesome yet fragile - not unlike the two sides of each of the heroes starring in this great tale for all times."

Wave and Shadow

ages 5 to 8

Suzy Lee created a book that tells of a day at the beach.  The pictures show a delightful battle between a little girl and one wave.  The story, which uses a palette of beautiful blues, shows just what might come your way if you stick your tongue out at a wave.

I also recommend Suzy's latest wordless book called Shadow.  It features the same girl but this time she is having fun in the attic before dinner. Both books are created in long rectangular shapes.  By doing this, Suzy Lee creates stories meant to be spread out over two pages.  In Wave it helps create the contrast between the girl and the wave, and in Shadow it splits the world of shadows and the the real-life objects creating those shadows, that is until the shadows start to take over.

ages 5 to 8

David Wiesner has created many wordless books.  Tuesday won a Caldecott Award in 1992.  The pictures, and one word, show a mysterious evening in a pond.  All of a sudden the frogs start flying through the air on lily pads and take off through town.  Why, exactly?  Well, that is for YOU to decide!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

On the sixth and seventh days of Christmas... true love gave to me, books for babies!

So sorry I missed a day!  My good friend was in town so I didn't get a chance to post the sixth day.  I will post extra books to make up for it.  Today's books are for those of you with babies.  Some of these are board books, those clunky books that will take the slobber and drool of any teething child. Whether you have your own baby, are looking for a gift for a friend's baby, or have the pleasure of being a grandparent, these are some highly recommended books.

Goodnight Moon

Margaret Wise Brown hit the jackpot with this one.  The words create a quiet way to end your day.  As the little bunny says goodnight to the world, you and your little one can read along.  This is a book that you will find yourself memorizing immediately and one your child will want you to read over and over.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Another "cult" classic.  That is, of course, if you live in the world of babies or children's literature.  Eric Carle created this book that is fun on so many levels.  Your child learns how to count as the caterpillar gets hungrier and hungrier.  Your little one will learn new vocabulary as each picture introduces something else the caterpillar eats.  And you will both enjoy the tale of a caterpillar as it changes to a butterfly.  This book is fun, beautiful, and educational!

My Nana and Me

Irene Smalls writes a few different books each focused on a different family member.  There is "My Pop Pop and Me," Kevin and His Dad," and "Jonathan and His Mommy."  My Nana and Me tells of one day a little girl gets to spend with her grandmother.  On this special day they are busy getting things done.  From playing games to bed-time rituals, Nana and Me highlights the special relationship between grandmother and grandchild.  She even leaves a spot on the inside cover for you to put a picture of you and your grandmother.  I did just that and even though the book is a bit old for them, my students love to read this book.

On the Day You Were Born

Debra Frasier's story starts, "On the eve of your birth word of your coming passed from animal to animal.  The reindeer told the Arctic terns, who told the humpback whales, who told the pacific salmon..."  And so it goes, as the author describes how "your" birth was the most important day.  I loved this book the first time I read it because it is not your typical "baby being born" book.  It's message is to let the new babies of the world know that they are special, and a part of something big.

Chicka, Chicka, Boom, Boom

Babies want to interact with the stories read to them.  They are little sponges, learning every minute they are alive.  The best baby books, in my opinion, change things up just a little bit.  Chicka, Chicka, Boom, Boom by Bill Martin does just that.  He takes the ABCs and gives their song a whole new flavor.  You see, it is all about how the letter A told B, who told C, that he would meet them at the top of the coconut tree.  After that, well, the whole alphabet joins in!  There is a catchy tune that you will find yourself singing along with...and THAT is something that your babies will love!

Pat the Bunny

In my opinion, Debra Kunhardt is a genius.  She knew babies needed something different.  She knew they learn by looking, by hearing, by tasting, by smelling, and by touching.  So she made a book that kids could do some of these things.  The characters pat the bunny, YOU pat the bunny, the kids smell the flowers, YOU smell the flowers.  Predictable text, fun interactive pages, what else do you need?

Friday, December 17, 2010

On the fifth day of Christmas... true love gave to me, poetry!

As a child I hated poetry and now that I am a grown up I can't imagine why!  So it is definitely a mission of mine to make sure that other kids love poetry.  Here are a few poetry books that will ignite your child's inner Shakespeare.

A Light in the Attic
ALL AGES!!! (but also 7 to 12)

Do I even need to explain Shel Silverstein?!?  Hopefully you all know and love this book and are letting out a sigh of relief that I posted it.  But for those of you who may not know the work of Mr. Silverstein, you are basically looking at the Shakespeare of kids poetry.  He is a gateway drug into rhyme and NOT-reason.  His poems feature all sorts of crazy stories.  Like the one about the guy who thought he had wavy hair until he shaved it off and discovered he had a wavy head.  Or the one about the homework machine.  Or maybe the one about the guy who walks out of the house and notices that something feels funny but is not quite sure what.  Then the last three lines (which should end up rhyming with dance) are:
Yet I feel there is something
I may have forgot-
What is it? What is it?

And there we see the guy, cute little butt cheeks just hanging there for all the world to see.  Yes, buy this book and anything else Shel Silverstein wrote.

Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices
ages 9 - 12

Paul Fleischman created this book of poems to be read aloud.  Each poem is set up in two columns.  One voice reads the left column and the other reads the right column.  The poems are about all sorts of bugs and the structure not only highlights the beautiful rhythm of the words, but also the nature of each bug.  For instance, in the poem about grasshoppers, he has each voice trail the other by one line to give the sense of a leap frogging grasshopper.  Once you read one and figure out how just how to make it work, you will want to try them all.  This is also holds the rare honor of being a poetry book and Newbery Award winner.  (That is the award for the best children's book.)

Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A celebration of poetry with a beat
ages 8 to 12

So your kids don't think poetry is cool?  Or your parents think "rap" is not good for you?  Well this poetry book brings both stereotypes crashing down.  Nikki Giovanni edited this anthology of poetry that makes you tap your toes, nod your head to the beat, and put a little swagger in your step.  She has everything from Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou to Kanye West and Queen Latifah.  There is a bonus too, Giovanni includes a cd of selected poems being read.  Some are read by the actual poet, some by guest poets.  There are also bonus tracks that explain the background of some of the poems you hear.  I loved this book and my kids loved this book.  A must have for all poetry lovers and hip hop lovers, or those who need to see the beauty in both.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

On the fourth day of Christmas... true love gave to me, snow books!

Maybe you are guaranteed a white Christmas every year, like my family in Buffalo, or maybe you have never seen snow in your life, like some of my friends' kids in Los Angeles.  No matter where you roam, make a big mug of hot cocoa, grab your favorite kid, and snuggle up to read these snow books.  There must be some requirement that all snow books are created beautifully because all three of my recommendations have won the Caldecott Award, the award for best pictures in children's literature.

Owl Moon
ages 4 to 8

Jane Yolen presents the serene story of a young girl as she goes owling with her father for the first time.  As she describes the importance of being quiet and the hush of the world around her, you can't help but read it in a whisper.  Mr. Nuthall, my former English teacher, listed this as a favorite and I have to agree.  Illustrated by John Schoenherr, this book won the Caldecott Medal in 1988.

The Snowy Day
ages 2 to 6

Ezra Jack Keats won the Caldecott Medal for his artwork in 1963.  This simple tale follows a little boy as he ventures out in the snow.  Despite this simplicity, I am sure many of my readers will look at the cover and say, "I remember that book!"  That is just the kind of book we want our kids to read!

Snowflake Bentley
ages 4 to 10

I know that age range might be a bit large but this book as something to offer to all.  Younger children will enjoy the magic of a person who lived to examine snowflakes.  Older kids will become fascinated at this biography of a man who photographed snowflakes.  This book, written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and illustrated by Mary Azarian, is also a Caldecott Medal winner from 1999.  Wilson Bentley, the real man, is shown on the back with some actual photographs of snowflakes.  Too "cool!"

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

On the third day of Christmas... true love gave to me, something old and something new!

Today I give you a classic for your youngin' and a new book for your older child.

Something Old - Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
ages 4-8

This classic by Virginia Lee Burton tells the story of a personified steam shovel, Mary Anne, who just won't give up when she meets a challenge.  By the end of the story, you and the whole town are rooting for Mary Anne.  As one friend of mine put it, "Not sure why exactly but it makes me warm and fuzzy inside."  I have heard similar sentiment time and time again from folks who have read this book. First published in 1939, it is the gift that keeps on giving.

Something New - The Magician's Elephant
ages 8 - 13

I love magical realism.  The genre helps create a world that keeps your mind guessing and your imagination running.  Kate DiCamillo, in her latest chapter book, brilliantly tells the tale of a young boy, a magician, and an elephant as if she is performing her own magic trick.  The tricks up her sleeve?  A cast of original and well-developed, but not overbearing, characters.  You will find yourself a new family with Peter Augustus Duchene, the boy, Vilna Lutz, his caretaker and former general, the magician, Leo, a policeman, Bartok, a hunch-back, Adele, Peter's long-lost sister, Tomas, a singing beggar, and his dog Iddo.  All these characters illuminate the recurring message, "The truth is always changing."  I just finished reading this to my students and by the end of the story, I noticed one student with tears streaming down my face.  One word: Powerful.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

On the second day of Christmas... true love gave to me, boy books!

Do you have boys?  Then you NEED Jon Scieszka.  (see entry about the sick day.)  Jon Scieszka writes smart, hilarious picture books and sometimes chapter books that have yet to fail when it comes to the boy audience. In addition to his crafty writing, he often pairs up with Lane Smith, one talented illustrator.  Never before did the illustrations capture the story so well.

Jon is so dedicated to getting boys to read that he has a page on his website titled, "Guys Read".  So if you already have all his books you can look for more recommendations from the man himself! Check it out!

Keep in mind that while these might be recommended for a certain age, I have found that older kids and grown-ups read, reread, and laugh out loud at the zaniness oozing from the pages.

Some of my favorites include:
The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Fairy Tales, ages 7 to 9

This story mixes up all the classics, the characters interact with you, and you read words that are borderline for approval with your parents.  Even the title, Fairly Stupid Fairy Tales, gets kids intrigued.

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, ages 7 to 9

It was all the fault of the Big Bad Wolf, right?  Well, not so in this story.  Mr. A. Wolf tells the tale from his perspective and as he sees it, he was framed!  Yet another twisted fairy tale that gives kids the giggles with each turn of the page.

Knucklehead, ages 9 to 12

Mr. Scieszka's autobiography.  I know I mentioned it in an earlier post but it is definitely worth posting again.  What boy doesn't want to read about the time Jon and his brothers tried to pee at the same time, into the same toilet bowl, and, well, I am sure you can imagine what might happen next.  If that doesn't get a young lad interested in reading, I don't know what will!

Those are a few great starters.  Some other titles that will tickle your funny bone include: Math Curse, Science Verse, Squids will be Squids, and Cowboy and Octopus.  (I haven't read this last one but I saw Jon present his ideas and some illustrations at a reading and I know this will send any 7 year-old over the edge with enjoyment!)

Monday, December 13, 2010

On the first day of Christmas... true love gave to me, one deck of charming business cards!

They have arrived!  Last week my first pack of business cards came in the mail.  I opened them with anticipation and glee and I love them!  Cheers to another step toward starting my own business.

I am sure some may be wondering what exactly I could put on a business card when I don't exactly have a business.  No need to worry, my friends and I came up with something.  Just see for yourself!

These came in quite handy this past weekend as I made some great connections.  I was able to pass my card on to the parent of a 2 year old who is curious about good picture books and another future entrepreneur.  My favorite part of this process so far has to be that so many people want to talk to me about children's books.  What could possibly be better than that?

For the next 12 days I will feature one book a day for those of you who may be looking for just the right gift for all kids in your life, from age one to ninety-two.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Oh Captain, my captain

Do you know who inspired you to read more? Think more? Challenge and question the world? I do. Mr. Jack Nuthall was my high school English teacher and History teacher. He taught me to love Beowulf, Shakespeare, John Donne, and William Blake. With Mr. Nuthall we studied the poetry of Bob Marley and Jimmy Buffet while wearing Hawaiian shirts and sipping on fake margaritas. He inspired my love for movies and movie trivia.

He is why I became a teacher and why I strive to challenge my students to think in ways they never knew possible. I am sad that he will never read Owl Moon in my bookstore or to his grand-children.

Today the world lost one of the good ones. Rest in peace, Mr. Nuthall. You have inspired so many people and your story will live on with us.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Now THAT's what I'm Talkin' About!

Magic.  Heart-tugging.  Inspiring.

Oliver Jeffer's The Heart and the Bottle is all of these things.  My friend let me read her copy this weekend and I immediately went to my local bookstore and picked up a copy.

This is the story of a girl who has an imagination much like young Alice.  But one day she witnesses sadness so she decides to put her heart in a bottle to protect it from ever feeling that way again.  The only problem is with her heart protected, she no longer sees the magical world she once did.  Until, that is, she comes upon a young girl who still sees the world with imagination.

A beautiful book with an important message and vital reminder to us grown-ups.  Don't forget about those things which once inspired you to see the world in a different way.  Mr. Jeffers out-does himself by even creating an I-Pad app that brings the story to life.  Read by Helena Bonham-Carter, this story takes it to another level.

This is exactly the kind of creativity I hope my store will inspire.  A book that makes your heart leap, and the technology to create your own vision of that feeling.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Very Merry Birthday Alice!

For those of you who are familiar with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (the real title of the first book), you will probably know the song, "A Very Merry Un-Birthday."  Well, as I was perusing some of my favorite blogs, I noticed the Children's Book-A-Day Almanac mentioned that TODAY, November 26, is the birthday of the story!  I love that the new blog was born the day before the story's real birthday!

Follow this link to get some great information about Alice, Ever After's namesake.  Happy birthday to Alice, the White Rabbit, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the March Hare, the Mad Hatter, the Dormouse, the Queen of Hearts, and the rest of the crew!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

To Be Thankful

I just spent most of Thanksgiving day with two wonderful friends.  We celebrated with the oh-so-traditional meal of waffles and coffee.  Ok, so maybe not so traditional but we DID watch the parade. One of my favorite parts of the day, besides the amazing company, was that we spent about 5 hours brainstorming ideas for the bookstore!  I am really excited about the creative ideas we came up with and the direction in which things are moving.

This is, of course, why the blog has changed names.  I hope you all found it here without any trouble!  The new name, Alice, Ever After, reflects the mission of the bookstore and it's whimsical nature.  As a future bookstore owner, I have to come to terms with how technology will change the way we read books.  Instead of fighting it, Alice, Ever After will embrace digital media and seek to create a culture of book reading we have yet to imagine.  Just like the Red Queen in Alice believed in "at least six impossible things before breakfast," we will seek to imagine a children's bookstore that is adventurous, imaginative, and groundbreaking.  I am excited at each new step in the process. So, in addition to reviewing books, I will also catalog the process of the steps toward starting my own business on this blog.  So far, the website is reserved ( is mine!), business cards have been ordered, and a concept is brewing!

Tell your friends and comment often!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Taking the Time

I have been slowly making my way through The Red Pyramid, one of the latest books by Rick Riordan.  (Rick Riordan is the author of The Lightning Thief.)  In fact, the school librarian asked me today if I still had the book because it was waaay over due.  So I decided to take the time and finish.

Cue the Chinese take-out and glass of red wine.  Mr. Pumpkinhead and I curled up on the couch to finish the last 150 pages of the book.  Here ya go, folks, my opinion on one of the latest trends in young adult lit.

I would like to start by giving major props to the author.  What I love about Rick Riordan books is that they get kids to love mythology and that boys love to read these books.  These are two incredible feats and as a teacher I say - Thank you, Mr. Riordan, for making my job easier!

The Red Pyramid explores the world of Egyptology, something I know very little about.  The book almost reminds me of a kid version of those, in my opinion, awful Dan Brown books and this actually makes me sad to see a similarity. The difference I see is that Dan Brown books are written for adults, but at an 8th grade reading level.  These books are written at an 8th grade reading level, and children as young as 8 are reading them!  What reminds me of Dan Brown, and the one redeeming quality I found in the DaVinci Code series, is Rick Riordan's ability to pique your curiosity about a subject that is intriguing, full of mystery, and just barely public knowledge.  The book welcomes you into the world of Cleopatra, Nefertiti, and other pharaohs and gods that I would never have heard of before reading.  As Carter and Sadie Kane (the inter-racial siblings leading the way in this book) learn about the world of Egyptology, we are brought along with them  They learn to read heiroglyphics, come head to head with an army of ancient Egyptian gods, discover important buildings and structures (did YOU think that the Washington Monument was a portal into the ancient Egyptian world that is still alive below us??) and even learn a lesson or two about how to be a good sister and brother.

I am not someone who was looking to know more about the world of ancient Egypt but the book soars through some amazing adventures and made me, as it will you, want to google some names.  I can see why all my kids love these.  If I were to recommend this or The Lightning Thief, I would probably go with this one, just because I had more background knowledge of the Greek gods in LT and I feel like this book taught me more.

Big thanks to Tommy (one of my third grade students who left me the post-it note, "Read the red peramid) and my nephew Josh for the book recommendation!

P.S.  Now I can finally start The Hunger Games series without feeling guilty!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Joy of Reading

One of the dilemmas I have faced as a teacher is the notion of leveling books.  For those of you who don't teacher, or who may not be aware of what leveling exactly entails, I will give you a brief introduction.

On the most basic level, as might be expected, the "level" of a book labels a book's difficulty.  There are different leveling systems but the one that I have used most often is that of Fountas and Pinnell, two reading gurus from Cambridge.  They level books on an alphabetic system from A to Z, A being the easiest level.  A new movement in reading instruction is to make sure that teachers match a book's reading level with a student's ability.  As you can imagine some the whole notion has sparked discussion.

I worked in one school where levels were used as a way to help students make significant progress in reading.  In this school, students were encouraged to read books only on their level and the teachers also met in small groups to read with 4-6 students at a time.  (Of course, the whole process is much more complicated than I am describing, as all you teachers know...)  The idea was that this was the best way to close The Achievement Gap. (cue scary music.)  I felt very conflicted about telling my students their reading level.  I felt that there was a certain joy in reading that would be taken away when a child was prescribed books.

I moved on to a new school that was just starting the process of leveled books and no policy had been set.  So my partner teacher and I took the stance that we would not tell kids what their reading level was.  These incredibly brilliant children soon realized that all of our assessments, despite our silence, were our way of finding their reading level.  So my students actually asked if they could know what their level was.  I told them my philosophical dilemma, they took a vote, and all but one decided they wanted to know.  That one student said he wanted to determine this on his own but would appreciate my guidance if he was way off...I told you they were brilliant.

So I told them.  One student was a much lower level than he thought he was.  His eyes filled with tears as I let him know.  It felt terrible. But then he wiped the tears away and said, "Miss Howe, I am going to make it to level ___."  Amazing.  This group of children actually went beyond what I would expect 4th graders to understand about leveled books.  Was this a fluke?

This year I am in a school where we have a pretty strict policy of NOT letting the students know their levels.  As I walk around the room I see kids engrossed in a lot of books, loving reading time.  It is true, however, that many are reading below or above what they should be reading.

So what is the proper balance?  As a teacher, a large part of my job is to create a literate future.  Some students can pick up a book that is too hard, too easy, just right, or somewhere in between and they will be ok.  But some students will not make the progress they need to make.

All of this has been on my mind as I have been teaching and now as I consider how I will organize my bookstore. On Friday, as I was reading The Magician's Elephant to my students, a single line in Kate D's beautifully written book made one student's eyes widen and he gasped with a smile on his face as a secret in the story was revealed.  Love.  For reading.  He had it.  I thought about the eyes of the student from my last school as they filled with tears and then determination.  I believe there is a balance to be had.  We need engaged, passionate readers.  But we also need readers who are determined to be readers, regardless of the challenge.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Sick Day!

I am home today, sick. I remember a loooong time ago when I was home sick from school. For a brief period in my life, my sister and I de-bunked the bunk beds and had two twin beds side by side in our room. They were covered with quilts and afghans (the blanket, not the people) that my grandmothers had made. It was here that I would rest and flip through my stack of sick day reading material. Back then it was mostly Highlights magazines. It was the perfect day to find all those hidden pictures before one of my three siblings did. I could catch up on all the good jokes, find the mistakes on the back cover, and enjoy the easy reading of a magazine.

Today, 20-something years later, I have decided on two books. For my first pick, I am trying to catch up on The Red Pyramid. But my true choice for today is one that my best friend and I are reading, Knuckleheads by Jon Scieszka.

This book, written in just about 100 pages, tells 1-2 page short stories about the author's childhood growing up in the midwest.  I loved it the first time I read it and it is the perfect type of reading for a sick day.  I still laugh so hard I get tears in my eyes. (p.s. that is the author with me in my profile picture!)

What is your favorite sick day book?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

It's a Book

I attended a "conversation" this evening with Horn Book editors Roger Sutton and Martha V. Parravano.  They recently published a book called A Family of Readers: The book lover's guide to children's and young adult literature.  These literary folk were gathered to talk about some of the articles and ideas presented in this book.  I was intrigued by notions brought up by the two authors as well as the audience.  Topics about the quality of literature and whether or not we should encourage kids to read anything vs. only "fine" children's literature, what makes a child an avid reader, etc. sparked my curiosity and will probably be the subject of posts to come.  But there was one subject that has been on my mind, both as a future bookstore owner and a teacher.

It is this notion of the role technology will play in the world of children's literature.  We have seen the rise of the Kindle and other reading devices that take the printed word and make it digitally accessible.  Does this mean that the days of the tangible book are limited?  Roger Sutton wrote an entry on his blog about this just a few days ago.  I do believe in the romance of having a book to hold, the magic of sitting with a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, etc. and turning the pages to unveil a story that is being read aloud.  Will that all go away?  Will children gently place their finger upon a screen and swipe left to "turn" the page?  And if so, is that bad?

As a teacher I can appreciate the technology because it makes reading accessible to students who face difficulties as readers.  Students with vision problems can make text bigger on a screen so it is easier to read.  A student who can comprehend difficult stories but may not be able to read the words can have a book read to them so that he or she can access the same information as their peers.  These are just a few of the perks.  Students can also click on words to learn their meanings, they can break words into parts to hear the different sounds.  How can this be bad?

But what about the job of the book seller?  Should we be including books online as part of our duty to the growing technology?  Do we reach a wider audience by making digital books available?  And if everything becomes downloadable, is there even a place for a niche such as children's bookstores?  Should teachers utilize the technology and book sellers keep the magic alive?  Maybe both have a role in delicate balance of books.

The debate could go on and on.  I am not sure where I stand on this issue just yet.  My heart wants to say, just as the message in You've Got Mail, that everyone needs a "shop around the corner."  But in order for my dream to come true, do I have to make any sort of compromise? Maybe there is a sense of social justice in making reading accessible to everyone by including both print and digital media.

For those of you interested in this topic, here are two book recommendations:

1.  A Family of Readers: The book lover's guide to children's and young adult fiction by Roger Sutton and Martha V. Parravano.  This is a great guide written specifically with parents in mind, about books that will engage your readers.

2.  It's a Book by Lane Smith.  This picture book addresses the world of technology vs. books.  One character explains to a tech-savvy youngster just what a book is.  Be warned, there is some colorful language that will make you smile but that you might not want repeated at home.  I say, read it anyway and have a great conversation about words with multiple meanings. ;-)

And, just because the technology is out there, here is a youtube video of part of Lane Smith's book.  Enjoy!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Few of My Favorite Things, Part 1

I am excited to share some of my all-time favorite children's books with you. Here is the first of many...and it happens to be a great Halloween-type book.

The Spider and the Fly, by Tony DiTerlizzi.

Tony DiTerlizzi illustrated this poem written by Mary Howitt.  Tony's illustrations create the feeling that you are watching an old silent film. In addition, Tony frames the text to look like title cards.  He complements the text with detailed illustrations that not only feature the Dr. Jekyll-ish spider and the narcissistic fly, but also the cautionary tale of the "Ghosts of Bugs Past."   (I can see why you like it too Mr. Nuthall!)

The illustrations capture the imaginations of all children, and adults, but it is the ending that really does it for me.  I love a book that isn't cliche and The Spider and the Fly certainly deserves an evil cackle at the end. The boys in all my classes have all loved this book! Tony adds his own twist by write a letter from the spider to all the readers.  The spider's opinion includes a reference to Charlotte's Web, saying that if he were Charlotte, he would be, "eating bacon."

Tony basically rocks at everything he does.  His website declares, "Never Abandon Imagination!" I have had a couple of opportunities to hear him speak and he is as cool in real life as you would guess from reading his books.  (There is a picture of us together somewhere but that was in the days before digital cameras so I have misplaced it somehow...)  If you love what you read when you pick up The Spider and the Fly, check out G is for Gzonk (a funky alphabet book) or any of the Spiderwick Chronicles (a chapter book series he worked on with Holly Black.)  His new book, The Search for WonderLa is also now available!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Let the Games Begin!

Yesterday I ordered the Horn Book Magazine and the Horn Book Guide. ( For those of you who don't know, these are THE guides to children's literature.  After a friend recently asked for a book suggestion for a 6th grade girl, I realized I am not as in-the-loop as I would like to be.  I have always wanted to subscribe to these two publications and I can't wait for my first issues to arrive!  I'll let you know how helpful they are and the new books I will be reading.

In the meantime, I am going to create this post as a way for you to give me book recommendations.  Feel free to keep adding to this post.  What should I read next?  Feel free to suggest picture books, wordless books, young adult, graphic novels, etc. (All children's books, of course.) I'll keep reading and post my reviews.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Dream Come True

Welcome!  This is the first blog entry for my new site.  Where Bluebirds Fly Alice, Ever After is a blog that will explore the world of children's literature, my passion in life.  My dream come true would be for this to eventually turn into the site of my own children's bookstore.  Until then, I will do my work here.

Recently, I got to see Kate DiCamillo speak at a theater in Somerville, MA.  I am a huge Kate fan and this wasn't the first time I have heard her speak, however, this was by far the most memorable.  Kate was in town to celebrate the 10th anniversary of her book Because of Winn Dixie. She read a bit of the book and answered questions about her writing.  I could probably have answered these questions for her because I have seen her so often but the one that inspired me the most was one child who asked when she started writing.  Her her mid-30s!  Winn Dixie was the first book she ever wrote.  It rocketed her into fame and on this particular evening we were going to watch the movie adaptation of her book. (The movie came out a few years ago.)  How amazing to hear that it is not too late for my own dreams to start!

After Kate spoke, the movie started.  It was a surreal and moving experience.  The audience laughed, I cried, and we all clapped in unison with the music.  How truly amazing to sit in an audience and witness one person's dream come true.

I know that this post doesn't have anything to do with literature directly but in the spirit of wishes and hopes, I encourage you all to pursue your own.  Because, after all, "...if happy little bluebirds fly, beyond the rainbow, why, oh why, can't I?"