Thursday, October 20, 2016

Brainstorm 90: Fall Break Reads for Everyone

In preparation for Fall Break next week (Hooray!), here’s reading ideas for every subject and interest level. Since this is a longer line up of books and they are organized by subject/target reader, I’ll skip the Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers for today’s post. In a hurry and can't read this long thing but want some reading ideas? Look for the highlighted books. Of course I like all of the books in this post, but the highlighted ones are ones I think everyone should read.

Art/Problem Solving Picture Book

Sky Color by Peter H. Reynolds
Marisol is super excited about her class painting a mural for the library. She's going to be in charge of painting the sky. But there's no blue! How can she paint the sky without blue? It'll take some pondering and sky watching to figure out how to make things work.

Another fantastic book from Reynolds about thinking outside the box. A great one for art classes.

Art/Poetry/Foreign Language Adult Nonfiction

The British Museum Haiku edited by David Cobb
The British Museum has compiled a selection of haiku by renowned Japanese poets both ancient and modern, organized them by their seasonal setting (which is traditional for haiku according to the intro), and paired them with Japanese artwork. The result was a very artistically pleasing little book. Whoever paired the poems and artwork did a fantastic job; they complemented each other exceptionally well. I loved being introduced to several pieces of Japanese art I'd never seen before and really like. Two of my new favorites are "Frog" by Hoji, which is humorous, and "Mountain River on the Kiso Road" by Utagawa Hiroshige, which is gorgeous. Of course, the haikus were fantastic. They are presented in calligraphy, the Japanese transliterations and an English translation. I definitely recommend reading the intro (though it turns out it takes 2x as long to do that as to read the rest of the book). I also liked the short bios of all the poets in the back. In fact, I found myself wishing I had read them first so I could actually make connections as I read between the author and haiku. So here's my suggestion: read the intro, read the bios in the back, and then enjoy the rest of the book. You can easily do all that in under an hour.

Music Picture Book

The Bear and the Piano by David Litchfield
A bear finds a piano in the woods and over the years learns to play fantastically. A passing hiker and her father suggest he take his talents to Broadway. He does and finds himself incredibly famous and successful. But he never forgets where he came from, and it turns out, neither do his friends in the wood.

It's great to see a story about someone becoming famous but remembering their roots. The illustrations in this are fabulous. A good book for animal or music lovers.

Music/History Young Adult Biography

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Seige of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson
A biography of Dmitri Shostakovich, a pioneering composer who lived through many turbulent eras in Russia, from the overthrow of the czar, to Lenin, to Stalin. While the 1920s were a great time for experimental artists, soon the ever-fluctuating decisions of what were truly appropriate Soviet musical and artistic expressions made artists fearful of falling out of favor and losing their lives. During the turbulent years that followed, Shostakovich did his best to please the powers that be to keep himself and his family safe. During WWII, his beloved home city was besieged for years, and he wrote a symphony that was used by Soviets and many of its allies to rouse and inspire the afflicted during WWII.

Though this book is primarily about Shostakovich, there is a lot about the political situation in Russia throughout the 20th century, the trials of daily life for the average citizen during the century in each era, and the arts culture of Russia through the various time periods. In other words, you get a great, well-rounded history of Russia in the 20th century along with Shostakovich's story. Combine this with The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia and you get a very good overview of Russian history from the mid 1800s through the mid 1900s. Due to the closed and secretive nature of the Soviets, many of the facts have just recently become available to the public since the fall of the Iron Curtain during the late 90s, so most adults will not have heard much of the details of this history during their school years. And though marketed as a young adult biography, it does not seem childish or juvenile in any way. In fact, if not marketed to teens, I would say this is an adult book. Adults should find it enlightening and engrossing, and will likely enjoy it more than young adults. It's fascinating, eye-opening, horrifying, and bound to make you extremely grateful you did not grow up in Russia during the 20th century. If you need a book to make you more appreciative for how good you've got it in your present life, this is a good reality check.

Sports/Conduct of Life/Psychology Picture Book

Sometimes You Win--Sometimes You Learn for Kids by John C. Maxwell, ill. by Steve Bjorkman
Wade and Wendy are competitive players of Woggleball. They really like winning and hate losing, but their team is not doing very well this season. Papa encourages his two grandkids that winning and losing doesn't really matter, it's your attitude and whether you learn from your mistakes and improve that really counts.

This story told in rhyme helps teach kids about being good sports and facing losses and hard times as opportunities to grow. A great book for any kid, but especially those who participate in sports or competitive activities.

Sports Middle Grade/Young Adult Fiction Book

Peak by Roland Smith
Peak Marcello learns about more than just climbing when he attempts a summit of Mount Everest with his father.

I read this several years ago, but I remember liking the life lessons Peak learns and that the story was packed with great adventure moments. Great pick for middle graders or teens who like real stories and/or adventure stories. There’s also a sequel called Edge that was just released last year after a decade of Peak being a stand alone.

Psychology/Counseling Book

Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Susan Cain explores myths and realities of introverts and extroverts, their strengths and weaknesses, various studies about both, and gives tips to help the two personalities understand each other better.

This was a profoundly interesting read, and very empowering for introverts who feel pressured by Western culture to change. But it's also a very good read for extroverts to help them understand themselves too. The studies that Cain explores often include information for both introverts and extroverts, and yielded some very interesting, informative results. I liked that Cain talked about the wide spectrum of introversion and that not everyone is in exactly the same place on that spectrum. I also found the chapter on being able to fake extroverted qualities extremely interesting. As an educator, I also found her chapter on introverted children and the modern Western school practices had a lot of food for thought. And as an international educator in Asia, I especially appreciated the look at Asian perspectives of introverts and extroverts included.

Foreign Language/ESL/History/Biography Picture Book

Zheng He: the Great Chinese Explorer: a bilingual story of adventure and discovery by Li Jian, translated by Yijin Wert
A biography of the Chinese explorer Zheng He who sailed for the emperor during the Ming Dynasty. He did much to establish trade relations with other countries in Southeast Asia and East Africa during the late 1300s/early 1400s, and was the one to bring cobalt to China which enabled them to start producing the famous blue and white porcelain.

It's great to have some picture book biographies of explorers from Asia and be able to learn about some non-Western explorers. I had never heard of Zheng He before, so I found all the information in this very interesting. The text is very approachable for children (and thus, doesn't go into much detail, just highlighting major events in his life but if you want more details the book 1421 by Gavin Menzies is also about Zheng He’s explorations). The illustration style mimics traditional Chinese art and complements the story well. The book is bilingual, with text in English and Mandarin. I don't read Mandarin so I can't comment on the translation quality, but hopefully this would also be a good resource for ESL Chinese students.

Foreign Language/Culture Graphic Novel Cookbook

Cook Korean! a Comic Book with Recipes by Robin Ha
An introduction to Korean cooking and culture through a graphic novel format.

This is 80% cookbook in a very attractive and creative format, and 20% info on Korean culture/food with actual graphic novel/comic strip pages. I lived in Korea a little over a year and have enjoyed many of these dishes, but I found it fascinating to find out what all went into making them. I also really appreciate that Ha offers alternate ingredients for harder to find Korean ingredients. By far the best compliment to this book was that it made me hungry! I do want to try my hand at making a couple of the dishes but so far I haven’t had the time so I read about the dishes and then went to a Korean restaurant to eat them. You do get to learn some Korean food vocabulary as you read this too.

Computer Science/Math/Biography Picture Book

Ada’s Idea: the Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer by Fiona Robinson
A picture book biography of Ada Lovelace, the daughter of poet Lord Byron and mathematician Anne Milbanke. To try and save her from becoming anything like her father, Ada's mother surrounded her with structure and math and tried to keep her from anything poetic. That didn't stop Ada from developing a poetic mathematical mind, and writing a complicated and highly imaginative algorithm for inventor Charles Babbage's theoretical calculating machine. Babbage's machine was never built, but today, what Ada wrote is considered the first computer program.

This is a great introduction to Ada Lovelace. She seems like such a fascinating person, I think I want to hunt down a longer biography on her. (I may check out one of the ones in the bibliography in the back of this book.) Robinson manages to convey that Ada's father was a rogue without going into any details so it stays kid safe. She also manages to make math sound fun and amazing. I also really liked the art style chosen. An all-around great picture book biography about a female mathematical mind who was a century ahead of her time.

Math Picture Book

The Cookie Fiasco by Dan Santat & Mo Willems
Gerald & Piggie are reading a new book. It is about four friends who want a snack. There's just one problem. There are only three cookies. How can they share the snack fairly? And what will Gerald & Piggie think about the book?

My favorite parts of this were definitely Gerald & Piggie's intro and exit comments. I found it hilarious that Santat had the hippo have a nervous habit of snapping things in half when stressed as a way to "accidentally" break up the cookies into fraction pieces that would work out for even sharing. A great intro to fractions/division for lower grade math classes, but make sure you have your own cookies on hand to work with (and eat)! The reading level in this one is definitely a step or two above the Elephant & Piggie books so beginning readers may need help.

Science Book

Head to Head: Record-Breaking Animals by Anna Brett
Infographic spreads of stats on record-breaking animals appear on split pages so that they can be compared in head-to-head comparisons of various features. Each infographic includes the record-breaking attribute, the common name, the scientific name, a superstat, the class of the animal, where it lives (geographic & biome), height and length, general diet, basic food chain, weight, speed, defense mechanisms, typical family size, gestation period, life span, estimated population, risk level (how endangered it is) and what the main threats to its existance are.

This was a fantastic idea for a book! It's very informative and the presentation format is so fun! This would make a great nonfiction read or gift for animal lovers. I may dig this out to use during Mammal March Madness to help fill out my form (though not all mammals are guaranteed to be in here). I did like that the opening pages of the book give an overview of what an animal is and suggest to just look at one or two stats at a time. You could definitely suffer from information overload if you try to absorb everything as you flip pages. This would also be a good starter resource for kids doing reports on animals. The animals that appear on the bottom pages at the start of the book do reappear in the back of the book on the top pages to allow all 57 different animals to match up against each other. I found two of the "record-breaking" categories a bit subjective..."freakiest fish" and "freakiest amphibian"...all the others are based on measurable characteristics. Overall, a fun nonfiction animal book.

Math/Science/Psychology Biography for Middle Grades or Young Adult

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky
Two page spreads give quick but informative biographies of fifty women who made a significant contribution to the scientific world. Every few pages are spreads that provide infographics related to science or the women included. The last spread gives super quick intros to other notable women in science who didn't make it to having their own page.

A fantastic collective biography that does a good job in including women from throughout history, from all over the world (Hooray! So glad some Asian women made it in!), and involved in a broad range of math and science disciplines. Even though each woman only gets two pages, Ignotofsky packed those pages with relevant info and interesting summaries of their lives. Her illustrations are what really make this book, though. They are eye-catching and augment the information. Overall it is an attractive biography collection for upper elementary through high school that is easy to read.

Current Events/Environmental Science Picture Book

Water Princess by Susan Verde, ill. by Peter H. Reynolds
A little girl in Africa longs for clean, clear water to come to her. But she must make the long walk to the well and back with her Maman just so they can have a drink and wash their things.

This book highlights a very real problem for millions of people in the world and puts it into terms that kids can understand. Reynolds' illustrations are perfect for this. Both whimsical and stunning. It says on the cover and in the back of the book that the story is based on the childhood experience of Georgie Badiel, a model originally from Burkina Faso. In the back of the book are pictures of real villages in Africa where clean drinking water has been an issue, and where Georgie Badiel together with Ryan's Well are working to change that. There are links to Georgie's organization and the Ryan's Well nonprofit in the back and both have further information on the issue of clean drinking water and what people can do to help, even kids. A great book to help make kids aware of a human rights issue, and one that is relatively easy to get kids involved in ways that make a very real and lasting impact.

History/Botany Picture Book

The Peace Tree of Hiroshima by Sandra Moore, ill. by Kazumi Wilds
A fictionalized account based on a true story of a bonsai tree that was passed down from generation to generation in a Japanese family and survived the bombing of Hiroshima. In the 1970s, the tree was sent to the United States as one of fifty bonsais that were a gift for America's bicentennial and also an offer of good will and representation of the peace that now exists between two former enemies.

A fantastic story about forgiveness and peacemaking that comes from the heart. It's touching that such a family heirloom would be given to the US as a gift, and it is even more powerful since it is based on a true story. There's information on the true story and various forms of bonsai in the back of the book.

Government Lower Grade Fiction

Bad Kitty for President by Nick Bruel
The President of the Neighborhood Cat Club's 2nd term is about to be over so a new kitty president needs to be elected. Bad Kitty is chosen to run, and in the process learns a bit about the US electoral process.

Shh! Don't tell anyone but...this Bad Kitty story is actually quite educational. Shocking, I know. It's actually a very good introduction to the electoral process in the United States and readers might actually learn something along with Bad Kitty. Of course, there's a funny story in there too so readers expecting Bad Kitty's normal light-hearted reads won't be disappointed either. A great book for social studies and government classes studying elections.

Worldview Picture Book

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel
A cat walks by various different creatures and each one sees it differently.

The text in this is very simple, the point is made in each illustration. Each animal sees the cat slightly differently. A good book to lead into a talk about perspective and worldview. And of course, for little ones it is just a fun cat book with repetitive text beginning readers can easily memorize and "read" along with an older reader.

Religion Picture Book

God’s Amazing World by Eileen Spinelli, ill. by Melanie Florian
A little girl teaches her cousin about the seven days of creation as they play outside.

A well done re-telling of Genesis 1-2 that is very kid-friendly in manner it is communicated and illustration style. Great resource for Bible story time at home or at church.

Religious Adult Nonfiction

The Lord and His Prayer by N.T. Wright
A short book (at least for Wright) that originally started as a collection of sermons on the Lord's Prayer. Wright divides the prayer into sections and explores each in ways I had never heard before, but are beneficial. If you're looking for a short read or a way to see the Lord's Prayer in fresh new ways, give this book a try.

Language Arts Picture Book

We Are Growing! by Laurie Keller and Mo Willems
Gerald & Piggie are reading a book about several blades of grass. Each blade is growing, but each one grows differently. One is the tallest, one is the crunchiest, and one is the silliest...but something is coming that will put them all back on the same level.

Keller did a great job at keeping this at beginning reader level. Words are short and repeated to help little readers catch on. There's a pattern to the story, and who knew blades of grass could be so entertaining?! Of course, my favorite parts were still Gerald & Piggie's comments. A humorous book that would also be good for language arts classes covering comparison words and any lower elementary classes talking about how we all have unique gifts and talents. And of course, it's just a fun read for anyone...even adults.

Reading/Literature/Library Picture Book

A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston
An ode to stories and the power of the imagination, that includes an invite to come and enjoy them too.

Ok, as a librarian I'm practically occupationally obligated to plug this book, but before I was a librarian I was a little girl who would regularly get lost in the worlds words formed in my head. And that little girl in me, still thrills at the possibilities of where imagination can take you when you crack the cover of a book. So little me and present me both give this five stars. It's simple but it says oh so much about the love for books and stories. I really enjoyed what Sam Winston did with words to create the illustrations. Definitely check out the interview with Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston about the making and inspiration for this book. Here’s the video part 1 and part 2.

Fun Reads! 

Lower Grades (K-3)

Hippopotamister by John Patrick Green
Hippo and Red Panda live in a rundown zoo no one visits anymore. Red Panda has enough of it, and decides to go out in the world and find a job. After hearing Red Panda talk about his jobs, Hippo decides to try out some too. They try job after job, but none of them seems quite right. Eventually, Hippo realizes exactly what he and Red Panda should do.

Very fun graphic novel that's both about different occupations and finding your niche that satisfies both you and makes the world a better place. I really enjoyed the ways that Hippo accidentally did things perfectly at just about each job and Red Panda made a royal disaster out of it, particularly because Hippo seemed immune to the effects of all that success. But in the end, both of them found something that fit their unique talents perfectly, even Red Panda who for most of the book can't do anything right. A great encouragement that we all have a unique talent to contribute. The illustration style fit the mood of the book perfectly. A great choice for a read aloud on future job day in elementary.

Airport Book by Lisa Brown
A family of four is headed to their grandparents' house and are travelling by plane. The little boy explains what to expect when you go to the airport and travel by plane.

I live overseas, so I travel a LOT. And when I do, I spend more than 24 hours in planes and airports. As a well-experienced air traveller, I have to say this is so well done. It is a fantastic book to get little ones ready for air travel. It does a great job in explaining all the steps, from standing in line for tickets to security (without freaking anyone out) to how to prepare for take off. Checked luggage is appearing at the bottom of each page, so you can kind of track what goes on with that too. It would definitely help curious kids understand what is going on and make travel a little less stressful by making sure everyone is prepared. Great book!

Middle Grades (4-8)

Sky Raiders by Brandon Mull
Cole and his friends manage to find a haunted house on Halloween that proves scarier than anything they ever dreamed, because the house is a trap and the people running it kidnap them and take them through a portal to a totally different world. Cole evades their clutches for a little while, but follows his friends through the portal in hopes of rescuing them. Only to end up captured as well, and headed to a life of slavery. Cole's friends Jenna and Dalton are headed to the High King, but Cole is sold to the Sky Raiders. The Sky Raiders use Cole as a scout on their raiding missions. But these raiding missions are unlike anything Cole has seen before. First of all, there's the fact that they're raiding castles floating in the air. Secondly, there's the fact that these castles are usually guarded by semblences, magically created creatures that aren't as real away from their castles, but are quite deadly on their floating abodes. Cole's job as a scout is to see what kind of nasty semblences might be lurking on castles before everyone jumps in for the raid. Yep, he's pretty much bait. The good news is that he only has to survive 50 of them and then he's a free man...of course, the fact that few people live past 15 raids isn't very encouraging. Cole doesn't get quite that far before his life as a Sky Raider gets drastically interrupted. Fellow Sky Raider Mira is not who she seems and some seriously bad guys are after her. Cole, Jace and Twitch all help Mira (and themselves) escape from the Raiders and aid Mira in her escape/mission.

This is the first book in the Five Kingdoms series. Readers just get a teaser for the Five Kingdoms world and what is going on there. The world itself is quite interesting. You run into everything from giant centipede-scorpion creatures on flying castles to plastic dinosaurs that chase kids around cheesecakes the size of an apartment complex. The magic systems are mysterious (readers are kept in the dark for a lot of what is going on so far), but more about that promises to be revealed in future installments. If there were any doubts before, this undeniably proves Brandon Mull has a very active imagination (in the best kind of way). Mull's Beyonders series and Fablehaven series are both huge hits with the students here, and so are the other books in this series so far.

Close to Famous by Joan Bauer
Foster is going to be the first kid on Food Network. She is an artist in the kitchen. She may not have a way with written words (she only managed to pass 6th grade by the skin of her teeth), but she has a way with ingredients. She also happens to be trying to make a place for herself in Culpepper, WV after she and her mom ran away from Memphis to get clear of her mom's ex-boyfriend. He is nowhere near the stellar character her dad was, but her dad died in the Iraq war several years ago. There in Culpepper, Foster meets Macon a height challenged boy who is going to make documentaries (starting with one about how the new prison in Culpepper is not creating all the jobs it promised), Miss Charleena a Hollywood star taking a break in her hometown, Mrs Perseverance who is trying to save the church from being sold and keep open a place to help out families visiting prison inmates, and a couple other characters trying to make ends meet and find their dreams.

Joan Bauer's characters always seem to have a down to earth Southern charm quality, and a more mature than normal voice, but she always weaves such a touching story I don't really care if it's a similar character in a different position. She always manages to make the reader fall in love with some small town of a wild cast of characters with normal, everyday problems for the most part. Close to Famous is no different. I loved watching how Foster and Miss Charleena helped each other out of their own personal mind-made ditches. It's actually refreshing to read about a character that hates reading because it is so hard. Too many authors create bookworm characters (because they themselves are bookworms and can write that well) and forget the readers who struggle. Oh, and just a warning: do NOT read this unless A) you've indulged in a serious sugar high and numerous mentionings of delectable goodies will not start your mouth watering or B) if you have quick access to baked goods or ingredients to make them promptly. Foster's baking works wonders in the hearts of the town and is not likely to leave you unaffected unless you take precautions.

The Quest for the Tree Kangaroo: an Expedition to the Cloud Forest of New Guinea by Sy Montgomery, photos by Nic Bishop
In the jungles of Papua New Guinea some rare tree kangaroos hang out. Scientist Lisa Dabek is trying to learn more about these elusive creatures. In this book, readers get to join her on one of her expeditions to tag more Matschie's tree kangaroos.

These Scientists in the Field books always do such a good job of finding interesting science jobs to shadow. This one is no different. Lisa Dabek's work with tree kangaroos and the lengths she has to go through to do so are riveting. The kangaroos are cute and enticing, and the environment it lives in feels other-worldly. Another great non-fiction read, and superb resource for science classrooms.


Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl
Miss Althea Crawley is the only hope for her noble family. The family's money has been slowly draining away since the passing of her father, and though her mother tried to save them by remarrying, her new husband barely survived two weeks and left all his money to his two greedy daughters a little older than Althea. Miss Crawley feels pressured to marry into money to save her mother and younger brother, and hopefully upkeep the inheritance for her younger brother -- her great-grandfather's romantic but sadly impractical castle. There are few marriageable prospects for Althea and her stepsisters in their far northern area of England, until the old Baron's nephew comes to take up residence in the Hall and brings some friends with them. Of course, things don't go according to what Althea first plans, and several people are not what they seem, but in the end our leading lady will find the best man for her.

Jane Austen & Victorian lit fans should love this story. It is unique in its own right -- enough so that even the most devoted Austen fan won't be able to predict the entire plot line -- but those same fans should be able to pick out familiar elements that are shadows of things from several different Austen tales. I loved how Kindl incorporated aspects of so many different Austen novels in the story. Althea is a good portion Emma Woodhouse & Elizabeth Bennett, but she also has bits of Fanny and Eleanor in her. The other characters are also blends of several Austen men and women, and there are slightly altered scenes from all of the Austen books. A fun read with typically quirky Regency England characters.

The Reader by Traci Chee
Sefia used to have a happy home with a mother and father who loved her. But mother died, and then father was killed, and Sefia had to put into action the training they'd given her for a long time. She went through the secret passage, retrieved the item, went to Aunt Nin and then they went on the run. She's been on the run ever since. She knows nothing about the item she carries, but when people take Aunt Nin captive looking for it, Sefia decides she needs to find out more about it and this person whose been hunting her family to get it. There's a symbol on the item, a symbol she's never seen anywhere else until the day she sees it on a crate. A crate that holds a boy. She frees the boy and together they set out to find out the meaning of the symbol, those hunting them down, and what the item is.

This started off a little slow, but once Sefia starts to read the pirate adventures and chapters on those in training at the Library start, it gets really interesting. Because then you start to get a picture of just how intricate the plot of this is. I can't say too much without spoiling things, but I really loved that the plot involves literacy, the value of stories, pirates, self-worth, human rights issues, and a very interesting magic system. Lots of good stuff. Yes, there's also some very brutal people too, so it isn't always an easy read, but overall very good and I look forward to more in this series.

Nature Anatomy by Julia Rothman
Julia Rothman takes you on an informative and captivatingly illustrated tour of things natural that intrigue her. From the rock cycle to edibles in the woods or garden to critters you're likely to happen on in North America, you get a broad introduction to the natural world around you.

Rothman consulted experts in various fields to help her and she summarizes main points nicely. You do get a little bit of everything from Earth Science and Biology, but it doesn't feel too random. The topics are organized a bit to help with that. I found her field guide sections on plants, fungi, insects, and animals very well-done. She highlights things you are likely to see. The edibles parts along with a few recipes are quite interesting, there were several plants I recognized and had no idea they were edible. (She also does give a healthy warning to make sure you know which plant is which.) This normally wouldn't be the kind of book you just sit down and read, but I wanted to read this sometime and I was kind of stuck without a book to read this weekend and this was available. I would definitely recommend it to Earth Science teachers/students as there are several nice charts of seasons and phases of the moon and other natural cycles, Biology teachers/students or those studying Botany could use the plant/animal guides as could people who like to identify critters and plants on hikes in North America. Also a good book to fill time if you think you’re reading time will be intermittent.

Family Read Alouds

How to Capture an Invisible Cat by Paul Tobin, ill. by Thierry Lafontaine
Delphine's life is pretty normal. Ok, as normal as can be for an outgoing girl a little prone to escapades that may get her in trouble. But that all changes the day she becomes friends with the class genius, Nate. Nate gets bored being so brilliant all the time and ever Friday the 13th he schedules in to do 3 dumb things just to keep life interesting. There was a Friday the 13th recently and one of the dumb things Nate did was to enlarge his family cat Proton to the size of an elephant, turn him invisible, and hide seven molecules around town that contain clues how to change Proton back and then purposely forget the formula so he has to find the clues. Nate has his trusty talking dog Bosper to help him, and he and Bosper have decided that Delphine would make a good friend so they recruit her too. Soon Delphine finds herself doing a number of things she never dreamed of when she woke up that morning, like talking to a dog, becoming friends with a sentient car, and being stalked by a gigantic invisible cat that escapes Nate's house and goes on an invisible rampage around town. It's a good thing Delphine likes adventures.

This was a hilarious and imaginative read. I don't think I've ever heard of or read anything quite like it. Nate is full of surprises, from his archnemesis to his credit card and inventions. And I loved that he was tired of being a genius all the time so he actually plans to make mistakes to keep his life interesting. Very creative. The idea of a normal house cat the size of an elephant is rather terrifying. I personally like cats, but there are times my family has had cats that get that certain look in their eye and you know if they were larger you'd be dinner. So I'm picturing a tempermental house cat, cute as ever, but with the ability to actually follow through on it's murderous tendencies and it is chilling. And Tobin then makes Proton invisible too. Scary. Of course, thanks to the wacky adventures of Nate and Delphine - and Bosper too! - trying to find the molecular clues, the book itself is not at all scary, in fact it is quite hilarious. It had me laughing out loud several times. This would be a fantastic read aloud for a middle grade class or a family.

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt
J'Miah and Bingo are raccoon Scouts of the Sugar Man Swamp. Their mission is to keep an ear tuned to any messages from the Voice and wake up the Sugar Man (cousin of Big Foot and the Yeti) if the swamp is in danger. Soon enough there are some strange rumblings in the swamp and once the Scouts find out the cause they know they have to wake up the Sugar Man. The thing is, the Sugar Man has to be approached and woken just right or he can be a bit testy (and so can his pet gigantic rattle snake, Gertrude).
Meanwhile, Chap Brayburn is having a rough week. His Grandpa Audie just died, and Chap and his mama don't know if they can keep Audie's pie shop open. Sony Beaucamp, who pretty much owns the entire swamp, is about to close down the Brayburn shop and most of the rest of the swamp to open up an Alligator wrestling show and amusement park. Sony has said that Chap needs a boatload of cash to save the pie shop, which is about as likely as the legendary Sugar Man showing up or pigs flying. Chap is wracking his brains trying to figure out a way to save the shop and the swamp that Audie loved. Things are a little stormy in the Sugar Man Swamp, but -- oh you just gotta read it yourself.

Kathi Appelt weaves a spectacular tale from start to finish. She does an impeccable job of creating a swampy southern backwoods atmosphere through the vocab used and the narrator's voice. It is one of those tales where you are pretty sure from the start that everything will turn out ok, but you keep reading just to make sure and enjoy spending time with the characters and the setting. That and because the narrator just keeps drawing you on into the next chapter, no doubt showing off true Southern hospitality and storytelling skills. (I pictured the narrator as someone armed with some killer sweet tea, pie, rocking chairs on a porch, just the right touch of humor, and silky smooth Southern twang.) I can tell you that lots and lots of people are going to become fast friends with the Scouts and Chap and several others living in Sugar Man Swamp. I also like that it has some great character qualities in the Scouts and Chap, as they are loyal and learn to overcome some fears and are focused not just on themselves but others too. All around a great realistic/talltale-ish story with the inside scoop on animal conversations.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Brainstorm 89: Books to help kids grapple with death & grief

In light of the mourning over the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej here in Thailand, I thought the teachers at our school could use a reminder of resources we have to help kids deal with death and grief. So here are seven picture books to help kids (of any age) process grief and death. Of course there are lots of chapter books that deal with grief, but I’m just going to share short books that could easily lead into discussion time. I’m going to skip Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers for each of these. All can be used to discuss death, the stages of grieving, how grief can look different for different people and cultures, and healthy ways to express grief.
Half of these were shared previously in Brainstorm 62: Books on Emotions & Dealing with Tough Times. See that for more Activity Tie-ins/Target Reader ideas other than grief for books followed by an asterisk.

Picture Book Resources

Bug in a Vacuum by Mélanie Watt*
A little fly gets sucked up into the vacuum. This sudden change sees him going through the stages of grief: denial, bargaining, anger, despair, and acceptance.

This book provides a more gentle and tactful approach to addressing grief than some of the other books, and also provides a hopeful ending. It is clear enough many kids should understand this all on their own.

The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers*
A little girl is curious and has a full heart, until her father is gone. Then she decides she needs to keep her heart safe and protected. So she takes it and puts it in a bottle for safe keeping. But though her heart is safer, as the girl grows into a woman she finds her life has less spark. Eventually, a little girl helps restore her heart to the proper place.

This book is a little deeper in concept as the entire story involves symbolism and metaphor, so this would be ideal for older kids, and especially talking about how to grieve in healthy ways.

Grandad’s Island by Benji Davies
Syd goes on a grand adventure with his Grandad. They sail in a big boat and discover a tropical island. When Grandad decides to stay, Syd must leave him behind and finds the house lonely without him.

This book is bright, adventurous and doesn't expressly tackle grief. It is implied. There are emotions clearly there as the boy misses his Grandad, but what happened to Grandad is up for debate. It’s one you could use if you want to bring up grief subtly.

The Memory Tree by Britta Teckentrup
Old Fox dies and the rest of the animals gather to remember him together. As they relate fond memories of Fox, a tree grows to help them remember.

This is a gentle and quiet book, good for any age, and one that would provide a good lead-in to an activity of remembrance.

A Place in My Heart by Annette Aubrey, ill. by Patrice Barton
Told as a poem, a little boy processes his confusing emotions after his grandfather’s death.

Everett Anderson’s Goodbye by Lucille Clifton, ill. by Ann Grifalconi
In this story in rhyme, Everett Anderson goes through the stages of grief as he tries to come to terms with his father’s death.

This one tackles death and the stages of grief head on. The straight forward topic and the black and white illustrations make this a more somber read, but for kids who are likely to goof around, this may be just what they need to take the topic seriously.

Tough Guys Have Feelings Too by Keith Negley*
You would think knights, pirates, ninjas, superheros, cowboys, and pro-wrestlers have it all together. But they would like you to know, that sometimes they have tough days and shed a tear or two too.

A somewhat comical picture book that's boldly illustrated to convey an important message: It is ok to show feelings. An important book for giving tough boys (and girls) the freedom to cry when they need to.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Brainstorm Vol 88: Goldilocks & the Three Bears adaptations

This week we’re looking at adaptations of the fairytale “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” I’m not including any of the more traditional retellings (ok, just one). Here’s some of the ones that put their own new twist on the traditional tale. There are lots more out there, so comment with any of your favorites I missed. (And if you don't have a lot of time to read, I just have to say that my three favorite picture book adaptations are the last three in that section. If you don’t read any others, make sure you check those out.)

Picture Book Resources

Bears Should Share!/Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Alan Granowsky, ill. by Anne Lunsford and Lyn Martin
So my very first book breaks the rules I just set a little bit. This book is part of a series of fairytales called Another Point of View. Each book includes a traditional telling of the story, but when you flip the book over it includes a telling of the story from another point of view, usually the “bad guy.” In this case, Bears Should Share! tells the story from Goldilocks’ point of view.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Point of View: This whole series by Granowsky is great to use when talking about point of view in writing.
  • Stepping into Others’ Shoes: Often during conflicts it is a good practice to step back and try to see things from the perspective of the other side. These two stories could help kids see the benefits of this practice.
  • Compare/Contrast: Obviously any and all of the books in today’s Brainstorm could be used in compare/contrast activities with the original tale and each other.
  • Animal Lovers: This is another one that will apply to most of the books in this Brainstorm. Animal lovers should love the bears (and other animals) that Goldilocks meets. 

Deep in the Forest by Brinton Turkle
A little bear wanders into a house, tries out three bowls of food, tries out three chairs, and then tries out three beds till he finds one to curl up in. The humans come home (one of which is a girl with golden curls) and discover the intruder.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Wordless Book: This is an entirely wordless flip of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears," and it was fantastic. It’s the perfect kind of fairytale book for readers not ready for words yet.
  • Creative Writing (any language): Being wordless it lends itself to numerous activities like having students write words to go with the story.
  • Prediction/Using Prior Knowledge: “Read” this book with younger kids familiar with the original tale and see if they can figure out what is going on. What will happen next? It should be easy for them to do, and they should also easily be able to figure out why it was easy for them to predict.
  • Fairytale Debate: The real question this book begs to have answered is which home invasion came first, the bear's or Goldilock's?

Somebody and the Three Blairs by Marilyn Tolhurst, ill. by Simone Abel
A bear wanders into the Blairs' house while they are out for a walk. He helps himself to a snack, tries to find a nice seat, tries to find a game, looks for a source of water, and then for a place to nap. When the Blairs return from their walk, they are in for quite a surprise.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Compare/Contrast Bear: I like the twist on the traditional Goldilocks and the Three Bears in this book. The bear is the intruder, and the bear approaches many of the human items as a wild bear would. Food is a toy, shelves full of towels may look like a bed, and the sources of water...well, they aren't in the fridge. Usually the bears in most versions of this tale act pretty much like humans. This one does a little, but he has more natural tendencies.
  • Compare/Contrast Baby Response: I also enjoyed Baby Blair's response to the intruder. Instead of the usual frightened response, he's thrilled with the teddy bear come to visit.
  • Vernacular/Slang in Dialogue: Baby Blair's speech is somewhat babyish and written in vernacular/slang, so beginning readers may struggling reading his lines. But classes learning about writing this way may find this an easy example. They’re all short and quick.
  • Quick Fractured Fairytale Read: For the most part the reading level is fairly easy and this is a quick fractured fairy tale read.
  • Animal Lovers: Another great pick for animal lovers.

The Three Snow Bears by Jan Brett
Aloo-ki is out with her sled dog team when they get separated by an ice floe. As she tries to keep them in sight, she comes across a cozy looking igloo. Meanwhile, the polar bear family has set out on a stroll since their soup was too hot to eat. While Aloo-ki makes herself at home in the igloo, the polar bears rescue her dog team. Which is a good thing, because when Aloo-ki wakes up with three polar bears in her face she is in a huge hurry to get out of there.

This is a cute re-imagining of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears." Brett's illustrations are incredible as always. I like how the middle of the spread tells the main focus, but the side panels keep track of what else is going on. (For example, if the focus is on Aloo-ki, the side panels show what the polar bears are up to.)

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Creative Writing/Setting: Brett gets points for having one of the most unique settings for her Goldilocks rewrite. You could use this as a creative writing starter, asking students to make their own Goldilocks rewrite in a different setting. How would that influence the various aspects of the story? What did Brett change to fit the setting?
  • Variety in Writing: I also like that Brett did not use the normal repetition when the bears discover things, she varied what each bear said slightly, a good example for kids about varying phrases in their own writing.
  • Alaska Read/Intuit Read/Winter Read: If you’re looking for a read set in Alaska, featuring an Intuit character, or just a chilly setting, this book would meet any of those desires.
  • Art Lovers/Animal Lovers: Jan Brett is one of the best illustrators for kids who love animals. She makes them come to life so well. This one features both sled dogs and polar bears.  
  • Theater: Because Brett shows both what’s happening in the main location and elsewhere, it would be fairly easy to have students turn this into a little play. Some can be the sled dogs, some can be the polar bears, and of course there’s Aloo-ki.

Goldie Socks and the Three Libearians by Jackie Mims Hopkins, ill. by John Manders
Goldie Socks takes a short cut through the woods to school since she's running late and comes upon a house made of books. As a book lover, she can't resist the home of the three libearians (bear librarians). It takes her a while, but she eventually finds some books that are just right, and then a cozy place to read them.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Humorous Read/Puns: This is a humorous twist on the typical fairy tale. The libearian pun may have some readers groaning. 
  • Book/Library Lovers: I loved how books were used in place of the porridge and beds, and how the chair became important in finding a place to read. The ending is somewhat different from the norm for this fairy tale too. 
  • Predicting/Using Prior Knowledge: Due to the parallels with other tales and slight differences, this would be a fun book to have students predict what will happen next. It may not be as easy as some other versions, but not impossible either.
  • Setting: This is another good one to look at and examine how the tale was changed to fit the setting. Like Brett’s book, you could also use this as a jumping point for creative writing to ask students to create their own new version of the tale in a new setting.

I Thought This Was a Bear Book by Tara Lazar, ill. by Benji Davies
Prince Zilch from Planet Zero gets shot out of his own book and crash lands in the book Goldilocks and the Three Bears. If Prince Zilch doesn't get back to his own story by page 27 horrible things will happen to his home. Mama Bear and Papa Bear try everything they can think of (while avoiding Goldilocks), but nothing seems to work. Thankfully, Baby Bear has a plan that's just right.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Illustration Lovers: I know there are those out there who just pick up books for the illustrations. That’s totally fine. Go pick this one up if you’re one of those people. This is a delightful fractured fairy tale with fun illustrations. 
  • Problem Solving: There’s quite a bit of quick thinking needed in this story to fix everything that’s gone wrong. I love how Mama and Papa's ideas involve parts of their normal story. And the entire tale as a whole is a good example of thinking outside the box.
  • Science Fiction Fans: Scifi picture books are not super abundant. I personally love scifi, and I love out-of-the-box story ideas, so this is one of my favorites on this page. Prince Zilch is a delightful addition to the tale. 
  • Creative Writing: This would also make a good writing prompt, have students imagine other characters falling out of their own books into other stories and the crazy results.
  • Compare/Contrast: Obviously, this has a lot of things different from other versions of the Goldilocks tale, however there are still many similarities. Plenty of fodder here for any compare/contrast activity with the traditional tale or other adaptations.

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems
Mama Dinosaur, Papa Dinosaur, and the other Dinosaur visiting from Norway, decide to go on a stroll after making some chocolate pudding. They make sure to leave the door unlocked, and though you might think you see them lurking in the woods waiting for a wayward child to go waltzing in their door, you're probably mistaken. Goldilocks comes along, and proceeds to go through the normal Goldilocks routine, until she decides something is fishy with the setup and she better skedaddle out of there.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Humor Fans: I can safely say that no other fractured fairy tale version of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" has had me laughing quite this much. Willems, puts his own humorous twist on the tale, and the unwitting trio out for a walk turn into decidedly sneaky, hungry carnivores who've set up a trap for an unwitting, greedy girl. Kids will be relieved to know, that Goldilocks kind of learns her lesson and ends up ok. The dinosaurs are ok too, though decidedly still hungry at the end. 
  • Little Details in the Illustrations/Observation: Whenever I find little humorous things in illustrations I feel like I’ve been let in on an inside joke by the illustrator. I love them. You simply have to go back and look for little things in the background after you've read this story. A certain feathery Willems character pops up a couple times, and some of the wall hangings in the dinosaur's home are hilarious. (My personal favorite is the, “We Are Natural Gas” poster. Kids won't get it. That one was definitely put there for the adult readers.)
  • Protagonist/Antagonist Debate: Here’s a tricky question for this read, who is the antagonist and who is the protagonist?
  • Dinosaur Fans: This one is pretty obvious. There’s dinosaurs. Conniving dinosaurs. Dinosaur fans should love this.

Tackylocks and the Three Bears by Helen Lester, ill. by Lynn Munsinger
Goodly, Lovely, Angel, Neatly, and Perfect decide to put on a play and drag Tacky into it too. To the rest of the penguins' horror, the play proves to have a tough audience and isn't quite going according to script, but thanks to Tacky's improv it works out ok.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Humor Fans: Tacky the Penguin is always good for a laugh. Pick this one up if you need a funny read.
  • Penguin Fans: So half the reason I love Tacky so much is that I’m a huge penguin fan. The other half is that he’s so lovable and fun, and has some great points in his stories.
  • Loving Misfits/Oddballs/Outsiders: Tacky is the oddball of his little group of penguins, but over and over his unconventional ways save the day. Tacky’s always a good read when you need to talk about loving and appreciating others who are different and possibly a little strange.
  • Theater: To improvise or not to improvise that is the question when the play is not going according to plan. Perfection is the goal of every performer, but sometimes things just don’t go according to plan. Drama teachers could use this one to talk about what to do when things are not perfect.
  • Compare/Contrast: This is the only version of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" that is actually a story within a story. It provides another interesting point for potential compare/contrast activities of different versions of the tale.

Middle Grade Fiction Resources

The Perfect Match (Fairy-tale Matchmaker, #2) by E.D. Baker
Cory Feathering, descendant of Cupid, must find the perfect match for Goldilocks, but it isn’t proving easy.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Fantasy Fans: I haven’t read this one yet, but E.D. Baker is a constant win in our Media Center with fairytale and fantasy fans. All of her series are constantly checked out. From what I’ve heard, you do need to read the first one in this series to appreciate this book.
  • Romance Fans: For the hopeless romantic of any age, Baker provides safe love stories appropriate for middle grade readers (and older).

Goldilocks Breaks In (Grimmtastic Girls, #6) by Joan Holub & Suzanne Williams
Goldilocks joins the villain organization E.V.I.L. to spy on them.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Chapter Book Fractured Fairytales: The Grimmtastic Girls series is another one that's a huge hit in our Media Center with fairytale and fantasy fans. This whole book is a play on the Goldilocks’ original tale. Recommend it (and the whole series) to middle grade fairy tale fans. 
  • Spy Stories: This is a safe spy story for middle grade readers too. And who can resist a good spy story?

Red: the True Story of Red Riding Hood by Liesl Shurtliff
(No, I’m not going crazy. Yes, I know the title says stuff about Red Riding Hood. But hang with me, Goldilocks is in here too.)
Red's parents are going on a trip and she's supposed to stay with Granny. But Granny comes down ill and she's out of her special cure all. Afraid for Granny's life, Red sets out to collect ingredients for the healing spell, but finds out from a captured troll that it may be possible to get her Granny something to give her eternal life instead. Wouldn't that be better? An annoyingly chatty girl from the village, Goldie (See! Not crazy.), invites herself along on Red's quest. The two odd companions are off in search of something that will ensure Granny won't die, but they'll find other things along the way they never expected.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Fairytale Fans: I’ll come back to this one when I do other fairytale Brainstorms. Obviously there are Little Red Riding Hood elements in this story, but several other fairy tales that featured a Red or Rose Red. There's some Beauty and the Beast, there's mention of the lesser known Snow White and Rose Red tale, and of course Goldie gets nods to her own fairy tale (best rendition ever...Goldie[locks] and the Three Trolls). And then there's the way Shurtliff worked the wolf and the huntsman into the plot. Quite clever. This is a companion book to Rump and Jack, some characters overlap, but each story stands up quite well all on it’s own. All are recommended to fairy tale fans.
  • Character Development: Both Goldie and Red have some personal growth to do along the way, and though they have a really rough start, they end up perfect friends for each other. And the lessons they each learn are good ones.
  • Dealing with Death: This one is a little more serious than Rump or Jack as it does deal with coming to terms with the very real possibility of losing a loved one. Shurtliff says in the notes that she lost her own beloved Grandmother during the writing of this story, and that deeply influenced the tale. It was really well done though, and full of heart.