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Friday, February 27, 2015

Sure to be an Adventure: Benjamin reviews Treasure Town

I've got something special for you today! Benjamin wants to tell you about a book he read this week.
What is the name of this book?
Treasure Town!

Who is it by?
Ummm. Doug . . . [Doug Wilhelm, and illustrated by Sarah-Lee Terrat]

How was it?
It was good.

Who would like it? 
Probably like, 5-, 6-, 7-year-old's or anybody who likes Magic Tree House. [The book is designed for grades 2 and 3.]

What was it about? It was about these four kids, no three kids, um, and they met they two guys named Bug and Yuke, and they were looking for treasure in Alaska, but they were down in Sandy Feet, Florida! And then the three kids told them about the treasure that was down here in Sandy Feet, Florida. And they all went hunting for it together. And Yuke was a really fat guy and he was strong, so one of the kids named Speedup was helping dig with him for the treasure; and the treasure was Jean Lafitte's treasure.

What did you learn from it?
That there are two girl pirates that were braver than boys! Anne Bonny and Mary Read.

Was it funny? Why?
It was funny. Cuz one time, Yuke said "excuse me" when Speedup told him to get out . . .

Who are all the main characters?
Bug - He's an old fat guy looking for treasure
Yuke - Really good digger and Bug's partner
Speedup - Good digger, too, like Yuke. And he's a kid.
Luis - A kid who day dreams with Bug about treasure.
Hayley B. - A kid who has a strong intuition. She can tell when there is treasure or not! Only girl that's part of the main characters.

Tell me more about the pirates.
Jean Lafitte - If you had all of his gold, then you could build a bridge of gold across the Mississippi River!
Anne Bonny - Escaped from jail. We don't know what happened after she escaped from jail.
Mary Read - Sailor that got captured, but girls back then were not supposed to be sailors. Died from a fever in jail.

Here's the rest of the characters.
The townspeople - gathers around if a police car is on top of a geyser of the town's main water pipe!
Chief Gherkin - he doesn't like the beach.

Did you like the pictures? YES!

Would you say this is a good book for kids?
Yes. Ok, can I read you one chapter??

Haha! Oh man, I get a kick out of this kid. Doug Wilhelm, author of Treasure Town, sent me a copy of the book for review, on my request. I thought Benjamin might like it! He also sent a Classroom Guide to go along with it, if that's your thing. Treasure Town is available for pre-order and will release on April 20, 2015. I have posted affiliate links above, for your convenience.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Add these books to your reading list! The 2014 Cybils Winners

I'm always pleasantly surprised by the announcement of the Cybils winners. It comes every year on February 14th, but for some reason the Cybils announcement isn't my strongest association for that day...

Cybils Day is Valentines Day!
I dare you to try to take a good picture of yourself kissing someone.
It's somewhat difficult.

Anyway, the list of "books I must read" has just gotten longer. For your convenience I will stick some Amazon image links in here, as I list them. (If you're a Barnes & Noble shopper, we'll do those at the end.) If you frequent the library, I'm with ya there! But if you're shopping today and you shop through these links I can earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

On to the winners!

Winners I'll find...

I'm dying to read Feathers Not Just for Flying. and Okay Andy.

Also The Family Romanov because Anastasia was a beloved movie of my childhood, but prrrobably not securely rooted in fact. Also loved Candace Fleming's Aesop's Fables book.

I'm thinking I'm going to have to press The Luck Uglies into the hands of some of my favorite Brandon Mull fans and then ask for their opinion.

Winners I already love...

I can wholeheartedly recommend the Graphic Novel winners. In Real Life was amazing enough that I looked up all about it on the internet, and made Jacob read it also, and enjoy just opening it up sometimes. A beautiful book that makes ya think twice. And El Deafo. Oh, El Deafo, I thoroughly enjoyed you. El Deafo also got a Newbery Honor this year, you know.

I shall have to tell you more about this one, soon!

I also adore the Fiction Picture Book category winner: Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton. It's thrilling, it's funny, it's a visual treat. My kiddos made me read it over and over and quoted it for days. I'd love to own it.

Full list of winners is here:

The books that win the Cybils are always good ones. The Cybils criteria are 1) that the book has to be published within the year of the contest and 2) has to have both kid appeal and literary merit. The Cybils strike a nice balance between the Newbery (which is all about merit) and what you find at the book fair or on the bestseller lists (often heavier on kid appeal). Lists for past years can also be found on the Cybils site, I often reference them when making recommendations in a genre I don't read especially.

Here's the Barnes & Noble link I promised!

Do you have a favorite place to find book recommendations? Please share!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Most Distinguished American Picture Book for Children: Beekle!!!

Yippee! I love it when the ALA awards are announced! And that day was yesterday.

The Newbery.

The Caldecott.

And so many more that I didn't even realize existed until adulthood! (The Printz, for Young Adults; the Theodore Seuss Geisel, for Easy Readers; the Odyssey for Audiobooks; the Sibert for non-fiction; and all these and more!)

I am particularly thrilled with the news that The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat, has garnered the Caldecott Medal. My taste for Santat's work has been validated in the biggest way. *puts on hip sunglasses* I was a fan before he won the Caldecott.

"Beekle" as we call this book in the Stewart household, is fantastic. Just gorgeous. So lovely. When I picked my first-grader, Benjamin, up from school I told him the news. He was as thrilled as I.

"What was your favorite picture from it?" I asked him.

"Hmmm." He took a minute. "The one where [Beekle] is sailing past the dragon."

"That one is so awesome!" As well as being a visual feast, it marks a major turning point in the book -- Beekle, an imaginary friend who hasn't been imagined yet, decides to stop waiting for someone else to think of him. He does "the unimaginable" and becomes the captain of his fate.

"My favorite," I said, "was the one with the tree. The huge tree full of stars." You guys. This tree. It's an autumn tree, with thinning red leaves. Except the leaves are all shaped like stars. I don't know if this was originally laziness (it certainly comes easier to me to draw a star than a maple leaf) but it is just breathtaking. I'm not the only one who likes it -- one of the characters in the book thinks it's worth drawing.

And the difference between these two illustrations (my favorite and Benjamin's favorite) is a testament to Santat's skill. One left me impressed with it's complexity (both in the composition and in the execution) and other impressed me with its simplicity.

My  version of the Beekle tree.
This is JUST like the tree in the book. I'm probably going to get in trouble for making fan art that is so close to the original.
I can smell next year's Caldecott, now. 
Anyway, we've put The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend on hold at the library (again) so that we can stare at it some more. We own a couple other great books of Dan Santat's (Sidekicks, Carnivores) but haven't got Beekle yet.

Let's muse for a moment. Do you think it's harder to illustrate a book you wrote, or a book someone else wrote? Like many illustrators, Dan Santat has done both. He wrote and illustrated Beekle.

I imagine it all depends. I mean, if you are illustrating someone else's book, you have something to go off of. It's like, "Ok, I've read this and it's given me some ideas so here we go." But then . . . it's maybe more pressure? Like, what if the author totally hates what you've done with it? (I know, many authors have zero say in the illustration of their books. But still. I'd feel worried that I'd somehow wreck all the author's hard work or something.) OR what if one bit just really bugs you and you want to change the wording a bit? But you can't. You're not the author. You're not the editor. You're just the illustrator.

Of course, if you are doing both the writing and the illustrating, these problems disappear. Don't like something? Just change it! But then, there's the whole other problem of, hmm, You-Have-to-Come-Up-with-ALL-of-it. If the text stinks? Your fault. If the pictures are sub-par? It's on you. Yikes!

I don't know which way I would have it. How about you?
* I would like to state for the record that it would be SO BOSS to be on the Newbery or Caldecott selection committee (Sorry other ALA award committees, being on you would just be BOSS, not SO BOSS. Everybody knows the Newbery and the Caldecott.)

** Excellent interview with Dan Santat at Publisher's Weekly. Knowing what Beekle's story meant to him adds a new layer of meaning to the story for me, as a parent.

***This post contains affiliate links. If it floats your boat to click on them and then make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Which would float my boat.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Building your library: Board Books that are good for a group!

So my mom and I were talking yesterday -- we're both sorting through books right now.

I'm going through my library and pulling anything that I don't want to move across the country. (That's right folks, Jacob got his dream job! In Connecticut!) In fact, since we plan to rent at first, I've got to figure out which books are good enough that I want to move them twice. Pack, haul, unpack. Repeat: pack, haul, unpack. Only the best of the best are coming with us. (The point that I'm trying to make here is that if you're local, you should definitely come to my book sale. Date TBA.)

First box of books is packed! Keep them safe, Anna and Elsa.
(Little did Jubilee know, that was her last day with the pacifier.)

My mom, on the other hand, is going through her own library and the library of the church nursery. She is now a teacher in the children's class for 1- 2- and 3-year-olds, and their story time selections need an overhaul.

So she asked me to recommend some board books that were a) bigger b) had a little more story to them and c) could handle the harsh treatment of a childcare situation.

Accordingly, you will NOT find on this list some of my favorite board books that are small, that are mainly concept books, or that have flaps (bound to get ripped off) and textures (bound to be grabbed and fought over).*

Anyway, let's get to the list!

5 Board Books to Please a Crowd

Rocket Town by Bob Logan -- I've mentioned this book before and Ashley's family loves it, too. In fact, we've loved our copy to death, but we're not ready to let it go -- we've put it on life support. The story is pretty basic: rockets go up, they go down, they're big, small, fast and slow. But the connecting thread on all these pages is the man and his dog driving a pickup truck. And when they finally blast off? What a stellar ending. (Pun intended.) Haven't met a preschooler who didn't like this book. The double-page spreads make the pictures bigger, for when you're reading to a group, and the book size is larger than your typical Sandra Boynton.

Speaking of Sandra Boynton, she's pretty much board book royalty. I highly recommend a copy of Barnyard Dance, even though it's not large, because I can see that leading to an excellent hoe-down. "Stomp your feet! Clap your hands! Everybody ready for a barnyard dance!" I always make a few fiddle noises there, as I turn the page.

I Kissed the Baby by Mary Murphy -- This one, too, is typical board book size, but I just have to pull it in over here (I first featured it on my post Books to Give at Baby Showers). The bold, black on white illustrations are going to make seeing the pictures easy, even in a big group. And the sweet actions described in the book could lead to some excellent pretend play -- holding the baby, feeding the baby, tickling the baby, etc. This book is super sweet for a one-on-one read aloud, but I think it's going to hold up fantastically with a big crowd.

The Wheels on the Bus by Raffi, illustrated by Silvie Wickstrom -- Found this one at Home Goods today,** and of course it's a classic. I'm sure that reading this one to a group would turn into singing, complete with hand motions. But I picked this one for the list (and passed on this one) because of the superior illustrations. Bold colors and broad outlines, but lots of details for the little one who wants to look closely at it later. (See?)

Last but not least, I pick Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle. I found this one at Home Goods just before Christmas. Though I've never read it to the kids, I was with my friend Nicole at the time, and she said it is the #1 favorite of her 3 year old right now. Even better, she said she doesn't mind reading it to him. Haha! I read it in the store and it's got a nice rhythm. I wish now that I had taken a picture of it in my hand (though at the time that would have been a very odd thing to do, since I wasn't planning this post) but it IS larger than usual. You can probably guess from the cover that Little Blue goes around collecting farm animals, and each makes his noise in turn.

Ok, there you have it! A handful of great board books that will both please a hoard of toddlers AND last long enough to please their younger siblings, too. Cover images above are affiliate links to Amazon, because my mom requested them. (If you purchase books through these links, I make a small commission. Thanks, mom!)

Share this post with all your friends who are in the market for board books. They'll thank you.

*Count! by Denise Fleming, Where's Spot? by Eric Hill and Pat the Bunny, by Dorothy Kunhardt for instance. Great books.

**My favorite place to buy board books is at Home Goods. At least in my town, they've always got a good sized collection of them over with the toys. And the prices are just unbeatable, for a new book! The photo above was taken today, at Home Goods, because once I thought of going there I couldn't help myself. :D (Unfortunately had to leave a cute flower arrangement, several awesome toys, and all the rest of the merchandise in the store, le sigh.)

More board books I recommend, here!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Did I ever tell you the story about . . .

Working on Story Club tonight!

And I just had to share with you this gem I found on the internet. 21 Surprising Parenting Tips. Especially because I tried this little bit of advice:
3. If you want their attention at the dinner table, or anywhere else, start a sentence with "Did I ever tell you the story about..." 
And it worked amazingly well on five 3- and 4-year-olds who were not listening to me.

See, we got an electric keyboard from some friends who upgraded theirs, and it's power cord is a bit finicky (thanks to the fact that we tried to jam one of the wrong size on there, shortly after getting it). Anyway, the aforementioned preschool group kept bumping the piano, which would make it turn off, which would cause them to shout at each other for turning it off.

"Did I ever tell you the story . . . about how this piano needs to be treated gently?"

It was magic.

While we're on the subject, I would love to hear your best parenting tips! Share them with me in comments. I'll put some of my own down there, too.

Here's one!
Double the fun of getting a package in the mail
by giving the kids markers and letting them draw all over the box
before you recycle it (or save it for your upcoming move).

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Great graphic novels!

Ok, I'm back with the second half of the Cybils Finalist list, as promised. These are graphic novels I highly recommend, published in 2014, nominated in the Elementary/Middle Grade category, and agreed upon by my fellow panelists and I as the best of the bunch in terms of kid-appeal and literary merit.

2014's Best Graphic Novels for Younger Readers (Part 2):

Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust by Loic Dauvillier I just recommended this book to a friend whose eighth grade daughter is studying WWII. Though I think this book would be fine for some 3rd graders, I think it's poignant enough that it can interest older audiences as well. It is a relatively mild story from the holocaust which details one girl's experience fleeing the city and hiding in the country. It does an excellent job of conveying the confusion, disgust, and sadness that affected her for years.

The Dumbest Idea Ever! by Jimmy Gownley is autobiographical. This is the story of how Jimmy Gownley published his first comic, about him and his friends. It features middle school antics and teaching nuns. Anyway, I found it to be both more interesting and more enjoyable than Sisters by Raina Telgemeier, another strong contender in the realistic genre.

Ballad by Blexbolex I've written about Ballad before. Did you know that in its original language it is titled Romance? I can see why they changed the title -- there is nothing "romantic" about it but this story of a child going home from school goes from simple to incredibly complex and is full of interesting things. Read more about it in my full review.

Remember, you can catch Part 1 of this list right here. Happy reading!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Happy New Year! Cybils lists are up!

Hello! Wow, the holidays, eh? And the post-holidays. Every day it feels like I should have taken my Christmas tree down already, or posted on my blog. Well, the tree will have to wait for now, because

The Cybils shortlists have been announced!

And I want to talk about them.

Since I was a round one panelist for Graphic Novels this year, and since the GN category isn't split into older and younger subcategories, I got to help decide two shortlists this year. Let me tell you about them. Affiliate links, ahoy!

2014's Best Graphic Novels For Younger Readers (and up):

Bad Machinery: The Case of the Good Boy by  John Allison -- I wrote the official summary for this one, because YES. Where have you been all my life?  I confess that I have stayed up past midnight more than one night this week, reading the archives of this most excellent webcomic. (Start here, if you so choose.) But get this: The book is even better! So better! Extra pages!

And I will tell you what I felt didn't really fit into the neat-n-tidy Cybils summary. That is that this series is my new Calvin and Hobbes.  The six mystery-solving English middle schoolers who star are not actually much like Calvin, but all the essential elements are there: Either funny or interesting every time? Check. Larger, overarching story? Check. A little bit of the imaginary, made real? (Not a talking tiger toy, but still) Check. Occasional witty perspectives from adults? Check.

Bird and Squirrel on Ice by James Burks -- So much good clean fun! Bird and Squirrel are a best friends. They begin this book (I haven't read the first volume, yet) by crash landing near a penguin village. They end it by subverting gender stereotypes and avoiding the Trinity Syndrome. Wahoo! I do not even know how many times Levi made me read this book to him. A lot. And it's not short. But we had so much fun! Enjoy.

El Deafo by Cece Bell -- I have given this one the full-review already. Most excellent. I feel like reading this book has made me a kinder, more sensitive person. Just weeks after reading this I made a friend who is deaf. Thanks for the tips, Ms. Bell!

Gaijin: American Prisoner of War -- I wanted to like this one more than I actually did. But my fellow panelists made up for my lack of enthusiasm. What can I say? I was a little frustrated with our protagonist's deep desire to fit in. The story is about a half-white, half-Japanese young man who is required to report to the Internment Camps the U.S. government instituted during WWII. His Japanese father is away, and even though his mother is Irish and not required to "go to camp" she accompanies her son. I'd love to read this story from the mother's perspective. It was very well done.

Ok guys, that's NOT ALL. But that's it for me tonight. That's only four of the seven books on this shortlist though! I will return and tell you more about the remaining titles on the younger readers list, and all about the YA list, too. Mark my words.

In the meantime, I promise not to mind if you peek at the rest of the lists. These are some of the best graphic novels published in 2014, as decided by us die-hards who love kidlit graphic novels so much that we blog about them.

Tell me, which of these four titles sparks your interest most?

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