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August 2009 Archives


Thursday Three: Summer Stories

Posted by Pam on August 13, 2009 at 12:24 PM in Chapter BooksRecommendations
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I've always enjoyed reading books about summer during the summer. With lazy days, cold pools, and swinging hammocks, who wouldn't want a double dose of the perfect season? With many great books that take place in the summertime, let me share three pretty recent titles.

Lowji Discovers America
by Candice Fleming

Lowji Discovers AmericaWhen Lowji moves to America from India, he looks forward to making new friends and having a pet. Unfortunately, he and his family arrive in the middle of the summer and there are no kids around the neighborhood. Plus, his longing for a pet is thwarted by the cranky landlady who hates animals. Bright and inquisitive, Lowji doesn't let these obstacles get in his way with interesting and funny results. Sweet and humorous, the book lightly makes the point of keeping a positive outlook. The observations of American ways and slang are interesting from the view of this engaging character. Younger elementary kids can easily enjoy this charming story.

The Liberation of Gabriel King
by K. L. Going

The Liberation of Gabriel KingGabriel King is afraid of everything - spiders, robbers, cows - but his biggest fear is moving up to the next grade, where he'll be in the same school as the bullies who pick on him. His best friend Frita decides to take the summer to liberate Gabriel from his fears one by one. She's rarely afraid, but one of her biggest fears is about to confront the pair head on. Set in the deep south in 1976, this book is a drama, comedy, and historical fiction. It tackles fear, hatred, racism, but ultimately is about courage. And friendship. An amazing book intended for upper elementary readers.

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy
by Jeanne Birdsall

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting BoyAfter their father rents a guest house for a few weeks in the summer, four sisters explore the large estate grounds making friends and having adventures along the way. Absolutely delightful, The Penderwicks has a old-fashioned cover, title, and story, yet keeps a contemporary feel. It could take place anytime - though a few small references do set the tale in the present day - forming a large part of its appeal. The reading level is upper elementary, but would be a perfect read-aloud for younger elementary kids. Simply a perfect summer story artfully told.

Do you have a favorite summer book?


The First Time

Posted by Susan on August 12, 2009 at 12:00 AM in Classics
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A kid asked me a question at the children's reference desk a few days ago. While I was answering it, I saw that he was holding a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I noticed that his bookmark was fairly close to the end of the book. I asked if he had read it before. He said no. Had anyone told him what happened? Nope. Harry Potter 7.jpg

At that moment I was struck by how lucky he was. And, I have to admit, I was a little jealous. He didn't know the ending. Millions of people all of the world (including nearly everyone reading this post, I bet) know exactly what happens in those last few chapters. But he didn't and he had the joy of reading it for the very first time and finding it all out for himself. The magic was still his to discover.

To be as spoiler-free as possible, I'll just say that he was at the beginning of Chapter 34 and Harry was starting to walk into the forest. I vividly remember the suspense I felt when I was at that point and didn't know what was going to happen next. He started reading again the second I answered his question.

It's one of the things I love the most about children's literature. Nothing ever really gets old because there is always a new generation to discover it for the first time.

Golden Compass.jpgAnd it's not just the kids who get to explore new worlds. A few years ago, at the first Kidlitosphere conference, there was a dinner table discussion about the upcoming movie version of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass. I had been very vocal up until that point but got quiet as soon as that particular conversation started. When I got asked for my opinion about the book, I said I was embarrassed to admit that I had never read it. Someone at the table (Pam, was it you? Or maybe you, Kelly?) told me not to feel embarrassed, but to feel lucky instead. After all, I still had it to look forward to.

Charlotte's Web.jpgThink about all the children who haven't met Ramona yet. Or Paddington. Or Mr. Popper and his penguins. How about those who haven't gone down the rabbit hole? Or through the tollbooth? Or found out where Platform 9 and 3/4 is? Or what Charlotte writes in her web?

They have so many magical people and places they get to discover.... for the very first time. And to them, the books will be just as new as they were to you the first time you read. How lucky they are.

What book would you love to be able to read again for the first time? What book or series are you still looking forward to?

Update: Thank you all for your wonderful and insightful comments! I was absolutely overwhelmed at the hundreds of responses this post generated here and on Facebook. Curious to find out which books were mentioned the most? See this post for a top ten list.


Booklights Team Interviewed at the Reading Tub

Posted by Jen Robinson on August 10, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Introductions
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ShareAStoryLogo-color.jpgTerry Doherty is the founder of The Reading Tub, a nonprofit "that promotes literacy by encouraging families to read together", and provides hundreds of family-friendly book reviews for kids 0 to 13. Terry is also the founder of Share a Story - Shape a Future, a cross-blog "venue to share ideas and celebrate everything reading has to offer our kids." [Share a Story logo created by Elizabeth O. Dulemba.] Next year's Share a Story - Shape a Future event will be held March 8th to 14th. This past year, Terry and I have been working together on weekly Children's Literacy and Reading New round-ups, which alternate between our two blogs (for example, here). Like the Booklights team, Terry has a strong passion for helping parents and teachers to encourage kids to love books.

Terry_readingtubfinal_1.jpgThis week, Terry as kind enough to interview Gina, Susan, Pam, and me about Booklights on the Reading Tub's blog, Scrub-a-Dub-Tub. She rolled our responses into a combination profile and roundtable interview that covers everything from how Booklights began to where we'd like to go in the future. The interview even touches on Susan's and my excellent experience at last year's Newbery/Caldecott banquet, and Pam's personal quest for mental telepathy. We hope that you'll take a few minutes to check out the full interview, and tell us what you think.

kidlitosphere_button.pngWhat I think is that I am very much looking forward to meeting Terry face-to-face at the upcoming Kidlitosphere Conference in October. And I hope that we'll see some of our Booklights readers there, too. The Kidlitosphere Conference, now in its third year, is an annual gathering of people who blog about children's and young adult books (including reviewers, authors, editors, librarians, teachers, parents, and literacy advocates). New bloggers, and people who are just thinking of becoming bloggers, are very welcome to attend. It's a relatively small conference, with plenty of opportunities for discussion and socializing, making it very easy to get to know other participants. The conference does focus on issues related to blogging (ethics of receiving review copies, building readership, etc.), rather than on the books themselves. However, as with this week's Booklights Reading Tub interview, what the participants have in common is an enthusiasm for children's literature and a wish to pass along that enthusiasm to kids.

Many thanks to Terry for this wonderful interview. I think that she captures perfectly what we're trying to do here at Booklights.


Thursday Three: Reading Games

Posted by Pam on August 6, 2009 at 12:44 AM in Fun and Games
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When my kids were little, I wanted to get them ready to read in a fun way. I looked to all the right books for activities. But if I decided to have my daughter write letters in a cookie sheet covered with shaving cream, I knew that the doorbell would ring and I'd return to a overturned tray on the good carpet and a preschooler with foamy cheeks declaring herself to be Santa Claus. Not like that happened or anything.

Anyway, there were tons of great ideas to introduce reading concepts, but I didn't need great ideas - I needed easy ideas. I have all sorts of respect for the moms who take Junior around photographing items to make a personalized alphabet book with a laminated cover. However, I was a bit energy-challenged, that is to say, lazy, and these are some games that worked for me.

1. Easy ABC's Maybe the shaving cream thing seems a bit involved, but there are many easy opportunities to learn the alphabet. Going to the beach? Take turns drawing letters in the sand and watch the waves wash them away. Need to get outside? Grab a big paintbrush and a bucket of water and "paint" letters on the sidewalk. Stuck coloring again? Draw multicolored letters for your preschooler to name or decorate. Since my three year old niece has been crazy about erasing things, I write letters lightly in pencil and let her erase them after she names them. She also likes scissors, so I draw words for her to cut out. Look for little chances to toss in some ABC's.

2. Storytelling 101 "How was your day, dear?" sounds cliche, but not to a preschooler. Take time to talk about the day's events. What did we do today? Then what did we do? Help your child find the words to describe his day and tell his story. Of course, you can also add some fun elements of your own. A phrase like "Is that when the dancing elephants came in?" can take the story in a whole new direction. Sometimes it can even thwart an oncoming case of the grumps. I've seen it happen.

3. Rhyme Time Even with my daughters in fifth and eighth grades, we still like to make up silly rhyming songs. We're just better at it now. But preschoolers won't judge your imperfect rhymes. In fact, the sillier, the better! Work together to think of the next line as you drive to the grocery store. Giggling is encouraged. While you're checking out, you can try my other favorite rhyme game. Pick a word and figure out which words rhyme with it. You can let them come to you, or you can go through the alphabet sounding out each letter. So, rose leads us to explore b-b-bows and d-d-does. This little time-killer works with phonics and stores up some rhyming pairs for your next silly song session.

Look for many more quick tips at PBS Parents and share some favorite games of your own in the comments.


Out of this world

Posted by Susan on August 5, 2009 at 12:00 AM in Middle Grade BooksNonfiction BooksRecommendations
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I recently read a book that was so good it made me want to shout about it from the rooftops. But my roof is incredibly slanted, my voice doesn't reach that far and my neighbors would think I was extremely odd. So, all in all, blogging about it seemed like a better idea.

What's the book about? Something really original, right? Something unique, that nobody else has written about? Nope. It's about man landing on the moon, a subject that has been fully explored this year because of the 40th anniversary of the iconic Apollo 11 mission.

Mission Control.jpg

How is this book different from all other moon books? Three reasons:

The research
Andrew Chaikin is an expert on the manned Apollo missions. He's the author of A Man on the Moon, a comprehensive 700 page book for adults that explains every minute detail of the Apollo space program. It was also the basis for the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon. Chaikin has done exhaustive research on the missions, read thousands of transcripts, and reports. He's interviewed a multitude of NASA employees including every Apollo astronaut except for Jack Swigert who passed away in 1982. He knows what he's talking about.

The illustrations
Astronaut Alan Bean journeyed to the moon as part of the Apollo 12 mission and was the fourth moonwalker in history. After retiring from NASA, he became a full time artist. The fantastic paintings in the book encompass several decades of his work.

Bean imbues his pictures with details that only the 12 men who have walked on the moon could know. He shows us what it was like to land on the moon, walk in space and conduct science experiments. His captions capture a true sense of the experience and makes the reader feel (almost) if they had traveled into space, too. His pictures of both astronauts and equipment are incredibly detailed right down to the accessories on each astronaut's space suit.

The writing
NASA's universe is very technical, complicated and filled with acronyms. Chaikin and his co-author and wife Victoria Kohl, manage to bring this world to kids with clear and thorough explanations that never become condescending, dull, repetitive or confusing. Also included are extremely informative sidebars that answer common questions and point out intriguing aspects of Apollo. For those looking for more information, check the back for a good overview of additional material.

Take a look at the title of the book again. Mission Control, This is Apollo: The Story of the First Voyages to the Moon. As of right now, the Apollo missions have been the only moon missions. Nobody has been back since December, 1972. I love the optimism and vision in the subtitle that suggests that the Apollo missions are the first of many.

All in all, a great book. As an added bonus, Alan Bean's paintings are currently on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC through January 13, 2010. Can't make the trip? Check out Alan Bean's online gallery and enjoy your trip from the earth to the moon.

Team Moon.jpg For another excellent book on the subject, I highly recommend Catherine Thimmesh's Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon. It shows what a team effort the moon missions really were and provides a terrific behind the scenes perspective. This well researched book won the 2007 Siebert Informational Book Medal.

Got a favorite space book of your own? I'd love to hear what it is.


Three Very Different Fairy Tale / Fable Retellings

Posted by Jen Robinson on August 3, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Picture BooksRecommendations
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I've decided to take a page from Pam's Thursday Three posts, and share with you three new picture books that illustrate the wide range available in fairy tale and fable retellings. The first is a straight up reissue of a classic story, made special by the gorgeous illustrations. The second is a multicultural reimagining of a well-known fairy tale, with added humor. And the third is a modern picture book that bears only the kernal of the original fable.

goldilocks.jpgGennady Spirin's new edition of Goldilocks and the Three Bears is a faithful rendion of the well-known story, from "Once up a time, there were three bears" to Goldilocks leaping up and running out of the house (though the bears are surprisingly cheerful at the end). But what makes this book worth a look are Spirin's lavish watercolor and colored pencil illustrations. The bears are dressed in fancy, gold-braided clothing. Their clothes match, in tone, detailed gilt headers and footers on each page, and the bears' fancy carved furnishings. Everything is conveyed with fine texture, from the bears' fur to their clothes to the grass outside. And after breakfast (most days), the bears site, and Mama Bear and Little Bear each read books (while Papa naps). As for Goldilocks - she looks like something out of an old painting, with shining hair, rosy cheeks, and an ornate hat with a feather. In short, this is one that I'm keeping for my own bookshelves. I will pair it with Eugene W. Field and Giselle Potter's Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.

tamales.jpgThe Three Little Tamales is a retelling of The Three Little Pigs, written by Eric A. Kimmel and illustrated by Valeria Docampo. In Kimmel's version, three little tamales, two sisters and a brother, run away from a Texas taqueria before they can be eaten. One builds a house of sagebrush, and another of cornstalks, but the third builds her casita out of cactus. And eventually, Senor Lobo, the Big Bad Wolf, comes around looking for some lunch. You all know, pretty much, how the story goes from there. I like that this book is a celebration of Texas, and Mexican foods, complete with a short glossary of terms. And, ok, I like that the smartest of the three tamales is a girl, and that this is handled in a completely matter-of-fact manner. Docampo's oil on paper illustrations are beautiful, with appropriate colors for prairie, cornfield, and desert. The winds that the wolf huffs and puffs are enchanting swirls of colors and textures. The tamales are adorable, especially the smart one with her big glasses, and the brother with his dramatic eyebrows and mustache (you have to see it to appreciate it). I can really see this one becoming a family favorite. See also Kimmel's book, with Stephen Gilpin The Three Cabritos, a Billy Goat Gruff retelling.

dumptruck.jpgThe Grumpy Dump Truck by Brie Spangler is quite different from the other two. It's a modern-day story about a dump truck named Bertrand who is good at his job, but constantly grumpy with his co-workers. He is "rude to the backhoe" and "a real pain to the crane", and constantly grumbles about his "itchy axle" and "sore tires". Until... a little hedgehog worker named Tilly sticks him (accidentally) with one of her quills. Plucking out the quill, she discovers all sorts of other uncomfortable things stuck in Bertrand's tire, weighing him down. Once Tilly relieves him of these things, he's a new dump truck altogether. Much like a certain lion and mouse that you might recall. This one is a bit overlay sweet at the end ("I want to do something NICE!" "Horray!"), but I think that the inherent humor of a grumpy dump truck, and a bunch of animal construction workers, outweighs this. And Spangler's digitally created illustrations are bold and eye-catching, almost like cartoons. I think that preschool boys, in particular, will find this one tough to resist.

How about you? What are your favorite fairy tale retellings and reimaginings?

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