Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Nonfiction: Mohammed's Journey: a refugee diary

This books is the memoir of Mohammed, a fourteen year old kurdish boy who wa born in Kirkuk, Iraq. The book describes his life in Iraq, right up until his father was arrested and killed in 2000, and then his refugee journey afterwards.
Mohammed and his mother flee Iraq, and the book describes their route through Iran, Turkey, and finally into the UK. Mohammed talks about how it felt to be moving all the time, running from the police and always hungry and afraid.
Once in Dover, England, Mohammed and his mother seettled in to an apartment, and began to meet other people in the community. Mohammed talks about how important the charity services were in helping his family get started; he also talks about how great it was to meet other friendly kids in school, and to not be so afraid all the time. Although Mohammed still misses his dad and has some lingering problems from his traumatic experiences, he's hopeful for the future.
This book can provide kids with an understanding of how it feels to be a refugee. Written in plain language, the text is very accessible for kids of all ages. A great pick for schools or kids who are interested in humanitarian issues.
Grades 3-7
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First Chapter Book: Friend of Fiend? With the pain and the great one

Classic author Judy Blume has written another fun and realistic series about siblings. The Pain and the Great One are, of course, an older sister and a younger brother. Now just guess who is who! Told in alternating chapters that are short enough for budding readers to get through, this book describes the daily adventures of Jake (the pain) and Abigail (the great one).
This book tackles topics such as classroom embarassment (Jake makes a mistake in reading circle, and vows never to speak in class again), frienship (Abigail has a best friend problem) and family (why are teenage cousins so stuck up??). Kids will see their own feelings and families reflected i this book, and parents will be reminded about how simple life really was when they were 8 years old. A simple but heartfelt series, worth looking up.
First Chapter Book
Grades 2-4
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Fairy Tale: The Twelve Dancing Princesses

Author John Cech and illustrator Lucy Corvino have teamed up to retell the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. In tihs beautifully illustrated book, kids will learn the classic tale of the twelve princesses who spent every night dancing the hours away in fairyland.
The king is suspicious because the princesses wear their shoes out so quickly, so he enlists the help of a soldier to unravel the mystery. With the help of a magic cloak, the soldier follows the princesses into a magical world of beauty and dancing, and brings back a branch from a gold, silver and diamond tree to show the king.

In the end, the brave soldier marries the eldest daughter; a nice twist from the standard 'youngest daughter' plot, and the book ends with a bit of history about the origins of the tale. Most girls will love this tale, with its focus on ballgowns, dancing, and a magical fairyland.
Fairy Tale
Ages 4-6
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First Chapter Book: Flat Stanley: The Mount Rushmore Calamity

Kids everywhere know Flat Stanley as the boy who was flattened by a bulletin board, and has amazing adventures all over the world as a result! Teachers love to use Flat Stanley as a class read in grades one and two: kids can make a flat stanley out of paper, and mail him to classes on another continent.
In this book, Stanley's family decides to go on vacation to Mount Rushmore. But when Stanley and his little brother Arthur team up with a scrappy cowgirl named Calamity Jasper, their vacation turns into the Wild West experience of a lifetime! Pretty soon, they find themselves in a real tight spot; even for a flat boy like Stanley.
The Flat Stanley books are great for budding boy readers, as they use lots of humour and a silly plot twist to support their main character. Stanley is a kid every boy can identify with, even while they envy his flatness! The Flat Stanley series was originally written by Jeff Brown, but new authors are coming on board to round out the series. This one is a charmer!

First Chapter Book
Grades 1-3
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Folk Tale: Tasty Baby Belly Buttons

This Japanese folk tale has been translated into English by author Judy Sierra, a master folklorist and storyteller. It's not surprising that this book just begs to be read aloud!

The story begins with a childless couple, who find a tiny girl (Uriko-hime) inside a floating melon. The girl grows incredibly quickly, and picks up the skills her parents teach her with ease. Fortunately for everyone, her father was a great swordsman; Uriko's skills come in handy when the Oni (great monsters) invade the local village, looking for their favourite snack!

Kids will love chanting the Oni's refrain (Belly buttons! Belly Buttons! Tasty baby belly buttons!), and the descriptions of the Oni's island and the final battle are hilarious and exciting at the same time. A great story with lots of humour, but a solid plot and structure. Excellent for readalouds or storytelling.

Folk Tale

Grades k - 3

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Fantasy: Fortune's Magic Farm

Ten year old Isabelle works in the horrible Mr. Supreme's umbrella factory. She's dreamed of escaping her Rainy, Foggy Runny Cove home as long as she can remember; it never stops drizzling, and she (along with the other villagers) is forced to work long hours in on the factory floor.

Despite tihs, Isabelle is perky and optimistic, keeping the spirits of those around her bright. But there doesn't seem to be any way out for orphan Isabelle...until someone comes searching especially for her.

It turns out that Isabelle is heir to Fortune's Farm, a beautiful and sunny homestead filed with magical cherry trees that can heal all sickness, floating fronds that can make you fly, and other wonderful things. It's like a fantastic dream for Isabelle! But when Isabelle realizes that staying on the farm will mean abandoning her downtrodden friends in Runny Cove, her loyalty is put to the test.

This is a light and positive read, great for kids who like a bit of magic or fantasy in their literature. Although the reading level is about grade four, the inoffensive content makes it a good pick for advanced readers in earlier grades. It's rare to find a true fantasy book for younger kids, so this one is certainly worth noting; it's tone is reminscent of Enid Blyton's Faraway Tree series.
Grades 3-5.
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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Nonfiction: Gentle Reads: great books to warm hearts and lift spirits (grades 5-9)

If you're in grades 5-9 and you've been wondering what to read next, this helpful book is a great resource to keep in mind. Like other reader's advisory titles, this book aims to connect kids with the very best in children's literature. Recommended titles are newer (less than 10 years old), appropriate for kids in the target age group, and have been well reviewed in professional literature).

This book is unique in that it recommends "gentle reads". These books are ones that are inspiring, heartwarming, or in some way uplifting to a reader. The author was pushing back against the plethora of Young Adult titles that focus on the negative aspects of life: drug addiction, mental illness, and other troubles.
The hundreds of titles included in this resource are certainly top notch, and I'm sure that kids who want an uplifting read will truly appreciate the book's positive focus. Recommendations are divided into genres, and include nonfiction as well as fiction titles. The subject index at the back of the book is particularly useful for teachers and literature specialists who are looking to connect a certain type of book with a reader.

Generally, this is an excellent and useful resource. I do hope, however, that readers do not entirely ignore the wonderful selection of books that do focus on the harsher aspects of life for children and teens. Some of these books are incredibly positive, since they show kids who run up against the worst that life has to offer, and somehow pull through with grace and wisdom. As part of a balanced reading diet, Gentle Reads is a wonderful pointer for kids and parents.
Nonfiction: Reader's Advisory
Grades 5-9
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Friday, September 04, 2009

Easy Reader: There is a Bird on Your Head!

Mo Willems (author of the Pigeon picturebooks) has written another hilarious easy reader in the Elephant and Piggie series.

Elephant and Piggie are hanging out, when suddenly...a bird lands on Elephant's head! Of course Elephant can't see this, so he has to rely on Piggie's blow by blow reporting as one bird becomes two...and then they fall in love...and then they make a nest...and lay eggs...and hatch chicks!

Kids will laugh hysterically at Elephant's expressions as this chain of events progresses. In the end, Piggie suggests, "Why don't you ask them to move?" A great lesson in asking for what you want is learned...except that the birds then take up residence on Piggie's head.

This series is always funny, and is a great pick for very early readers who prefer books with a lot of humour (boys!!).

Easy Reader

Ages 5-6

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Fairy Tale: Hansel and Gretel

Former Children's Laureate Michael Morpurgo has written an excellent retelling of the classic fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel. This extended version has lots of challenging vocabulary and extra detail to bring the story to life. The length (and the high ratio of words to pictures on the pages) make this telling suitable for older preschoolers and school aged kids.

Woodcutter Gabriel is happy with his lovely wife Lisette. Their two children, Hansel and Gretel, are at the centre of this idyllic family. However an evil witch wants Lisette's happiness, and she usurps the wife's place, then convinces the father to lead his children into the woods and abandon them. after being held captive in the iconic gingerbread house, Hansel and Gretel escape, and return home to find the spell broken, and their parents reunited.

Emme Chichester Clark's charming and whimsical art accompanies this story. It's beautiful pastels lend a french country air to the story, and little girls will adore the bright, girly colours. Most boys will enjoy the story too, but perhaps more for the witch's deservedly grisly end rather than the pretty art.

Ages 4-10
Fairy Tale
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