Under the Same Sun

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Sharon Robinson invites us to travel with her to Tanzania in her book Under the Same Sun published by Scholastic Press. This lushly illustrated book is based on a family trip that Robinson and her mother took to Africa to visit her brother and his family and to celebrate her mother’s 85th birthday. Robinson is the daughter of the famous baseball superstar Jackie Robinson, and while she and her brother grew up in the suburbs of Connecticut, her brother moved to Tanzania in 1984.

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The most beautiful portion of this book takes place in the first half when the family in Tanzania gets the home ready for their guests, when they wander through the marketplace, and then when the go on a safari through Sarengeti National Park. The illustrartions of the animals, by AG Ford, were absolutely stunning. Continue reading →

The Curious Case of the Missing Mammoth

I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting books to challenge my kids and everyone else’s. From storyline to embellishments, kids get excited when things are a little different. So I was thrilled when I opened the pages of The Curious Case of the Missing Mammoth.

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The story tells of a magic hour where the animals and other things within a museum come to life. The only problem is that Teddy, a baby mammoth, has gotten loose and his older brother Timothy needs to find him and get him back to the museum before the clock strikes one. A young boy, Oscar, see Timothy outside of his bedroom window and goes to help. Continue reading →

Win a Diverse Children’s Book Bundle

Multicultural Children's Book Day Twitter PartyPlease join us for our Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Twitter Party

Win 1 of 12 Book Bundles! Giving away Book Bundles every 6 minutes!

Friday, January 27th

9 pm to 10 pm EST

Hashtag: #ReadYourWorld

We will be discussing the state of children’s book publishing and giving away diversity book bundles every six minutes! We invite EVERYONE to join us: authors, publishers, parents, caregivers, librarians, KidLit lovers. You don’t have to be an author or publisher sponsor to join us! Let’s talk about our favorite multicultural and diverse children’s books, authors, and illustrators!

How do you join the Twitter party? Just use hashtag #ReadYourWorld to find us. When you tweet, use the hashtag so everyone can find you!

Register below to be able to win!!

Continue reading →

Great books for the Inventor in all of us

Yesterday was Benjamin Franklin’s birthday and my daughter’s kindergarten class has been focusing on inventors and inventions because of it. When we think of inventors, we often think of older white men with crazy hair. But there were a lot of amazing inventions created by children and young adults, male and female, black and white.

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picture-book-of-ben-coverSince it was Ben Franklin who got me thinking about this, I did find three very different books about him and his work. For a true biography on the great Ben Franklin, David Adler’s A Picture Book about Benjamin Franklin is a great start! This book focuses less on his inventions and more on the man himself. Some of Franklin’s inventions are cleverly interspersed as he created them with the reasons why he invented them as well.

now-and-ben-coverIn Now and Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin, Gene Barretta highlights a large number of Franklin’s inventions. What makes this book extra interesting is how Barretta juxtaposes how we use these inventions in the current day to when Franklin was creating them. A great way to show the impact that Benjamin Franklin has had on all of us.now_and_ben_2

wit-and-wisdom-coverAlan Schroeder brings us an unusual look at Benjamin Franklin and his inventions in Ben Franklin: His Wit and Wisdom From A-Z. A very interesting way to learn more about this amazing inventor and founding father.

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Emphasizing the power of perseverance, inventors-secret-hires1The Inventor’s Secret: What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford, by Suzanne Slade, alternates between the lives of two inventors, beginning with Thomas Edison, who was 16 years Henry Ford’s senior. Many of Edison’s major inventions are touched on, and young Ford is portrayed as curious as to the secret of Edison’s success. Ford continues to work on developing engines and designing cars and finally seizes the opportunity to meet Edison in person. The two go over Ford’s designs, and Edison urges the younger man to “keep at it!” With that, Ford discovers that “he’d known Thomas’s secret all along!”—a realization illustrated with a light bulb over Ford’s head.

so-you-want-coverWant a quick, fun rundown of a ton of inventors? That is what you get in So You Want to be an Inventor?, by Judith St. George. This colorful book reminds young minds that they “don’t have to have white hair and wrinkles to be an inventor” and then it gives them a slew of examples. The book features some of the world’s best-known inventors-Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Eli Whitney-as well as lesser-known geniuses like Georges de Mestral (inventor of Velcro), Wilhelm Roentgen (inventor of X rays), and Hedy Lamarr (inventor of a system that became the basis for satellite communication). One page highlights that not all inventors are men and focuses specifically on female inventors. Also highlighted is the fact that some inventors work alone while others work as teams and that one great invention can often lead to another. The bottom line is that your invention could change the work, you just have to take the risk.

six-dots-coverInventions often come out of a specific need. Such was the case for Louis Braille. When we think about famous people who are blind, the first name that usually pops into people’s heads is Helen Keller. But we also need to give credit to young Louis Braille, who invented the Braille alphabet, allowing visually impaired people to read. Six Dots, by Jen Bryant, excellently tells the story of how Braille lost his sight at 5, his constant desire to still be able to read, and his creation of the Braille alphabet. A fascinating read.six-dots-inside

whoosh-coverMost kids know the thrill of soaking someone with a water gun, or being soaked themselves, so reading about the guy who invented them is an enticing subject. But Whoosh! is more than just a story about how super soakers were invented. Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions, by Chris Barton, tells of a young boy fascinated with how things worked and who loved to create. It tells of the successes and failures that all inventors deal with. It illustrates how unusual it was for an African-American team to win a major science fair at the University of Alabama in 1968. And then it shows how Lonnie Johnson came up with a great idea that got rejection after rejection until he finally had success. A true story of perseverance and innovation.whoosh-inside

marvelous mattieThere are a ton of female inventors out there, but they don’t get the same kind of recognition that men do. In Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor, Emily Arnold McCully tells the story of Margaret Knight, aka Mattie, who was a brilliant woman who lived from 1838-1914, during the height of the industrial revolution. Her father’s toolbox and her sketchbooks of ideas were her salvation during a very rough childhood of poverty. When she was a child, no one felt that a woman could have an inventive mind, but she always saw ways to improve things. She probably saved many lives by creating a safety device for looms and was the brains behind the flat-bottomed paper bag. When a man tried to steal her invention before she could get it patented, her methodical notebooks and determination proved to a judge that a woman could and did invent the new bags. This book is a wonderful story that  children can relate to and it helps them comprehend the struggles that Mattie and every woman went through so many years ago.

ada lovelaceIn Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, by Laurie Walmark, girls can see the story of the woman credited with creating the first computer language, way before the actual invention of computers. While she didn’t code in the way that we thing of the terms now, she realized that a machine to solve complex equations created by a fellow inventor could not actually run without a detail set of instructions. By using his notebooks and her knowledge of mathematics, she left her mark on the history of computer science.ada-interior

harnessed-the-wind-coverA final fascinating story is that of young Wiliam Kamkwamba told in The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind. This is the picture book version of the autobiography written by Kamkwamba. When a terrible drought struck William Kamkwamba’s tiny village in Malawi, his family lost all of the season’s crops, leaving them with nothing to eat and nothing to sell. William began to explore science books in his village library, looking for a solution. There, he came up with the idea that would change his family’s life forever: he could build a windmill. Made out of scrap metal and old bicycle parts, William’s windmill brought electricity to his home and helped his family pump the water they needed to farm the land. This is a wonderful way to bring a current story to a younger audience.boywhoharnessedthewind_zunon5

While I have focused on nonfiction picture books about inventors, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the outstanding books by Andrea Beatty. Rosie Revere, Engineer, Ada Twist, Scientist, and Iggy Peck, Architect are three of our favorite books and such a wonderful way to show children that they should follow their dreams and believe in themselves. For more information on these books and a few other fiction titles, check out the post I wrote last year.

nfpb2017I have been encouraged by the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy to post about a nonfiction title each week. My goal is to post these books every  Wednesdays. Please check out Kid Lit Frenzy for an amazing resource of nonfiction picture books.

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Save Me a Seat

When the first Scholastic flyers came home from my kids’ school this fall, I gladly spent a chunk of money on books to support their classrooms. While going through their selections, I came across the book “Save Me a Seat” by Sarah Weeks and Gata Varadarajan and bought it on a whim. That whim proved to be a great move because this book was outstanding.

save-me-a-seat-coverSave Me a Seat follows the lives of Joe and Ravi, two fifth graders in a Hamilton, NJ school. Joey and Ravi don’t think that they have anything in common, but soon they realize that they both have a  common enemy, the class bully, and a common mission to take control of their lives. The book switches back and forth between their perspectives as they navigate one week at school.

Ravi has just moved to New Jersey from India and struggles with how different things are in America. In India he had been the most popular kid, star student, and master cricket player. In America everyone mispronounces his name and struggles with his accent and no one cares how smart he is. He wants to be a part of the popular crowd, but he can’t seem to break in.

Joe is exceptionally tall for his age, struggles with Auditory Processing Disorder and is constantly bullied by the other kids in the class. His two closest friends have just moved away and he is also afraid that his new teacher won’t understand that he isn’t stupid. The only subject that he likes is lunch, although now that his mother is working as the lunch-room monitor, even that has lost its appeal. People thing that Joe is slow and that he doesn’t hear what is being said, but in reality, he hears and notices everything, he just sometimes struggles with what to focus on.

The antagonist of the story is Dillon Samreen. Dillion is an American-born Indian, a kleptomaniac, and the class bully. Ravi believes that they will be fast friends since they share the common Indian background. Little does he realize that Dillion is constantly making fun of him, stealing his things, and even trips him in class one day. Joe knows that Dillion is nothing but a bully and simply tries to stay out of his way.

As the week progresses, they go through typical experiences in school. You can feel Ravi’s frustration when he tries to show that he is intelligent and capable yet fails simply because things are done differently in America than they are in India. You come to appreciate how observant Joe is and how well he understands people.

Both boys also deal with issues in their family life. Ravi’s family is unsure of American ways of doing things and are also vegetarian. In addition to his parents, Ravi’s grandparents have also moved with them and so generational differences play in. Joe’s mother recently lost her job and wound up taking a job as the lunch room monitor at Joe’s school. Joe’s father is often on the road working as a truck driver. Both boys struggle to have their families understand how difficult school can be and the social difficulties that they both face.

Each day of the week is separated into its own section and titled by whatever food is being served in the cafeteria. This emphasizes the importance of food in all cultures and highlights how different Ravi’s family is from those around him. Food has always been an important way to understand different cultures, but in American schools, it has also been a way to ridicule those who bring items that are seen as “different.” Ravi avoids eating hot lunch and brings foods that are foreign to those around him.

But even with all of the differences, by the end of the book both boy learns to stand on his own two feet and each manage to show the other that they are not alone. They each manage to stand up to Dillion Samreen in their own way and we are left to feel that a new friendship is blossoming.

I thought that this was a marvelous way to show that we never really know what is going on in someone’s head and that the person you least suspect to be your friend might just be your best ally. Ravi even realizes that he is getting a taste of his own medicine when the popular boys won’t include him as that is how he treated others when he was in India. Joe’s character is incredibly endearing once he manages to get past his fears. When both boys manage to believe in themselves, they truly shine.

I purchased this book on my own, but Scholastic is a Platinum Sponsor of this year’s Multicultural Children’s Book Day and this book deserves some love.

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Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is in its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team is on a mission to change all of that.

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include ScholasticBarefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. RomanAudrey Press, Candlewick Press,  Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTVCapstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle SwiftWisdom Tales PressLee& Low BooksThe Pack-n-Go GirlsLive Oak MediaAuthor Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books

Author Sponsor include: Karen Leggett AbourayaVeronica AppletonSusan Bernardo, Kathleen BurkinshawDelores Connors, Maria DismondyD.G. DriverGeoff Griffin Savannah HendricksStephen HodgesCarmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid ImaniGwen Jackson,  Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana LlanosNatasha Moulton-LevyTeddy O’MalleyStacy McAnulty,  Cerece MurphyMiranda PaulAnnette PimentelGreg RansomSandra Richards, Elsa TakaokaGraciela Tiscareño-Sato,  Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

MCBD Links to remember:

MCBD site: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/

Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta

Free Kindness Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teachers-classroom-kindness-kit/

Free Diversity Book Lists and Activities for Teachers and Parents: http://bit.ly/1sZ5s8i

Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use their official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

The Orphan Singer

orphan-coverThere are times when books move us, but we can’t put our finger on exactly what it is that sets it apart. The Orphan Singer, by Emily Arnold McCully, is one such book. Even more interesting is that the story is based on real Venetian institutions that cared for orphaned girls while giving them amazing musical educations.

The Orphan Singer tells of a family in 18th century Venice with a musically gifted son, Antonio Dolci. He loves to sing and has the voice of an angel but his family cannot afford vocal training due to their extreme poverty. When their newborn daughter, Nina, shows signs of musical prodigy as well, they lament keeping her from her destiny. A brilliant, but tragic idea comes in the form of “abandoning” her to the “ospedalo,” an orphanage that also boasted a superb music conservatory. orphan-singer-3

The young girl, renamed Caterina by the ospedalo, grows and is an outstanding singer. While her voice is angelic, her behavior is problematic, causing friction with the instructors. The pain of the Dolcis’ sacrifice eases somewhat as they eventually attend concerts performed by the ospedalo’s chorus and befriend their growing daughter, never informing her of their bond. When the family doesn’t appear one day because Antonio is deathly ill, she realizes how important they are to her and sneaks out to him. When Caterina’s voice proves the elixir that heals Antonio, she knows that their bond can only be one of family.

orphan-singer-2Caterina knows that she should be kicked out of the chorus for sneaking out, but fortunately, the teacher who opens the door upon her return is kind and understands why she went. That kindness is paid back tenfold as it teaches Caterina to lead with kindness and teach all of the younger girls.

Both J and I really enjoyed this book. The illustrations pull you back to Venice in the 1800s. The rich colors in the clothes of those with money versus the drab clothing of those without is an example of the simple, but important details. This is a true to life story of a society that treasured music and artistic talent. Filled with beautiful artwork and fascinating details, this book is a masterpiece.

Our Country’s Presidents – Learn Way More than Just Who They Were

In just over a week we will inaugurate this country’s 45th President. In time for that event, National Geographic has released Our Country’s Presidents: A Complete Encyclopedia of the U.S. Presidency by Ann Bausum. In this outstanding book, not only does Bausum cover every president from George Washington through President-Elect Trump’s victory speech, but she also covers topics about the presidency itself, the White House and its traditions, and other historic moments connected to the presidency.

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As my oldest has gotten to the age where not only is she beginning to understand the role of the government, but is also going to be studying it more in school, I see this book as an invaluable tool.

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Our Country’s Presidents begins with a marvelous spread about the presidency itself. It encourages readers to delve deeper into the book by giving teasers about why various presidents attracted attention or funny stories they are known for. From nicknames to milestones and the myriad of questions we have about the men who have run this country, Our Country’s Presidents plans to enlighten and enrich.

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It is great to have basic facts and figures on each president in one place. While this is an encyclopedia, it is also a fascinating history book on our country. Our Country’s Presidents also pays respect to the women behind each of these presidents, women who have made important impacts on our history even though standard history books often overlook them.

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Timelines and descriptions of of crucial events that occurred while each president was in office lay the foundation, while thematic spreads run the gamut of issues surrounding the presidency —including the history of voting rights, what presidents have accomplished AFTER their time in office was over, campaign strategies, party politics, first ladies, presidential perks, White House traditions like the annual Easter Egg Hunt, and how letter writing may be a bit “old school” in our every day life it has always had a place in the oval office — even today.

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Given how quickly this was published, Bausum also did an amazing job of covering the 2016 election. There are interesting pages that kids today will find especially interesting about the role of the Electoral College and a way to see how the Presidents compare in a variety of areas.

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For any family looking to better understand the role of the president and the White House itself, this is a great new addition.

*** Note – I did receive a copy of this for review, but all opinions are purely my own.

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I have been encouraged by the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy to post about a nonfiction title each week. While I wouldn’t classify this book as a nonfiction picture book, most of the books that I post on Wednesdays will be. Please check out Kid Lit Frenzy for an amazing resource of nonfiction picture books.

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Emma is On the Air – Introducing a Spunky New Character

cohostEvery January I look forward to participating in Multicultural Children’s Book Day. This year, I’m even more excited to be a co-host, so be prepared for a slew of posts featuring great books as we get closer to the January 27th link-up event.

This year Multicultural Children’s Book Day is super excited to welcome Scholastic books as a Platinum Sponsor. I have watched Scholastic really make an effort to not only publish more diverse books in the past year or so, but to also promote them in the flyers that they send home (I’m such a sucker for those). One of the books that I received from Scholastic as part of this year’s event is Emma is on the Air: Big News!, the first book in a great new series aimed at 7-10 year olds. My 6 year old loved it so much that we’ve already placed an order for book two!

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Emma is on the Air is written by veteran journalist Ida Siegal. The characters and plot lines are inspired by all the children who approach her in the field, asking what it’s like to be a reporter. The characters are also inspired by her home life in which she was born and raised in New York City, but her husband is from the Dominican Republic, so her children speak both Spanish and English at home.

In the first installment, Emma is on the Air: Big News!, young Emma is trying to find a way to become famous. When watching the news with her father one evening, she sees a journalist who completely catches her eye and she decides that that’s the key to her fame. From there her father, a journalist himself, gives her lessons in what kind of stories need to be told and how to go about collecting information. When a boy in her school find a worm in his hamburger the next day, the stage is set for her big break.

The story allows Emma to give a nice lesson in basic journalism by having her interview key witnesses, gather clues and write up her reports while getting tips from her father. When she manages to solve the mystery of the wormburger, she even thinks that “maybe the helping part felt better than the famous part…Nah that is silly.”

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E and I read this story together and really enjoyed it. Young readers are grabbed by Emma’s excitement for life and for the gross factor in finding a worm in your hamburger. Emma is also all about style, something my 6 year old can’t get enough of. Even when she is writing her story, she uses a microphone with a big purple E on it, “a shiny purple feather pencil with extra-special sparkles and a special purple reporter’s pad to take notes.”emma-accessories

Emma is on the Air is a great series that just so happens to also feature a multicultural character. In my opinion, that’s exactly how it is supposed to be done. It is great to see an early chapter book that allows Latin American children see themselves in the pages and to bring the larger cultural world to all of our children. Well done!

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cropped-site-header

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is in its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team is on a mission to change all of that.

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include ScholasticBarefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. RomanAudrey Press, Candlewick Press,  Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTVCapstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle SwiftWisdom Tales PressLee& Low BooksThe Pack-n-Go GirlsLive Oak MediaAuthor Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books

Author Sponsor include: Karen Leggett AbourayaVeronica AppletonSusan Bernardo, Kathleen BurkinshawDelores Connors, Maria DismondyD.G. DriverGeoff Griffin Savannah HendricksStephen HodgesCarmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid ImaniGwen Jackson,  Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana LlanosNatasha Moulton-LevyTeddy O’MalleyStacy McAnulty,  Cerece MurphyMiranda PaulAnnette PimentelGreg RansomSandra Richards, Elsa TakaokaGraciela Tiscareño-Sato,  Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

MCBD Links to remember:

MCBD site: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/

Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta

Free Kindness Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teachers-classroom-kindness-kit/

Free Diversity Book Lists and Activities for Teachers and Parents: http://bit.ly/1sZ5s8i

Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use their official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

Cracking the Code with EJ12

Kids love when books come in a series. Don’t believe me? Just check out the proliferation of trilogies in the last number of years. Young readers simply get hooked on a character and once they know that they like one book, they also know that they don’t have to go searching through the vast library of other options to have another book to read. I have no problem with that, but finding good series can be challenging. One that J has been devouring lately, and that E really wants to be able to read, is the EJ12: Girl Hero series by Susannah McFarlane.

0009763_hot_cold_ej_12EJ12 is an adventure series for young girls where the girl is the hero. The concept of the  series is that young Emma Jacks is an average ten-year-old girl who just happens to also be EJ12 – “a field agent and ace code-cracker in the under-twelve division of SHINE, a secret agency that protects the world from evildoers.” As Emma Jacks, she often struggles and doubts herself, but as EJ12 she believes that she can accomplish anything. Each book features a situation that she needs to deal with in her everyday life as Emma Jacks as well as a mission that she has to solve as EJ12.

I actually found this video from Susannah McFarlane about the series and one of the things she says that I love is that “EJ is more competent than confident and she needs to trust herself a little bit more.” I also think it is awesome that she specifically wanted a book series where the girl was “hero front and center,” rather than how Hermione is a major hero in Harry Potter, but not the main focus.

In each book, EJ12 must solve various codes to solve her mission for Shine. As she explains in book 1, codes are “confusing at first because they looked like one things and then turned out to be something else…But once you understood how they worked, they were easy to handle.” Interestingly, she understands that there are similarities between codes and people, but while she can crack the codes she gets faced with for a mission, she is struggling with cracking the code of other 10 year olds.

0014236_drama_queen_book_8These books are aimed at 7-10 year olds, those who have graduated from early chapter books and are ready to read something with a little more meat. I wish I had known about these books when J was younger, but even though they are like candy for her, they deal with some of the emotional issues that a girl who is about to be 10 deals with, so for that reason, they are still perfect. E will be getting to these in probably the next year, so at least that is a plus.

EJ12 is an import from Australia via the Kane Miller portion of Usborne Books & More. As you may or may not know, I am an independent consultant with Usborne Books. You can find EJ12 here. You might also consider hosting a party and earning some truly amazing books for free!

Serving Up Soup from a Stone

Over the years, many have told the story of Stone Soup in which hungry strangers trick a town into feeding them by making soup from a stone. As with many folk tales, the story changes with each retelling, but the backbone stays the same. A hungry stranger, or two, enters a town. When the locals refuse to help him he proceeds to make some form of stone soup. The natives are curious about how you could possibly do this and set about watching him. They are then wisely tricked into providing the actual sustenance and the town shares a meal together. It is a tale in which people are initially unwilling to help a stranger, but in the end, realize that kindness and sharing make everything better.

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fandango-stew1A very fun version of the story is Fandango Stew, by David Davis. In this telling, Luis and his grandfather are dead broke, but as they ride into the town of Skinflint, they have a plant to make Fandango stew for the town, with one tiny bean. They slowly get people to offer up ingredients, playing on the fact that the folks of Skinflint don’t want to be out done by any of the other town that Luis and his abuelo have been to. The town comes together, as all do, and make a fine fandango stew. When the sherriff asks where he can find a fandango bean, they explain that they are just simple pinto beans – “Any bean makes a fine fandango stew. Just add generosity and kindness.”fandango-party

cactus-soup-coverIn a very similar style, Eric A. Kimmel brings forth his version in Cactus Soup. Per his author’s note, Kimmel sets his version in the time of the Mexican Revolution, somewhere between 1910 and 1922. When a group of hungry soldiers ride into San Miguel, the townspeople don’t want to share their food. They hide their tortillas, tamales, beans, and flour and put on torn clothes to look poor. But the Capitán is not fooled. He asks for a cactus thorn to make some cactus soup, and before long he has tricked the townspeople into giving him salt and chilies, vegetables, and a chicken as well! He goes a step further and tells the town that cactus soup always tastes better if you have something to go with it, and soon a full fiesta is thrown with tamales, chorizo, camotes, and several fat roasting pigs.cactus-soup-inside

stone-soup-matzoh Linda Glaser takes us to the village of Chelm, known in Jewish folklore as a village of fools, in Stone Soup with Matzoh Balls. When a poor stranger arrives as Passover is about to start, even though it is a part of the Passover tradition to welcome the stranger, the village encourages him to go elsewhere. No food? No worries. He will make the most delicious matzoh ball soup from a stone. He of course tricks them into bringing the specific ingredients, but Yenta is unconvinced because there are still no matzoh balls. Oh yes! “That stone of mine makes the best matzoh balls in the world – so big and heavy they’ll sit in your belly like rocks all 8 days of Passover.” Very few people like heavy matzoh balls and most claim theirs are the lightest and fluffiest. The women of Chelm step up and say they make the best matzoh balls ever and make hundreds to add to the soup. The town must hold their seder in the synagogue for it is the only place in town that will hold everyone, and that Passover, everyone in Chelm had a fully belly and a full heart.matzoh-inside

muth-stoneJon J. Muth retells the story with three monks who are contemplating what makes one truly happy as they come upon a village that had been through many hard times. The villagers had become distrustful of strangers and even of other villagers. When the monks entered the village, all inhabitants pretended not to be there. “These people do not know happiness, but today we will show them how to make stone soup.”As with all stone soup stories, the monks trick the villagers into adding extras. “Something magical begins to happen among the villagers. As each person opened their heart to give, the next person gave even more and as this happened the soup grew richer and smelled more delicious.” The town was able to enjoy a wonderful feast together, and as the monks got ready to leave, the villagers thanked them for making them realize that “sharing makes us all richer.”muth-interior

forrest-coverHeather Forest takes the stinginess to a different level in her rendition of Stone Soup. Two hungry travelers arrive at a village expecting to find a household that will share a bit of food, as has been the custom along their journey. They come to the first door and kindly ask the woman, “Please, we are hungry. Do you care? will you share? do you have any food?” To their surprise, villager after villager refuses to share, each one closing the door with a bang. As they sit to rest beside a well, one of the travelers observes that if the townspeople have no food to share, they must be “in greater need than we are.” With that, the travelers demonstrate their special recipe for a magical soup, using a stone as a starter. They explain that the soup would be better with a carrot or onion, but knew that they had asked before and everyone had nothing to share with them. However, before long, everyone in the town had been able to give just a little and it soon became a lot. The town was amazed that the travelers had made such a delicious soup out of a stone.  But it was not just a stone, it was “out of a stone and a magical ingredient…sharing.”forest-interior

bone-button-coverIn Bone Button Borscht, by Aubrey Davis, a hungry beggar comes to a poor town on a cold and snowy evening. No door is opened to him until he sees a light and enters the synagogue. The caretaker, the shamas, does not answer his greeting so the beggar takes the five buttons off his coat and asks for one more in order to make Bone Button Borscht. Bowls, cups, ladles, and a pot wouldn’t hurt either, he explains. As the shamas goes from door to door seeking the ingredients, the incredulous townspeople gather round and provide the food that will make the soup just a little more tasty. Such a miracle. Such a joyous feast. They don’t need a single button to make a soup. In times of scarcity, they need each other. And that, writes Davis, is “.. the real miracle the beggar left behind.”bone-button-inside

No matter which version you choose, this is a timeless story that encourages children to think of the bigger society instead of just themselves. Soup, and food in general, always tastes better when it is shared with others. Now I’m off to make some more soup here before the snow hits.

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