Reading for Fun vs. Required reading

It’s interesting watching your reader grow in maturity. This year has seen great strides for J who continues to grow, not only as a reader, but in general maturity. Friday morning I was reading a post from the Nerdy Book Club about the “just right” book and what that means and it resounded with me. I am happy to say that J has never focused much on her “level” and always has read for pleasure. She has had great teachers and I’m definitely not one to push for reading levels.

These days, unfortunately, many kids focus a great deal on the “level” of the book and less on the story itself. That’s one thing if the book is required reading, but if you are reading for pleasure, it should be just that – pleasurable. When J was obsessed with Harry Potter or the Land of Stories, it was like you couldn’t pull her away from them. She knew every detail backward and forward. She could actually even recite the chapter titles from the first Harry Potter book.

So these year I watch with fascination as J approaches her required reading list for the Battle of the Books. J has long desired to be a part of the Battle of the Books. While she could easily read and comprehend most of the books at an early age, the rules state that you have to be in 4th or 5th grade for the elementary competition. A big reason for this, I believe, is less about reading level and more about having the maturity to read books that you don’t necessarily like all that much. She took a quick break from one book in order to plow through another and the different purposes and the distinction feels very clear to me.

6795756The first book she is reading is Woods Runner, by Gary Paulsen. This is one of the books for the Battle of the Books this year and tells of a 13 year old boy living in the American frontier during the American Revolution. While Samuel is out hunting one day, his parents are taken captive by British soldiers. Samuel then sets out to find them. The story is filled with very detailed descriptions of muskets, rifles, bayonets and other weapons of the time. There are also many instances where readers learn of the practice of scalping someone. After each chapter there is also a page with historical notes that help fill in some of the holes that might exist by reading a book that takes place in such a different time. I would say that we are about half-way done with this book and while some parts are fabulous and keep you yearning to know what it going to happen, there are many other parts that you just have to trudge through.

23208632The second book is Gertie’s Leap to Greatness. She inhaled this book. It was given to her on Thursday afternoon and by Sunday evening she had finished it. When I asked her what she liked about it, she just said it was great. I’ve started reading it myself, but haven’t gotten into the heart of the book yet. Gertie has been compared to Ramona Quimby, but slightly older and definitely more modern.

The story is primarily about Gertie Reece Foy, a fifth grade girl who has made it her goal in life to become the best fifth grader in the universe.  Why? Her mother had moved out when she was a baby, but a few days before 5th grade started, Gertie saw a for sale sign in her mother’s front yard. Gertie feels the need to become her absolute best self so that she can walk up to her mother’s door, hand her back a locket that she had given her, and then her mother “would know that Gertie Foy was one-hundred-percent, not-from-concentrate awesome and that she didn’t need a mother anyway. So there.” But there is just one problem in Gertie’s plan. The new girl, Mary Sue Spivey, also wants to be the best fifth grader.

This book is the trials and tribulations of an 10 year old trying to become her best possible self. In seeking out her greater self, she stumbles upon the greatness that was already inside of her. Even if the kids who are reading it don’t completely get that message, they will see her try new things, fail, and pick herself right back up and figure out a new plan of action. Gertie’s “leap” to greatness is really made up of many small steps that all of us need to take.

I loved watching J tear through a book again, it just really made me think about how we all approach books. When a book really moves a kid, or an adult, they simply can’t put it down. Gertie’s Leap to Greatness, Serafina and the Twisted Staff, Frindle, The Monster War, these are the books that have been favorites recently in between the required reading she has done. She’s definitely enjoyed some of the BOB books more than others and doesn’t wait for me to share in the reading, but she absorbs them and enjoys them in a completely different way. That’s okay, she is learning of the wide variety of styles and flavors out there. If only we could all be as smart as our kids.

The Courage to Try Something New – The Sandwich Swap

sandwich-coverWe read picture books to better understand the world around us. We read picture books to teach lessons in an enjoyable way. Sometimes picture books can help encourage children to change their behaviors, try new things, consider things in a different way. The Sandwich Swap, by Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah is one of those wonderful books that gently reminds children that having the courage to try something new can have wonderful results.

This story tells of two little girls who are best friends at school. We see that they are inseparable and love doing things together, including eating lunch. But what they eat each day is different – Lily eats PB&J and Salma eats hummus and pita. Silently, each girl looked at her friend’s lunch and thought it was gross and strange. One day, Lily just couldn’t hold back her negative thoughts and tells Salma that she thinks her sandwich looks kind of yucky.

sandwich-fightSalma is of course hurt by the unkind words and lashes back with similar words of her own. A rift grows between the girls. At the same time, the rest of the school hears of the peanut butter vs. hummus story and people start to take sides. More negative words fly about the food, but pretty soon the rude insults have nothing to do with food and are just mean. A food fight ends the name calling and both girls wind up in the principal’s office.

But the fight has made the girls realize that things have gotten out of hand and that their friendship was more important. They decide to try each other’s sandwiches and realize that what they thought was disgusting is actually quite delicious. The two hatch a plan for a special school-wide event encouraging everyone to try foods from all of the various nations of the students.


Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah wrote The Sandwich Swap loosely based on experiences that she had as a child. Every day, her mother would send her to school with a hummus and pita sandwich. One day she watched a friend open her lunch box and eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and was revolted. She tasted her friend’s sandwich because she didn’t want to hurt her feelings and was shocked that the item she thought was so disgusting was actually quite delicious.

As the Queen says in the back of this splendid book, “It’s easy to jump to conclusions when we come across something new or foreign or strange. But if we take the time to get to know each other, stand in each other’s shoes, and listen to a different point of view, we learn something wonderful – about someone else and about ourselves.”

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark

What’s the sign of a truly awesome book? When your kids ask to read it over and over again. I’m thrilled to say that both of my girls are enthralled with the exceptional biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.


This book seems like a book about disagreeing, but really, it’s about how Ruth Bader Ginsburg helped change our country for the better by arguing for the things that she believed in, one disagreement at a time.

The book starts at RBG’s childhood where she learned early from her mother that it was okay to disagree with the status quo. At that time, Ruth lived among many different immigrant cultures in who all unfortunately shared one viewpoint – boys were expected to grow up and do big things while girls were expected to find husbands. Ruth’s mother, Celia, taught her that girls should be able to make their mark as well and encouraged Ruth to read about strong women from books in the library.


Ruth was also confronted with prejudice at an early age based on her religion, but it made her aware of prejudices against other groups as well. She never forgot the sting of prejudice and it impacted how she treated others in return.


One thing this book makes painfully clear is how difficult it was to be a woman in the 50s, 60s and 70s. When Ruth went to Cornell in the 50s she was considered different when she wasn’t just going to college to meet a husband. When she wanted to go to law school, people disapproved. When she graduated from law school, tied in her class for first place among 9 women and 500 men, she couldn’t find a job because no one wanted to hire a female lawyer (especially a Jewish one).


This biography does a great job of showing how many changes women have had to make over the years.


As a lawyer RBG appeared before the Supreme Court to fight for the equal treatment of women. “She wasn’t only fighting for women. When women were excluded from the work world, men were excluded from home life.” She has fought for equal rights for all Americans in the workplace, in the court system, and the schools. She believes that all people should be treated equally regardless of race, color or sex and has worked tirelessly to make sure our nation’s systems treat them the same. “Her voice sings out for equality…[and] step by step, she has made a difference.”


Now I just have to go and read the grown-up version, The Notorious RBG.

This is one of many amazing non-fiction picture books that I first heard about as a part of Kid Lit Frenzy’s non-fiction picture book challenge. It has quickly become a family favorite. You never know what amazing books you can find when you check out the awesome collection of linked up blogs.



A Learning Lesson in A Long Walk to Water

Every year schools across the state of North Carolina compete in the Battle of the Books. There is an elementary level and a middle school level. The elementary Battle of the Books is only open to kids in the 4th and 5th grade. J has been waiting to be able to be a part of the team since 2nd grade. She hopes to make the team this year, although there are more kids wanting to be on her school’s team than will be allowed.

What I have always loved about the BOB is that they produce a list of books that each child is supposed to read and then answer questions on. I know that some of my friends have had some issues with the questions themselves, but that’s not what this post is about. What is great about the list is that the books cover a wide array of topics, genres and levels and are often books that children wouldn’t generally just pick up on their own. The latest in J’s string of great books read is A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park.

alongwalktowaterA Long Walk to Water is a book that is based on the true story of Salva Dut, a young boy who is forced to flee his village and his family in 1985 at the age of 11 during the Second Sudanese Civil War. It is told in alternating perspectives from Salva and Nya, a young girl in Sudan in 2008 who has to walk to a pond that is 2 hours away from her home every day in order to get her family water, but the main story is Salva’s.

Sudan in the 1980s was ravaged by a civil war. The war had many issues, but it was at it’s heart a war between the Northern Muslims and the Southern Christians and native spiritualists. When Salva is forced to flee his village and wander, not only do younger readers have a hard time understanding what he is going through, but they are additionally confused when many adults don’t want to help the young boy. It is talking points like this that make these BOB selections so fabulous.

Salva becomes one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, a large group of boys who have been separated from their families and wind up in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. He learns a great deal about himself and his strengths as he walks the long journey with thousands of other refugees. He is one of the fortunate ones and is relocated to the United States in 1996.

The other story that is being told is more current and even more important for our children to understand. Young Nya’s story is told in brief snippets of only a page or two at a time. Nya is a young girl in Sudan in 2008. She can’t go to school because every day she must trek to the pond and back two times in order to bring her family the water that they need to survive. The water is filthy and it is a two hour walk, but it is their only option. During the dry months, the family must uproot itself so they can be closer to a different pond, or they would be completely without water. Children get sick from the dirty water that they drink, especially as they are not always able to wait to allow the water to boil and sometimes they don’t even have enough to let it boil. As the story proceeds, people come to her village to dig a well and enable them to not only have clean water readily available, but then to allow the children to also go to school.

A Long Walk to Water is a very powerful and well written book. J and I both learned a great deal while reading it and it gives kids an important insight into the fact that there are many people in our world whose lives are not nearly as easy as our own.  Reading this also came at the same time as a friend of ours is working on her mitzvah project trying to help bring clean water to Africa, so I used both as talking points with J. This is the great way that books open up conversations to help truly educate our children to the broader world around us.

Science Books for Young Readers

For a long time we’ve really focused on the books that J has enjoyed reading. Now that E is in kindergarten and her reading has grown by leaps and bounds, I felt like I should include some of the items that she is picking out and bringing home.

In E’s class they are allowed to pick a book for whatever level they are at and we are supposed to read it together. After she can read it with me or her father, she brings it back to class, reads it with her teacher and picks out another book. What I have been fascinated by is that the last number of books that she has chosen have all been non-fiction texts about animals. We had dolphins, sharks and the latest was polar bears.

Getting kids hooked on non-fiction at an early age is really important. We start them out on all kinds of stories, but as they grow and start to develop their own passions, non-fiction texts get them more involved with the subjects that intrigue them. We’ve always known that E had a love of all things fashion, music, and art, but I was actually shocked when she started bringing home books about wild animals.

fullsizerenderFollow the Polar Bears was one of our books from last week. This is a simple story that talks about two polar bear cubs and things they do as they are just starting out in life. The pictures are the main focus, but there are simple words with rhymes that help it move along.fullsizerender_1

Some of the words were challenging for E, but she learned a lot about the polar bear and enjoyed watching the cubs grow.


These books along with the Step into Reading non-fiction titles are a great jumping off point for young readers. I didn’t get my post up on Wednesday, but I’m still going to include this in the non-fiction picture book challenge. Check out Kid Lit Frenzy for more outstanding titles!



Great Books about the High Holidays

It is once again time for the Jewish High Holiday season. I haven’t written about books that cover this ten day period of reflection and repentance in a few years, so I thought it was time to approach it again.collages17

The holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are important not only because they are the start of the new year, but because they are a time for people to think about their behaviors over the past year and how to approach the new year in a better way. It is time to cast off the sins and bad behaviors you might have had and to approach the year with a clean slate. Given the importance of these holidays for those in the Jewish faith, there are a number of truly excellent books to help younger children understand the complicated notion of Teshuva or returning to spiritual purity.

talia-and-rudeTalia and the Rude Vegetables – This fun book takes a misunderstanding of the term “root vegetables” and spins it into a parable of rude behaviors. Talia’s grandmother asks her to get seven different root vegetables from the garden for a Rosh Hashana stew, but she thinks she has been asked to get rude vegetables. “How can a vegetable be rude? Does it annoy its brothers and sisters? Does it talk back to its parents?” As she ponders these questions, she realizes that her own behavior over the past year hasn’t been perfect and that she must ask for forgiveness and do better.

Talia begins digging up vegetables. Since her grandmother requested rude vegetables, she places the beautiful ones into a separate basket. The “ornery onion” that doesn’t want to be pulled up, however, gets put into the pot for grandmother, as does the “garish garlic” who is just trying to show off.

Before bringing her grandmother the rude vegetables, Talia brings the good ones to the rabbi so that someone else can enjoy them. Without even meaning to, she performed the perfect mitzvah of helping feed others while also thinking about how to make her own behaviors better for the coming year. A great book for kids about thinking about their own actions while also doing good and caring for those around them.

gabriel-hornGabriel’s Horn – I think that Eric Kimmel might be one of my favorite authors when it comes to Jewish children’s books. This year he has a new book out called Gabriel’s horn. I have not gotten my hands on this book yet, but the little bits of preview and this information from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency show how wonderful it is.

On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, a young African-American soldier knocks on the door of the apartment where a young boy, Gabriel, lives with his parents, who are struggling to hang on to their small antiques shop. The solider explains he is going overseas and has no one to care for his special horn that once belonged to his grandpa, a musician, and brings good luck. Gabriel convinces his reluctant mom they can care for the horn. The name on the soldier’s uniform says Tishbi — the birthplace of the prophet Elijah, who is said to appear mysteriously on Earth, often disguised as a beggar who leaves behind him blessings of good fortune or health. Over the years Gabriel engages in tzedakah (acts of charity), and the horn magically brightens each time until its gleaming shine represents Gabriel’s family’s kindness and new prosperity.

This book will help children understand just how important tzedekah (helping those in need) is in the Jewish culture. When Gabriel and his family were blessed with what they needed, they then turned around and helped others in need. It will show children that people will often be blessed when they reach out to help and bless others, even when times look desperate.

Even Higher – There are actually two versions of this story available, but the basic story is the same as they are adapted from I.L Peretz’s “If Not Higher.”

even-higher-ungerIn Richard Unger’s version published in 2007, the boys of Nemirov are curious as to where their esteemed rabbi goes each year on the day before Rosh Hashanah. Rumor has it that he ascends to heaven to beg God to forgive the sins of the villagers, but Yossel, Menachem, and Reuven are skeptical and the bigger boys agree that Reuven should find out exactly what the rabbi is up to. He secretly follows him home, hides under his bed, and trails him the next day. Discovering that the man, disguised as a woodcutter, ventures into the forest to chop wood and deliver it to a poor widow, the boy reports back to his friends that not only does the rabbi ascend to heaven, but he ascends “even higher.”

even-higher-kimmelIn 2010, Eric Kimmel tells the same story from the viewpoint of a skeptical Litvak stranger, who does not believe in miracles. The villagers are certain their rabbi flies up to heaven to speak with God before the fate of every soul is decided for the coming year. But a skeptical Litvak scoffs at the villagers, claiming miracles cannot happen, and secretly follows the rabbi early one morning. What he witnesses–an enormous act of human compassion–changes his heart.  The bright mixed-media pictures in folk-art style show the rabbi’s hard work and joyful movements, a powerful, earthy contrast to the magic realism that the shtetl people imagine. Steeped in Yiddish idiom, the story sends an unforgettable message: the skeptic changes and sees that ordinary kindness is enough to save the world.

secret-shofarThe Secret Shofar of Barcelona – Many of the books about the High Holidays are aimed at a very young audience. This book really raises the bar being aimed at children grades 2-5. The first page of the book tells about a time in history when the rulers of Spain decreed that everyone must be Catholic. While most Jews sailed to other lands, many stayed in Spain and pretended to follow Catholic ways.

In the story, young Rafael’s father is the conductor of the Royal Orchestra of Barcelona. He convinces the Duke to hold a concert on Rosh Hashana so that Conversos could come together to celebrate the New Year being shielded by the celebration for the concert. Rafael thinks it would be special to add the call of the Shofar in with the other native instruments that his father has planned – hiding the shofar in plain sight.

The book explains the history of the shofar and the significance of the four different calls made yearly at Rosh Hashana. The Jews at the festival are touched by the sound they have longed to hear for so long and the Duke enjoys the music as well. A great way to bring an interesting part of Jewish history into the Rosh Hashana story.

Tashlich is an important ceremony that many people do as a part of their Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur observance. Usually it takes place on Rosh Hashana, however, in our little congregation we have Tashlich on the Sunday between the two holidays. The concept of Tashlich is to throw away the sins of the past year by throwing breadcrumbs into the water.

tashlich-turltle-rockTashlilch at Turtle Rock was co-written by Rabbi Susan Schnur and her daughter Anna Schnur-Fishman. What is wonderful about this book is that it is based on additional customs that their family have incorporated into Tashlich. Not only do they cast off their sins, they focus on the good things that have happened in the past year and a promise they would like to make for the coming year. In the story, young Annie leads them on a hiking path and they spend their time contemplating their year and changes they would like to see for the future. They share them all with each other except for the sins that they throw away with the breadcrumbs. They complete their hike at the old log where they share in apples and honey symbolizing the sweetness of the Jewish New Year. They also recite a special prayer that Annie’s mother has written:

“God, we have thrown out our mistakes and regrets. And we have picked the best things from the year to keep with us. Help us start over. Help us remember our vows and promises. And protect us this whole long year.” For that, may everyone say, Amen!

gershonGershon’s Monster – Another fabulous Eric Kimmel book to add to the list! In this tale, based on a Chasidic story, Kimmel brings in the importance not only of repenting for one’s sins or wrong-doings, but actually going about making changes. It is not enough to say you’ve done something bad, you must actually take the steps to amend your ways or your sins will come back to haunt you.

Gershon was not always the best person he could be. True, the mistakes he made were common, ordinary things: a broken promise, a temper lost for no reason, a little untruth told here and there. But unlike most people, Gershon never regretted what he did. He never apologized or asked anyone’s forgiveness. Rather than regret or atone for his everyday mistakes, baker Gershon simply sweeps them into his basement. At Rosh Hashana, he places all his sins and flaws, that hang on you like fringes with faces, from the cellar into a sack and take them down to the Black Sea. There in the Sea, he deposits them and forgets them. But do sins just disappear if true repentance is missing?

Of course, Gershon must discover sooner or later that his selfish acts cannot be disposed of so easily. In spite of a pointed warning from a rabbi, Gershon refuses to realize that his behavior will come back to haunt him someday. It’s only when he is faced with the monstrous bulk of his misdeeds that Gershon finally, truly repents.

shira-templeShira at the Temple – This summer at a Jewish educators conference I stumbled upon the Shira Series of books by Galia Sabbag. This series was inspired by Sabbag’s many years as a teacher herself and the students in her classes. Shira at the Temple is the story of a little girl trying to understand the holiday of Yom Kippur and how to pray to God. The story itself was inspired by a Chasidic folk tale that our rabbi actually used as his story for the children at this year’s Rosh Hashana service.

The first part of the book is about Yom Kippur itself – that it is the day of looking inward and asking if you were the best person you could be. It explains why adults fast and the importance of saying that you are sorry to people you may have hurt. I love the fact that the book is sprinkled with actual words in Hebrew, not just transliterated Hebrew.

As Shira goes sits at the temple on Yom Kippur listening to the Rabbi and cantor chanting prayers, mostly in Hebrew, she wants to pray, but doesn’t know how, especially since she cannot yet read Hebrew. While she couldn’t yet read Hebrew, she could recite her Hebrew alef-bet. She offers that up to God as her prayer so that God could take the letters and “make the most wonderful Yom Kippur prayer out of them.” The Rabbi hugged Shira and told her how special her prayer was simply because it was true and told from her heart. This is a series that I’m very glad to have found.

hardestwordThe Hardest Word – This is by far one of my favorite tales for the High Holidays and for every day. This story tells the tale of a mythical creature called the Ziz. He is a giant flying bird creature who happens to be something of a klutz. When flying through the air, he sometimes knocks into objects that have repercussions when they fall down to earth. He always tries to fix the problems before anyone notices, but one day he does some damage that he can’t figure out how to repair. The Ziz can’t figure it out on his own, so he goes to Mt. Sinai to have a talk with God. God tells him that he needs to search for “the hardest word.” He brings back a number of words and God keeps telling him that while the word might be hard to hear or hard for a child to say, it isn’t the hardest word. After bringing God more than 100 words, he hangs his head and tells God that he is sorry, but that he can’t find the hardest word. In that one instance, God tells him that he has finally found it – “sorry” is the hardest word. This really focuses on the truth behind teshuva – actually going up to the person that you have wronged and apologizing is a very difficult thing to do. The Mishnah says “For transgressions against God, the Day of Atonement atones; but for transgressions of one human being against another, the Day of Atonement does not atone until they have made peace with one another.” We must do the hardest act and actually apologize to those that we have wronged. They may or may not accept that apology, but it is the only way to clear your soul. In a culture where we are so used to saying a blanket sorry for everything, it is good for children to learn that there is so much more to it.

These are all wonderful books to learn about the important time of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur for Jewish families and to teach everyone a little bit about kindness and generosity.







To Burp or Not to Burp – A Guide to Your Body in Space

Many kids are fascinated by space and space travel. Even though we are not pushing a huge amount of space exploration at the moment, NASA is busy working on the notion of sending people to Mars and other cool projects. So it is quite possible that today’s children could be the next people to man a space mission. Of all the questions astronauts are asked by kids, the most frequent one is “How do you go to the toilet in space?”

cover87615-mediumNow there is a fun and informative book all about the way space impacts bodily functions. NASA astronaut Dr. Dave Williams and children’s writer Loredana Cunti offer an entertaining and educational look at the weird, wild, and wonderful ways the human body copes with zero gravity for aspiring astronauts ages 7-10. This book not only answers that question, but many others about the effect of zero gravity on the human body: How do you brush your hair in space? What happens when you sweat? What does food taste like? The best thing is that the answers are provided by Dr. Dave Williams, a NASA astronaut who speaks from first-hand experience.

This fun book is separated into six sections

  1. The “Number One” question – or everything you wanted to know about going to the bathroom in space.
  2. Clean and Neat – all about personal grooming.
  3. All Dressed Up – clothing inside and out of the space-craft.
  4. Antigravity Appetite – how to eat, what to eat, and why burping isn’t such a good idea.
  5. Body Basics – how your body responds to being in space.
  6. Sleeping in Space – no pillows, no beds, no lying down.

Using age-appropriate language and a sense of humor, Dr. Dave explains the different phenomena that astronauts encounter during a mission. The bright, colorful pages, short blocks of text accompanied by photos and humorous illustrations make this a very attractive choice for young readers.

space-1As mentioned, kids are fascinated by the notion of how you go to the bathroom in space. Dr. Dave gives them all of the necessary information. From needing a special vacuum to suction the waste away from the body, foot restraints to hold you in place and how constipation is a real issue in space, you learn everything you want to know, and probably some thing you didn’t want to know, about human waste in space.


There are also other issues that most of us have never thought about. You can’t take a shower in space. Cutting your hair can be a challenge as the hair would just float away. Even brushing your teeth requires special techniques! If your curious child hasn’t already thought about these things, this book will really make them consider how life without gravity is completely different than life on earth.


Of course, the book is called To Burp or Not to Burp and the would be remiss if that wasn’t something that was fully covered. I learned things about why you burp and how that I never would have thought of without this book.

For any aspiring astronaut, or just kids who are curious about how things work, this is a great addition to any library!

nfpb16This is part of my attempt to stay engaged with the non-fiction picture book challenge hosted by Alyson Beecher of Kid Lit Frenzy. This is a weekly link-up of amazing non-fiction picture books for kids. I’ve learned about a ton of great books by checking out these great posts. Click here for this week’s selection.


Anything but Ordinary – The True Story of Adelaide Hermann


My children are not overly fascinated with magic, but they are moved by women who break the norm and especially by performers. When I found a copy of Anything But Ordinary Addie: The True Story of Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of Magic, it struck me as a book that they would get a kick out of and I was spot on.


Adelaide Hermann, nee Adele Scarsez, was a girl who never wanted to be ordinary. She always wanted to “astonish, shock and dazzle.” Born in 1853, she lived in a time when girls had a very specific role they were supposed to play but that she didn’t seem to fit into.


As a young girl she answered an ad to become a dancer, but ballet wasn’t exciting enough and found other outlets for her charisma and creativity. She met Alexander Hermann, a famous magician, and the two hit it off immediately. Together, they astounded audiences around the world. When Alexander suddenly died, Addie wanted the show to go on and decided to be the star herself. While it wasn’t done at the time, she knew that she had the skills and pulled off one of the most difficult tricks known in the magical world.fullsizerender

What makes this book so fun is the fact that Addie truly believed in herself no matter what. When she saw something that she wanted, she went after it 110%. She proposed to her husband in a time that women proposing was completely unheard of. She tried tricks that she had never done before, just having faith in herself and her abilities. The one trick that frightened her wound up being the trick she did to convince the world that she had the ability to be the world’s first female magician.Her story is exciting and the book is chock full of amazing illustrations that bring it all to life. Thanks to Mara Rockliff who wrote this book and Margaret Steele who put researched Adelaide Hermann and wrote her own book in 2012 (Adelaide Hermann: Queen of Magic), this fascinating story is being told to a new generation of children.

nfpb16Thanks to Alyson Beecher of Kid Lit Frenzy for hosting the weekly link-up of amazing non-fiction picture books. I’m always amazed by the great books that I find from all of the other bloggers.

Let’s Talk About Banned Books

It is banned books week and that got me thinking about Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics. This book has never been on the banned book list, but it is a great way to get kids to understand the concept and to start up a conversation about banned books.


J and I eagerly read Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics as soon as it came out. We actually had to buy 2 copies because she took it to school and someone snagged it from her! But the book was great, so I’m okay supporting the cause.

61nmnjejmjl-_sx336_bo1204203200_For those unaware of this series by Chris Grabenstein, the first book, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, is about a group of kids who find themselves locked in a brand-new, state of the art library designed by a famous game maker. One of the main characters is a reluctant reader, but there is a little bit of something for everyone in this book. Those who remain locked in the library for the game must solve every clue and figure out every secret puzzle to find the hidden escape route. It is a great book about the library system and books in general.

lemoncello-olympics-200Book 2 found us returning to the library but with teams from all across America to compete in the first-ever Library Olympics. But something suspicious is going on . . . books are missing from Mr. Lemoncello’s library. Is someone trying to censor what the kids are reading?! Now it’s not just a game—can Mr. Lemoncello find the real defenders of books and champions of libraries? In between figuring out mind-boggling challenges, the kids will have to band together to get to the bottom of this mystery.

So what was the mystery? Banned books. J didn’t fully understand the concept of banned books, but this story really got us talking about it. What exactly are banned books? As per wikipedia, “Banned books are books or other printed works such as essays or plays which are prohibited by law or to which free access is not permitted by other means. The practice of banning books is a form of censorship, from political, legal, religious, moral, or (less often) commercial motives.”e5db5a80-f003-0132-f0cc-0ed54733f8f5

Mr. Lemoncello gave us the perfect opportunity to discuss banned books. Books are banned or challenged for a variety of reasons. Many times it is because they tackle topics that are uncomfortable for us to deal with or because people have differing opinions. But as I’ve mentioned before, we learn so many things about our society and ourselves from books, sometimes it is important to challenge traditional ways of thinking or doing things.bannedbooks I remember when we were reading Mr. Lemoncello’s Olympics we talked about the fact that the Harry Potter series is the most challenged book for the past decade. Given J’s love with all things HP she couldn’t comprehend that, but I tried to explain how the notion of magic and wizardry as taboo for some people and went against their religious values. Judy Blume, who J hasn’t read much of yet, is also one of the most challenged authors because of her frank take on puberty and sexuality.

There are times when I am just sad that books wind up on the challenged list. For example, there is a wonderful picture book called And Tango Makes Three. 81saez2go5lThis book is number 4 on the 100 most banned list. Why? Apparently people think that it is anti-family, promotes homosexuality, has a political viewpoint, has a religious viewpoint, and is generally unsuited for age group. Really? This is the product description on Amazon:

And Tango Makes Three is the bestselling, heartwarming true story of two penguins who create a nontraditional family. At the penguin house at the Central Park Zoo, two penguins named Roy and Silo were a little bit different from the others. But their desire for a family was the same. And with the help of a kindly zookeeper, Roy and Silo get the chance to welcome a baby penguin of their very own.

I get that if a book doesn’t make you comfortable and doesn’t suit your family’s core belief system, then you shouldn’t read it. But to ban a book from a library goes against other people’s rights to make their own decisions about what they want to read. So go out today and read a banned book!




Books that take on Bullies


Bullying has always been an issue that kids are confronted with. No matter how much we try to protect them, there are always going to be kids who feel the need to pick on other kids. There are many reasons that kids bully others, but the thing that parents try to do is to help children deal with tough situations and to stand up for themselves. One of the marvelous things about books is that they are a great way for children to see other kids going through situations that might be similar to something that they are facing. There are tons of great books on this subject, but here are a few that I found extra special.

miss-brookI have a soft place in my heart for Miss Brooks – a school librarian who knows that there is a book out there for everyone. In Miss Brooks’ Story Nook, a companion to Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I don’t), young Missy is tormented by a neighborhood boy when she tries to get to school early for Story Nook. When the lights go out one day, rather than listening to stories, the children are encouraged to tell their own. Stuck with writer’s block, Missy is told to “think of a problem that needs solving.” Through an explanation of what makes a good story, Missy also discovers how to stand up to the bully and face her fears.

felix-coverIn Rosemary Wells’ Felix Stands Tall, young Felix doesn’t think twice when his friend Fiona says that they should be in the talent show together singing and dancing as pixies. The two win first prize, but then a group of bullies begin  to make fun of him and call him “Twinkle toes.” His mother tells him that he will have to stand tall, but he doesn’t know how to do that. Luckily, his friend Fiona does. She allows Felix to borrow one of her invisible magic protection suits and suddenly Felix is brave. A great way to show the importance of friendship and believing in yourself.

weird-coverI wasn’t sure what to think the first time I read Weird! by Erin Frankel, but this book really does a marvelous job of showing multiple sides of the bullying issue. In this story, Luisa changes everything about herself to avoid being called weird by fellow classmate, Sam. Luisa can’t understand why Sam says that everything she does is weird, but as she stops doing the things Sam considers weird, she also stops feeling like herself. She finally talks to her mom about the problem and one of her friends encourages her to go back to doing the things that make her special. weird-3As she started to truly believe in herself and to “act like I don’t care what she says, the more I really don’t care.” This shows a great way to take away a bully’s power by not allowing what they say and do to affect you. What is also special about this book is that at the end there are notes from Luisa, Sam, and Jayla (the girl who encouraged Luisa to be herself). This book is a great way to show all sides of bullying and has two companion books that focus on the other two girls – Dare and Tough.weird-4

stick-and-stoneWhen I wrote about books that teach kindness, I mentioned the book Stick and Stone. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but in this book they actually stand up for each other. When Pinecone tries to use words to hurt them, the two lonely figures learn that standing up for a friend is the best thing you can do to counter-balance a bully. It’s a comical take on the old rhyme that we all grew up hearing and perhaps better than ignoring the taunt, shows kids to stand up for others, even if they are not your friend to start with, you may make a friend in the end. As stick tells stone, “You rock.” And stone replies, “That’s just what stones do. Best friendship rocks too.”

billy-bullyYoung children don’t always understand that the things they are doing can be considered bullying and that repeated acts of selfishness can have a lasting impact. Being a bully isn’t just about calling people names and teasing them. In this reverse counting billy-interiorbook, Billy Bully arrives at the school playground and starts taking others toys, cutting in line, and chasing others off of the slide, his friends dwindle down to zero. With a little effort, Billy Bully realizes that a real friend doesn’t think only of himself. This is an important take on the bullying theme to show kids how others respond when they are selfish and can’t share properly. Billy Bully gets his act together and brings the whole group back together in the end.

molly-louStand Tall, Molly Lou Mellon, by Patty Lovell, is a book that focuses on believing in yourself as a way to stand up to bullies. Little Molly Lou Mellon is tiny, buck-toothed and clumsy but her grandmother has always taught her to believe in herself. When she moves to a new school the local bully taunts her in various ways but each time she just stands up for herself and turns whatever he has said to her around. If he makes fun of her buck teeth, she wows everyone by balancing pennies on them. She manages to put the bully in his place and gains many friends in the process. In the end, she calls her grandma to let her know that all of the thing she had taught her were true. Sometimes it is really hard to be different, but this book shows how believing in yourself allows your differences to shine.



Mr. Colby Sharp

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