Looking for a fun series for kids who are just getting comfortable with longer books? I finally got a chance to read the first book in the Billy and the Mini Monsters series and it is fun!
“Billy is an ordinary boy until one night he finds five mini monsters living in his sock drawer. From the moment he discovers Gloop, Peep, Fang-Face, Captain Snott and Trumpet, Billy’s life will never be the same again…”
The first book, Monsters in the Dark, is the only book in the series that needs to be read in order. This is the book where we meet Billy and he meets the monsters. At 80 pages long with full color images throughout, this is a great book for kids who are getting Continue reading →
My 7 year old adores audio books. She falls asleep to them every night and sometimes does art projects while listening to them. My 10 year old has enjoyed them since she was about the same age, but she only listened to books she had already read whereas my younger child likes to listen first. We have quickly made our way through all 6 Land of Stories books, the Ramona books (Stockard Channing!!!), and quite a few others. But sometimes, finding a series that she likes can be a challenge. Enter Katie Kazoo, Switcheroo.
This series, by Nancy Krulik, was published from 2002-2011, but we have never read it before. It just wasn’t on my older daughter’s radar, for whatever reason. E is adoring the series and I’m rather impressed myself. The concept of the series is that young Katie Carew makes a wish after an exceptionally bad day asking to be anyone but herself. Now when a special wind blows, she becomes someone else, even the class hamster! Within about 70 pages, she manages to learn something about others, or other situations, by walking in someone else’s shoes.
Katie Kazoo offers a great option for those ready to read longer chapter books, but not quite ready for the likes of Harry Potter. There are still illustrations that keep them engaged and while the stories are silly and fun, Katie learns that bad behavior doesn’t work – for example, in book 5 she thinks having no rules would make everything better, but realizes that we need some rules to avoid mass chaos. Continue reading →
Every 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!
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.”
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 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!
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 Scholastic, Barefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. Roman, Audrey Press, Candlewick Press, Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTV, Capstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle Swift, Wisdom Tales Press, Lee& Low Books, The Pack-n-Go Girls, Live Oak Media, Author Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books
Author Sponsor include: Karen Leggett Abouraya, Veronica Appleton, Susan Bernardo, Kathleen Burkinshaw, Delores Connors, Maria Dismondy, D.G. Driver, Geoff Griffin, Savannah Hendricks, Stephen Hodges, Carmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid Imani, Gwen Jackson, Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana Llanos, Natasha Moulton-Levy, Teddy O’Malley, Stacy McAnulty, Cerece Murphy, Miranda Paul, Annette Pimentel, Greg Ransom, Sandra Richards, Elsa Takaoka, Graciela 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.
Keeping with my Halloween theme, I wanted to explore books that were not picture books, but that enticed young readers to get into the Halloween spirit. Part of this has to do with the fact that the book club that we have for our third graders attempted to pick a book for this month that had to do with Halloween somehow, so it got me thinking.
The reality is, there are not a great number of books that really showcase Halloween for young readers who are past picture books. Part of this, I believe, has to do with the fact that books stop having particular holiday themes and just try to tell a good story. Except for classic ghost stories, which I will touch on, chapter books that do have a Halloween theme tend to be for much younger readers.
Our book club picked Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree for this month’s selection. We are still figuring out the best way to encourage our readers to be enticed by a book club and so we incorporate a movie into the meeting. That can get challenging from time to time. A number of the boys in the group have really been enjoying The Halloween Tree, or so I’ve been told, but J and I really struggled to get through it. This is not the kind of book that a third grader can read on their own, even my advanced reader. Bradbury uses incredibly descriptive language and it can be difficult to follow. I will admit that J and I haven’t finished it, but I’m letting her watch the movie on Friday. The story focuses on 8 twelve-year-old boys who wind up on a journey through time and space learning about the history of Halloween as part of an attempt to save their 9th friend from the Grim Reaper. I love the concept of this book, but even I had a hard time following it. (Lexile 800)
For an easier books to digest that still have Halloween flair, some of the better series have books that touch on the Halloween theme. Here are four examples from popular series:
Nate the Great and the Halloween Hunt (Lexile 370) – It’s Halloween and Nate’s friend has lost her cat. Nate investigates and experiences lots of Halloween fun from cool costumes to an old house that might be haunted. Nate the Great books have been around for over 30 years and feature quirky characters and fun story lines. This is a great option for this time of year.
The Magic Treehouse – Haunted Castle on All Hallows Eve (Lexile 390) – Jack and Annie are whisked away to Camelot on All Hallows Eve. While this doesn’t deal specifically with Halloween, it is a mystery that has spooky elements of disappearing characters and menacing ravens. The Magic Tree House books are always a hit.
A-Z Mysteries – Sleepy Hollow Sleepover (Lexile 510) – Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose are spending Halloween in Sleepy Hollow, home of the legendary Headless Horseman. They are going to sleep in an old cabin, take a haunted hayride, and check out the Old Dutch Church. That’s where some people say they’ve spotted the ghostly horseman. But strange things start happening that don’t seem to be part of the planned spooky fun. Is there a real Headless Horseman haunting Sleepy Hollow? These books are a great way to engage readers to look a little more closely at the original Washington Irving story.
Rainbow Magic – Trixie the Halloween Fairy (Lexile 700) – I have to admit, I’m a bit shocked by the Lexile of this book. I would have rated it lower, but I guess because this is one of the special editions in the series and it is longer, it got a higher rating. Years ago this was J’s favorite series and she even dressed up as Trixie for Halloween when she was in kindergarten. In this book, it’s Halloween and of course Jack Frost is up to his usual tricks If Rachel and Kirsty can’t find three missing pieces of magical candy, the holiday could be ruined forever! It is a fun way to look at Halloween traditions.
The fun part about Halloween and growing readers is the hope to use the holiday as a way to look at other aspects and times in history.
As mentioned, actually reading the Legend of Sleepy Hollow would be a great place to start. There is a graphic novel that was published which looks pretty true to the story and told in an accessible way. But the story is dark and it is aimed at fifth through eighth graders.
Another interesting take would be to read about the Salem Witch Trials. While we are definitely not ready for The Crucible, I would love it if J were willing to read What Were the Salem Witch Trials? The What Was series is so excellently done that I might even have to buy this book just because I’m fascinated by it.
Hope you have a Happy Halloween!
A few years ago I started hearing about the book The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer. The book sounded perfect for me – fairy tales, adventure, and strong young characters. I was quickly sucked into the story and when J heard me listening to the audiobook version of book 2, she heard the names of some princesses that she recognized and got curious. Since then, she has been sucked into the stories herself and has read and listened to them all. We also just received our copy of the 4th book in the series which came out this week, but she is rereading the first three before jumping into book 4.
Kids have a tendency to read books more than once and watch movies over and over. There is something comforting in repetition. I asked J about this once and here is what she said: “A good story never gets old, but the first time you read it is always the best. Why? Because when you read it for the first time it is so new. So many interesting facts pop up that you’ve never heard of before. Books should be interesting. BUT…a good story never gets old. I go back to some because they are so good.”
For us, The Land of Stories series is one of those series that we can read over and over again. Harry Potter is definitely another. For the Land of Stories it has to do with taking something that we are so familiar with (fairy tales) and looking at them in a different light, as if the fairy tale world was simply another dimension that keeps going on even after the stories that we know are over. I will admit that the writing isn’t perfect, but the stories are fun and it is entertaining to have adventures with characters you think you knew re-imagined. J and I think that the first two books have been the most compelling because the characters were on a quest, but book 3 being a bit slower hasn’t stopped us from being super excited about book 4.
Book 1 The Wishing Spell is a quest through the world of fairy tales. Twins Alex and Connor Bailey had lost their father about a year before the story starts. On their 12th birthday their grandmother gives them a treasured fairy-tale book. Soon they discover that the book is not your average book as it brings them into the realm of fairy tales. Alex and Conner soon discover that the stories they know so well haven’t ended in this magical land—Goldilocks is now a wanted fugitive, Red Riding Hood has her own kingdom, and Queen Cinderella is about to become a mother! To get home they have to complete the wishing spell which requires them to solve riddles to find objects in order to make a spell that will allow them to leave the Land of Stories. They meet favorite characters and have quite the adventure.
In the following books, they continue to have adventures in and out of the fairy tale world, but I don’t want to give away any of the fun details. Book four will apparently lead us through Oz, Neverland, Camelot, Wonderland and Sherwood Forrest.
While these are not the most wonderfully written books, they are wonderfully enchanting and they have definitely captured our attention. J and I were talking about these books in the car the other morning and she said “the reason you love the Land of Stories books is because Chris Colfer comes up with reasons why everything in fairy tales that we know happens.” They are just possible explanations, but they start your mind thinking that there are more to these stories and characters then what we have been shown by Disney.
The books have a lexile level at around 720 and run over 400 pages a piece.
In our attempt to broaden our reading horizons this summer, I have been encouraging J to read from the Battle of the Books list for the upcoming year. She is not allowed to participate yet, but the list of books is amazing and it definitely removes us from our normal comfort zone of witches, wizards, fairy tales and princesses. The first book that we managed to read off of the list was also one that we chose for our Book/Movie club and it was a rousing success.
Our school had already read Kate DiCamillo’s Edward Tulane as a part of the One School, One Book program, so we were accustomed to her writing style. That said, I don’t think either of us were prepared for how much we loved Because of Winn-Dixie.
India Opal Buloni is a lonely little girl who has just moved to Naomi, Florida with her father, the preacher. Her mother had left them years earlier and her father is often too busy in his role as preacher to perform his role of father. One day Opal goes into the Winn-Dixie supermarket and comes out with a dog. A big, ugly, suffering dog with a sterling sense of humor. A dog she dubs Winn-Dixie. This dog will manage to change her life.
In her loneliness, Opal opens up to Winn-Dixie and gathers up the courage to ask her father about her mother. Because of Winn-Dixie, the preacher tells Opal ten things about her absent mother, one for each year Opal has been alive. Winn-Dixie also helps Opal make the friends that she so desperately craves. They are not exactly typical friends for a 10 year old girl, but each one helps her learn something about the world around her and about herself. First there is the local librarian, Miss Franny Block, who once fought off a bear with a copy of War and Peace and whose great-grandfather, Littmus W. Block, invented a candy makes you feel a touch sad. This is to help you understand about how to survive sorrow and the blending of sweetness and sadness in life (think Inside Out). Then they meet Gloria Dump, who is nearly blind but sees with her heart, and who helps Opal learn not to judge others by what she sees. Finally there is Otis, an ex-con who sets the animals in his pet shop loose after hours, then lulls them with his guitar. Opal spends all that sweet summer collecting stories about her new friends and thinking about her mother. But because of Winn-Dixie, or perhaps because she has grown, Opal learns to let go, just a little, and that friendship—and forgiveness—can sneak up on you like a sudden summer storm.
J and I first started reading this book together and it was the kind of book that you start and don’t want to put down. After the first three chapters I did make her go to bed and then the next day she picked the book back up without me and finished it on her own. I think I would have enjoyed this book even more if we had been able to read it together so that I could hear her thoughts as the book went along, but I was amazed by it all on my own. This is one of those magical books where you have no idea what to expect from the story and then it just completely touches your heart.
When I asked J about her favorite part, she told me that it was when they were having a party at the end of the book and Winn-Dixie went missing. She also simply loves using the word “pathological” now because she learned the Winn-Dixie had a pathological fear of thunder storms. I have to admit, the ending of the book when she believed Winn-Dixie was missing was one of my favorite parts as well, but probably because of how much I felt Opal had grown and how she was able to let go.
We had the book/movie club meeting a few weeks ago and I was highly impressed by how well the book had captured everyone’s attention. They had really recalled a number of details and all seemed to enjoy the book. While I have read other books by Kate DiCamillo, this was the first one where I truly understood why people love her so much.
The lexile level for this book is 610 and is aimed at grades 3-5. This is one of those times where I think that the grade level is pretty accurate. Our group read it as they were all finishing 2nd grade. The biggest issue is less about whether they will actually be able to read the book on their own and more about if they are able to comprehend and appreciate the story. A great book of realistic fiction that kids really enjoy.
There are a ton of intermediate reader series out there these days, but finding one that holds your child’s attention and is at the right level can be truly daunting. That was actually the reason that I started this blog a few years ago. It becomes complicated to write about chapter books, but I am making it a mission to focus on that more, especially since we are finished with the full Harry Potter series and expanding our own horizons.
A few years ago a good friend suggested that we read the series The World According to Humphrey. For whatever reason, at the time J wanted nothing to do with it. Perhaps it was that she has always been more interested in books with princesses and fairies, and then when she moved from those, books had to have a strong female lead. A book with a hamster on the front cover did nothing for her. Fast forward to Christmas of this past year when her beloved second grade teacher gave her a copy of Winter According to Humphrey. I was shocked when I went into her room one night to find her eating it up.
Humphrey is a hamster. In the initial book of the series he is purchased as a class pet by a teacher. That teacher winds up moving to Brazil and leaving Humphrey behind with a new teacher who is not so thrilled by his existence. Ms. Mac, the first teacher, brings Humphrey in because “You can learn a lot about life by observing another species,” as well as by taking care of another species. Now most would think that this is a statement for the the children to learn by taking care of Humphrey, but Humphrey also learns a great deal about the children and adults who take care of him.
The fun thing about the Humphrey books is that they are told from Humphrey’s perspective. Since the new teacher, Ms. Brisbane, does not initially like Humphrey, he gets sent home with a different student each weekend (although his first weekend is with the Principal, Mr. Morales). The students are able to learn by taking care of this amazing hamster, but he also learns a great deal about them by observing them in their natural habitats.
A great example from the book has to do with a little girl named Sayeh. Ms. Brisbane has been trying to get her to participate in class more often. They make a deal that if Sayeh raises her hand at least one time during a given week, Ms. Brisbane won’t send a note home about her lack of participation. Sayeh does raise her hand to volunteer to take Humphrey home. When he goes home with her, he learns that English is not spoken in her home and that she is afraid that the other kids will make fun of her accent. While Humphrey is home with her, Sayeh gets the courage to tell her family that since he only understands English, they have to speak English that weekend. Humphrey gets a better understanding of who Sayeh is as a person and Sayeh believes in herself a bit more.
The series continues in a marvelous fashion and the books don’t need to be read in any specific order. Some of the themes that are covered are friendship, doing the right thing, racism, and cultural differences. J likes to read the books and says “Even though all the humans hear is Squeak-Squeak-Squeak, Humphrey helps them solve their problems. He’s everyone’s favorite classroom pet!”
The Humphrey books tend to have a Lexile level somewhere in the 600s or 700s. Typically that is the 3-6th grade level. That said, I believe that these books are more age appropriate for 6-9 year olds. At 8, they are sort of perfect for J even if they are super easy reads for her. A great read aloud for a 1st grader and perhaps something to encourage them to read more on their own.
Maybe a year ago a good friend started a kid’s book club for our, at the time, first graders. Most of this had actually started because a few of them had gotten into Harry Potter and they had a lot of fun watching the movie together and then discussing the differences. So when deciding to start a book club for such young readers, and given the fact that they needed more than just a book to read and discuss, we went with books that also had movie counterparts. The group fizzled out due to a variety of reasons, but a few weeks ago I decided to give it new life.
Over the holidays I purchased some soundtracks for my Broadway loving 8 year old. One of the picks was Matilda: The Musical. I wasn’t initially enamored with the soundtrack, but it has definitely grown on me, especially since I listen to it EVERY DAY. That said, it can be hard for a kid to fully understand what is going on just by listening to songs. So when we were driving with another friend one day, I tried to explain some of the story to them. Then I said, “You know, we should read this for our book club and then we can watch the movie.” Needless to say, the girls loved the idea.
J had already read two Roald Dahl books in the past, one being The BFG with our book club, but she didn’t seem all that interested in reading others. Perhaps because they both had male leads and she has a thing about strong female protagonists. Regardless, her love of Roald Dahl has done a complete turnaround.
The story of Matilda is about a little girl who loves to read but is completely misunderstood by her parents who are completely self-absorbed and think the television should be the center of their universe. Mom plays bingo all day (leaving Matilda on her own) and Dad is a crooked used car salesman. Matilda sticks out like a sore thumb having learned to read by age 3 and her parents generally think of her as a nuisance or a scab. When she finally convinces her parents to sign her up for school she winds up at a horrible place run by Miss. Trunchbull, who happens to also hate children. Luckily, she does have a wonderful teacher and she discovers that she has some remarkable powers of her own to deal with grown-ups who are so awful to children.
J immediately took to reading Matilda. We started reading it together because that is fun, but she quickly left me in the dust and read it on her own. When she finished, I asked her what she thought and this was her response: “It was a really good book. It told all about this girl that had a family who didn’t love her and how she escaped them. It also tells how girls can be strong. Matilda has a family that thinks she is weird so they send her off to school with a mean principal who is evil. Matilda has special powers to make things move with her mind and she escapes.”
The magical powers was a theme that the kids really loved. When we got 4 girls together yesterday to talk about the book and watch the movie her superpowers and the chalk writing scene came up. J also later talked about how it was cool that she used her powers to get Ms. Honey’s doll out of Ms. Trunchbull’s house without going back on her promise of not actually going into the house.
Matilda is also a great story to encourage kids to think about writing themselves. One of our book club members talked about how she liked that there were unexpected twists and turns in the book, similar to the much loved Harry Potter. She added that among the books that she has been reading, a lot of them don’t have that aspect. That led us to a conversation about what makes good writing and thinking about books that we look forward to reading.
Hosting a children’s book club is an awesome way to get kids engaged in what they are reading and to help make it that much more fun. It is great to see how these young minds thing about the books that they read and it is always wonderful to broaden their horizons about the books that they are reading.
We are a household with a deep love for princesses. My younger daughter loves all things princessy and frilly, although her favorite Disney princesses are Tianna and Mulan. I love those choices since they are two “princesses” who are incredibly strong and independent. They don’t need a handsome prince to come and rescue them. They also both work hard to get what they want. In the world of princesses, however, that is not always the case, which is why I love finding books that also showcase the fact that a princess can be anything.
My older daughter has taken a real liking to Shannon Hale’s books. Ms. Hale definitely sees princesses through different eyes. J has utterly fallen in love with the Ever After High series. I wasn’t sure about this series, as I’m not a fan of the whole Monster High phenomenon, but it is a wonderful series. The concept is that the children of famous fairy tale characters all go to Ever After High to learn skills necessary to fulfill their destinies as “the next” in their line. When Raven Queen, daughter of the evil queen from Snow White, comes back the year that she is supposed to sign the book of legacies, she questions the whole concept of destinies, instead wanting to choose her own. All of the princesses and other fairy tale characters not only consider if their intended “happily ever after” is what they want, but they also work together when other challenges come up. The television series that goes along is nice, but we have really enjoyed the three books that have been published.
The book that inspired me to write this post is Hale’s The Princess in Black. This is a perfect early chapter book for emerging readers who are ready for a new challenge. It is full of colorful pictures and feels longer due to the number of pages, a sure way to boost a new reader’s confidence. In this tale, a young princess is known for being perfect, frilly and dainty – everything that we have come to expect of a perfect princess. Princess Magnolia, however, has a secret…she is also the Princess in Black, a super-hero who stops the monsters from doing bad things, like eating goats. It is nice to see a princes who can be princessy and badass, although it would have been even better if she wasn’t hiding her fighting persona, but that following the lead of male superheroes. Definitely a book that thinks outside of the proverbial princess box.
Shannon Hale also wrote the Princess Academy series. The fabulous website A Mighty Girl actually just had a Facebook post about this book saying: “The story follows Miri who is sent with the other girls from her village to a special academy to learn the social graces required of a princess. Miri thrives in her new environment but not necessarily in the intended way — for the first time, she discovers the power of her voice and other unique gifts and, when bandits strike the academy, it’s Miri who rallies the girls to save themselves.” We have this on our list of books to read as it is supposed to be a great series for middle-grade girls.
A book that fits this category perfectly that I’ve been meaning to blog about for some time is Dealing with Dragons. In this book, Princess Cimorene is everything a princess is not supposed to be: headstrong, tomboyish, smart – and bored. So bored that she runs away to live with a dragon – and finds the family and excitement she’s been looking for. We absolutely loved this book and how fun Cimorene was.
Last year we also read Tuesdays At the Castle, a wonderful book of magic and mayhem. The story focuses on Celie, the youngest princess at the Castle Gower, which just so happens to have a mind of its own. Strong female main character, a family working together, and proof that respecting things around us pays off. We really loved this book, although we were not quite as enamored with the sequel.