Thank you so much to the author for providing #KidLitExchange with a finished copy of this book for review purposes! All opinions are my own (as always).
Back in April I discovered the Branches books published by Scholastic. These great books are a way to bridge the gap between leveled readers and chapter books. Or as my new 1st grader likes to say, these books are like picture books and chapter books smashed together! So when author Amy Marie Stadelmann sent copies of her series Olive & Beatrix to the KidLitExchange I jumped at the opportunity to check them out.
The Olive & Beatrix books focus on twin sisters Olive & Beatrix. Olive is “ordinary” and loves science, nature, and exploring. Her sister, Beatrix, is less than ordinary as she was born at midnight on a full moon and is therefore a witch. She has a brain full of tricks and uses her magical powers to play pranks on Olive and her best friend, Eddie.
These books arrived at our house on Saturday and by Sunday evening, E had read them both at least 2 times. Olive & Beatrix is a really fun series. There is a touch of mischievousness, a dash of science, and a balance of true sisterhood battles and friendship. Beatrix tends to take the easy way out by using her magic, but in the end, it is usually a combination of magic and science needed to solve the problem at hand. Even though the sisters look at life differently, they have to work together to make things work.
Book #1 is “The Not-So Itty-Bitty Spiders” in which Olive and Eddie attempt to prank Beatrix with a bucket of spiders and it back-fires on them when the spiders get into her growing potion. When the spiders escape out of their house, the three friends have to figure out what to do. When their first plans don’t work, some scientific thinking helps solve the problem.
Book #2 is “The Super-Smelly Moldy Blob.” In this book, Olive is tired of Beatrix always managing to win the science fair due to an unfair use of magic. She and Eddie come up with great entries, but a battle between the twins over which table to set up on ends in both of their projects falling to the floor and turning into a super-smelly moldy blob that starts oozing through the school swallowing up everything in its path. Once again, the twins and Eddie use a combination of magic and scientific know-how to stop the blob and get everything back in order.
These books are perfect for emerging readers, specifically those in kindergarten through 2nd grade. By combining a slightly longer story with a load of really fun pictures, kids just want to read them. There is a real sense of accomplishment for struggling readers and a lot of color and action for reluctant readers. As with all Branches books, there is also a page in the back with comprehension questions to help they understand what they are reading and to start talking points for parents. Our school and public libraries need to have more of these books available for our emerging readers.
To celebrate the release of One Good Thing About America by Ruth Freeman (3/14/17), blogs across the web are featuring exclusive content from Ruth and 10 chances to win a copy of One Good Thing About America, as well as a chance to win a Skype visit with Ruth in the Grand Prize Giveaway!
by Ruth Freeman
I happen to believe it’s really important to discover what makes us happy. I’ve learned to pay attention and look for those things that make me smile on the inside. More on them in a minute, but first: Anaïs.
In my book, One Good Thing About America, Anaïs is upset and homesick when her grandmother Oma (back home in Congo) asks her to find one good thing about her new home in America every day. “This is a very hard job,” writes Anaïs, “or maybe impossible!”
But, slowly, Anaïs does start to discover things in America that make her happy. Like her new black backpack, her beautiful cursive writing and her new friend Jenna. As she moves through her first year in America she finds more and more good things (snow! ice cream! the library!) until, at the end, her teachers and friends tell her SHE is One Good Thing About America!
I will admit that many of Anaïs’ One-Good-Things are things I love, too. I’m a sucker for ice cream, potato chips and jelly doughnuts because I don’t eat them very often. Like her, I also love stars, libraries and the first snowflakes of the winter. I even love snowstorms because there is nothing better than a snow day!
Of course, there are my wonderful students who make me smile and laugh every single day. And I can’t forget my two sons. And how about dogs? I grew up with a basset hound we named Miranda. What a face!
A few more things I thought of: the first time in the fall when I put flannel sheets on my bed is, mmm, pure delight. The sound of waves and the smell of the ocean. And I love trees, I don’t know why exactly, but especially in the winter when their branches are black and tangled against the sky. And there’s something beautiful about the sound of a car going by on a rainy night.
I’m sure I could think of more things, but this is a start. You may love some of these things, too, or you may absolutely hate them and think I’m crazy. But I hope you’ll think of your One-Good-Things. I’ve really enjoyed making this list. It makes me happy just to sit here and read it over. And there are plenty more wonderful things out there….like BOOKS!
Stop by Chat with Vera tomorrow for the next stop on the tour!
ONE GOOD THING ABOUT AMERICA is a sweet, often funny middle-grade novel that explores differences and common ground across cultures.
It’s hard to start at a new school . . . especially if you’re in a new country. Back home, Anaïs was the best English student in her class. Here in Crazy America she feels like she doesn’t know English at all. Nothing makes sense (chicken FINGERS?), and the kids at school have some very strange ideas about Africa. Anaïs misses her family . . . so she writes lots of letters to Oma, her grandmother. She tells her she misses her and hopes the war is over soon. She tells her about Halloween, snow, mac ‘n’ cheese dinners, and princess sleepovers. She tells her about the weird things Crazy Americans do, and how she just might be turning into a Crazy American herself.
About the Author: Ruth Freeman grew up in rural Pennsylvania but now lives in Maine where she teaches students who are English language learners, including many newly arrived immigrants. She is the author of several acclaimed nonfiction picture books. One Good Thing About America is her first novel..
GRAND PRIZE GIVEAWAY
- One (1) winner across the whole blog tour will receive a signed copy of One Good Thing About America for their personal collection, as well as a 30 minute Skype visit with Ruth Freeman to the school of their choice and a signed copy for the school’s library.
- Enter via the rafflecopter link below
- US Only
- Ends 4/23 at midnight ET
ADDITIONAL BOOK GIVEAWAY
I am also able to offer one reader of my blog a copy of the book.
- Get an entry by commenting on my blog post.
- Get another entry by tweeting about the giveaway and put a link to your tweet in the comments.
- Get another entry by following me on Facebook and comment that you did that.
- US Only
- Ends 4/23 at midnight ET
This coming Monday I am part of a blog tour for the release of Ruth Freeman’s new book, One Good Thing About America. Blog tours are awesome because you get to learn a wide variety of information about the book straight from the author. In the case of this book, Ruth Freeman has written 10 outstanding posts about how she wrote the book and about immigrant life. Please come back on Monday to check out the blog tour and enter to win a chance to receive a free copy of the book!
One Good Thing About America is a wonderful book about Anaïs, a young girl who has just immigrated to the United States from the Congo. Her mother and younger brother are with her in Maine and trying to adjust to life in the United States. Unfortunately, her father is in hiding from the Congolese government and her brother has also stayed behind.
The book follows Anaïs as she navigates 4th grade in a new school where she struggles with the language, even though back home she had been top in English. The book is written as letters that Anaïs writes to her grandmother, Oma, back in the Congo. Her grandmother requires her to write her letters in English so that she can practice the language, and the fact that she has trouble with grammar and spelling make her situation more relatable and realistic. It also allows the reader to grow with her as she figures things out. Continue reading →
There is something truly joyous when your children read and ENJOY books that were childhood favorites of yours. Not that we don’t adore new books (we are currently fighting over an Advance Review Copy to be shared soon), but there are times when you remember that classics are classics for a reason. The latest in a series of books J has enjoyed that I remember loving as a kid? The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin.
The Westing Game is a mystery reminiscent of the board game Clue (another family favorite). In this book, 16 people find themselves at the reading of a man’s will which says that a) he was murdered, b) the murderer is in the room, and c) whoever figures out who did it will win a sizeable inheritance. The group is split up into 8 pairs and they are set off on their journey to figure out who did it. At the same time, each of these characters holds a secret or two.
Turtle Wexler might be one of my all time favorite characters created and feels like the star of this particular book. Given that this was written in 1978 when you didn’t have a lot of spunky, unusual female characters, she was special. She is exceptionally bright and not as “pretty” as her older sister, Angela, but she has a very caring heart. She is a character that feels very true to life and that doesn’t seem to change with a different generation reading the book.
Another interesting thing about this book is that while there is an external focus on solving the mystery of who killed Sam Westing, there is a deeper, more internal mystery unfolding throughout the book – figuring out just who the characters are, their secrets, and how they are all related (literally and figuratively).
J, at 10 and in 4th grade, adored the book. She couldn’t put it down, kept asking me questions that I couldn’t remember the answers to, and repeatedly said “this book is awesome!” That’s pretty high praise from an avid reader. Ellen Raskin received a Newbery Medal for The Westing Game in 1979 and the award hasn’t lost its shine.
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.
About a week ago I received an email from a reader looking for good chapter book series for her young daughters. First, let me say, I LOVE getting emails like this. I can’t always help when it comes to great books for young boys, but girls, I have that covered! That said, there might be more people looking for similar books, so I wanted to share some series that might be lesser known to people.
Billie B. Brown & Hey Jack – I’ve talked about these series before. Billie B. is a bold and brave young girl who is learning how to believe in herself. Her best friend is a boy named Jack who struggles with some of the same issues that she does. Together, they navigate the world around them and perhaps learn a lesson or two in the process. There are two separate series that each have about 15 books to them. They are ideal for early readers with no more than 50 words per page and with challenging words in bold.
Lily the Elf – Lily the Elf lives with her dad in a tiny house in a busy city. Her granny lives in a cottage behind their house. In these charming books, join Lily as she finds lost treasures, makes wishes, meets new creatures, and masters new skills. As with the Billie B. Brown and Hey Jack books, Lily is aimed at newly emergent readers with only 50 words per page in a large font.
Rainbow Magic Series – Some series never grow old and this popular one by Daisy Meadows is constantly attracting young readers. This series is actually multiple series all under one common theme – young friends, Rachel and Kristy, discover the fairies and find that they are able to help them defeat their arch nemesis, Jack Frost. Each time there are seven books with a common theme – rainbow fairies, sports fairies, ocean fairies, party fairies, the list goes on and on. Young readers easily get hooked on these books, even when parents get sick of them.
The Secret Mermaid – This is a really fun series that appeals to fans of the Daisy Meadow’s Rainbow Magic series. The concept of this series, published by Usborne Books, is that a little girl’s grandmother gives her a magic necklace that allows her to join the mermaid world while she sleeps. It turns out that she is one of a long line of secret mermaids and now she is trying to save the mermaid world from an evil mermaid. A great early chapter book series that still incorporates images and doesn’t cram too much text into each page.
Fairy Ponies – In this series, young Holly and her pony friend, Puck, have wonderful adventures including rescuing missing royalty and saving the day from wicked plots and dark storms. With this series, kids get a bit more adventure than their average fairy books. The Fairy Ponies appeals to kids who are 5-8 years old.
Pony Crazed Princess – Princess Ellie is crazy about her ponies! Any time she can, she trades in her royal crown and fancy dresses for her riding helmet and boots, and heads out to the Royal Stable. Along with her best friend, Kate, Ellie takes her ponies for rides and jumps all around the palace grounds. Together, they go on adventures, solve mysteries, and, of course, spend lots of time with Ellie’s adorable ponies. This is a great book as an early chapter book
The Princess in Black – Shannon Hale, the writer behind the Princess Academy series and Ever After High, hit the nail on the head with her series staring the Princess in Black. The Princess in Black is a humorous and action-packed chapter-book series for young readers who like their princesses not only prim and perfect, but also dressed in black. Princess Magnolia appears to be a normal, perfectly dressed princess, but when her monster alarm goes off, she runs to the broom closet, ditches her frilly clothes, and becomes the Princess in Black! This is a great book because it works well as a read-aloud to 4 and 5 year olds and has larger font and images so that a 6 or 7 year old can read it on their own. Super fun and featuring a girl who is unwilling to “just be a princess.”
The Magic Tree House – This is not a series that falls under the overly girly category, but there are few young children who have not been sucked into this fabulous series about siblings Jack and Annie who discover a magic tree house that whisks them away to places and times near and far to solve problems for Morgan Le Fay. Kids are able to learn a great deal about history from these fabulous books without it feeling like they are learning anything. My 6 year old has even decided that she is naming her children after them!
There are tons of books out there for every child’s pleasure. If at first they don’t enjoy a given book, don’t despair, they just haven’t found the right book yet!
One of the really great things about getting involved with Usborne is getting to learn about books that don’t have the same kind of marketing that most of the big name, character driven books get. When I was getting ready for my first big book fair, I borrowed a number of books from a friend and my daughters found two series that they loved! What was even better about the whole thing is that they feature the same character, just at different reading levels and slightly different ages. Kids can get to know this charming character at a young age and grow with her and her friend Jack, who has his own book series as well!
The first time we came across Billie is when she is in preschool in the marvelous Billie’s Underwater Adventure (there is also a desert adventure). In this book, Billie’s teacher has the kids pretending to be sea animals. Billie is too slow to get the coveted mermaid costume, but she manages to use her imagination to create an even more wonderful outfit. Then she and her friends create an entire world to explore “under the sea.”
Similarly, in the desert story, Billie is annoyed when it is a rainy day and her preschool teacher tells her that rainy days are great to sit inside and read. She doesn’t want to read, she wants to stomp in rain puddles. But her friend Jack comes to her rescue and together they explore secret caves in the desert.
We have had a lot of fun with the Billie preschool books. So when my kids got a hold of the early reader books about her, they were thrilled! The first series, Billie B Brown is marvelous because it was designed for new and struggling readers. They feature large print with no more than 50 words per page. Billie B is a bold and brave young girl who is learning how to believe in herself. Her best friend is a boy named Jack who struggles with some of the same issues that she does. Together, they navigate the world around them and perhaps learn a lesson or two in the process.
My 5 year old absolutely loves the Billie and Jack books. We read them at bedtime and now she is also super excited that there are some audio-book versions. She tries to read pieces of them herself and I think these will be her first chapter books. These are two series that I’m happy to have found.
For the slightly older set, there are the great Billie B. Mysteries. She is slightly older and now she is using her smarts and general common sense to solve mysteries at school and in the neighborhood. These books utilize longer sentences and more words per page, but are still easy to read.
We’ve read one and ordered the complete set. Both my 9 year old and my 5 year old enjoy these together. They are the kind of thing where J can read them to E and mom doesn’t have to worry at all about content.
It is really great to find a character that we can grow with. She doesn’t feel overly girly and there is something endearing about the fact that her best friend is a boy. While being purchased mainly for E, we will all get lots of good reading out of these books!
Every week I volunteer in my daughter’s elementary school library and every week I see a few of the same books being checked out – Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Captain Underpants, Pokemon books, Goosebumps and a selection of scary stories. None of these have ever been on J’s radar in terms of books, but of course, I have been curious. At one point a few years ago, I did purchase Diary of a Wimpy Kid for a friend’s son because it looked cute and I knew it was popular, but again, not on our radar. Then at some point, I saw a copy of it available as a free download via Kindle Unlimited, and there it sat on my device, unread and forgotten until a recent conversation with people about lexile levels (post on that to come later).
So while waiting for our flight to Florida for spring break, J realized that she could read it and decided to give it a try. The book was finished before our plane landed and she wanted to read the next one. Hmmm….very interesting. I managed to get her books 2 and 3 from the online library and she sped through those as well within the next few days, then went back to reading things that were more in line with her normal reading habits.
By the time we were ready to fly back to North Carolina, I was ready to give the Diary a chance. Wow. This was not a book meant for an adult to read. J enjoyed it and liked the fact that it was written from a child’s perspective and that it was funny, but I think it was like brain candy for her and after speeding through 3 books she is done. As an adult, the humor was lost on me. This book is targeted at 2nd and 3rd graders even though the characters are all in middle school, and is meant to engage reluctant readers with its jokes and illustrations (very Saturday morning comics style). My big complaint is that aside from not thinking it was funny, the characters in general have no redeeming qualities. The main character is actually a video gaming addict who treats his one real friend in cruel and mean ways and never seems to learn anything from his actions.
In the way that I am not personally a fan of Junie B. Jones, I’m not personally a fan of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. That said, in the same vein, any book that gets a kid excited about reading and has them begging for more is a wonderful thing.
What if you had a machine that could do all of your homework for you? Would you share that information? What would you do with all of the extra time? How would you feel about using the machine? These are all questions that come up in Dan Gutman’s The Homework Machine.
The Homework Machine tells the story of four fifth graders who found a way out of doing their homework. The foursome is made up of a geek, a class clown, a teacher’s pet and a slacker. When the geek, Brenton, accidentally tells Sam about his machine, it sets the ball in motion for an adventure in ethics and self-discovery.
We picked up this book because it is on the 2016-17 NC elementary school Battle of the Books. J really enjoyed this book and simply couldn’t put it down. For her, she felt that this was one of those books where you really felt like you were a part of the story. She felt that she was right there in the story, seeing it through the characters’ eyes. One reason for that sense of perspective comes from the fact that you read all of the actions from various perspectives. Whereas The Candymakers focused on a long period of time from one character and then repeated that whole segment from another character’s perspective, The Homework Machine, switches from paragraph to paragraph in the four main characters’ perspectives as well as the teacher, two mothers and a few classmates.
J also felt very connected to one of the characters because the two had a great deal in common. With four very distinct personalities, it is probable that a reader will feel a certain bond or kinship with an individual character.
From an adult perspective, it was very interesting to see how the kids not only dealt with the notion of right and wrong when it came to using the machine, but also how they developed as individuals. Judy, the intelligent class-pet who worked hard but excelled, struggled with the most guilt throughout the story. Sam, the class clown, and Kelsey, the slacker, wanted to utilize the homework machine the most because they truly struggled when it came to doing the work and wanted an easy out, so they dealt with less guilt. Brenton invented it as a way to free up his time to study other things that he wasn’t doing in school and because he knew all of the answers anyway.
In addition to the ethical question of using a homework machine, part of the story dealt with each child’s desire, or lack there-of, of fitting in, especially through the eyes of Aam. Sam struggles with both a great deal of self-doubt and yet a strong need to be seen as cool. By being a part of the foursome and seeing Brenton seriously not care what others thought of him, helped Sam have more faith in himself.
This is a great book to get kids thinking about ethics. Additionally, it also highlights the fact that you can’t judge a book, or person, by it’s cover and that we don’t know what others are going through. As we have started to read a few other Battle of the Books entries, that seems to be a theme for a selection of them this year and it is a great way to help teach empathy. All in all, this was a very enjoyable book.