A big part of growing up is figuring out friends and, as you get a bit older, what it means to be more than friends. I remember that when I was in the 5th and 6th grade, one of the book series that was incredibly popular, and which I adored, was Sweet Valley High. Now no one is going to argue that this was high quality literature, but it was fun. These books hit on topics that I was thinking about, but wasn’t ready to quite voice or fully understand. Most of my friends were at least a year older than me, and the notion of boys was definitely in play.
Back in the day, the Sweet Valley High books were intended for preteens, the market that we now consider tweens. Were the SVH books quality literature? Not even close. Were they brain candy and super fun? Absolutely. Kids have to be kids and read light fluff from time to time, especially when we put so many pressures on them. So where am I going with this? I want to take a look at the Choose Your Own Ever After series published by Kane Miller and available through Usborne Books & More.
Choose Your Own Ever After is a series of books that were first published in Australia in 2014. The concept behind these books is that each one lets you choose your own path and change the story based on your decisions. Many people recall the Choose Your Own Adventure series written in the late 70s and early 80s. These books work within that same concept, but have fewer decisions to make and the choices are based on bigger issues. A sample question is do you go to the big party with your two closest friends so they can chase the boys they like or do you go to the movie night/fundraiser for the club at school that you have been a long-time member of? Continue reading →
Today I was able to talk to a group of mothers in my area about early literacy and fostering a love of books. I am not a trained expert on the subject, but years of observation and following the research makes me feel pretty secure in my knowledge. When I hear a child who has hit 4th grade complaining about having to read it simply breaks my heart. The problem is that by 4th grade it is unlikely, though not impossible, that we can make much of a change. Where we need to instill that love of books is as early as possible.
Children are natural sponges. If we want to instill a love of books, we need them to see that we share that love ourselves. The best things we can do for our kids is to be an example of someone who loves books, have books around the house, and allow them to read what they want without worrying about lexile level or even content. But more than anything, our children mimic our behavior. If they see us reading, they are more likely to read. If they see us purchasing books or going to the library on a regular basis, they learn that we value books. In lower-income homes, this can be an issue because books are often not as valued, especially when other high priority needs need to be met. In other homes, adults have stopped purchasing “real” books and instead have started relying on digital books and kids can have a hard time differentiating between the fact that you are reading a book on your tablet vs checking Facebook or your email. (For more on digital media’s impact, check out this fascinating article from the NY Times) Continue reading →
My younger daughter’s current favorite book is the Usborne Illustrated Stories of Princes and Princesses. We are big fans of the Illuustrated Stories series in general because of their gorgeous illustrations and ability to take well known stories and bring them to younger audiences at an age appropriate level (Shakespeare for an 8 year old!). What sets this particular book apart is the fact that it brings forth many lesser known fairy tales from a variety of cultures and it is a book focusing on princesses, but without that common thread of princess needs saving from prince.
E found this book in our catalog and started begging for it, so of course I bought it, since I’m a sucker for that desire. We were quickly surprised by the content of the stories. Many are well known tales like Cinderella, The Princess and the Pea, Sleeping Beauty, and the Frog Prince. But then there are stories that have never made their way into my fairy tale loving family – The Princess and the Glass Hill, Princess Nobody, and the Seven Ravens, for example. Each story is beautifully told with illustrations and an easy to read font. Continue reading →
My older daughter is heading to London this summer with her grandfather. Just in time, Usborne books published the really fun book Kitty Kat, Kitty Kat, Where Have you Been – London.
As you may recall, the original poem is quite simple and goes like this:
Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been?
I’ve been to London to look at the Queen.
Pussy cat, pussy cat, what did you there?
I frightened a little mouse under her chair.
This wonderful picture book pays homage to the original English rhyme, first published in 1805, as a way to tour some of the bigger sites of London.
In this story, written by Russell Punter and illustrated by Dan Taylor, an owl asks a returning Kitty Kat where he had been. Of course Kitty tells the owl that he had been to London to visit the Queen. When pressed further to say what he saw, Kitty Kat encourages the owl to listen to his story. He then recounts many of the really cool things that he was able to do on his trip to London.
From going on a boat under London Bridge, seeing the Crown Jewels, hopping on a double decker bus, going to Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, and Buckingham Palace, Kitty Kat takes a full tour of London. Many of the locations are described within the original rhyme sequence.
The inside front and back covers have a truly basic map of the region and items that young Kitty Kat sees and even though Kitty wasn’t able to actually see the Queen, he still had a marvelous time in London.
Books about travel destinations typically engage children through bright and vivid illustrations and this book is no different. The pictures are whimsical yet realistic. A child can get a good sense of what the Tower of London was like and how amazing it is to actually get to see the Crown Jewels. For a child who hasn’t yet been to a location, seeing what another child might have gone to see can help get them excited, especially if there are fun details like how a whisper is heard throughout the dome of Saint Paul’s Cathedral. A place like London has a huge amount of history for kids to be excited by, and this book does a great job for the 4-8 set.
There is also a version that whisks Kitty Kat off on an exciting tour of Paris. Young readers can join him as he cruises down the Seine, climbs the Eiffel Tower, and discovers famous paintings in the Lourve Museum. I don’t have a copy of that yet, but I will 🙂
I love books that encourage children to experience music. Recently, I picked up the book Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin, by Lloyd Moss, at our library and was immediately entranced. What is even more ingenious about this book is that it is a counting book that happens to also build an orchestra.
We have started taking our children to the orchestra when there is a local show that makes sense for them (Broadway tunes was a big hit). It is difficult to give them tons of information in the auditorium itself, so finding books that help them understand what they are hearing and seeing is especially useful.
As the book opens, “with mournful moan and silken tune, itself alone came one trombone.” One instrument is a solo musician. Each page adds a new layer, player, description, and number. Through descriptive terminology and colorful illustrations, young readers get a better sense of the instruments that make up an orchestra.
The book itself was written by Lloyd Moss, a radio personality for NY’s only full-time classical music station. He knows the perfect words to describe the instruments in an orchestra and Marjorie Priceman’s illustrations draw children in with their whimsy and movement.
After finding this book, it made me think about how few children do get to experience seeing an orchestra live. Fortunately, Usborne has a marvelous book that can help fill them in on a variety of key details. In Usborne’s First Book About the Orchestra, children get to see what the instruments that make up most orchestras look like, what families they belong to, and it has good sound that allows them to hear the instruments as well. A very intelligent thing that the First Book About the Orchestra does is that it utilizes one piece of music throughout the entire book showing how each the piece sounds when played by a single grouping of instruments and then how much fuller the sound is when all of the instruments are put together with the full orchestration.
If you are looking for a way to bring more music education to your child, these two books are a great place to start.
“Long ago, everything from the changing of the seasons to the passage of the Sun through the sky was an unsolved mystery. So people came up with stories to explain how things came to be. These stories – known as myths or fables – varied from place to place, but all had a shared thread running through them: they set out to explain the inexplicable, to offer a version of the world that made some sense.”
So begins the book the Usborne Illustrated Fables from Around the World. This beautiful book offers 18 wonderful myths and fables from around the world that at one point helped people try to understand the world around them. Continue reading →
I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting books to challenge my kids and everyone else’s. From storyline to embellishments, kids get excited when things are a little different. So I was thrilled when I opened the pages of The Curious Case of the Missing Mammoth.
The story tells of a magic hour where the animals and other things within a museum come to life. The only problem is that Teddy, a baby mammoth, has gotten loose and his older brother Timothy needs to find him and get him back to the museum before the clock strikes one. A young boy, Oscar, see Timothy outside of his bedroom window and goes to help. Continue reading →
Kids love when books come in a series. Don’t believe me? Just check out the proliferation of trilogies in the last number of years. Young readers simply get hooked on a character and once they know that they like one book, they also know that they don’t have to go searching through the vast library of other options to have another book to read. I have no problem with that, but finding good series can be challenging. One that J has been devouring lately, and that E really wants to be able to read, is the EJ12: Girl Hero series by Susannah McFarlane.
EJ12 is an adventure series for young girls where the girl is the hero. The concept of the series is that young Emma Jacks is an average ten-year-old girl who just happens to also be EJ12 – “a field agent and ace code-cracker in the under-twelve division of SHINE, a secret agency that protects the world from evildoers.” As Emma Jacks, she often struggles and doubts herself, but as EJ12 she believes that she can accomplish anything. Each book features a situation that she needs to deal with in her everyday life as Emma Jacks as well as a mission that she has to solve as EJ12.
I actually found this video from Susannah McFarlane about the series and one of the things she says that I love is that “EJ is more competent than confident and she needs to trust herself a little bit more.” I also think it is awesome that she specifically wanted a book series where the girl was “hero front and center,” rather than how Hermione is a major hero in Harry Potter, but not the main focus.
In each book, EJ12 must solve various codes to solve her mission for Shine. As she explains in book 1, codes are “confusing at first because they looked like one things and then turned out to be something else…But once you understood how they worked, they were easy to handle.” Interestingly, she understands that there are similarities between codes and people, but while she can crack the codes she gets faced with for a mission, she is struggling with cracking the code of other 10 year olds.
These books are aimed at 7-10 year olds, those who have graduated from early chapter books and are ready to read something with a little more meat. I wish I had known about these books when J was younger, but even though they are like candy for her, they deal with some of the emotional issues that a girl who is about to be 10 deals with, so for that reason, they are still perfect. E will be getting to these in probably the next year, so at least that is a plus.
EJ12 is an import from Australia via the Kane Miller portion of Usborne Books & More. As you may or may not know, I am an independent consultant with Usborne Books. You can find EJ12 here. You might also consider hosting a party and earning some truly amazing books for free!