Thursday, February 27, 2014

Guest Post #1 - Dustin

Who better to recommend books to children than other children?  I'm going to try and do this at least once a month - hold me to it!  My February guest poster is...
My name is Dustin and I am 9 years old.
I am very intelligent with math and it’s my favorite subject, too. I like being silly, creative, and being a leader.  I enjoy riding scooters, bikes, and quadding in my free time along with pizza and pie.
Book title: Stink and the Ultimate Thumb-Wrestling Smackdown  
Author: Megan McDonald
Illustrator: Peter H. Reynolds
Brief summary of story: This story is about Stink and his friend making masks for their thumbs and having a battle. Later in the story his sister [Judy Moody] challenged Stink to a thumb wrestling war, and then they battle. Then Stink and his friend have the final battle. I will not tell you who wins so you will have to read it to find out. 
Thank you, Dustin - Judy and Stink are two of my favorite characters and I hope lots of kids decide to get to know them because of your enthusiasm!

Dustin's picture was posted with the permission of his parents.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Heidi Heckelbeck Series

One of my second graders recently recommended this series to me, so I purchased the box set of the first four books and began reading them aloud to my class after lunch.  They love it! Maddy recommended it to the class because "she is a witch and I liked it because she always to tries to cast spells to make things better, but she makes it worse."

Let me preface the rest of my remarks with this information:  this year is my first year back in the primary grades after spending the past 7 years as a 4th and 5th grade reading teacher.  During those years, I had the opportunity to introduce my students to some truly outstanding literature.  When I arrived in 2nd grade, I packed up 14 boxes of amazing chapter books and began to fill my shelves with books better suited to the needs of my young students.  It has been an adjustment :)  Every time I finish a read-aloud, I struggle to find one that my students will enjoy but will also not make me want to die.  It's not easy.  I love Beverly Cleary, Patricia MacLachlan, and Laura Ingalls Wilder.  My students are being raised in a Captain Underpants world.

Chapter books written to capture the fancy of young readers and encourage them to keep reading, by necessity, must be simple of phrase and plot. The Heidi Heckelbeck series meets that criteria.  It will never be considered great literature.  That said, I am delighted by the fact that my students are so engaged that they beg for more at the end of each brief chapter.  The plot is simple, but not too simplistic.  The language is plain and clear, a must for early chapter books.  The word "said" is used far too often, but it gives me an opportunity to hammer home our writing lessons on finding synonyms for overused words :)  Every character's name is an alliteration, which gets old for me, but the kids love it and, again, I can use that to my advantage during language arts lessons :)

Heidi Heckelbeck  is an 8-year-old who is just starting public school when we meet her.  To this point in her life, she has been homeschooled.  She is as upset about going to public school as her little Kindergarten brother is excited.  Once there, she meets the usual cast of characters in a school setting - the nerd, the bully, the mean girl, the new best friend, etc.  Naturally, Melanie, the mean girl, makes Heidi's life miserable and Heidi has to figure out a way to either live with it or make it stop.

Although author Wanda Coven drops subtle hints early in the first book, it took my class completely by surprise to find out that Heidi is a witch. Her mother is a witch, her grandmother is a witch, but her dad and her brother Henry are not. Anyone who grew up with "Bewitched" and "I Dream of Jeannie" understands the appeal of this development.  And...didn't the author's name just become more clever?

Heidi's challenge is to handle life's problems without using magic.  Of course, she always uses it anyway, it backfires, and she learns a lesson.  But that doesn't keep her from trying it again.

I foresee another Heidi Heckelbeck purchase in my near future because we are almost done with the 4th book.  My students ask every day when I am going to put them in our classroom library.  Thanks, Maddy for recommending it!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Memoirs of a Goldfish

Occasionally, I read a children's book that makes me laugh harder than the kids laugh. Memoirs of a Goldfish is one of those books.

Written in diary form, a goldfish is our main character and he chronicles his days in his tiny bowl.  At first, all he is able to document is that he spent the day swimming around his bowl.  But by Day 4, he begins to get some company and day by day, his little bowl begins to be filled with new water animals and aquarium decorations until he can't take it any more.  He is tired of being cramped and snapped at and is simultaneously disgusted by the increasing slime build up on the bowl and the fact that there is a creature who enjoys eating that slime.  He wants his bowl back!

Day 13 finds him getting his wish and he is separated from everyone and everything in his old bowl.  Joyfully, he swims around his clean new bowl.  However, he soon begins to wonder about his friends - where are they, don't they need him - and he begins to cry, which is "not easy for a fish to do."

On Day 14, he is dumped into a large, new aquarium where he finds the old gang waiting for him, along with a new friend, a goldfish named Gracie.

Simple plot, right?  The beauty of this story is the voice of the goldfish as he describes each new addition to his bowl - his observations are funny, sweet, and teeny bit sarcastic as he realizes and accepts that he is part of a big family.

You need this book.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

My Name is Not Isabella: Just How Big Can a Little Girl Dream?

There's a little girl who attends both my school and my church.  She has a tremendous imagination and will often refuse to answer to her own name because she is being someone else for the moment.  I'm sure it wears on her family, but it's really pretty creative.  She is the real-life incarnation of Isabella.

Isabella's mother gently guides her through the day from getting out of bed in the morning to doing her homework to getting back in bed that night, by acknowledging the new persona each time she is told, "I'm not ____, I'm  ____."

Isabella starts the day as Sally Ride, morphs into Annie Oakley, Rosa Parks, Marie Curie, Elizabeth Blackwell, and finally into Mommy.

I love how Mom just goes with the flow and lets her daughter live in her imagination as she eats her meals, completes her chores and accomplishes everything a young girl must do in a busy day.  As Isabella updates Mom on her latest identity, the reader gets a clue as to that woman's contribution to society.  The final pages of the book gives a brief biography and photo of each of these amazing women who changed the world, or at least their corner of it.

Though I haven't read them yet, there are two sequels:  Isabella: Girl on the Go and Isabella: Star of the Story.  There is also a boy's version: My Name is Not Alexander: Just How Big Can a Little Kid Dream?  I'm looking forward to reading all three, which are all written by Jennifer Fosberry and illustrated by Mike Litwin.

My Name is Not Isabella would be a great addition to any girl's library.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


I have a niece who LOVES her wardrobe.  She loves clothes, shoes, hats, purses, sunglasses, jewelry, hair baubles - if you can put it on your body, she can make it look cute.  She's four, so everything looks cute on her :)  She changes her clothes a zillion times a day to make good use of all of her amazing items.

As soon as I read the first few pages of Shoe-la-la, I knew it was destined to be one of her Aunt Carrie's Book of the Month Club offerings.

The story unfolds in rhyming verse about 4 little girls getting ready to attend a party.  They pick out their dresses, do their hair, but can't seem to find the perfect pairs of shoes for the big soiree.  So they venture out to Shoe-La-La, their local footwear establishment.

They cannot believe how many shoes there are for them to try on and the poor shopkeeper can hardly keep up with their insatiable appetite.  They try on shoes of all colors, styles and patterns, declaring, "We love this place!"  The girls keep the salesman busy until closing time but still cannot decide which pair of shoes they each want.  Sadly for Mr. Shoe Salesman, they are overwhelmed by their choices and go home empty-handed.

At home, they rack their brains for shoe ideas and  in the corner of the picture, we see one of the girls holding one of her comfy old shoes in her hand, wheels turning.  The next illustration fills both pages and shows all four girls on the floor, newspaper covering the floor and all sorts of crafting supplies spread over their work space, each girl creating intently.

They ultimately end up wearing their comfortable old shoes which have been bedazzled to each girl's liking.  "Perfect party shoes to wear!"

Such a cute story! Before anyone suggests that this book teaches children to behave abominably in shoes stores or encourages rampant consumerism (I've read some appalling criticisms of the Fancy Nancy series) - stop.  The book is fun and cute and that's that.

A great addition to your home library.  Your little fashionista will look a the pictures for hours and she'll probably want to create her own pair of party shoes, so be prepared to break out her old sneakers, your glue gun, and lots of ribbon, lace and glitter.  Have fun!