Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Biographies - not just for history buffs!

One of the most interesting ways to learn about history is through biographies. They give a personal, close-up look at events that may be less captivating when viewed at a more macro level. Young people often find much to admire and identify with in the struggles of various historical personages as well.

I've also found that students who strongly prefer to read fiction will often embrace biographies because they describe people's lives in story form. Improving non-fiction reading comprehension skills is another benefit of reading biographies! Even strong fiction readers can benefit from practice in reading more non-fiction.

Check out this great Top 10 Biographies for Youth from 2010 list. It includes books for grades 1-12. The menu on the bottom left-hand side of this website also has links to many other notable fiction and non-fiction awards!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bank Street College of Education Book Lists & Awards

The venerable Bank Street College of Education in New York City gives out an annual award to works "of outstanding literary merit in which children or young people deal in a positive and realistic way with difficulties in their world and grow emotionally and morally."

In addition to descriptions of the winners from this and previous years, their website also has Best of the Best reading lists for under 5s through the teen years. Happy reading!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

An exciting new children's fiction blog - and a cool contest too!

Blogs are one of my favorite ways to keep up with all the news in the world of children's literature. The web is bursting at the seams with funny, informative book-related blogs, some of which are linked to this one (see the menu on the left)!

Well, there's a new blog on the block: From the Mixed-Up Files, which is aimed at middle-grade readers and the adults who love them. What is a middle grade book? It's one for kids who are old enough to sink their teeth into a chapter book but who are not yet ready for edgier, mature teen fiction.

The name of this blog was inspired by one of the all-time middle-grade classics, E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. This superb mystery/adventure novel so profoundly excited my imagination as a child that when I first set foot in the Metropolitan Museum of Art as an adult, all I could think was that I was finally walking in the footsteps of Claudia and her brother!

What can you find on this blog? Well, there are suggested reading lists, tips and links for parents, interviews with authors, new book releases, and more. Written as a collaborative project by a group of notable published authors of middle grade fiction, they are also giving away free books all summer! Why don't you check out the rules and try your luck?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Jane Addams Children's Book Awards

Looking for some inspirational summer reading for all ages? Look no further than the Jane Addams Children's Book Awards, given annually to works "that effectively promote the cause of peace, social justice, world community, and the equality of the sexes and all races as well as meeting conventional standards for excellence."

From their list of 2010 winners, I would particularly recommend National Book Award winner Claudette Colvin by Phillip Hoose. Wonderful for grades 6 and up, this book tells parts of the story of the Montgomery bus boycott that have long been forgotten.

Almost a year before Rosa Parks famously stood up for equal rights, a courageous high school student independently challenged the segregated seating arrangements on the buses and was arrested and imprisoned as a result. Instead of becoming a hero, Colvin was shunned by many in her community and later fell into obscurity. You can read more about this remarkable woman in the New York Times.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Summer Vacation 2010 reading list!

Summer vacation is right around the corner and that means plenty of time for reading at home or wherever your travels may take you. View my profile on GoodReads and other posts in this blog for more book recommendations. On the blog, look at the labels menu on the bottom left for categories such as “reading lists” and “awards.”


Boy, Were We Wrong about Dinosaurs! by Kathleen V. Kudlinksi (nonfiction) – This is an interesting survey of past beliefs about dinosaurs that turned out to be incorrect. It’s an important reminder that science is always changing as we make new discoveries!

11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass (chapter book) – Lifelong friends born on the same day in the same hospital, Amanda and Leo have to re-live their 11th birthday until they finally resolve the feud that has kept them estranged since they were 10.

Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson (biography) – An exciting account of a real life hero, a former slave who arrested over 3000 people and helped bring law and order to the Wild West.

The Bog Baby by Jeanne Willis (picture book) – What exactly is a bog baby? You’ll just have to read this book to find out – and then keep your eyes peeled next time you visit a bog…!

Carl Sandburg: Adventures of a Poet by Penelope Niven (biography) – Featuring gorgeous illustrations and a generous sampling of Sandburg’s poems, this is a unique biography of a remarkable man who lived through some of the most interesting events in modern American history.

How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz (picture book) – The author relates the story of his boyhood years in what is now Kazakhstan after his family fled Poland at the start of World War II. This is an inspirational story about the power of the mind to rise above harsh realities.

The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood (chapter book) – A young governess, a strange howling noise, dark and menacing woods… it all adds up to an original tale of dark humor and suspense.

Sneaky Weasel by Hannah Shaw (picture book) – Weasel is sneaky and mean and so he has no friends. Do you think he can change his weaselly ways and become nicer? Read and find out!

That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown by Cressida Cowell (picture book) – What would you do if the Queen suddenly demanded your favorite toy? Emily Brown stands her ground and holds onto her rabbit!

Uh-Oh, Cleo by Jessica Harper (beginning chapter book) – First in a sweet and funny series of realistic fiction books about a family of six children and all the noise and chaos that entails!

Middle school (many of these are great for grades 5 and up as well)

Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (chapter book) – D.J.’s family (like most everyone else in her rural Wisconsin home) is all about football. Her two older brothers are college football stars and all D.J. wants is a chance to play on her high school team with the boys. But when she’s asked to coach a rival team’s quarterback, life takes an unexpected turn!

Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass (chapter book) – A group of kids who would never be friends at home find themselves thrown together in a remote camp and the results surprise everyone. A great work about dealing with parents, friendship, crushes – and solar eclipses!

First Light by Rebecca Stead (chapter book) – This science fiction novel by this year’s Newbery Award winner is an exciting tale of a lost civilization hidden under the ice of Greenland and a boy who is the first human to enter – but can he get out alive?

Immersed in Verse: An Informative, Slightly Irreverent & Totally Tremendous Guide to Living the Poet's Life by Allan Wolf (nonfiction) – An entertaining guide to reading and understanding poetry, sprinkled with lively examples and encouragement and advice for writing your own!

Laika by Nick Abadzis (graphic novel) – Have a box of tissues ready when you read this moving account of the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik II and the sacrifice of a brave little dog that made it possible.

Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen (chapter book) – Ruby’s head is spinning! From scraping out a living on her own at age 17, she suddenly finds herself in the lap of luxury when her older sister and tech whiz brother-in-law take her in and send her to an expensive private school. Then there’s the boy next door…

No Pretty Pictures by Anita Lobel (memoir) – This is a deeply moving and inspirational Holocaust memoir by a woman who went on to become a noted children’s author and illustrator. She and her brother were at first hidden in the countryside by her nanny, later captured by the Nazis, and finally transported to Sweden. A true story you’ll never forget.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: The Secrets Behind What You Eat by Michael Pollan (nonfiction) – The young people’s version of Pollan’s comprehensive book about food, where it comes from, and why you should care!

Small Steps by Louis Sachar (chapter book) – In this sequel to Holes, Armpit finds life after leaving Camp Green Lake complicated when he gets involved in a get-rich-quick scheme dreamed up by his friend X-Ray. Full of humor and suspense, this one is a real page turner!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A noted author shares his thoughts on parenting & homework

I was delighted by this offering from T.A. Barron: Veni, Vidi, Wi-Fi: A Father Discovers His Role Is a Lot Like a Librarian's. If your household is anything like mine (and his) you're aware that thanks to the Internet, homework today is nothing like homework was when we were in school! The possibilities are greater but the hazards are as well. Read this article, think it over, discuss the issues with your kids - and the next time they sit down at the computer to do homework, see what happens...

Thursday, June 3, 2010


All middle school, junior high and high school students are encouraged to enter the King County Library System's video book review contest called Read.Flip.Win. All you have to do is read a book and make a short promotional video for it. See the website for complete details. You may enter anytime between now and July 31st.

Special request to all my students, past and present: please let me know if you submit an entry - I'd love to see it!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Out of print no longer!

Unfortunately in today's publishing market many wonderful books go out of print all too quickly. Publisher Marshall Cavendish is working to bring many beloved classics back in print. Check back on their website as they add more great titles to their Classics list - and remember, the public library is always a great source of out-of-print material!

I often recommend classic children's books to young gifted readers because they can be complex and challenging, without some of the inappropriate content that young people can be exposed to if they simply read contemporary books aimed at older kids.