Monday, December 17, 2012

January book presentation for 5th grade: recommended by Ms. Simeon!

For January, students will be reading a book recommended by their librarian! There is a shelf of fiction and nonfiction books that I love - but that haven't circulated as much as I think they deserve to. Students are welcome to stop by anytime to select one. I hope some of these overlooked books will find appreciative readers.

Winter break 2012 reading list

Can you believe winter break is right around the corner? Neither can I! I hope you all enjoy some of these titles as much as I did. Please also view my profile on GoodReads for more book recommendations. Happy holidays!

Picture books for all ages

Belle, the Last Mule at Gee’s Bend by Calvin Alexander Ramsey – An inspiring story based on actual events, about a small and courageous Alabama community – and their two mules! – who came to play a surprising role in history. It offers a unique glimpse into Martin Luther King, Jr.’s impact on ordinary people.

The Boy Who Cried Ninja by Alex Latimer – A clever and hilarious book, sort of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” in reverse. Our young hero comes up with a clever way to prove to everyone that he really was telling the truth!

The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families by Susan L. Roth – Incredible mixed-media collage illustrations bring to life the story of one man who turned his personal experience of suffering into something positive for hundreds of people halfway around the world.

A New Year’s Reunion by Yu Li-Qiong – A bittersweet tale of a happy but all-too-brief family reunion as Maomao’s Papa joins the many migrant workers in China who spend most of the year far from their loved ones. A charming, beautifully illustrated story of family love.

Wumbers by Amy Krouse Rosenthal – A fun book that may inspire hours of creative word and number play! And may also look familiar to anyone who’s done a bit of texting. Here’s an example: “Are you usually prompt, or do you 10d 2 be l8 and keep others w8ing?”

Elementary & Middle School Chapter Book Fiction

Almost Zero by Nikki Grimes – A short, illustrated chapter book about a lively young heroine. Unlike many chapter books for younger readers, this one also provides great material for discussions about needs vs. wants, how important (or not) it is to have what “everyone else” has, etc.

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai – Inspired by the author’s childhood experiences as a Vietnamese refugee in the US, this story in verse follows Hà as she and her family attempt to build a new life in Alabama.

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead – From the Newbery-winning author of When You Reach Me, has produced another wonderfully complex and quietly engrossing novel, one that explores issues of family, friendship, honesty and deception.

The White Giraffe by Lauren St. John – Set on a South African game reserve, this is a suspenseful animal story with a touch of magic… Great sense of place and an intriguing plot!

Wild Wings by Gill Lewis – A deeply moving story by a Scottish veterinarian about a small group of friends determined to save an endangered bird. In the process they forge online friendships across thousands of miles and help to heal ties in their own little community.

Middle & High School Chapter Book Fiction

The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Josh Berk – Starting over at a new school can be hard – and it’s even harder for Will, who decides to leave his school for the deaf and try out a regular public school. He survives the mean kids, makes a new friend, and together the two take on the mystery of a classmate’s death while on a field trip in this original book with many surprising touches of humor.

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr – A story of love and loss, and what makes a family… everyone reacts to a death in the family differently, and Jill is not at all happy when, in the aftermath of her father’s death, her mother decides to adopt a new baby.

Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans – Page turners don’t get much more exciting than this! Michael has special powers that no one at school can know about – in fact he and his mom have had to move many times already to keep his secret. So what’s going to happen now the cat is out of the bag…?

Pink by Lili Wilkinson – How do you rebel when your parents are already “out there”? In this Australian teen title, Ava leaves behind her alternative school – and wardrobe - for a complete change that leaves her family and friends baffled. How long until she figures out who she really is and where she really belongs?

Re-gifters by Mike Carey – In this graphic novel we meet Dixie, a Korean American teenager in Los Angeles, who is dedicated to the martial art hapkido. She’s determined to emerge victorious at the upcoming championship, but her crush on a boy leads her to make a series of poor choices… can she recover in time to win?


Elizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote by Tanya Lee Stone (grades 1 and up) – A great introductory biography that brings this remarkable woman vividly to life. It also does a great job of showing readers how much of what we take for granted as normal today was actually the result of hard won battles in the not-too-distant past.

One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin by Kathryn Lasky (grades 3 and up) – A highly accessible and engaging biography of an important scientific figure. This book makes the complicated cultural context in which Darwin worked accessible to the young reader.

Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution by Ji-li Jiang (grades 5 and up) – This is a memoir that really brings history to life in a vivid way since the author describes the events of Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution as she experienced them beginning as a 12 year old.

She Touched the World: Laura Bridgman, Deaf-Blind Pioneer by Sally Alexander Hobart (grades 3 and up) – Helen Keller is a familiar figure, but Bridgman, who lived half a century earlier, was every bit as remarkable, having lost her senses of hearing, sight and smell. The author of this wonderfully written book is blind as well. A truly inspirational story.

We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March by Cynthia Levinson (grades 6 and up) – A compelling and suspenseful title that sheds light on the remarkable actions of the many young people who dared to take risks that helped change this country forever.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Excellence in education

I recently was able to attend a conference at the University of Washington called Excellence in K-12 Education: Lessons from Finland and Washington. It was a most inspirational and informative day, filled with a variety of stimulating speakers, but I was particularly intrigued by Vivien Stewart, Vice President of the Asia Society and author of A World Class Education, who discussed the common features of school systems around the world who consistently produce exceptional students. These systems exist all over the globe and vary considerably in some ways - after all, they are all products of the cultures they inhabit. Yet they all have a few commonalities, a significant one being the professionalism of their teachers.

In these highly successful school systems, teachers are given ample time and support both to pursue professional development off campus and to observe and collaborate with one another - to learn from the expertise already available on campus. This is something we do at OWS for which I am most grateful! In addition to being able to regularly attend conferences and training that help us remain current in our fields, we also engage in observations of our colleagues. Last week I saw a wonderful 4th grade lesson taught by our Drama Specialist, Ms. Edwards, in which students creatively re-enacted poems, complete with props.

Today I watched a 5th grade Humanities lesson by Ms. Russell about transmogrification in which students took familiar nursery rhymes and cleverly rephrased them, injecting them with vocabulary that had more pizzazz. They practiced creative writing for sure - but also respectful listening, public speaking and the offering of constructive feedback as they took turns volunteering to share their work.

Here is just one example produced by a young man without the aid of dictionary or thesaurus. See if you can guess which classic nursery rhyme he transmogrified! (Click on the link to see if you were right!)

Females and males, come out to perform recreational activities / The lunar cosmic debris pulled together by gravity orbiting the earth is reflecting sunlight of many lumens / Abandon your potential energy in the form of calories served in the evening / Abandon your state of mind in which your consciousness is dormant while your unconscious organizes information / And come with your peers into the pathway on which automobiles roam.

Don't you love it?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Multicultural chapter books

Check out Books to Match Diverse Young Readers in yesterday's New York Times! I was very happy to note that two of their recommended titles - The Great Wall of Lucy Wu and How Tia Lola Came to Stay - are past selections from our Global Studies Book Club (held annually in the library during lunch recess for select grade levels).

This year in book club, 2nd grade will be reading The Year of the Book by Andrea Cheng and 3rd and 4th grades will be reading Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez.

For more reading recommendations, stay tuned for my Winter Break 2012 Book List!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Best books of 2012!

How do you start with the approximately 37,000 new books published in 2012 for kids and teens and winnow them down to a list of the 65 best titles? With much care and effort, that's how! Fortunately School Library Journal has just released their Best Books 2012 list and it's here for all of us to enjoy - just in time for our winter break, less than 3 weeks away!
If you have older students at home, check out their Best Adult Books 4 Teens list as well!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Essay contest: A Season of Compassion and Generosity

Students in grades 3-12 are invited to enter an essay contest, A Season of Compassion and Generosity, by reading one of the books for your age group and writing an essay that shows "how the character’s traits of compassion and generosity touched you."

Winners get a Kindle Fire to keep and $1000 for their school's library! However, the books they chose are so wonderful that really anyone who participates will be a winner by virtue of getting to read them.

The deadline is January 31, 2013, so this could be a nice activity for winter break! See the link above for a list of books and full details about how to enter.

Monday, November 26, 2012

December book presentation for 5th grade: ALA award winners!

The American Library Association sponsors many book awards, some of which are widely recognized (the Caldecott and Newbery, for example), while others honor equally worthy material but are less well-known.

This month's book presentation for Ms. Russell's class will be on a book of appropriate length and difficulty which is not a biography and was selected as a medal or honor book for one of the ALA awards listed below.

We have many qualifying titles on display in the school library for students to choose from. Or you may follow the links below to see what else there is! Remember to run your selection past Ms. Russell for her approval!

The Batchelder Award is "awarded to an American publisher for a children's book considered to be the most outstanding of those books originally published in a foreign language in a foreign country, and subsequently translated into English and published in the United States. ALSC gives the award to encourage American publishers to seek out superior children's books abroad and to promote communication among the peoples of the world."
The Pura Belpré Award is "presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth."
The Coretta Scott King Award is "given to African American authors and illustrator for outstanding inspirational and educational contributions, the Coretta Scott King Book Award titles promote understanding and appreciation of the culture of all peoples and their contribution to the realization of the American dream of a pluralistic society."
The Newbery Medal is "awarded annually to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children published by an American publisher in the United States in English during the preceding year. There are no limitations as to the character of the book considered except that it be original work."
The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal "is awarded annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished informational book published in the United States in English during the preceding year."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Open endings & The Giver

Readers (and viewers) typically have very strong feelings - whether positive or negative - about stories with open endings. During discussions after storytimes, students frequently want to know what happened after the story ended; some are happy to speculate, while others crave resolution.

Lois Lowry's classic Newbery-winning novel, The Giver, is part of a quartet that recently concluded with the publication of Son. In this recent interview, Lowry describes how many students wrote to her about the famously ambiguous ending to The Giver, pleading for resolution:

Lowry recalled, “I would write back and say, ‘You have to use your imagination,’ and they didn’t like that.”

The New York Times dubbed her “The Children’s Author Who Actually Listens to Children” in a deeply moving article about her monumental body of work. I particularly loved this quote:

“The ability to understand other people’s feelings,” Lowry said. “As an encompassing gift that a kid could have — or a human — that could be the one that could save the world.”

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Free (yes, free!) ebooks for your iPad, Kindle, Nook and phone!

Did you know that you can download free ebooks - both text and audio - as well as music and videos from the public library?

There are many wonderful titles available for all ages - though of course you sometimes have to wait a bit for popular new releases - and you can borrow them for up to 21 days.

Need help with the Overdrive software? There are hands-on demonstrations at the library or you can follow the online guides written for a variety of devices.

Just another great service to explore - and if you aren't part of King County Library System, many, if not most, public library systems now offer Overdrive.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Christopher Paul Curtis!

I find that author talks are always a delight - even when they are by authors whose works I'm not familiar with. However when one of my all-time favorite authors comes to town, it is a very special occasion indeed! A couple of weeks ago I got to see Christopher Paul Curtis speak at the University of Washington.

This was especially good timing because 4th graders are in the middle of reading The Mighty Miss Malone. We're alternating weeks of reading the book with weeks of practicing doing research about the Great Depression, the era in which it is set. The captivating story brings this important era to life and gives information literacy skills a context that helps prevent the research lessons from becoming too dry.

So, for all you historical fiction fans - and for those who think they don't like historical fiction! - give this author a try. His characters feel so real, they practically leap off the page. You'll laugh and cry with them and you'll learn a lot about history without even realizing that's what's happening.

A few fun bits of trivia I picked up at his talk: photographs of Curtis's actual parents and little sister, Cydney, appear on the cover of The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963! That funny song in Bud, Not Buddy? It was composed by his daughter, Cydney, when she was 5 years old. And my favorite story: Curtis says that when he was a curious young boy, full of questions, if he ever asked something his mother didn't know how to answer, she'd reply, "We'll go to the library and get a book about it." Great words to live by!

Monday, October 29, 2012

It's almost NaNoWriMo time again!

November will bring more than just a presidential election: it's the month when thousands of eager writers around the world set pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, more likely) and participate in National Novel Writing Month!

There is even a version for young people with word limits you select yourself. Every year a number of our middle school students choose to participate. Why not you?

November book presentation for 5th grade: historical fiction!

Historical fiction is a fun genre because it is so broad. You can choose to go on an adventure in medieval England or 1930s New York City or 1970s Vietnam. The possibilities are endless! With so much variety, there is truly something for everyone - even readers who are sure they "don't like history."

Two authors in this genre that I especially love are Christopher Paul Curtis and Jennifer Holm. Both create characters so vivid and plots so engaging that you are drawn into the story. Nothing is more jarring than the sort of historical fiction where it feels like the author is trying to cram as many facts into your brain as possible. That is NOT going to happen with these two!

But my hands down, all-time favorite historical fiction novel of all time is One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. It's got humor, intrigue, suspense and some of the most appealing and memorable  characters you'll ever meet. In fact, it's far too good just for middle schoolers - if you're a parent reading this, do yourself a favor and read it too (or listen to the wonderfully performed audio version). Here I am with the author at a library conference in New Orleans in 2010!

We have dozens of books available in the library learning commons just for 5th graders to choose from. Stop by anytime to choose your book!
Here are some reading lists for more ideas:

Monday, October 22, 2012

Your reading brain

A recent NPR article, A Lively Mind: Your Brain On Jane Austen, described a researcher who put subjects into an fMRI machine and had them either dip into Jane Austen novels in a casual, browsing way, or else read them carefully and closely, as they would for an academic class. She wondered which parts of the brain would be activated when the way they read changed. The results were surprising! "Phillips found that close reading activated unexpected areas: parts of the brain that are involved in movement and touch. It was as though readers were physically placing themselves within the story as they analyzed it."

Check out this Stanford University article for a more in-depth discussion of this unique and fascinating study! Curious to learn more about how the brain responds to reading? Proust and the Squid is a wonderfully accessible and entertaining book that I can highly recommend!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Learning & growing

Students are not the only ones who get to learn interesting new things! I feel very fortunate to work in a school where professional development for teachers is so strongly supported. In the past 10 days I've had exposure to a number of incredible, inspirational minds!

I got to spend the first weekend in October at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, the oldest town in Tennessee. Thousands of people from all over the US and abroad showed up to hear an incredible line-up of diverse storytellers sharing everything from traditional Lakota tales to memories of Okinawans who survived the second World War to family stories from rural 1950s North Carolina. Storytelling is a wonderful vehicle for instruction in the classroom - as well as being an activity that teaches students a variety of skills connected to those all-important executive function traits. I do storytelling with students regularly in addition to reading books, and in the upper elementary grades also give them opportunities to practice these skills themselves. Attending the festival gave me the chance to learn at the feet of masters and gain inspiration for my program here at OWS.

This past Friday was the PNAIS Fall Educators' Conference at Annie Wright School in Tacoma. It was a day packed with incredible speakers! I was especially impressed by Kathryn Schulz, who spoke about her book Being Wrong; Rob Evans, an entertaining and engaging speaker who talked about risk and resilience; and Ashley Merryman, whose writing I have enjoyed for some time and whose work always challenges me to reconsider my "obvious" assumptions.

I highly recommend all of the above authors! And if you are interested in storytelling, check out events sponsored by the Seattle Storytellers Guild, or do a keyword search of the public library catalog for "storytelling" with "book on CD" as your material type.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Library conferences next week!

Have questions about what goes on in library classes? Need recommendations for good children's or teen literature? Having trouble accessing databases or guiding your student in safe online searching? Want suggestions on how to encourage your child to read more or break out of a reading rut? Just curious to see what's on our shelves?

I hope you will stop by to see me and look at our space! I am available on a drop-in basis between 8am-4pm on Thursday and Friday, October 18th and 19th (parent/teacher conference days).

Students in all-day EDEP will be dropping in for an hour on Thursday morning, but please come in anyway - you are welcome at any time. I look forward to meeting with you!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Our children's wishes

We begin every school year in grades K-3 library classes by learning in depth about one part of the world. In previous years we have studied West Africa, Scandinavia and Latin America among other locations. This year we are learning about Japan! Recently students heard a kamishibai story about tanabata, a Japanese summer festival. They had the chance to write their own tanzaku, wishes written on strips of colorful paper, that we have hung from bamboo branches. Your child's tanzaku will be sent home soon, but for now we are enjoying them on display in the library! Here is a selection of what they wished for in their own words (and charming spelling)!

I wish to hav a pet dragin
I wish to be a princess
I wish for good book
Theat I went to the top uf the tollist scickrap
I wsh to bkme Harry Paddtr
I wish to go to India
I want to be a super hero
I hope flowers bloom any day
I wish that I grow a lollipop tree
I wish for I livd in Hwie
I wish the world was covered with water

First grade:
I wish I could be invisible
I rile hop that it is tro that I will get my on dog wen I am nin
I wish all the dogs in my family will come back to life
I wish to have more Calvin and Hoddes
I wish I cod be a krote mastr
To never die
I wish I cod have a mes or a rat or a pone

Second grade:
I want to be faster than my brother
I wish I could help my fish Bonie with her eye
I wish my fish wode stay aliv fore more then a year
I wish I was a person with a really cool superpower
I wish I can shoot lightning out of my hands
I wish for another dragon
Be a good prason

Third grade:
I wish to have a real wand
I wish that money would fall from the sky instead of rain
I wish that I will save endangered animals
I wish to solve mustries
I wish I could have a pet shark
I wish that I can like homework
To fly without wings
I wish to be world chess champion

Monday, September 24, 2012

October book presentation for 5th grade: mystery & suspense!

Fifth graders: are you ready to start reading your October genre book for Ms. Russell's class? We have a number of books waiting for you to choose from in the library learning commons - stop by anytime! 

Want to borrow something from the public library instead? This site lists fiction and nonfiction mystery books for preschool through high school: It's a Mystery!

Star Wars Day at your public library!

Check out this event coming up at the Newport Way Library! Doesn't that sound like fun?

Star Wars Reads Day - Saturday October 6th 1-3 pm

Celebrate! From 1-1:30pm bring your camera and take a picture with a Star Wars character, then at 1:30pm there will be a special showing of the animated Star Wars Clone Wars movie. One lucky participant will win the movie after the show. Winner must be present at the end of the show to collect their prize.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Happy (slightly belated) Roald Dahl Day!

Roald Dahl fans, take note! To celebrate the week of his birthday, the internet was full of virtual celebrations. Check out a few for kids as well as for parents and teachers!

One of my fondest elementary school memories took place in 3rd grade, when my teacher read us Danny, the Champion of the World, which remains my favorite Dahl title to this day (I even own the film version starring Jeremy Irons and his son, Samuel). It is one of the lesser read of his works, so if you have not yet ventured beyond The BFG, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and so on, do give this one a try!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Exploring math through literature

A recent Wall Street Journal article, A Worksheet for Math-Phobic Parents, described the importance of the attitudes parents convey about math to their children - how many ways we can inadvertently undermine them or send the message that math is hard and not much fun. By contrast, incorporating talk about math into daily life will go a long way towards building both math skills and positive interest in math.

To that end, I wanted to share a few great math-related books and sites! Coincidentally a mom dropped by the library this morning to check out a book of math puzzles. Parents, you are welcome to use our school library as well - stop by and see what we've got!


  • G is for Googol: A Math Alphabet Book by David M. Schwartz
  • Mental Math Challenges by Michael L. Lobosco
  • Counting on Frank by Rod Clement
  • Amazing Math Projects You Can Build Yourself by Laszlo C. Bardos
  • Math Curse by Jon Scieszka
  • One Riddle, One Answer by Lauren Thompson
  • Pepper's Journal: A Kitten's First Year by Stuart J. Murphy
  • Super Sand Castle Saturday by Stuart J. Murphy

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

September book presentation for 5th grade: nonfiction

Welcome back to school!

This month 5th graders will be reading a nonfiction book for their monthly book presentation for Ms. Russell's class. Qualifying books will have more than 40 pages that are primarily text, and will not be biographies (biographies are coming up later). Science books must have been published during or after 2007. No duplication is allowed (each 5th grader must select a unique title). Ms. Simeon or Ms. Russell may approve your book choices.
Books need to be selected by Monday, September 17th.

Students may stop by the library learning commons at any time to select an appropriate book from the 5th grade “genre of the month” shelf. If you prefer to borrow books from the public library instead, check out some recommended authors and websites below to get ideas. Make sure you evaluate all titles in terms of age appropriateness as well as whether they meet the parameters Ms. Russell has set!

Suggested authors:

Rhoda Blumberg
Russell Freedman
Sy Montgomery (please note that she writes for both adults and young people)

Suggested websites:

Classic Non-fiction from the TeenZone at KCLSThe Sibert Medal, an award for exceptional non-fiction given by the American Library Association (which also gives out the Caldecott & Newbery Medals)Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12 offers detailed annotated lists for those who enjoy science.The Cooperative Children's Book Center has numerous reading lists, many of which focus on non-fiction. Select first by grade level, then by topic.

Welcome back!

There is nothing like the energy on the first day of school. It was so nice to come to work this morning and see all the eager students pouring into the buildings! It's an exciting day for us teachers too, as the school year stretches ahead of us, ripe with possibility...

In our school library we have two very fun books that talk about what school is like in different parts of the world and this seemed like a fitting day to feature them:

Ellen Jackson's It's Back to School We Go! focuses on the first day of school in various countries around the world. Did you know that in Kazakhstan it is the custom for children to bring flowers for their teachers on the first day of school? Or that in Kenya the school year runs from January to November and children attend school 6 days per week?

Margriet Ruurs' My School in the Rain Forest looks at a variety of unusual schools in different countries, such as a floating school in Cambodia where children travel to and from school in boats, an online school in Egypt with students of a variety of nationalities, and a school run over the radio in the Australian Outback!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Welcome to the *NEW* OWS library catalog!

Welcome back to school, everyone! Mrs. Kenmochi and I are so looking forward to seeing you all again very soon.

One thing that has kept me busy this summer is our library software upgrade. We have a shiny new catalog that you can access from anywhere, on or off campus. In addition to searching for books, seeing what you have checked out, and renewing your library materials, students in grades 2 and up can also place holds.

Parents are welcome to request library numbers and borrow from our student and professional collections as well!

You'll need your library number to set up your account in the new catalog, so if your student doesn't remember his or her number, please keep an eye on your inbox. We'll soon be emailing you with any library numbers for your family.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Congratulations to our talented authors!

What could be more satisfying for a writer than having an audience for her work? I was so pleased to hear that two of my students, avid readers both, were recent winners of the annual PBS KIDS GO! Writers' Contest sponsored by our local public television station.

You can see them, along with the other talented winners, reading their stories. Congratulations, Elsie and Sydney!

Do you write too? If so, click on the post labels (left-hand side of the main blog page - scroll down) such as "contests," "publishing" and "writing" to check out some other opportunities!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Hunger Games readalikes

The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins has been deservedly popular, but what do you do when you've read them all, possibly multiple times, and don't know what to pick up next? Here's the answer: a wonderful flow chart from Lawrence Public Library entitled If You Liked "The Hunger Games".... This should keep everyone busy at least for the next few months!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Meet the authors

We are incredibly fortunate in this area to have access to a tremendous variety of author events hosted by bookstores as well as public libraries. I was excited to see that one of my favorite teen authors, Cecil Castellucci, will be at the Burien Library on Friday, August 10th at 3:30pm! Her middle school novel Rose Sees Red is one of my personal favorites.

Want to meet more authors? Check out the KCLS author events page and the Seattle Public Library's list of upcoming author readings for more great ideas. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Our little furry friends

There is a special bond between children and animals. Over and over I notice how children naturally empathize with the animal characters in stories - perhaps because they too are often small, helpless and at the mercy of adults? Many children's authors have also found that books featuring animal characters can deal with more delicate topics than ones using humans; something about the animals helps make it all feel safer.

Pets are on my mind at the moment because we just welcomed a new baby into the family! I am happy to introduce Violet, a sweet little kitten who came to live with us this week:

She has stolen our hearts already - and inspired me to recommend a few books about cats (and some general animal-related reading lists).

Margaret Beames' picture book Night Cat is a sweet, funny, just-suspenseful-enough story about a cat who isn't quite as much the fearless explorer as he'd like to be!

Peg Kehret's chapter book mystery series for the middle elementary grades about Pete the cat detective are sure to entertain. There's nothing like a clever pet who figures out things the humans are too obtuse to notice!

For middle and high school readers, A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass will touch the hearts of anyone who has suffered the loss of a beloved pet.

Want more? Try these:

Roland Smith's website (Pacific Northwest author who writes many animal-related books)
Scientists in the Field (great non-fiction series, many of which describe scientists studying animals)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

An author visit with Hena Khan!

This week I spoke with  author Hena Khan, who recently released Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors. Like her first picture book, Night of the Moon: A Muslim Holiday Story, this is a lovely, luminous book to share with children. Muslim children will be thrilled to see aspects of their lives and culture reflected in the stories, and non-Muslim children will both learn something new and be able to identify with universal themes of family togetherness and celebration. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Hena! She's also written two Worst-Case Scenario adventure books - filled with excitement for middle grade readers!

How did to come to write books about Islam for kids?

Several years ago, when my older son was a toddler, I was discouraged by a lack of children’s books that represented Islamic faith and culture in an appealing way. Many of the books that were available then were overly didactic, or presented Muslim culture as something ancient or foreign. I wanted to write books that would be fun to read and beautiful to look at and portray American Muslims as I know them—diverse people who share the universal values of family, community, and charity, and who enjoy festive and fun-filled holidays. 

So are your books meant for a multicultural audience?

Definitely! I wanted books that my kids could both identify with and share with their friends and teachers. I tried to add extra value beyond the multicultural aspect for parents and educators. Night of the Moon introduces the lunar calendar and the moon cycle in addition to describing the holidays of Ramadan and Eid. A lot of parents tell me that after reading the book their kids look for the changing shape of the moon at night, which I love to imagine. Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns, which was just released in June, explores colors and simple Islamic themes for a young audience.

Do you find people are curious to learn about your faith and culture?

Growing up in Maryland, I always found friends, neighbors, and teachers to be interested in my family’s traditions, even though many had never heard of Ramadan, Eid, or even Pakistan, the country of my heritage. Today, with increased awareness, and sadly, increased misconception about Islam, there is a heightened curiosity about who American Muslims are. It’s been enormously gratifying to have adults tell me that they learned something from my books, like a teacher who told me that she never really understood what Ramadan was until she read “Night of the Moon.” I’ve found that educators in general are super encouraging, and interested in being inclusive and representing all their students. They just need the tools to help them do that.

Do you do school visits? 

Yes, and they are one of the best parts about being an author! The kids are always so enthusiastic and treat me like a rock star. And they always ask the best questions. I’m happy to do in person or Skype visits any time.

Can you recommend other good picture books about Islam and Muslims?

Over the years I’ve seen an increase in Islamic literature for kids, both stories and instructional books, published by mainstream publishers. Maha Addasi and Asma Mobin-Uddin have put out nice fiction picture books. There are a few great reference picture books out, and some wonderful middle grade literature like Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai, but there’s definitely room for more.

With Ramadan around the corner, what do you have planned?

It’s going to be a busy month of fasting and feasting with family and friends, and the longest and hottest Ramadan that we’ve experienced in many years (since Ramadan moves 11 days earlier in the calendar each year). My older son, who is now 11 years old, observed most of the fasts last year and really wants to keep all of them this Ramadan. We’ll make sure we plan for lots of indoor activities and hopefully spend time plenty of time reading, and, in my case, writing!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Love fantasy novels? Give these a try...

Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising has long been my favorite fantasy series - I had great fun with Harry Potter and absolutely adore Jonathan Stroud's Bartimeaus trilogy, but Cooper's books have remained my favorites. Published between 1966-77, they have a classic sensibility and require an attention and focus that is more demanding than many modern books for young people - but the reward for the careful reader is tremendous.

Still, she remains something of a well-kept secret in the US and so it was with great joy that I learned that Susan Cooper was chosen for the Margaret A. Edwards lifetime achievement award. This interview with Cooper reveals many delightful details about her life - as a student of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien at Oxford, and as a young reporter working for Ian Fleming!

If, like many, you are mourning the end of the Harry Potter series, and feel cast adrift in search of an absorbing set of fantasy books to sink your teeth into, why not pick up Over Sea, Under Stone and see what you think?