About this blog Subscribe to this blog

New Review Tuesday: What's Next?

This week on Kid Lit Kit we're focusing on the best books of the school year. I certainly have dozens of nominations for that category, from The Hunger Games to Chains to last week's The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. But since my posts have spotlighted the newest books to hit shelves, I thought it might be fun to take a sneak peak at the great reads that lie ahead. To me, that's the wonderful thing about children's literature—there's always a new adventure around the corner.

Here are some of the upcoming titles that have me the most excited.

9780763644109-1 The Magician's Elephant, by Kate DiCamillo. My fiance and I just finished reading an advanced reading copy of DiCamillo's latest. We both cried. A lot. This is DiCamillo at her best, and I predict big things for the orphan Peter Augustus Duchene, who goes on a search for an elephant after a fortune teller hints the animal might lead Peter to his sister. (Sept. 8)

Al Capone Shines My Shoes,
by Gennifer Choldenko. I literally squealed when I saw an advanced reading copy of this much-anticipated sequel to the delightful Al Capone Does My Shirts. I haven't gotten a chance to read it yet but I'm putting it on the top of my summer beach read pile. (Sept. 8)

Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins. The sequel to The Hunger Games! Need I say more? (Sept. 1)

9780385904117  Going Bovine, by Libba Bray. A surprising and incredibly captivating departure for the author of the Gemma Doyle series that began with A Great and Terrible Beauty. When 16-year-old Cameron is diagnosed with mad cow disease, he embarks on an epic and hallucinatory road trip that you really have to read to believe. (Sept. 22)

What's on your reading horizon? What are you most looking forward to about the summer? Feel free to share in the comments.

It's been a blast talking with you about great children's books this year. Thanks for checking in and as always, happy reading!

New Review Tuesday: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

35904466 I'd been reading rave reviews for Jacqueline Kelly's new middle-grade novel The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and finally got a chance to read it myself this past weekend.

Wow! What a rich story about a young girl growing up in Texas during the turn of the 20th-century. Eleven-year-old Calpurnia is a nature enthusiast who begins to investigate why the yellow grasshoppers in her backyard always grow bigger than the green ones. With the help of her grandfather she realizes the yellow grasshoppers have a biological advantage: they blend into the dry Texas grass.

First-time author Kelly does an amazing job at weaving the science in the story with Calpurnia's struggle to find herself in a rough-and-tumble house filled with brothers. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate would be a great summer reading recommendation for kids in grades 5 and up.

If you're interested in exploring the evolution angle, pair Calpurnia with Deborah Heiligman's recent biography of the Darwins, Charles and Emma.

Another interesting comparison might be Ellen Klages' The Green Glass Sea, also about an 11-year-old girl coming of age within a scientific context, but this time WWII Los Alamos.

New Review Tuesday: Mouse Was Mad

41pYrzt9efL._SS500_ The wonderful thing about picture books dealing with anger and other difficult emotions is that they offer kids such a relatable experience to their own lives, and usually a way of coping with those emotions as well.

In Mouse Was Mad, by Linda Urban, illustrated by Henry Cole, Mouse tries to hop, stomp, scream, and roll around through his anger, but those are the strategies used by other animals (Hare hops, Bear stomps, Bobcat screams, and Hedgehog rolls), and they just don't work for poor Mouse. It's only when Mouse stumbles on his own coping mechanism—standing very, very still—that he begins to feel better.

Students in grades K–3 will no doubt have sympathy for Mouse, but also laugh out loud at Henry Cole's illustrations, which show Mouse falling into mud puddle after mud puddle after each unsuccessful attempt at dealing with his anger.

Urban, author of last year's charming middle-grade novel A Crooked Kind of Perfect, has found a unique lens into a universal problem, offering a surprising resolution that readers may just want to try out themselves!

Read Mouse Was Mad along with Molly Bang's fantastic When Sophie Gets Angry—Really, Really Angry, Lisa Jahn-Clough's Alicia Has a Bad Day, Judith Viorst's Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and even Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are.

Compare and contrast Mouse's actions with the actions of the main characters in the other stories and make a list of the different ways they end up feeling better. Which are ways that kids might use when they're feeling grumpy?

Did I miss your favorite picture book about anger? Share in the comments.

New Review Tuesday: Kaleidoscope Eyes

41mx66t6e8L._SS500_ I'm in awe of the multifaceted talent of author Jen Bryant, who in the past few years has delivered powerful novels-in-verse such as Pieces of Georgia and Ringside 1925, as well as incredible non-fiction picture books including the 2009 Caldecott Honor A River of Words (pictures by Melissa Sweet) and February's Abe's Fish: A Boyhood Tale of Abraham Lincoln.

Bryant's newest book is Kaleidoscope Eyes, another novel-in-verse but one that takes us to a different time and era than Bryant has explored before. Set in 1968, Kaleidoscope Eyes tells the story of thirteen-year-old Lyza, who discovers three mysterious maps and together with friends Malcolm and Carolann discovers they may lead to the buried treasure of the legendary pirate Captain Kidd.

It may sound like an over-the-top pageturner, and Kaleidoscope Eyes will definitely appeal to middle school adventure fans, but Bryant based the novel on a true story, and each page is filled with rich historical detail. Bryant's simple verse style makes her a great recommendation for reluctant readers, who will also appreciate the quick pace and plot twists of Kaleidoscope Eyes.

It would be fun to pair Kaleidoscope Eyes with other books featuring maps, such as Harry Potter's Mauraders Map, and have students recreate the maps and present them to the class.

Have you read any of Jen Bryant's books? What's your favorite? Share in the comments!

New Review Tuesday: Squawking Matilda

34005486 I'm beginning to think I have a problem when it comes to picture books about chickens—I love them all! Some recent favorites include Kate DiCamillo's Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken, Terry Golson's Tillie Lays an Egg, and Janice Harrington's The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County. Oh, and Michael Ian Black's Chicken Cheeks, as well as Jacqueline Briggs Martin's Chicken Joy on Redbean Road. See? I do have a problem.

Nonetheless, I found myself charmed once again by Lisa Horstman's new book Squawking Matilda. Matilda is a "chicken with attitude" that the enterprising Aunt Susan sends to her young niece Mae. Mae is a problem solver and at first delighted to take on Matilda, but then gets distracted by her other pets. Poor Matilda loses her feathers as a result of this neglect, and Mae then has to come up with a creative way to keep Matilda warm.

For grades K–2, pair Squawking Matilda with the non-fiction Tillie Lays an Egg, and then compare and contrast Matilda's behavior with that of a real chicken. You might keep track of the similarities and differences in an egg-shaped Venn diagram. Students will also have fun brainstorming their own solutions to Matilda's feather problem.

I can't be the only chicken lover out there, so share your favorite henhouse tales in the comments.

New Review Tuesday: Monsters the New Pirates?

For the past couple of years it seemed like I couldn't open a publisher's catalog without finding a new pirate-themed picture book. (Insert obligatory "Arrgh!" joke here.) For the record, some of my favorite pirate tales include David Shannon's How I Became a Pirate and Pirates Don't Change Diapers as well as June Sobel's hilarious alphabet book Shiver Me Letters.

But lately there's a new picture book hero: the monster. Perhaps it's the appeal of movies like Monsters Versus Aliens. Or maybe pirate books are taking a back seat because of very real and scary current events, while monsters still rule the world of imagination.

34933904 Whatever the case, keep an eye out for a slew of monster picture books hitting book shelves in the coming months. One of the first to arrive is How to Potty Train Your Monster, written by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by Michael Moon. This is one of those books where the kid appeal is obvious without even having to open the front cover. Potty humor plus colorful monsters? Check.

At the same time, this tongue-in-cheek guidebook is entirely classroom appropriate and would be a great model for "how-to" writing for first- through fourth-graders. DiPucchio clearly spells out each step in the potty-training process and you can use that as a launchpad for talking about the importance of clarity in writing instructions.

Other monster books on the horizon include Ed Emberley's latest There Was an Old Monster! (July 1), based on "There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly," as well as Dian Curtis Regan's Monster Baby (June 15) and Barbara Jean Hicks' Monsters Don't Eat Broccoli (August 11).

Do you have a favorite monster picture book? Share in the comments!

New Review Tuesday: The Summer I Turned Pretty

You may or may not be already thinking about summer reading, but we're getting the ball rolling at Scholastic. The Scholastic Summer Challenge is around the corner, and the upcoming issue of Instructor magazine will feature a bevy of summer reading tips and book recommendations.

41t8+r2zP3L._SL500_AA240_ Why not start your list now? For kids in seventh grade and up, I'd definitely recommend Jenny Han's The Summer I Turned Pretty. The dreamy cover and promise of summer romance is sure to intrigue tweens and teens, but this moving novel has way more substance than your average beach read. Of course, I wouldn't expect less from Han, whose debut novel Shug blew me away in its depiction of changing friendships and first love. From Shug's opening pages I knew that Han just *gets it,* and the same is true in The Summer I Turned Pretty.

Fifteen-year-old Belly and her family are, like always, spending the summer with family friend Susannah and her two sons, Conrad and Jeremiah. But Belly doesn't quite realize that this summer will be different—she finally has male attention (from everyone but Conrad, the one she has her eye on, of course). And there's drama going on behind the scenes, too, as Susannah's family starts to unravel. Meanwhile Belly can't help feel like anything is possible–an emotion your summer readers are bound to understand.

Fans of Sarah Dessen and Susane Colasanti will find another favorite author in Jenny Han. Any idea what books you'll be recommending this summer? Share in the comments!

New Review Tuesday: Change-Up

21VUREcTG9L._SL500_AA180_ Last week I blogged about a baseball/poetry twofer; Gene Fehler's Change-Up is another collection of baseball poems, this one for readers in grades 2–5. With 38 free-verse poems on topics ranging from Grandpa's tough pitches to baseball superstitions to rained-out games, this anthology really gets at the heart of the sport.

If you're covering poetry this month, I would use Change-Up to talk about conveying different emotions as well as point of view and perspective. Indeed, the poem "Perspective" compares what it's like to stand in the outfield versus the batter's box, with the words spaced out and floating in the first half of the poem and tightly packed in the second half.

Try challenging kids to write a similar poem about a different sport—the difference between playing soccer midfielder and goalie, perhaps, or what it's like to stand in the diving board versus swim laps. Encourage writers to switch up the physical look of words on the page, as Fehler does.

For more poetry picks, check out my column in this month's issue of Instructor.

New Review Tuesday: All the Broken Pieces

33605067 All the Broken Pieces by Ann Burg is a powerful novel-in-verse about 12-year-old Matt, a Vietnamese boy adopted by an American family at the end of the Vietnam War. A natural athlete, Matt finds solace in baseball, but he's still haunted by what he's seen and the family he left behind.

The free verse format makes All the Broken Pieces a great pick for April's National Poetry Month for readers in middle school and up, and the baseball theme also coincides with springtime reading. But there's no doubt readers will remember Matt's story—and pass it along to their friends—all year long.

You might pair All the Broken Pieces with other baseball novels for older readers, such as Mike Lupica's Heat or with fiction about the Vietnam War—one of my favorites is Cynthia Kadohata's Cracker: The Best Dog in Vietnam.

Will you read other novels in verse for Poetry Month? If so, which ones?

New Review Tuesday: Wintergirls

35621937 I confess, I had to read Laurie Halse Anderson's new novel Wintergirls in small doses. Her portrayal of her main character Lia's struggle with grief, eating disorders, and cutting was so spot-on and disturbing that I could only handle about ten pages at a time before needing a break to think about how we've created a culture with so many huge obstacles for teenage girls.

Lia is trying to deal with the death of her former best friend Cassie, her partner in a compulsive race to be as thin as possible. Lia keeps seeing Cassie everywhere she goes, and the sightings combined with Lia's guilt at not answering Cassie's calls the night of her death threaten to push Lia over the edge—into a fairy tale world that Lia and Cassie created in their minds, where they can never be thin enough.

Even though this is a difficult story to get through, it's absolutely worthwhile and my favorite young adult novel of the year so far. Anderson is at the top of her game—her prose is as lean, poetic, and tortured as her characters. I would recommend reading this before giving it to any students so you are prepared to talk about any themes or questions that come up. That said, this is one of those books that could be truly life-changing for the right reader.

Have you read Wintergirls? What did you think?

New Review Tuesday: Duck! Rabbit!

35382437 I'm a big fan of Amy Krouse Rosenthal's — I loved the charming Little Pea and Little Hoot, as well as her memoir for grown-ups, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.

And so I was thrilled to get my hands on her newest picture book, Duck! Rabbit!, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. Duck! Rabbit! is a fun look at visual illusion—specifically the duck-rabbit conundrum that psychologist Joseph Jastrow first observed over a hundred years ago. Is Lichtenfeld's funny, black-and-white rendering a duck or a rabbit? Readers will battle it out with the two competing narrators, one of whom sees a duck wading through a swamp, the other a bunny hiding in the grass, and so on. The speakers eventually come around to one another's perspective, only to be stumped again by an anteater/brachiosaurus.

There are so many possible curriculum connections in this simple story — use it to talk about perspective and point of view from kindergarten on up. Older kids will be inspired to research other famous illusions. Point them in the direction of Al Seckel's great non-fiction book, Optical Illusions: The Science of Visual Perception. And of course the bunny/bird protagonist makes Duck! Rabbit! a terrific springtime read aloud!

New Review Tuesday: Tell Me Who

32589679 If you've ever been a 12-year-old girl, it's hard not to be drawn to the premise of Tell Me Who, by Jessica Wollman. Sixth-grader Molly and her best friend Tanna discover a machine that accurately predicts who you're going to marry when you're older. Squee!

As you can imagine, hilarity ensues, especially when Molly finds out she's destined to marry...a fifth grader. Uh oh! I loved the funny moments in this book, which brought me right back to playing MASH with my own sixth-grade buddies. But I also appreciated the more serious plot line, in which Molly struggles to talk to her dad about his upcoming wedding to the dreaded "Claw." Ultimately, Tell Me Who asks readers to think about whether or not we can change our destinies, a message that goes way beyond lunchroom antics.

This book would also be a fantastic accompaniment to a unit on inventions. Why not challenge readers to come up with their own machines designed to solve a question or problem? Best for grades 4–6.

New Review Tuesday: Math-Themed Picture Books

These new picture books are just the thing for dropping into your math lessons.

51pTfvNsOVL._SS500_ The Lion's Share: A Tale of Halving Cake and Eating It Too, written and illustrated by Matthew McElligott, takes a classic thought problem and gives it a kid-friendly twist: What happens when you keep cutting something in half? In Ant's case, it means that she's left with a measly crumb of cake to split with the king. The story flips on itself when Ant decides to bake another cake, and each animal in succession clamors to make twice as many! A great choice for talking about halving, doubling, and multiples. You'll want to retell the story during your own snacktime, too—try continuously halving a large piece of fruit, such as a cantaloupe or other melon. Then double with grapes or raisins! Best for grades 1–3.

61KHyDSv0FL._SS400_ Math Attack, by Joan Horton and illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker, doesn't release until later next month, but keep an eye out for it at your local bookstore. It's a fun, rhyming read aloud about what happens when numbers escape out of a girl's head and take over the town. The multiplication theme makes it a good pick for introducing the times tables, as well as addressing any anxiety kids might have about the harder math they encounter as they get older. Best for grades 2–4.

I will always remember my first grade teacher reading David Schwartz's and Steven Kellogg's How Much Is A Million? to our class. What are your favorite math picture books?

New Review Tuesday: Spring 2009 Preview

This week's issue of Publishers Weekly offered a tantalizing taste of what's to come in the way of children's books over the next few months.

With new gems from favorite authors like Laurie Halse Anderson, Susan Patron, and Jacqueline Woodson, as well as some fabulous debuts that I've been previewing over the last couple months, it looks like a great season for reading.

Here are some of the release dates on my calendar -- I'd love to know what's on yours, so share in the comments!

41Hw5aGT9vL._SL500_AA240_  February 24
Bull Rider by Suzanne Morgan Williams: The story of a skateboarder who turns to his family's sport of bull-riding when his older brother comes home injured from Iraq.

March 10
Lucky Breaks by Susan Patron: The follow up to 2007's Newbery-winning The Higher Power of Lucky.

Continue reading "New Review Tuesday: Spring 2009 Preview" »

New Review Tuesday: African-American History

Piggybacking off Anastasia's recommendations from yesterday, here are two more ideas for February's Black History Month (and for the rest of the year, too). Both of these books celebrate lesser known African-American women.

51bI-yu536L._SS400_ Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, by Phillip Hoose, is the story of the fifteen-year-old girl girl who protested Montgomery's segregated bus seating before Rosa Parks. I first "met" Claudette in Ellen Levine's excellent Freedom's Children, and I was so pleased to see this new biography, aimed at grades 5-8. Especially since it's written by one of my favorite non-fiction authors, the man behind The Race to Save the Lord God Bird. Pair this with Freedom's Children for a fascinating look at one of the youngest heroes of the civil rights movement.

51zsPCi8xwL._SS500_ Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Make You a Pie: A Story About Edna Lewis, by Robbin Gourley, introduces children to a woman ahead of her time in more ways than one. Lewis was an accomplished chef and cookbook author who placed a real value on fresh, local food. Gourley focuses on what Lewis's childhood life might have been like growing up on a farm. Kids in grades 1–4 won't want to miss the tasty recipes at the back of the book, either.

How will you honor Black History Month in your classroom?

New Review Tuesday: Snowed In

As much of the country braces for a few more inches for the white stuff, why not cozy up with a new picture book or two about snow? Jeremy mentioned some of his favorites a couple of weeks ago; here are a couple more that I love.

61gLHv9RyEL._SL500_AA240_ The Snow Day, by Kamiko Sakai, is the beautiful story of a bunny and his mama all snowed in on a blustery day; dad has been stranded at the airport on his way home. I love the quiet moodiness of the illustrations, and think they'd be terrific inspiration for writing snow poems in the younger grades (K–3).

34395604 A Penguin Story is by Antoinette Portis, author of the irresistible This Is Not a Box and This Is Not a Stick. Edna the penguin knows only three colors—white (snow), black (the sky), and blue (the sky and the water). And so she sets off on an adventure to find more color. If you teach PreK–2, this would be a great addition to a discussion of color as well as the seasons.

What are your favorite snow stories?

New Review Tuesday: Honest Abe

What a moment in history we celebrate today, witnessing Barack Obama take his oath of office upon the same Bible President Lincoln used in 1861.

This month in Instructor, I review some of the fabulous Lincoln books that publishers have released in honor of the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth on February 12.

There were so many outstanding titles, I couldn't fit them all into the magazine. Here are two more new Lincoln books worth checking out:


Chasing Lincoln's Killer, by James L. Swanson, is a riveting look for upper-elementary and middle school readers at the chase and pursuit of John Wilkes Booth. Swanson tells the story as a fast-paced mystery/adventure, but stays extremely close to the facts, using only actual dialogue and testimony from witnesses and primary source material.


The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary, by Candace Fleming, offers upper-elementary kids several ways in to the lives of our 16th president and his wife. Fleming uses letters, photographs, cartoons, and engravings, as well as captivating text, to tell the stories of the famous couple. Kids will feel as if they're receiving a VIP museum tour as they read.

Will you be honoring Abe's 200th birthday in your classroom? How will you celebrate? Please share in the comments.

New Review Tuesday: 3 Willows

411nnncgvdl_ss500_Hello! I hope everyone had very happy holidays and a marvelous start to 2009.

I was so excited to read today's featured book, 3 Willows by Ann Brashares. I was a huge, huge Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants fan, so I had high hopes for the first book in Brashares' new follow-up series, which takes place in the same high school that Carmen, Tibby, Lena, and Bridget attended, but focuses on a new circle of friends: freshwomen Polly, Amy, and Jo.

It may take students a few chapters to get into 3 Willows, simply because it's hard not to miss the original foursome. But persistence pays off in this summertime story of romance, finding yourself, and of course, friendship—and by the end readers will be clamoring for the next installment.

3 Willows officially makes it to bookstores next week, and is a good recommendation for middle school girls and up.

I'm curious whether readers of this blog use YA literature in their classroom and like hearing about new titles, or if you'd rather I'd focus on new picture books, chapter books, and middle grade novels. If you want to weigh in in the comments, it would be much appreciated.


New Review Tuesday: Animal Heroes (a la Despereaux!)

Like Sonja, I'm just thrilled to see the attention surrounding the movie version of The Tale of Despereaux. When author Kate DiCamillo appeared on The Today Show last week, the kids peppered her with questions about character, plot, and theme. Very sophisticated readers!

You can check out my interview with DiCamillo in this month's issue of Instructor. And if your students are looking for more stories in the spirit of The Tale of Despereaux, here are some new animal heroes:

26986929 DiCamillo recommended Elise Broach's Masterpiece during our interview, and I'm so glad I took her up on her suggestion. Masterpiece is the story of a beetle named Marvin who draws an elaborate miniature picture for the eleven-year-old boy who shares his apartment, James. James gets all the credit for the drawing and soon the two get sucked into an artistic mystery reminiscent of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Chasing Vermeer. Fans of those stories, as well as middle-grade animal novels such as The Cricket in Times Square, will fall big-time for Marvin!

51s9c9c2lcl_ss500_ Kathi Appelt's The Underneath came out last spring, and if you haven't read it yet, get to it—so that when the Newbery honorees appear, you will have read at least one of the picks! Obviously, I can't be sure this incredible cat-and-dog story will make the list, but it was a National Book Award Finalist, and it's been getting major buzz in mock-Newbery circles. Like Despereaux, The Underneath has the feel of a literary classic, and is sure to appeal to serious readers in grades three through five.

The Underneath just might be my favorite middle grade novel of the year. What was the best book you read this year? Don't forget to e-mail Sonja, so that she can include your pick in this week's round-up!

New Review Tuesday: The Winter Holidays

Winter holidays can be a sticky issue in the classroom—I know many schools don't acknowledge them at all, in which case holiday books may not be appropriate. Other schools go for the inclusive approach, honoring Christmas, Hanukkah, Eid, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, and any other traditions that may be recognized by students and their families.

I wrote about snowy stories in the November/December issue of Instructor, so you may want to check those out if your school falls into the first camp. But if you plan on talking about winter holidays in the coming weeks, here are three picture books that may be helpful:

28173986 All I Want for Christmas, written and illustrated by Deborah Zemke, puts a playful spin on the classic holiday tune "All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth." In Zemke's version, various animals list their Christmas wishes: the snake wants a body-warmer, the rooster is yearning for an alarm clock, and the frog wants his own lilypad. The story lends itself naturally to a writing exercise—why not ask students to write about what other animals want for the holidays?

28330251 The Hanukkah Mice, written by Steven Kroll and illustrated by Michelle Shapiro, follows a sweet family of rodents that spend each night of the eight-day holiday exploring a dollhouse—a present to the young girl that  lives in the house where the mice make their home. Something new appears in the dollhouse each night, culminating in a miracle appropriately scaled to the size of our heroes.

51gezahf6kl_ss400_ Night of the Moon, by Hena Khan, illustrated by Julie Paschkis, explores the Muslim holidays of Ramadan and Eid through the eyes of seven-year-old Yasmeen. Yasmeen is a Pakistani-American, and her view of the festivities is both modern and timeless. Paschkis's beautiful illustrations add to the celebratory feel.

What holiday books do you use in the classroom? Or does your school skip the holiday celebrations?

New Review Tuesday: Titanic Fever

Eleven years ago this month, people were lining up to watch Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio fall in doomed, weepy love in the movie Titanic. Now Kate and Leo are starring in a new movie together, and Titanic fever seems to have sparked once more—only in the world of children's books.


I'm really looking forward to Suzanne Weyn's Distant Waves: A Novel of the Titanic, which promises  a Kate-and-Leo worthy romance for teen readers, but that doesn't hit shelves until the spring.  

27139913 In the meantime, I'm feeding my Titanic-curiosity with Don Brown's All Stations! Distress!: April 15, 1912, The Day the Titanic Sank. A non-fiction picture book aimed at the upper-elementary crowd, All Stations! is a bittersweet portrait of the ill-fated ship and its passengers. Brown's beautiful watercolors accompany his honest and straightforward retelling of the events, which will no doubt fascinate your historians. Whether or not you cover the Titanic in your social studies curriculum, All Stations! would be a great addition to your classroom library, and a solid model for non-fiction writing.

Do you own any Titanic books for children? If so, what are they, and what do you enjoy about them?

New Review Tuesday: The Holiday Jitters

By now, everyone's feeling ramped up for the Thanksgiving vacation. With thoughts of turkey, mashed potatoes, and hugs from Great Aunt Shirley on the brain, it can be tough for kids to concentrate on just about anything else. These new books are perfect for just such an occasion. Kids can pick them up instead of pulling each other's hair while you wait for the last bell to ring.

9780545053334_sm Zany Miscellany is just what it sounds like...a fun compilation of totally wierd facts and figures that are sure to captivate even the most antsy readers. You might challenge kids to find the strangest tidbit or a fact that somehow relates to them--one that pertains to their favorite animal or food, for instance. Or make a fun fact bulletin board, using information from the book, to keep wandering minds focused during quiet time.

9780811865630_normSpot 7 Toys is the latest in the Spot 7 series, similar to the I Spy books, but each two-page spread offers a challenge to find seven specific items. If you have five or ten minutes, partners can compete to find the objects in an individual spread, or work together to go through the entire book.

Do you use encyclopedias, trivia books, or other compilations to hook kids? If so, what are your favorites?

New Review Tuesday: Pie!

One of my favorite of the comedian Jack Handey's "Deep Thoughts" goes something like this: "If you ever get to make the choice between regular heaven and pie heaven, choose pie heaven. It may be a trick, but if not, mmm boy."

That could pretty much be my life motto, and of course I'm getting geared up for next week's pie-centric celebration, as I'm sure you are, too.

Here are two pie-happy picture books to serve up to your kids before you take that much-needed Thanksgiving break.

51gg3dkul_ss500_1 How to Make a Cherry Pie and See the U.S.A. is Marjorie Priceman's follow-up to How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World, and although she keeps to a very similar concept, it's an effective one. Readers will learn about the origin of each and every ingredient in a cherry pie, in addition to finding raw materials across the country for a mixing bowl, rolling pin, and measuring cup. Invite kids to find all the places Priceman mentions on a large map, and then try sourcing the ingredients for another favorite recipe. If you have access to a kitchen, you can even try your hand at the recipe for cherry pie in the back of the book. Best for grades K–2.

26392270 Laurel Snyder's Inside the Slidy Diner, with illustrations by Jaime Zollars, may be the answer after Thanksgiving has passed and you're ready to toss the leftovers or risk bursting a seam or two. This gross-out picture book portrays the greasiest of greasy spoons, and the pie here is adorned with what looks suspiciously like eyeballs. Eww!! This one could inspire a fun writing assigment for kids in grades K–2—"The Grossest Meal Ever" or some stomach-turning poetry, anyone? Yeah, better wait until after Thanksgiving!

What flavor of pie are you looking forward to next week? I'm a traditional pumpkin girl, myself.   

New Review Tuesday: To Infinity and Beyond

I'm so excited to share two wonderful space-themed books that have recently crossed my desk: Frank Cottrell Boyce's newest middle grade novel, Cosmic, along with the picture book The Moon Over Star, written by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. Finding these gems seems serendipitous considering there will be a lovely full moon tomorrow night!

51fxmvubf0l_ss500_ Boyce is the author of the charming Millions and Framed, but I think Cosmic might be my favorite of his middle grade novels yet. Cosmic stars the extraordinarily tall Liam, the only eleven-year-old in town who can ride the Cosmic roller coaster by himself. Liam towers over his peers by such leaps and bounds that he's often mistaken for an adult—and it's this possibility that sets the motion in action, as Liam assumes the identity of his father and sets off for China with his friend Florida, in order to compete against other father-child teams for a trip to the moon. Boyce expertly explores the resulting humor and challenges, and middle grade readers will get a kick out of imagining what it would be like to play Mom or Dad. If you're doing a space unit, Cosmic would also be a fun way to hook the kids who aren't as captivated by constellation names or planet facts.

28741569 Aston spins a more realistic tale in the picture book The Moon Over Star, which tells the story of the Apollo 11 mission from the perspective of an eight-year-old African-American girl, Mae. Mae prays for the astronauts at church, plays rocket ship with her cousins, and as Neil Armstrong touches down, dreams of going to the moon herself someday. Pinkney's gorgeous watercolors made me want to go to the moon, too—kids won't help but get sucked into the rich and vivid illustrations. It's another good fiction pairing for a unit on space, especially for kids in grades 1–3.

Do you have a favorite space book? Let us know about it in the comments.

New Review Tuesday: Election Special!

Jeremy beat me to the punch this morning by posting about one of my favorite election books of the season, Our White House. I've already posted reviews of the picture book candidate biographies, but I wanted to share another fun book that will take you from this very important day through the inauguration and beyond.

9780545033695_lg No matter who wins today, a new family will be setting up camp in the White House, taking their place in a long line of quirky parents, kids, and pets. First Kids: The True Stories of All the Presidents' Children is packed full of interesting facts about these presidential families, including:

  • The Roosevelt family loved to eat scrambled eggs together.
  • The Carter family used a secret acronym with one another, ILYTG, which means "I Love You the Goodest!"
  • Chelsea Clinton was named for the Judy Collins song "Chelsea Morning"

Interestingly the author of First Kids is a kid himself, 13-year-old Noah McCullough, who's appeared on many national tv shows and has already thrown his hat in the ring for 2032. 

This is a great book to have on hand for quick research for upper-elementary kids. It would be fun to share a few facts from it every morning until inauguration day. You could also use it as a model for different kinds of non-fiction writing, including bulleted lists and time lines.

Are you planning any kind of countdown until the next president is installed in office? And more importantly, did you vote? :)

New Review Tuesday: Spooky Stories

I wrote about some of my favorite new picture books for Halloween in this month's issue of Instructor, but I wanted to share two other picks with you as well.

27976630 Steinbeck's Ghost, by Lewis Buzbee, is sure to haunt bibliophiles and ghost hunters alike. After Travis's family moves to a new neighborhood, he keeps going back to his old library in Salinas. There he becomes deeper and deeper enthralled with the work of John Steinbeck—and even starts seeing Steinbeck's characters in the real world. These mysterious sightings spark an adventure in which Travis struggles to save his library and finish the work of a favorite author. Buzbee is the author of the popular adult novel After the Gold Rush, and his children's debut is a literary page-turner that teachers and kids will both enjoy. Best for grades 3–6, but older kids, especially those who have discovered Steinbeck, will enjoy the story, too.

5144aympryl_sl500_aa240_ Boogie Knights, by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Mark Siegel, is one of those rhythmic picture books whose verses you can't help but get stuck in your head ("gremlins groovin', vampires movin', see that hunchback swing"). But the real treat is Siegel's black and sepia artwork, which manages to capture the spirit of a party full of goblins and monsters without being scary. Little ones in grades K–2 will get a kick out of being invited to the Madcap Monster Ball!

What are your favorite Halloween books?

New Review Tuesday: Chains

41db6a2k7l_ss500_I was thrilled to see Laurie Halse Anderson's Chains nominated for a National Book Award. Chains hits shelves today, so get thee to a bookstore to find out what the buzz is all about.

Historical fiction isn't always the most accessible genre for young readers, but as she did in Thank You, Sarah, and Independent Dames, in Chains Laurie Halse Anderson illuminates an under-examined facet of history—slaves' struggle for freedom during America's battle for independence from Britain (also explored in M.T. Anderson's Octavian Nothing saga).

This Anderson's heroine is thirteen-year-old Isabel, a slave who becomes a Patriot spy for the slim possibility that it will mean freedom for herself. As always, Anderson has done some meticulous historical research, which makes Chains a perfect companion to fourth and fifth grade social studies curricula.

Have you read Chains or any of the other National Book Award nominees? What did you think?

New Review Tuesday: Happy Teen Read Week!

Are you doing anything to celebrate Teen Read Week?

I'm making progress on the YA novels in my to-be-read pile (Sasha Watson's Vidalia in Paris, Amy Bronwen Zemser's Dear Julia, and Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels), but Laurie Halse Anderson's modest proposal is decidedly more festive. Can you imagine what our world would look like if people gave teens more books? I try to give books as often as I can, because the stories I read growing up were one of the richest parts of my childhood. (And, okay, because I'm also a bit of a proselytizer when it comes to children's literature.)

In any case, here's a book I would happily gift teen readers:

21wka7majol_sl500_aa180_ The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom of the Waves is out today! Hooray. I imagine those of you who read the first volume, which won the National Book Award, have been waiting for this (massive, 592-page) puppy for a long time. I know I have. And I'm thrilled to report that it was worth the wait. The Kingdom of the Waves is an amazing conclusion to Octavian's struggle for freedom and the birth of our country. The use of 18th-century, formal English may seem off-putting for the classroom, but teachers have reported incorporating the first installment with great success. One high school teacher told me that even her struggling readers couldn't put it down—they had to find out what happened to Octavian next. Still, this is a challenging book with challenging themes, and I'd recommend reading it yourself before sharing it with students, so you know whether or not it's appropriate for your classroom.

What are you recommending these days to teen readers?

Friday Kid Lit Round-Up

Hey folks.  What’s that you say?  Picture Book Thursday was not enough to satisfy your bibliographic cravings?  Well check out the Kid Lit Round-Up to sate your appetite.

So Hannah and I have started a trend.  I’m not sure if we’ve influenced publishers to put out dragon books or if we’ve encouraged folks to blog about them.  Before the power goes to my head, check out Madeline’s dragon reviews on BookKids.

A belated birthday wish to Waldo, who turned 21 on September 21st.  It seems like just yesterday I was eagerly awaiting his new sticker book.  Those were simpler times; now you can “friend” Waldo on any number of social networks. Click on the link for more games and activities featuring our intrepid traveler.

I was pleased to be tipped about ArtSmarts4Kids, a site that seems a perfect match for all of the artist themed picture books out now.  The Andy Warhol lesson is one I’ve used in class, along with James Warhola’s Uncle Andy's: A Faabbbulous Visit With Andy Warhol  and Susan Goldman Rubin’s Andy Warhol’s Colors.

Over at Jennifer's 1st Grade Classroom we have a new Baby Name Page Project based on When I Was Little: A Four-Year-Old's Memoir of Her Youth by Jamie Lee Curtis.  It’s a great project to help develop that home-school connection.

Roald Dahl a spy?  I bet you’re as surprised as I am but, hey, if it’s good enough for Julia Child.  Check out ChickenSpaghetti for the scoop on The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington.

OK folks, with that I’m on my way.   Have a super weekend filled with pumpkin picking and all that fun fall stuff and we’ll see you back here on Monday.

New Review Tuesday: Books About Authors

This is a circular New Review Tuesday, as today we look at some recent books about authors.

Great resources for report writing, no library should be without a collection of stellar author biographies and autobiographies. Some of my all-time favorites include Roald Dahl's Boy, and Charles D. Cohen's The Seuss, The Whole Seuss, and Nothing But the Seuss.

But some new author bios have caught my eye, too.

27420949 Sid Fleischman's The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West is a romp through the legendary author's life, beginning with his birth in Missouri and detailing his journey towards fame. Fleischman is the perfect author to tackle Twain's life, as the former's sense of humor absolutely rivals the latter's. The Trouble Begins at 8 is a natural choice for middle school shelves.

51wq0jn8ihl_ss500_ And I'm embarrassed to say I'd never heard of Wanda Gág until I started graduate school in Minnesota. But I've since received a quick education. Gág, a Minnesota native, is the author of a picture book that's truly stood the test of time: Millions of Cats. She had a somewhat turbulent childhood, and Deborah Kogan Ray captures Gág's triumph over considerable obstacles in Wanda Gág: The Girl Who Loved to Draw. It's a moving story that will introduce Gág to a new generation of readers.

What are your favorite author biographies or autobiographies? Share in the comments!

Recent Posts


Quick Links:

Recommended Sites:

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Kid Lit Kit are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.