Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Thicker Than Water

So this is book two in a series. I didn't know this when I checked it out from the library for Shaemus. He didn't realize it until he was nearly done with it and he immediately asked I find book one for him.

He's loving it.

Here's his quote:

"It's about spies. They're trying to get this mind-control thingy before this spy company called Lotus, and the people in the S.P.I.E.S. thing are teenage kids. They're orphans at Merry Sunshine Orphanage. The main character is called Max and he has a friend called Wyatt and it's really exciting. Whoever steals it first wins. You should check it out."

Ages 8 and up.


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Just when Max Segredo learned that his father is still alive, he also learned that Simon Segredo was working for LOTUS, an evil spy operation that wants to take down the Merry Sunshine Orphanage (a.k.a. the School for S.P.I.E.S.) and take over the world. Now Simon is on the run from LOTUS, and Max's surrogate family at the orphange is being threatened from without and within. LOTUS is trying to drive the school out of business, while the Ministry of Health is investigating an anonymous complaint about the orphanage.To top it all off, the trainee spies are riddled by fear and squabbling among themselves.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia

If you're looking for a book that will take you out of your comfortable life and into another, not so comfortable existence, this is the one. I love Russian history. It is fascinating how leaders were chosen or not chosen, how brutality led to more brutality, how it took death, starvation, and absolute despair for a people to rise up against autocracy. 

And this book tells the story well. Read it! Ages 12 and up.


Product Details


[A] superb history.... In these thrilling, highly readable pages, we meet Rasputin, the shaggy, lecherous mystic...; we visit the gilded ballrooms of the doomed aristocracy; and we pause in the sickroom of little Alexei, the hemophiliac heir who, with his parents and four sisters, would be murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918.” 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

the myth of picture books

I'm behind. Very behind, and I apologize for that. I'm trying to think of the best way to use this blog to help kids and parents find books. Right now, my only solution is to post about one book at a time and use the labels to identify the age group I think the book is appropriate for.

IF ANYONE HAS ANY BETTER IDEAS FOR HOW TO ORGANIZE THESE BOOK IDEAS, PLEASE LET ME KNOW!!!

In the meantime, I'm hearing lots of snippets from parents about the struggles they're having getting their kids to read over the summer. Many of them are complaining about getting their kids to read real books, more difficult books, not just picture books.

I'm all about reading for real. By that I mean, reading books that fill you up, that go further than just entertain, but teach and inspire and help a person grow.

But those sorts of books are not dictated by format. A novel can be just as silly, as light, as stupid as a picture book.

Picture books are not the problem. Often picture books have far richer, more difficult language than early readers or novels for young children. Because they are not designated easy readers, they have more freedom to use words like simulate and weightlessness and civilian as this book does:

DAREDEVIL: THE DARING LIFE OF BETTY SKELTON by Meghan McCarthy


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From Amazon:

In the 1930s most girls were happy playing with dolls. But one girl, Betty Skelton, liked playing with airplanes, watching them fly around outside, and even flying airplanes herself! She lived for an adventure—in the air, the water, and on land—and nothing could stop her, especially not being a girl.

When Betty Skelton was young there weren’t many women flying airplanes or racing cars, but she wouldn’t let that stop her. She was always ready to take on a challenge, and she loved to have fun. Beetty rode motorcycles, raced cars, jumped out of planes, and flew jets, helicoptors, gliders, and blimps. And by the time she was an adult, Betty was known in the press as the “First Lady of Firsts!”

This vibrantly illustrated picture book biography reveals the exciting life of a brave pioneer who followed her dreams and showed the world that women can do anything!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Go Kentucky and Reading Rainbow and the Araboolies of Liberty Street

I am behind posting books on this blog, not because we haven't been reading (I've found some wonderful books lately!!!), but because I've let myself get behind. I need to fix that. I so want to make a difference in the world to inspire parents and kids to explore the wonderful world of children's literature

I've been inspired lately by three different occurrences that give me hope for the future of our children and the future of reading in this country.

The first is LeVar Burton's campaign to bring Reading Rainbow to more kids all over the country. See this article for details or to contribute.

I particularly love this excerpt from his interview on NPR (the question is in bold and LeVar's response follows):


On the way focus shifted from the love of reading to the mechanics of reading, and how that factored into the show's going off the air
Personally it was painful. ... Reading Rainbow is not about the rudiments or the fundamentals of reading. It's about the passion. It's about learning how to love the written word and developing a personal relationship with literature and having that be a part of your life, for the whole of your life.

The second thing was this article on a school district in Kentucky that is defying all expectations and getting rid of Standardized Testing in their schools (completely!) in favor of performance-based assessment. We just finished our standardized tests around here, and I think they are demoralizing, confusing, uninspiring and unable to help educators truly understand what kids know and don't know. Articles like this give me hope!

And finally, tutoring that boy I blogged about a little while ago is going so well. And it's going well because his mother is taking the time to really read out loud to him. She isn't just practicing reading with him, but she is reading out loud to him.

There is no substitute for this. No substitute in the world. Flannery's reading is taking off and it is taking off with flying colors. There is no coincidence that this is occurring as I am consciously reading to her picture books with more difficult language, more engaging stories, and a great deal more text per page. She loves it, and her reading is improving as a direct result.

As we bring our one-on-one time with our kids down to match their level, they will slowly, incrementally rise to meet ours.

It is a beautiful thing. It is an inspiring thing. We can make a difference in the life of a child by reading to them.

Here is one of this boy's favorite books I read to him in our last session—easily one of the greatest picture books of all time! Go check it out today!!!


Product Details

The Araboolies of Liberty Street by Sam Swoop.





Sunday, May 18, 2014

Arnie the Doughnut

I have a belief that I regularly get into arguments about. 

I believe that all kids can love reading. 

I believe that ALL kids can love reading. 

It happens when kids stop thinking of reading as reading (snore) and they start finding great stories. 

When they want to know the ending of those stories, they become readers.

I also think kids will fight and struggle to find out the meaning of words if they think their efforts will be rewarded with humor or meaning or love or adventure. 

I have the privilege of working once a week with a boy who should be in fifth grade but is reading on a kindergarten level for a number of reasons. I won't go into what those reasons are or why the school system has failed him, but it has, and he's been told again and again and again that he can't read. 

This boy can read. It's a struggle. He reads slowly, but he's also afraid to get the words wrong. I can see it when he looks up at me to make sure he's gotten something right. 

He is afraid. He has no confidence. 

But when I read ARNIE THE DOUGHNUT to him the other day, he couldn't get enough of that book, and he asked if I would leave it with him. 

Why? Many books by Laurie Keller are jam-packed with tiny little side-notes in goofy handwriting, and pretty much all of them are funny. This boy wanted to find out what every one of those tiny side-notes said. And he was going to read those side-notes to himself the best he could, struggling to find out the meaning of those words. 

He is motivated to read because of this great story. He is motivated to read because of the fabulous humor in the story. And he is no longer afraid, because he is not being labeled "bad reader."  No one is judging his reading ability at all.

That's what ARNIE THE DOUGHNUT can do for a kid.


For all ages!


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A deliciously imaginative story about friendship—from the author / illustrator of The Scrambled States of America.

Arnie was fascinated as he watched the customers stream into the bakery. One by one, doughnuts were chosen, placed in paper bags, and whisked away with their new owners. Some went by the dozen in giant boxes.
“Good-bye!” Arnie yelled to each doughnut. “Have a good trip!”
“This is so exciting!” Arnie beamed. “I wonder who will choose ME?”

At first glance, Arnie looks like an average doughnut—round, cakey, with a hole in the middle, iced and sprinkled. He was made by one of the best bakeries in town, and admittedly his sprinkles are candy-colored. Still, a doughnut is just a doughnut, right?

WRONG! Not if Arnie has anything to say about it. And, for a doughnut, he sure seems to have an awful lot to say. Can Arnie change the fate of all doughnuts—or at least have a hand in his own future? Well, you’ll just have to read this funny story and find out for yourself.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Summer I Saved the World... in 65 Days

I did not expect to like this book. But I did.

Perfect for girls ages 12 and up. You will finish this book inspired. At least, I did!


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It's summertime, and thirteen-year-old Nina Ross is feeling kind of lost. Her beloved grandma died last year; her parents work all the time; her brother's busy; and her best friend is into clothes, makeup, and boys. While Nina doesn't know what "her thing" is yet, it's definitely not shopping and makeup. And it's not boys, either. Though . . . has Eli, the boy next door, always been so cute?
   This summer, Nina decides to change things. She hatches a plan. There are sixty-five days of summer. Every day, she'll anonymously do one small but remarkable good thing for someone in her neighborhood, and find out: does doing good actually make a difference? Along the way, she discovers that her neighborhood, and her family, are full of surprises and secrets.
   In this bighearted, sweetly romantic novel, things may not turn out exactly as Nina expects. They might be better.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Stowaways

Occasionally we find a book that everyone wants to listen to out loud. I'm not talking about audio books, I'm talking about mom-reads-a-chapter-or-so-aloud-to-basically-everyone-depending-on-who's-around books.

Calvin is the one who insists on hearing from this book. Shaemus and Flannery have been there for most installments. Mary and Lucy have dropped in and out, but if they're here, and they know I'm reading, they wander in and they stay until I'm done.

The Stowaways is a great book reminiscent of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh.

Ages 7 and up.


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The Stowaways aren t like the other Weedle mice. They are inventive and curious, they go on adventures, and they are much too clever for their own good. In fact, everyone knows that Grampa Stowaway was killed in a trap on one of his adventures. So who would want to associate with a family like that?
   There s something else about the Stowaways. They keep secrets. Rory has made friends with a bird their natural enemy and his twin brother, Morgan, dreams of sailing away. But Gran has the biggest secret of all and Rory has discovered what it is. If Rory and Gran act on their suspicions, will they be heading for disaster? Or will it be the greatest Stowaway adventure of all?