Monday, December 31, 2007

This Week's Bestsellers from the New York Times

Here are this week's top-selling picture books, courtesy of the New York Times.

Check out the New York Times for this week's best-selling chapter books and series books.

1. Star Wars: A Pop-Up Guide to the Galaxyby Matthew Reinhart

Something tells me kids aren't the ones driving this book to the top of the list. If you have a Star Wars fan in your life (or you are one), this is a great collectible. It will set you back about $20 bucks.

2. The Night Before Christmasby Clement C. Moore.

The New York Times doesn't list a specific publisher or illustrator as various copies were all over bookstores over the holiday season. I picked up Ted Rand's version for my daughter because I didn't have a copy of this classic poem for her library.

3. High School Musical: All Accessby N. B. Grace

I have to admit I know nothing about High School Musical, but this book is really neat and would be a great gift for a fan. It looks like a scrapbook made by someone who goes to the school with ticket stubs, pictures, notes in lockers, etc. It would be especially good for a reluctant pre-teen reader.

4. The Three Snow Bearswritten and illustrated by Jan Brett

This is a spin on Goldilocks and The Three Bears. Al-ooki, an Inuit girl in the Artic visits the home of a polar bear family. If you haven't seen this book that was just published in September, I highly recommend it. As always, Jan Brett's illustrations are gorgeous, and I always love a retell of an old classic, especially one that features different cultures.

5. On the Night You Were Bornwritten and illustrated by Nancy Tillman

The rhythmic language, beautiful illustrations, and touching content make this a must-have for any new or expectant parent. I also have a copy of Debra Frasier's On the Day You Were Born which complements On the Night You Were Born well.

6. How to Find Flower Fairieswritten and illustrated by Cicely Mary Barker

From the author of Fairyopolisthis pop-up book features many different hiding places of fairies. I think any young child who likes the magic of fairies would love this enchanting book, but make sure you give it to a child who is old enough to take care of the book. My daughter would tear it to shreds right now.

7. Gallop!: A Scanimation Picture Bookwritten and illustrated by Rufus Butler Seder

I've never seen a book for kids like this before, and it is just amazing. By flipping through you book you can see a horse galloping, an eagle soaring, and many other animals in movement. The content rhymes and has funny replies that will leave your child laughing.

8. The Chronicles of Narnia Pop-up: Based on the Books by C. S. Lewis (Narnia)by C. S. Lewis. Pop-ups by Robert Sabuda

I'm a huge Narnia fan, so this book is right up my ally. The book features a stunning pop-up spread of each of the seven books in the series.

9. Angela and the Baby Jesus (Children's Edition) by Frank McCourt

I've been a Frank McCourt fan since he told his raw and heart wrenching account of his childhood in Angela's Ashes, but I'm always skeptical when an author of adult books branches out in the world of children's literature. Luckily, I was not disappointed with Angela and the Baby Jesus. It's a wonderful, heartwarming story of six-year old Angela in Ireland.

10. The Alphabet from A to Y With Bonus Letter Z! by Steve Martin

So, I'm not the biggest fan of children's books by celebrities, and how many alphabet books are out there? This one is cute and has some really funny phrases. It will also elicit many questions and conversations from your kids. But it's not one of my favorites...perhaps it's because this phrase kept bothering me: "That's a lousy lie, you lowlife!" I'm not a very conservative person, but this just didn't seem appropriate for young children.

And that's it...I suspect some books will fall off the list next week since Christmas is over. I wonder if The Night Before Christmas will make it. What are your predictions?

A Mother's Promise, Overview

Author: Lisa Humphrey
Illustrator: David Danioth
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Illumination Arts Publishing Company (April 1, 2004)
ISBN-10: 0970190794
ISBN-13: 978-0970190796

“When you are born…I promise to help you remember all you have forgotten. I promise the ocean…you will hear the beating of its heart against the shores.” In this lyrical language, A Mother’s Promise reminds us of our connection to the earth and of its diverse beauty as a mother makes a series of promises to her unborn child. It also reminds us of our responsibility to the earth…to nurture, love, and take great care of it so that we and future generations can enjoy it. David Danioth’s illustrations are soft and gentle and full of warmth and beauty. The images of the mother holding her newborn infant are especially stunning.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I remember reading this aloud to the baby in my belly and feeling a sense of peace and hope. It seemed to settle my fears and worries about bringing a child into the world, and it made me look forward to the day when I could show my daughter the ocean, the desert, the mountains, and other beautiful places in the world. I remember being touched by the simple yet powerful words and breathtaking illustrations. Now as I read it again nearly 10 months after the birth of my daughter, I am filled with new excitement as I imagine the look on her face when she walks in the sand for the first time, tastes the salty water of the ocean, smells pine needles, and feels a snowflake on her cheek. It helps me put my life in perspective and appreciate the beauty of the world.

Order A Mother's Promise from Amazon!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Capoeira: Game, Dance, Martial Art by George Ancona

Capoeira: Game! Dance! Martial Art! by George Ancona

Hardcover: 48 pages
Publisher: Lee & Low Books (May 2007)

Capoeira (kah-poo-AY-rah)is a game, dance, and martial art combined in one. It originated among African slaves in Brazil in the 1500's who were trying to disguise their fighting skills through dance and music. Today, it is a part of the Brazilian culture, and it has made its way to the United States.

In Capoeira: Game! Dance! Martial Art!, George Ancona tells the story of Capoeira by following a classroom of students at the Mandiga Academy in Oakland, California. Kids reading the book are sure to get a kick out of the Portuguese nicknames of the students in the classroom from Reizinho (little king), to Perereca (tree frog), to Princesa (princess) to the name of the instructor, Malandro (scoundrel). In fact, Ancona uses a number of Portuguese words throughout the book when talking about Capoeira. He even includes a glossary with a pronunciation key in the back of the book for kids who want to practice speaking the words. Through pictures and Ancona's detailed descriptions these students teach different moves and techniques as well as names of traditional musical instruments used to play music during Capoeira games.

Ancona also takes us to Brazil and shows the impact of Capoeira on the Brazilian culture today. From the slums and beaches to actual Capoeira academies, we see vibrant photographs of kids of all ages and walks of life practicing this amazing art. A few years ago, I spent four months teaching English in Brazil and was fortunate enough to see Capoeira being played on the streets. While nothing can compare to seeing it in person, Ancona's book gives us a vivid picture and interesting history of the art.

If you have a child who is into martial arts but who may not be into reading, Capoeira: Game! Dance! Martial Art! is an engaging, interactive book that would be sure to spark his/her interest. It would also be a great choice for introducing the Brazilian culture and Portuguese vocabulary.

Who Will Sing a Lullaby? by Dee Lillegard

We're home from visiting my family, and finally settling back into our routine. Tonight, I picked upWho Will Sing a Lullaby? by Dee Lillegard. This was the first time I've read the book, and neither of us were disappointed.

In the book, a baby is crying, and all of the birds from an owl to a swan try to get it to go to sleep. Just as baby goes to sleep, they make a noise and baby wakes up again. Finally, little Nightingale, who has been trying to be heard the entire time, gets a chance to put baby to sleep. Is he successful? Let's just say that baby isn't the only one to go to sleep.

Dee Lillegard's rhythmic text and Dan Yaccarino's vibrant illustrations kept my daughter engaged the entire time as I was reading it to her--no small feat for a ten month old who has recently had a 10-second attention span. As I was reading to her, she kept looking at the pictures and looking up at me. She helped me turn the pages and touched the pictures of the baby and birds as I pointed them out to her.

There are so many books out there that focus on getting baby to sleep, and I particularly enjoyed the fresh storyline of Who Will Sing a Lullaby? There are even opportunities for laughter as the birds keep waking up the baby in the story.

If you're looking for a new book to read to your kids before bedtime, this is a nice, short read that may help them drift off to dreamland.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Happy Holidays!

I'll be traveling to visit my family for a few days and won't have internet access for at least a couple of those days. Have a very safe and happy holiday, and I'll see you again on New Year's Eve when I review A Mother's Promise by Lisa Humphrey.

Babymouse #8: Puppy Love by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Reading level: Ages 4-8
Paperback: 96 pages
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (December 26, 2007)

Poor Babymouse...all she wants is a pet, but they keep running away. From a hamster to a ferret to a venus flytrap, she has no luck...until Buddy, a stray dog, appears on her doorstep. Buddy is not the most well behaved dog. He chews all of Babymouse's shoes and is not completely house trained. However, Babymouse is determined to make it work, but does it? Can she finally keep a pet?

In this eighth installment of the Babymouse series, two-time Newbery Honor winner Jennifer L. Holm brings us a delightful graphic novel that had me chuckling out loud more than once. If your child is reluctant to read books with longer paragraphs and pages of text, give Babymouse a try. The graphic novel format is easier to digest, and Matthew Holm's illustrations are entertaining and very funny. While this is the eighth "Babymouse" book, it's my first time reading one, and I liked this one so much, I'm definitely going to check out the others.

Babymouse #8: Puppy Love goes on sale this Wednesday, December 26, 2007. Pre-order it on Amazon today!

Friday, December 21, 2007

What's Wrong Little Pookie

What's Wrong, Little Pookie? by Sandra Boynton

Have you ever had a day where you're just feeling "blah," but don't know why? Pookie, a little piglet, is having one of those days, and his mom is on a mission to figure out what's wrong. She starts out by asking him the obvious--is he cold, hungry, etc.--but soon realizes that Pookie just needs some good old-fashioned cheering up and starts asking him silly things like, "Did a very large hippo try to borrow your shoes?" Soon little Pookie forgets why he was upset in the first place.

I have to admit that my first reaction to the book was "eh," and so was Isabella's. She punched Pookie in the head, grabbed the book out of my hands, and put it in her mouth. But I'm the kind of person who gives things another chance, so the next night, I picked it back up and read it again. Isabella had the same reaction as she did the first night, but she has a two-minute attention span these days and only seems to be interested in things that make lots of noise and furry animals.

I, on the other hand, warmed up to the book as I was having one of those "blah" days myself and realized that Pookie's mom was really just trying to cheer him up. I found myself grinning at the funny picture of the giant hippo trying to wear Pookie's tiny pink shoes and feeling a little more lighthearted after reading it. While my daughter is only interested in eating her board books right now, I can imagine a day when I will read this book to her, and she will giggle at the funny images and scenarios.

I can also see the value of using a similar technique for kids that have a bad case of the grumpies. While this is not my absolute favorite book by Sandra Boynton, What's Wrong, Little Pookie? is a cute book that can come in handy when your child needs some cheering up.

The 2007 Cybils

I recently learned about the Cybils, the first internet awards for children's literature. This is the Cybils' second year, and there are some great books that have been nominated. On January 1, the finalists will be announced, and the winners will be selected on Valentine's Day. Kidslit bloggers form the nomination and judging panels. Learn more about the Cybils here. I'll let you know when the finalists are announced!

When I Was Young in the Mountains, The Final Word

Do you know why I love to read so much and why I’m so passionate about reading with kids? Because every once in a while, I will pick up a book that I can connect with and that inspires me to tell stories similar to the stories the book tells. When I Was Young in the Mountains is one of those books. Throughout the entire week, I’ve been driving down the road or taking a walk to the mailbox, and all of a sudden an image from my childhood will pop into my mind. Just last night I was driving home from work and I remembered sitting on the front porch with my Grandma Daisy stringing beans just like Cynthia Rylant did with her grandmother in the book. Then I started thinking about all of the canning Grandma did every year and how much I loved her canned tomato juice, beets, and green beans and how much I didn’t care for her pickles. Then I remembered how she loved her garden and took such meticulous care of it, her lawn, and her house. The memories just kept flooding in, and I found myself smiling with a little tear in my eye as I remembered this very special person in my life who is no longer here.

That’s what I’m talking about when I talk about making connections with books. The more we can connect with characters and stories, the more we want to read more and learn more. I found myself on Amazon last night looking for other picture books about Appalachia because I want to share these memories with my daughter, and I want her to know where I came from.

If you were raised in Appalachia, When I Was Young in the Mountains will be sure to spark memories of people and stories from your childhood that you can share with your children. It’s a short, simple, and heartwarming book that is an excellent jumping off point for making real-world connections and sharing stories you may have forgotten.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

When I Was Young in the Mountains, Life Lessons

When I Was Young in the Mountains, as short as it is, reminded me of a number of things.

First, it reminded me of the importance of family. It’s obvious in the book that Cynthia Rylant has fond memories of her childhood and great adoration for her grandparents. As I read it, it brought back many memories of my childhood and of my Grandma Daisy.

Second, it reminded me to be proud of where I came from. Our past helps define who we are in the present and in the future. There was a time when I all I wanted to do was get the heck out of Tazewell and never come back. I did get out, and I’ve been gone for eight years (and yes, I go back at least once a year to visit my family), but I do miss it sometimes and have very fond memories of this little town and the region where I grew up.

But the biggest lesson I gained from this book is to be happy with what you have. In the book, Rylant says she was happy right there in the mountains. That’s where she wanted to be more than anywhere else in the world. As I was thinking about this, it made me take a step back and appreciate what I have right now: A wonderful family, a loving and supportive husband, a beautiful daughter, a great job and co-workers, a house to live in, plenty of food to eat. I suffer from the “never being satisfied with what I have” disease. As soon as I start feeling comfortable with something, I want to learn a new skill or try something new or do something different, which is not necessarily a bad thing. This attitude has helped me be successful in life. But at the same time, it’s nice to sit back, take a deep breath, take a look at what I have right now and realize that life is pretty darn good. It’s so easy to think about all of the things you don’t have and of all the rotten things that have happened, but When I Was Young in the Mountains helped me remember to appreciate what I do have and the people who are sharing this journey with me.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Spotlight on Cynthia Rylant

Cynthia Rylant was born in Hopewell, Virginia in 1954. When she was eight, she went to live with her grandparents in Cool Ridge, WV—the place she describes in her first children’s book, When I Was Young in the Mountains. This book won a Caldecott Honor Award for its illustrations as did The Relatives Came. Cynthia Rylant has written more than 60 books for children and young adults, one of which, Missing May won a Newbery Award Medal. In addition, A Fine White Dust is a Newbery Honor Book. Many of Rylant’s books are set in Appalachia where she grew up and celebrate the culture and spirit of the Appalachian people.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Two Contests at Chronicle Books

I wanted to pass along information about two contests going on over at Chronicle Books.

The first one is for artists of all ages in celebration of Taro Gomi's two new books, Squiggles and Doodle All Year:

Taro Gomi Squiggles & Doodles Creativity Contest

Visit the link above, print out one of the pages on the site, and create your best artwork using the prompt located in the upper righthand corner of the page.
Five grand prize winners will receive:
  • ADeluxe set of art materials
  • A limited edition print autographed by Taro Gomi
  • The Taro Gomi creativity collection of books from Chronicle Books, including Squiggles, Doodle All Year, and Doodles and Scribbles

If your child is under 13, you need to submit their entry for them. The deadline for entries is May 15.

The second contest is for elementary school teachers and their classrooms: the Ivy & Bean Friendship Contest.

Teachers, read at least one of the Ivy & Bean books with your classroom and then have your students write about a special friend of their own (visit the link above for more specifics. Submit the essays to Chronicle Books by February 15, and your class could win a visit from author Annie Barrows! Just for entering, you'll also receive 40 magnetic bookmarks (while supplies last), and the runner up will receive a classroom set of autographed books!

Good luck!

When I Was Young in the Mountains, Learning Activities

For such a short story, there are loads of activities you can do with your child to help him/her make connections with the stories in When I Was Young in the Mountains.

Compare how life was back then to how it is now. Compare items such as bathrooms, taking baths, swimming, etc. For your artsy kids, have them draw a visual representation. For your kids who love to tell stories, have them make up their own stories about kids back them versus kids now.

Have your child tell a story beginning with “When I Was Young in _____________.” Better yet, tell your own story about your childhood and where you grew up.

Locate West Virginia on a map and talk about its location. Ask your child to identify which states border West Virginia, which rivers run through the state, the state capital, etc. Do the same for the states that lie among the Appalachian Mountains, including the Carolinas, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Maryland.

Talk about the Appalachian Trail, the more than 2100-mile stretch from Georgia to Maine that many hikers hike each year.

Compare and contrast the ocean, desert, and mountains, all of which are mentioned on the last page of the book.


In the story, Rylant writes about going to church and witnessing her cousin being baptized in the river. I know I’ve never witnessed this in person, and your child may have questions about what’s going on. Explain what is happening. It could be an excellent jumping off point for talking about different religions and their practices.

One of Rylant’s memories in the book is sitting on the porch with her family at night under a sparkling night sky. Take a moment to point out the stars in the sky and the constellations.

Find pictures of the animals mentioned in the book, the bobwhite, black snake, frogs, and cows. Discuss facts about each one, including the sound it makes, what it eats, etc. Talk about the different plants and wildlife found in the Appalachians.

This book can be a jumping off point for discussing the Appalachian culture—the people, the food, the traditions, the music, etc. Unfortunately, there is a misconception about Appalachian people being hillbillies and dumb. Use this as an opportunity to describe the richness of the culture. Check out National Geographic’s site about Appalachia. It offers an interactive map with points of interest throughout the Appalachian region. There are so many more out there.

This book has been around for twenty-five years, so let me know what you’ve tried.

Monday, December 17, 2007

When I Was Young in the Mountains, Overview

Fast Facts:
Author: Cynthia Rylant
Illustrator: Diane Goode
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Puffin
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0140548750
ISBN-13: 978-0140548754

When I Was Young in the Mountains depicts Cynthia Rylant’s memories of her childhood spent with her grandparents in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia. Rylant begins the book describing her grandfather, a coal miner, coming home covered in coal dust except for his lips which he used to kiss her head. The book continues as Rylant describes moments such as eating too much fried okra for dinner, resulting in a tummy ache that sent her to the outhouse in the middle of the night, swimming in the swimming hole which sometimes had snakes, and pumping water from the well and carrying it back to the house for a bath.

With her concise and poetic descriptions, Rylant takes us back to a time where life was simple and hard, yet full of love and laughter. I grew up in a small Appalachian town in Southwest Virginia, Tazewell, and as I was reading this story, it brought back memories of stories my Grandma Daisy told me of her childhood growing up in Rock, West Virginia. And Rylant’s description of eating cornbread, pinto beans, and fried okra made my tummy growl as I remember my own mother making beans and cornbread, something which I don’t think I’ve eaten since I moved to the city almost eight years ago. Diane Goode’s soft yet detailed illustrations add character and warmth to the book, resulting in the book winning the distinguished Caldecott Honor Medal.

If you grew up in the mountains and want to teach your child about days long gone in a humorous yet thought-provoking way or if you’re a city dweller and want to teach about a more simple way of living, When I Was Young in the Mountains would be an excellent choice.

This book is chock full of learning opportunities from Appalachia to Geography to Astronomy. Check in tomorrow for more information!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Next Week's Book: When I Was Young in the Mountains

Beginning on Monday, we're going to be featuring When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant. A Caldecott Honor Book with illustrations by Diane Good, I especially like this book because it brings back memories of my childhood growing up in the Appalachian mountains. Be sure to come back on next week to get a review, learning activities, and all kinds of other information about When I Was Young in the Mountains!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Talking Walls, Final Thoughts

As much as you've heard me rave about Talking Walls this past week, it will probably not come as a shock to hear that I LOVE this book. There are many works of nonfiction that are dull and give WAY too many details. Talking Walls, on the other hand, presents true information in a simple and digestible, yet engaging story format. My own daughter is too young to understand this book, but my students (middle and high school) truly enjoyed the book and its follow up, Talking Walls: The Stories Continue.

If you are a parent and are looking for a way to introduce your children to different cultures, this book would do the trick without overwhelming them with too much information. If you're a teacher and are looking for ways to supplement social studies, geography, or history lessons, this book would be a great addition to your curriculum.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Santa Came Early!

Today, I came home to a surprise in my mailbox...a package from Dublin, Ireland. I knew my Blogger Secret Santa gift had arrived! At first I thought I would save it until Christmas morning, but come on...who can resist immediately opening a package from Ireland?

So, I immediately opened it up and was THRILLED with what I found inside this gift bag:

First, my Secret Santa is Valentina from Valentina's Room who wrote a very nice note on a handmade gift card:

And to my delight, she sent two books I can read with my daughter:

I've never read this books before, and I just can't wait to read them with my little chica.
And if that wasn't enough, she made me a wonderful notebook with plenty of pages for me to keep all of my notes and ideas for books and blog posts!

I also learned from Valentina that she wrote her dissertation on Marian Zimmer Bradley's Mists of Avalon, one of my favorite books of all time. Thanks so much Valentina for the thoughtful gifts!

And thanks Nymeth for hosting the gift exchange! It's so nice to get to make friends all over the world!

Talking Walls, Life Lessons

While Talking Walls teaches many lessons about different people and cultures, the biggest lesson it teaches is to respect and appreciate differences. Growing up in a small town, I witnessed a lot of intolerance for people of different races, religions, and cultures. I never witnessed any violence, but I did hear a lot of derogatory remarks, and even saw kids at school shunned because they were different. From a very young age, I saw this injustice and felt empathy for these kids and couldn’t understand WHY they were being treated this way. It wasn’t until later that I realized most of this behavior came from a lack of understanding about the cultures from which they came. And the others…well, all I can say is that unfortunately, there are some very despicable people in the world who get a kick out of bullying others who are more vulnerable.

For many years I’ve pondered how I was able to escape developing this mindset since I was surrounded by it, and one day I realized it was mainly because of books and my passion for reading. Growing up, my nose was always stuck in a book, and I learned about different cultures and became “friends” with the characters in the books I read. Yes, they may have looked different, eaten different food, and worshipped differently, but the one thing they had in common was their humanity. Under all these differences, they were human. I remember always having a thirst for learning about different people and places and religions and customs.

When I started teaching ESL, I witnessed the same prejudices I saw when I was growing up all over again, and it didn’t come just from the American kids. Some kids in my classroom were prejudiced against other kids in the classroom from certain cultures. Thus, I set about on my crusade to teach my students to respect and appreciate differences. I created a “culture” unit where the students had to talk about where they came from, the common foods they ate, favorite pastimes, etc. My students knew that my number one rule was to respect others even if you disagreed with what they had to say, and there were never any derogatory remarks in my classroom. But many kids were uncomfortable talking about themselves, and the audience wasn’t really engaged. I didn’t feel like I was really reaching them or helping change their mindset, and even though I had established a rule in my classroom, I saw and heard different things in the hallways. I knew this stemmed from a lack of understanding and the environment they grew up in, that just talking about it wouldn’t work.

During my second year of teaching, I discovered Talking Walls, and realized that this was exactly what I was looking for. I had to start on neutral ground, and Talking Walls was this neutral ground. Instead of singling out students to talk about their cultures, Talking Walls enabled me to teach about different cultures from an outside perspective. No one was put on the spot and had to talk about themselves (at least in the beginning). Through the book and the supplemental activities I developed, students really were able to begin developing an understanding and even appreciation of differences. At the end of the unit, I had the students complete a project where they had to talk about traditions in their individual cultures, and I was pleasantly surprised when even the shyest kid presented her information with pride and every single kid in the class paid close attention to every presentation and asked thoughtful and respectful questions at the end. Through their differences, they were somehow able to find common ground, and to me, that was a tremendous success.