Archive for October, 2012

October 22, 2012

Did you notice it’s an election year?

Are you going to be yelling at your TV tonight and want your kids to understand why? Here are my picks for some great election and political books to start talking to your kids about what it means to live in a democracy. (And no, you don’t have to start with negative campaigning, although it appears that’s a big part of it now…)

Check out my book list and activity ideas over at ParentMap.

October 18, 2012

What if someone ELSE could tell your teen it’s going to be okay?

Title: Dear Teen Me
Editors: E. Kristin Anderson and Miranda Kenneally
Genre: Nonfiction
Age: Upper Middle and High School

Want a great book to read with your teens? Instead of having YOU tell them that things will get better, that they will grow up, that it IS possible to learn from what seem like totally awful life-ending experiences, they can hear it in this book from some of their favorite YA authors. These letters, which the authors wrote to their teen selves, are honest, funny, devastating, and ultimately redeeming. This is a great book for any family that reads together. And if your teen will tolerate it, tell them what you would tell your own teen self if you had the chance. But be honest. Teens can smell a liar faster than a vampire can sniff out a pretty girl.

One author writes about finding a knife in the toolshed. At first she’s surprised there is no blood, then she’s surprised by her parents’ reactions. Ilsa Bick, author of Draw the Dark and Ashes, turns this abrupt and powerful memory from her childhood into an equally powerful lesson for kids today about the mistake her parents were making and how she (and her readers) can learn a different lesson than the one that was being taught to her at the time.

Mark Bieschke, who is the managing editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian and author of The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens writes about the night the stole his mom’s car to sneak to a tiny Detroit nightclub. “That night is going to change your life. And no, it’s not because on your way back you make an illegal left-hand turn into the police chief’s personal car…”

Embarrasing moments have their role of course. Geoff Herbach (author of Stupid Fast and Nothing Special) starts his letter with “Humiliation and hilarity are closely linked, my little friend. Don’t lie there in bed, your guts churning, as you replay the terrible scene. I’m glad your shirt stuck to the floor.” He then recounts a hilarious break-dancing-gone-bad story. He ends his essay with these wise words: “Don’t beat yourself up, okay? Just relax. Keep dancing by the highway, you splendid little dork.”

Stacey Jay, who wrote Juliet Immortal and Romeo Redeemed, tells it straight. “Misery is misery. I wish I could say that the world will be shiny and wonderful when you’re grown up, but I can’t, because it won’t.” But she does talk about how things get better, and how the really strong friendships that she had as a teenager save her life and then some. She asks her teen self to give them a hug. “From both of us.”

Laura Ellen gives her teenage self some devastating news about the future of her eyesight. But she also has advice on how to stand up to herself when others won’t. And she ends with this always-applicable advice “P.S. PLEASE stop pretending you don’t know the answers in math class! It’s okay to be smarter than the boys. Really. They’ll get over it.” Laua Ellen’s first book, which comes from her experience with legal blindness, has just been released. It’s a teen thriller called Blind Spot.

This is one for the adults too. You’ll find yourself reminiscing about your own funny or awkward or painful or humiliating pasts. Okay, so maybe it’s not for everyone. 🙂

If you had to write a letter to your own teen self, what would you say? Tell me in the comments. 

October 17, 2012

I like my robots with a little zombie, a little Frankenstein, and definitely some pie

I love this book! I love it so much that I think I screamed the first time I read it. Here, don’t listen to me. Listen to the awesome prose:



“Robot?” (one of the robots leaves)

“Robot ZOMBIE!” (He comes back dressed as a zombie. The other one leaves.)

“Robot zombie FRANKENSTEIN!” (He comes back dressed as a zombie Frankenstein.)

This continues until they are both dressed as Robot Zombie Frankenstein pirate superhero-in-disguise outer space invader chefs. And then there is cherry pie. That is shared. In just a few words (the new picture book is the minimalist picture book), Robot Zombie Frankenstein is truly “a tale of competition, friendship, and pie.”

Title: Robot Zombie Frankenstein
Author: Annette Simon
Genre: Picture book, Halloween, Awesomeness
Age: Any, really

Two great follow-ups to this book. One is art. Cut out a bunch of shapes in different colors and let your little ones assemble robots. Watching how the shapes fit together will not only give them spatial awareness and teach some beginning geometry concepts, but they will be doing art, flexing their creative muscles, and having fun to book!

Another option is more literary and would be fun for home-schoolers or a classroom teacher. While I do LOVE this book AND it’s zen-like prose which is perfect for this particular story, it would be interesting to ask budding writers how it could have been written in story form. Example, rewriting the lines quoted above: Once upon a time there were two robots. They saw each other and smiled. But then one of them left. The other robot wondered where he had gone. He was sad that his new friend had disappeared so quickly. But wait! Here he was again. But something is different…what is it? He’s dressed as a zombie! Etc…

If I’m not conveying it’s awesomeness strongly enough, here’s the trailer.

Happy reading! And artsying! And rewriting! And while you are here, tell me what YOU think about the trend for picture books these days to be so minimalistic in their word usage.

October 11, 2012

Pass along some warmth, and maybe some knowledge, too

Every time the Wizard of Why asks me about a polar bear, I want to cry. What if there aren’t any left when his son asks him the same question? The idea that I brought a child into a world like that–the idea that he learns every day the world is less perfect than he imagined it, is sometimes hard to take. News stories of bears stranded mid-ocean on small pieces of ice, or mother polar bears eating their cubs pound through my head. I don’t share those. Sometimes I talk to him about the danger they face. I try to balance honesty with his own young developmental stage.

But I do love that he’s asking–always asking–about the world around him. He wants to know how animals do the things they do. And, former science teacher that I am, (or current, if this counts as a job), I want to tell him. Which is why I love getting books like this one.

My son will love it. I know he will ask to read it again and again, as he does with any fact-laden book. But this is not nonfiction in the strictest sense of the word. The facts are laced into poetry and the poetry sewn into a kind of a story.

The question “how do humans keep warm in the winter, Mama?” is repeated, with slight variations, on each of the crisply illustrated pages of this scientific story. “Do they live in a bunch taking turns for their lunch?” the voice asks, while the picture shows us that this is what bees do. Through a series of questions partnered with drawings, children learn how animals stay warm in the winter through adaptations, shelters, and changing habitats.

One of the great twists in this book is that the questions are asked by the animal young of their own mothers–a turtle is imagining a human child with a shell on its back, a bear cub is picturing a sleepy girl who has just finished a full meal. My son will love this as well–he will love the idea that animals are asking questions and it confirms for him that questions are good, that they are part of our natural world, that they are important to us.

Title: A Warm Winter Tail
Author: Carrie A. Pearson
Illustrator: Christina Wild
Genre: Picture Book
Age: 0 – 7

Usually, I like to talk about what you can do with a book other than just reading it. But this book does that for me! There are activities in the back of the book that include more fun facts, more detailed explanations of the winter behavior of the animals in the book, and a matching game. There are also more activities online.

I don’t know how to save the world, but I do know that education is the first step. It may not be sufficient, but it is necessary. Books are an important part of that education. I’m excited to be a stop on the blog tour of A Warm Winter Tail, and I hope you enjoy it too!

October 10, 2012


Racing across the finish line is 1-2-3 Va-Va-Vroom!, a brightly colored book about three kids whose imaginations take them from their toy cars to laps around a race track. Kids can count to ten with each lap, with the numbers featured both in the story and prominently in the illustrations.

The author has some tips for parents who want to go the extra mile 🙂 with this book. “Parents can encourage their children to repeat the “Va-va-vroom” aloud. The children can also repeat the lap number,” Sarah says. I love this, because it uses the repetitive aspects of the book to fully engage the child. The child can hear the rhythm of the words and, if they are a little older, start to associate the pattern of letters on the page with the pattern of the words they are repeating. Repeating the lap number, or pointing to it in the picture starts to familiarize them with the number symbols and also counting from 1 to 10.

Sarah also has a great way to teach writing to young kids. “They can do this by holding matchbox cars and “writing” the number in the air, or on the ground. They can use shaving cream and “drive” the shape of the letter with their fingers. They can decorate cupcakes with different numbers in frosting. These activities can be done at home or in a classroom setting.” Driving cars around in number shapes is a great hands-on exercise to familiarize kids with our number symbols!

Or, Sarah says, “for those kids just learning to count (and not yet ready for writing numbers), they can line up cars and count them together. They can drive the cars around a makeshift track and count the number of times they go around.
“It’s also just fun to use imaginations with cars. My kids brought their cars everywhere. In the tub. In the shower. In their beds. On the towels. On the blankets. On the sidewalk. In the dift. In the mud. In the sand. I used to carry several cars around in my purse for immediate entertainment.” If your family is a little like Sarah’s, you will no doubt find ways to use your toy cars as a form of education.
I hope you like the book and our ideas about what to do with it–other than read it, of course!
Title: 1-2-3 Va-Va-Vroom!
AuthorSarah Lynn
Illustrator: Daniel Griffo
Genre: Picture Book
Age: 0 – 5

You can also watch the book trailer:

October 8, 2012

Ivy and Bean: the new book is here!

Okay, I’ve been interrupted mid-post a million times, so I need to get this out before another week goes by. Here are the winners from Week 7.

Book: Jennifer Rumberger  Mini-notes: Carol L, Jasmine, vBookBorne

Week 8 seems to have disappeared into some kind of mother-of-2-who-just-moved-into-a-new-house-and-already-has-guests-and-construction-projects time warp. But no worries. This week, we celebrate week 9, where one of the past winners from all the blogs will get a totally cool prize package that includes Ivy and Bean dolls and other really great stuff (pictured below).

So, that about wraps it up for the Ivy and Bean countdown! I hope you’ve liked the introduction to the girls, and if you did, head out to your local bookstore or library and grab a copy. And check out the other blogs that have been playing along:

Media Darlings
There’s A Book
Kid Lit Frenzy
In the Pages
The O.W.L.
Coquette Maman
Ruth Ayres Writes
Watch. Connect. Read.
One Page to the Next
Van Meter Library Voice
The Family That Reads Together
Roundtable Reviews for Kids
The Children’s Book Review