Posts tagged ‘kidlit’

December 9, 2013

Calm, wintry nights

After seeing the chaos of Black Friday reflected in the news, I pulled my children close and reminded them that we don’t have to be like that. My oldest (who just turned eighteen) said, “Isn’t it ironic that the day after we give thanks, we trample people to death to get a better deal on something we probably could have afforded anyway?”

But it’s easy to get caught up in the hype of Christmas—stores start piping in the music shortly after Halloween. This year a few stores snuck Christmas ornaments on shelves next to cornucopias and Indian corn. I bet they sold more than a couple, too, because Christmas is like pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving—yes, you just stuffed yourself and probably should wait, but why? There’s the pie right there…

But there is a certain joy in waiting.

Of quieting your heart in expectation of what is to come.

To me, that’s what the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas is, quiet expectation. Expectation reflected in the manger scene by our front door—Mary and Joseph near an empty cradle, waiting.

That expectation is also reflected by the pile of books under our Christmas tree. It waits for dinner to be done, dishes to be cleared, hot cocoa to be marshmallowed, and the fire to be crackling. Then the children gather around Daddy and he reads one story each night between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

My favorites are the calm, quiet stories. Here are a few on the top of the pile:

Quiet Christmas coverTitle: The Quiet Christmas Book (New this year!)
Author: Deborah Underwood
Illustrator: Renata Liwska
Genre: picture book
Ages: Listening 3 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up

If you haven’t yet discovered Deborah Underwood, you’re in for a treat.

Her characters are gentle natured woodland animals getting ready for Christmas, but without the hustle and bustle of other books.

Check out the book trailer below!

onewintrynightTitle:  One Wintry Night
Author: Ruth Bell Graham
Illustrator: Richard Jesse Watson
Genre: picture book
Ages: Listening 3 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up

Gorgeously illustrated story about a boy hearing the Christmas story for the first time.

littlefirtreeTitle:  The Little Fir Tree
Author: Margaret Wise Brown
Illustrator: Jim LaMarche
Genre: picture book
Ages: Listening 3 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up

Another sweet book. A little tree wishes to be part of something—anything—and winds up being part of something he never could have imagined.

Image

How about you? Which Christmas books make your family’s must-read list?

November 17, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Best of 2010

Check out the Kirkus Book Reviews Best Children’s Books of 2010!  The list includes a few I’ve blogged about: Justin Case by Rachel Vail–my very first blog! and We Are In A Book! by Mo Willems.

It includes one that I specifically didn’t blog about: Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, which had a lot of elements in it that I liked but many that I didn’t…I’m surprised to find it here, but perhaps that will inspire me to blog on it tomorrow.

It also includes some that I’ve been eyeing at the bookstore but decided not to buy.  One is Art and Max, and I can see why that is on the list…it’s a gorgeous book with a clever meta-literary/artistic idea in which the characters draw themselves.  But I decided it was a little too much for me and my son, and it wasn’t really up our alley.  Probably I just wasn’t in the meta-literary mood at the time and will now end up buying it later.  Another I didn’t buy is Lemony Snicket’s 13 words.  I love Lemony Snicket.  I love his dark sense of humor, the cynicism, the death, destruction, and depression not normally (for perhaps obvious reasons) found in children’s books.  I mean, I get the humor and I like it.  A picture book that supposedly teaches children words, but those words are things like “haberdashery” and “mezzo-soprano”?  That’s funny.  But there’s also “despondent” which is a recurring theme (obviously, as this is Lemony Snicket we are talking about).  And I’ve got a super-sensitive kid (I know, who doesn’t these days?) who makes me read any page with tears or other non-happy emotions twice and asks a lot of questions about how it gets better, so I wasn’t sure how I’d ever get out of the “despondent” loop.  So this wasn’t for him.  Maybe when he’s older he can start the Series of Unfortunate Events (which is hysterical!), but really, he’s two.  I hope I’m not shielding him.  I mean, this year I’m planning to buy The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story which ends, predictably, in the main character getting eaten.  And I do love The Composer is Dead. (Neither of these are Kirkus 2010 books, just to clarify.)  But this one was just not for me.

And the best part is that the review also contains books I’m now really excited to buy!   So maybe you will hear about them soon.  🙂  Here are some whose titles and descriptions caught my eye:  Arroz Con Leche, Shark vs. Train (definitely getting this!  I’ll be a two-boy household soon–this could come true at any moment!), There’s Going to Be a Baby, Summer Birds (going to look closer first–I’m all for science, but not really one for collecting specimens, unless we keep them alive, which is often hard for kids to do), and Bink and Gollie (I’ve been wanting to add more early readers to this blog anyway, and they had me at “George and Martha”…I LOVE those stories!)

November 16, 2010

It’s a wonderful town painted with wonderful pictures

No one would ever accuse me, positively or negatively, of being a New York person.  It’s not that I can’t appreciate it, or even admire it from afar–or from a-near for short periods of time.  I’m not city-phobic, and in fact am excitedly anticipating a 2-day trip to said urban metropolis very soon.  But my time in a city, especially one as large as New York, is generally spent people-watching, building-watching,  and occasionally humming to myself and rocking back and forth, repeating soothing words about trees and mountains.

That being said, I absolutely love this book.  It was a gift to my son from New York friends when he was born, and he has always been fascinated by it, even before he was old enough to understand anything he actually saw in the book.  One of his favorite things was the search games the back pages of the book encourage you to play with the illustrations.  And now that we are soon on our way to New York with family, he is SO excited!  In fact, he’s already planned the itinerary, strictly on the basis of this book (he wants to see the dinosaurs at the museum, the carousel in the park, and the scary ghosts.  I had to tell him that the ghosts were only there for Halloween, but he’s so excited about the dinosaur fossils, he didn’t really care.

Also, because the book’s plot is laid out as a girl going on an adventure with a map (the map is in the front of the book), he was adament that we bring the map.  He kept saying, I want to “chart the map” when we are there, which I assume means something important, and so to help him along, I made a color copy of the map, laminated it, and that will come on the trip with us (along with the book of course, but that will wait in the hotel room).  Lightning McQueen is also coming, but as that is less literarily relevant, I won’t go into detail about that.

Title: My New York (New Anniversary Edition)
Author/Illustrator: Kathy Jakobsen
Genre
: Picture Book
Age: 0 – 7

Summary and Review:

The book has a painting for most of the famous landmarks, places, and events in New York city, including (among many others) the Statue of Liberty to the zoo, the marathon, the Thanksgiving Day Parade, FAO Swartz, and the Apollo theatre.  The story follows a girl who moves to New York and uses a map to find different places she wants to visit.  Sometimes a friend comes with her, sometimes she goes with her mom.  Each painting is gorgeous, colorful, and detailed, and many fold out to twice (or even four times) the size of a regular page.  So detailed, in fact, that you could read this book to ten kids as they grow up and probably not find all the details contained therein.  At the end of the book, there is a list of fun facts about the various places mentioned and also a small circle cutout of part of a painting.  One game is to find the piece of the painting that it came from.  Also, each page contains a hidden cat and many famous actors, politicians, singers, and others are disguised within the pages as well.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

This book really comes with its own suggestions!  The back of the book is filled with look-and-find games.  For the youngest, you can find the page the picture is on (this is more obvious with the labeled pictures), and the older ones can do their own searching.

One thing I love about this book is that it encourages kids to go on their own adventures.  Are there adventures that your kids can plan for themselves?  Or, if too young, take you on?  Maybe you can give them a day to decide on an adventure, and they can choose something (zoo, science museum, etc.)  Then you can get a map of your own town–or use the one in the book if you are in New York!–and head out to discover something new!

Because the book starts with the girl and her mom having moved to New York, the book can also be an example of a great attitude when moving to a new place and a great way to adapt–plan family adventures every week or every month to get to know your new location.  And of course, if your new location is New York City, or if you are just visiting for a few days, bring this book and get the kids excited!

November 11, 2010

It’s meta-literary fun with your favorite characters

This is the BEST Elephant and Piggie book ever!  Well, there was “Are you ready to play outside?” which I really love and might be my favorite.  And of course, “Can I play too?” which is genius.  Come to think of it, I like them all.  But this one is really, truly great  Elephant and Piggie are at their best interacting with each other.  But in this book, they interact with YOU, too!  This is the latest in Mo Willem’s beloved series, so make sure you don’t miss it!

Title: We are in a book!
Author: Mo Willems
Genre
: Very Early Reader
Age: 2 – 7 (Amazon says 4 to 8, but that’s crazy.  This is a GREAT book for 2-year-olds, and it isn’t because I’m trying to push them out of picture books too early, as you would know by reading this blog.  It’s because I LOVE Elephant and Piggie!  Why deny them?)

Summary and Review:

Elephant notices someone watching him and is a little scared.  But when Piggie goes to investigate and finds out it’s a reader, they rejoice with happiness that they are in a book!

You can NOT have too much Mo! Or even too many Elephant and Piggie stories!

In a moment of genius, Piggie decides to make the reader say the word “bananas” by saying it himself.  Hysterical.  And then they notice what page they are on and what page the book ends so they start to hatch a plot to get the book to never end.  Any guesses?  It’s sheer genius!  (And explains the first page a little better than the first time you read it!)  Great book, great characters.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

This book really gets kids thinking about what a book actually is.  The characters notice the page numbers, and so can you and your child!  Go back to the beginning of the book and ask you child what number she thinks the book will start on.  Then count up and look at the page numbers.  Then research to find out what page the book ends on.  This is teaching them good skills of looking in a book to find information.

Get a little surreal.  Ask your child what happens to Elephant and Piggie when the book ends.  Why is Elephant scared to have the book end and what is their plot to keep it from ending?  How does this relate to the very first page of the book?

When you read a book (any book), you probably start with the title.  Also include the author’s name.  Give your kid a sense that books come from people; understanding this may make his early years of writing more magical.  We talk about movie stars, why not lowly authors, too?  This is a good one to talk about the author because you are already in the mode of talking about the actual book itself, rather than just the story, which after all, isn’t so much a story in this one.

November 10, 2010

Dirt is funny

I don’t care if he’s famous.  I don’t care what they say about rhyming picture books.  I don’t care what they say about celebrity picture books.  I don’t care that I got this book off of the bargain shelf at a large chain bookstore.  I LOVE THIS BOOK!  (And so, most importantly, does my son.)

Title: Dirt on My Shirt
Author: Jeff Foxworthy
Genre
: Picture Book
Age: 0 – 7

Summary and Review:

This is a book of poems that are really fun to read aloud!  A lot of them are about the outdoors (hence the title) and another strong theme is family.  There are poems about a staring contest with a cat, looking for a lost hat (and finding it, of course, on your head), a missing tadpole (where a frog now stands), playing with your cousins, crazy aunts and uncles, and a whole lot more.  They are sweet, funny, and fun to read.  The illustrations also are great and really bring the book to life.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

All of these poems are subjects that kids can relate to, so talking to them about the poems will get them engaged in the book and also teach them how to think while they read (seems simple, but trust me, I’ve taught lots of middle schoolers, and it isn’t!)  A good reader makes connections between what they are reading and real life or other things they have read or seen.  You can start with this book.  Examples:

You read the poem about making friends, and ask your kid about some of his own friends.  What does he like to do with his friends?  Anything in the poem (make a sandwich, a tree house, or green jello)?  Does anything in the poem remind him of his own friendships?

Read the tadpole-frog poem and ask your child what happened?  How did a tadpole disappear and a frog reappear?  Even if they are too young to know, ask the question first and then teach them.  Model for them the art of asking questions while you read, always trying to understand the text.

Or you read the poem about what you can see when you are outside and ask you daughter what she saw last time she was outside.  Remember, these seem like simple questions, but we are talking toddlers here, and you are instilling in them good reading habits.  You want them to know they can interact with the material they are reading, compare it to their own lives, and really think about it.  Then, when they get to middle school and endure literature discussions in English class, they won’t be frantically trying to remember some mundane fact.  Instead, they can contribute their own original thoughts about what they’ve read.

And maybe they’ll never be one of those kids who reads a whole chapter without understanding a single thing, and never stopping to look up a word or ask a question.  To me, that’s the saddest thing!

(P.S. Sorry it’s been awhile!  Family vacation!)

October 28, 2010

Leave the windows open for the bats

This was a Halloween present, and rightfully so, as the characters are bats, who are unfortunately mostly appreciated by the general populice only around the end of October as only as decorative designs. (Although, I think their rep is growing as people hang more bat houses to get rid of mosquitoes.)

But I love a book that uses a usually overlooked animal as its hero.  And Bats at the Library does just that.

Title: Bats at the Library
Author/Illustrator: Brian Lies
Genre
: Picture Book
Age: 0 – 7

Summary and Review:

It’s nighttime, and the bats have eaten and played.  They find they are, well, slightly bored.  But then a rumor spreads–a window has been left open at the library, so the fun is just about to begin!  There is storytime, shaddow puppets with the overhead projector, water play in the drinking fountain, illicit use of the copy machine, and imaginations running wild when the bats enter the magical world of storybooks.  It’s just about the best time at the library anyone could imagine, and the illustrations that accompany the story are fun and gorgeous–and, because this is a nocturnal story, darker and different from other picture book you may be more used to reading.

Brian Lies has a newer book out, too, Bats at the Ballgame, which you can preview here, and which I cannot wait to buy, as it has always been a goal of mine (and my toddler’s) to own every baseball book possible, and it is a newer goal of mine to own more of Brian Lies’s Bat books!  (There’s another one I haven’t seen about the beach as well.)

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

Well, for starters, you might have to explain what an overhead projector is.  Even to the older ones.  Maybe especially to the older ones–younger ones are used to technology they haven’t seen before.

OBSERVATION SKILLS!

The is a great book for learning how to notice detail in the illustrations.  What are the bats doing in each of the pictures?  Why do they hang upside down?  Why are the pictures so dark?  What kinds of books are the bats reading?  What kinds of games are the playing?  Ask your child to get involved with the pictures–not to merely glance at them, but to truly appreciate them and learn to be observant.  That’s the first thing their first science teacher is going to teach them, and it’s an important skill whether they grow up to be an ecologist, a photojournalist, or just an empathetic human being.  So teach them to really look, to watch, to make observations about the pictures and let you know what they are learning.

IMAGINATION

Ask them what they might do at the library if they were there all night long with no adults.  Or maybe ask them what they would do at the library if they were five inches tall.  Encourage your kids to think outside the comfort zone of normal ideas and really engage their imaginative muscle.  Like observation skills, the imagination is really good for future schooling, too.  And for being empathetic.  And painting.  And, unfortunately, probably useful in today’s journalism culture as well.

October 24, 2010

Our nation’s pastime, in funky illustrations

My mother-in-law bought us this book.  I still remember meeting her at Barnes and Noble with growing newborn in his sling.  She took one look at me and burst out laughing, and admittedly, it does look funny when the baby is hidden away in a sling.  He was getting bigger, but still able to fit inside the sling, tucked away from all the world around him.  At some point during the shopping trip, she picked out this book.  At that point, he was too young to read for himself, so I was choosing books that I liked to read, like Winnie-the-Pooh chapter books or really anything short of a Biology textbook because, seriously, it didn’t really matter.

This book was one of my first introductions to board books as a parent (and I don’t remember them as a kid so it was really my first introduction).  I remember wondering what was the point of board books, especially since it would take quite a few of them to meet our nightly reading ritual of fifteen or twenty minutes.  My husband wondered too.  Not for long.  It turned out to be a brilliant choice of a book, my son’s favorite above all other books and as I sit here writing about, two years later, the same copy sits here next to my computer held together with tape on my desk.  And now, our son “reads” this book to us.  If that isn’t beautiful, I don’t know what is.

Title: Home Run!
Author/Illustrator: David Diehl
Genre
: Board Book, Sports
Age: 0 – 3, although I can tell you right now, we are going to be older when we stop reading this book

Summary and Review:

Each page is a colorful and fun illustration of a crucial part of the baseball game, usually with one simple word to describe it (bat, ball, glove, etc.)  I love the drawings, and if I knew more about art, I could probably describe with with some sort of high-falutin’ word, but I can tell you that they are fun and slightly funky.  One of the greatest things about this book is that even though it appears at first glance to be just a list of baseball terms, one on each page, it actually reads as the story of a whole game.  There are hits and slides, runners who are safe and those who hit fly balls and get out.  And of course, there is a home run, which looks by the scoreboard at the end of the book to be a game-winning, bottom-of-the-ninth, grand slam.

To say that my son loves this book would in no way capture his true feelings.  He knows it by heart and has for some time.  He recently took it to school with him to share with his classmates.  And it’s almost always in our car, ready to go with us wherever we end up.  As we enjoyed this one so much, we’ve since bought the soccer and basketball ones, and there’s a football one as well.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

Invite your child to really interact with the art in this book.  What does the umpire do when he calls a “strike”?  My son loves to throw his hand up in a fist and yell “strike!”, imitating the book, even when we are playing baseball at home and he’s the one with the bat in his hand who just missed the ball.   Same with the sign for “safe” which I am all but required to deliver when my son slides onto our carpet after running around the bases, which is either a lap around the house or about twenty laps around the carpet, necessary of course because almost everything he hits he declares a “home run!”

You can also engage your toddler in the story.  Instead of just showing him the “grounder” page and the “out” page, show the two-page spread as part of a story.  The fielder is getting the grounder, so the runner is then tagged out.  This will help them recognize story format, even in a simple board book, and also help teach them the flow and rules to America’s greatest game; which, seriously now, is an important lesson.  On the next page, the two pictures are “steal” and “slide”, and you can do the same thing–telling the story of the base runner who slides when he steals a base–with these pictures as well.

The pictures are simple, so asking your child to recognize details can also help them become good observers.  (I have to laugh every time I use the word “observe” now because it’s something they taught my son as part of some introduction to science lesson and now he is fond of complimenting almost everything I say with “That’s a good observation, Mom.”  Seriously.  But an example: the “on deck” page shows a donut-style bat weight on the bat.  Ask your child if he notices anything different about the “on deck” bat and the other bats and then you can tell him or her about the weight.

At the end of the game, the final score is 8 to 9.  Ask younger children to read the numbers and ask older children which is the higher number–i.e., which team won the game?

And then, if it’s the right season, head out to the ballpark and test your toddler’s new knowledge in the real world.

October 22, 2010

For the families who wish they could winter in New England, or even those who do

This book makes me want to put on my hat, mittens, and gloves and walk in the snow, roll down a snowy hill, make a snowman, and then come inside for some hot chocolate.  I LOVE the illustrations and the tone/feeling that this book evokes.  I also love that its teaching my son about different kinds of animals and the different tracks they make.  It was a gift from great grandma, and we taped the card she sent inside the book–we will treasure this for a long time!

Title: Who’s Been Here? A Tale in Tracks
Author: Fran Hodgkins
Illustrator
: Karel Hayes
Genre
: Picture Book
Age: 0 – 7

Summary and Review:

A dog goes outside and find lots of different kinds of tracks.  The three-toed print turns out to be a turkey, the prints with long feet and short hands coming out of the compost bin are, of course, the pesky raccoon, and double hooves mark a deer and a moose.  But who do the final tracks belong to?  Unfortunately, Willy the dog goes to find out, and ends up sprayed by the owner, a skunk.

Possible conversations to have with your kids (yes, it’s Science time!):

The drawings of the tracks appear on the borders of the pages so the kids can see them clearly.  Ask your child to guess what the animal is before you turn the page to find out.  After a few readings, they will be proud that they can guess every time!

For older children, you can point out more details in the tracks.  The book’s text mentions some of them without slowing down the narration, and you can expand.  For example, some of the tracks look like paw prints, but others look different.  Why?  What makes the paw prints of different animals similar?  What makes them slightly different?  And how is a paw print different from a hoof print of a deer or the clawed foot print of a turkey?

Ask them to look at the pattern of the prints as they lie in the snow.  Which one do they think is the right foot and which one the left?  Why?  Can they tell the difference between the two footsteps that are together in one stride and the next stride of two footprints?

What about animals that walk on four feet?  How are their tracks different from two-footed animals?  Have your child walk on all fours and see where their hands and feet end up.  Compare them to the drawings in the book.

On the raccoon prints, the hands and feet are different–can they tell which is which?  How do they know?

Why do the kids run away when they see the skunk?  Why do they leave Willy outside?

🙂

P.S. The danger of mixing gorgeous picture books with 2-year-old boys is that they will get ripped.  This is NOT a reason to take them away, but to help kids understand how to take care of books.  However, some damage will occur, and hopefully you can write it off as damage in the name of education and growth.  One way to minimize the damage, though, is to take off the fragile paper covers and store those separately.  I learned this trick from a brilliant fifth-grade teacher I worked with who did this before lending books in her library to parents and kids to take home.  (Thanks, Daria!)

October 21, 2010

The first time he laughed

That, at least, is how I will always remember this book.  As the first time my baby laughed.  There might have been other times, but I remember this one.  In the rocking chair, reading the brilliantly simple language and looking at the beautifully simple illustrations of Leslie Patricelli.  Every time I read the loud pages, he laughed.  I think we tried to film it; not sure if we were successful.

Title: Quiet LOUD
Author: Leslie Patricelli
Genre
: Board Book
Age: 0 – 3

Summary and Review:

If you are a baby, the whole world is a wonderful mystery, waiting to be discovered.  It’s easy for adults to forget this, but this is one author who hasn’t.  Her simple books are to be loved and marveled at for the talented way she makes us see everyday actions and items for what they are–truly amazing.  This book is a great example of that.

“Thinking is quiet.  Singing is LOUD.”  This might seem obvious, but this book makes it seem like a wonderous mystery of life, and to your baby, that’s probably what these mini revelations are. Each two-page spread includes one of these pairs of opposite sounds and then the final spread includes a whole page on each side of many quiet things (pillows, bunnies, and plants, for example) and many loud things (teakettles, burbs, and fire trucks).

The illustrations are perfect–kids get them and they love them.  And if there was a way to illustrate loud sound, Patricelli has found it in this book.  Other similar titles by Leslie Patricelli include Yummy YUCKY and BIG Little.  So the fun doesn’t have to stop with this one!

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

First, just have fun with the book.  Whisper the first page “whispering is quiet”, and then shout (or speak loudly) the next one “screaming is loud”!  Continue that pattern throughout the book–you are teaching your baby about sounds, volume, opposites, and of course, having fun.

Because of the repetition, this is a good one for early talkers to participate in.  Leave out the last word as you read: “whispering is …” and let them finish in their own whispered voices and screams!  (But beware that you will get what you asked for!)

When you get to the last pages, these provide a great opportunity to learn words.  Ask them to point to the bunny or the firetruck.  Or ask them to point to something quiet and tell you what it is in a whisper.  Or make the noise of one of the loud objects (a drum, horn, rooster, etc.) and ask them which ones makes that noise.  Or point to an object and ask them to make the noise of the object.  There are an infinite variety of these games to play!  Have fun, and if you enjoy them, try some of Leslie Patricelli’s other books!

October 19, 2010

Is that your organ or mine? A compelling dystopia with cloning, slavery, drugs, and other things we bring upon ourselves

I had to read this novel.  It was for school.  I was about to assign it to my kids, 7th graders, for a dystopia project, on the advice of a librarian, so I needed to read it first.  What an awesome assignment!  I loved it.  It’s a page-turner.  It’s adventurous.  It’s emotional.  It makes you think about where the world today is going.  All things I love when I am reading a great book.  And it’s why I think young adult and children’s books are often so much better than adult books.  Wasn’t it the author of The Golden Compass who said that you can deal with so much more in a kid’s book?  Well, this book is a great example of that.

Title: The House of the Scorpion
Author: Nancy Farmer
Genre
: Fantasy/Science Fiction
Age: Middle School and High School and lots of Adults

Summary and Review:

The main character, Matt, is a clone.  He lives in the country of Opium, between the United States and another fictional country of this dystopic future.  In his society, clones are created and their minds altered with at birth so that they have none of their own emotions or thoughts.  They are treated like animals, or worse.  But Matt is a special kind of clone.  He is a clone of the country’s dictator, who demands that his brain be kept intact.  But this isn’t a gesture of good will–the dictator will kill Matt when the time is right, because Matt exists to keep the dictator’s life eternal–when he needs a new organ, Matt will be there ready, as have many clones in the past.

Matt must first understand that he is not a human at least as far as others see him, and then relearn his humanity with the help of a few caring souls.  He does eventually escape his horrible fate in his own country, but only to join a fate as a child slave laborer in the next one.  The book is full of issues that mirror today’s society, and this, combined with likable characters and a compelling narrative, makes it a great read.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

A lot of kids have trouble understanding what a “clone” is.  They know the term mostly from science fiction stories and snippets they hear, mostly out-of-context in the news, and so they don’t really get the full story.  As a result, I found some kids would read this book and have trouble understanding why a clone wouldn’t be treated differently.  So this is an important starting place for a conversation.  Make sure your child knows what it means to be a clone.  Basically, that the DNA is taken from one individual, put into an embryo, and a baby develops.  That baby is no different from any other baby, whose DNA happened to come from two individuals via an egg and sperm, but some students have a hard time understanding that.  Sometimes I relate the issue to identical twins.  Clones are no more alike than identical twins–in other words, they will probably look like the person they are cloned from, and probably have some similarities, but they will be their own person.  Getting kids to fully understand the implications that Matt is fully human is an important first step to understanding this book.  (After all, in today’s society, many children start out as “test tube” babies, and this, while different and controversial in whole new ways, is, from the point of view of the kid who is born, very much the same.)

Older middle school students and high school students can relate this to stem cell research as well.  I don’t think there are many people out there who would argue that it’s okay to “grow” a human being and then kill it for your own purposes–that’s the equivalent of saying we should be able to do anything we wanted with our own children.  However, there is a debate about what it’s appropriate to do with embryos that are created in the process of trying to help someone get pregnant and one their way to be destroyed.  Should scientists first be able to research on them for the good of those already alive, or is that wrong, since they have the “potential” to become human life?  Or should we not be allowed to create such things in the first place?  Books like this can help students wrap their heads around issues that otherwise seem too big or too irrelevant for them to understand.

If your child is reading this book, I would highly recommend reading it with them.  It will help you identify issues that are most important to you and your child and help direct a conversation even further.  Plus, it’s a great read.