Sunday, June 27, 2010

Bill Peet: An Autobiography

Bill Peet: An AutobiographyNonfiction Monday

Written and Illustrated by: Bill Peet
Recommended Ages: 8 and up

As I've written before, I love Bill Peet. I think every child should go through a stage where they check out as many books of his as possible and discover the many worlds he created. If your child happens to be a fan of Bill Peet and wants to learn a little more about him, take a look at Bill Peet: An Autobiography. You'll learn a lot about the man, as well as the time period he lived in (1915-2002).

This was the second time I've read his autobiography and I was reminded of just how very strong his voice is in all of his books. In this case, you feel as if you are sitting across the room from him listening to him tell you the story of his life. It's a fascinating look for anybody who is interested in learning how Bill Peet came to be Bill Peet.

Peet was born in Indiana, and his father was drafted into the army for World War I when Bill was three. Although his father survived, he never came back to join his family full time, and Bill's mom and grandmother brought up Bill and his two brothers. He and his brothers spent much of their time outdoors on farms and in the woods, and you see how his childhood influenced so many of his books. Young Bill showed a lot of artistic talent at an early age, and drawing became his number one hobby as he "filled fat five-cent tablets" with his drawings.

One particularly interesting part of the book is the time Peet spent with Walt Disney Studios. He worked there over twenty years and shares some interesting and candid anecdotes about the place and Walt Disney himself. Peet worked on many movies including Pinnochio, Dumbo, and Cinderella (he created the mice). It was only after his stint with Disney that he decided to branch out and try writing and illustrating children's books.

Bill Peet's autobiography offers a unique, somewhat wry insight into a true talent. There are pencil illustrations on every page which draw the reader in, creating an appealing atmosphere. This would be a wonderful book to give a child who yearns to be a writer or an artist, for Bill Peet followed his dream from a very early age. He ends the book by stating that Chester the Worldly Pig was the most autobiographical of his books (see my previous review on Chester). As he wrote: "Those markings were on the pig from the very beginning just as my ambition to illustrate books was always there. But I never considered writing them, so I had grown far beyond my expectations."

Monday, June 21, 2010

Fun Summer Reads for the Early Chapter Book Reader

Chapter books for the emerging reader can be challenging to find. A good early chapter book should have everything that a middle grade book has, but in an easier-to-read format (simpler sentence structure, shorter chapters, illustrations etc.). You want to make sure to provide kids who are at this developmental stage with great reading material over the summer, so that they continue to make progress. One of the best ways to ensure this is to find books that have sequels, so that they barely miss a beat as they pick up the next book. So here are a few suggestions to hook those emerging readers:
Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters
Alvin Ho: Allergic to Birthday Parties, Science Projects, and Other Man-made Catastrophes

Written by: Lenore Look
Illustrated by: LeUyen Pham
Recommended Ages: 6-10

I'm delighted to say that Alvin Ho is back. In the first book Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School and Other Scary Things we met Alvin and his family and immediately wanted more (see my previous blog post). Now Lenore Look has written two sequels in the same lively style that made kids fall in love with Alvin. He's a very appealing, funny, idiosyncratic child that new readers will relate to. Whatever he tackles, whether it's a camping trip or a science project, he does in his own, one-of-a-kind style. You really can't go wrong with Alvin Ho; he's the perfect summertime buddy.

Just Grace

Written By: Charise Mericle Harper
Recommended Ages: 6-9

Here is another endearing character that is sure to please the elementary-aged crowd. Grace is called Just Grace because she happens to be in a third grade class with three other Graces. When her teacher asks her to state her name as Grace with her middle initial, she tells the teacher she'd rather be called just Grace. And it sticks; from then on she's called Just Grace. She has a lot of personality with a mischievous side to her, that is enhanced by some very funny scenes.
Just Grace's voice is strong throughout the book, and young readers will want more. Luckily there are four other Grace books that will be sure to keep your child interested (and laughing at the same time).
Still Just Grace
Just Grace Goes Green
Just Grace and the Snack Attack
Just Grace Walks the Dog

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle

Written by: Betty MacDonald
Illustrated by: Hilary Knight
Recommended Ages: 6-10

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle was first published in 1957, and it still remains a favorite among children and parents alike. Kids like her because she understands them in a way that most other grownups don't. She lives in an upside down house and smells like freshly baked cookies. She has a knack for solving problems that parents aren't able to, like "Never Want to Go to Bedders," and "Answer Backers." Each chapter is a self-contained story, so kids can read them in small increments, if they like. Other titles in the series are:
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Magic

Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
Happy Birthday, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (HarperCollins))
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Farm
It's a delightful, somewhat old-fashioned, series that still resonates with children today.

Clementine's Letter

Written by: Sara Penny Packer
Illustrated by: Marla Frazee
Recommended Ages: 6-10

As I've written before, boys and girls love Clementine, and will be happy to hear that she's back in two new books. In Clementine's Letter, we find Clementine happily ensconced in third grade with the teacher of her dreams-Mr. D'Matz. Finally she has somehow who understands and accepts her for who she is. Life is good! Then she learns that he has been nominated for a huge Teacher award that will take him away for the rest of the year. She and all of the students have to write a letter of support for him, and you can imagine her dilemma. It's full of typical Clementine moments, complete with her interactions with a substitute teacher, that don't go very smoothly. Pennypacker has done it again and has another winner. There's also another Clementine book-The Talented Clementine, that is another crowd pleaser.

Summer can be the perfect time to introduce new books to kids. Making frequent trips to the library and/or bookstore will ensure that they have a variety of books to choose from so that they have lots of success with their reading. For after all, isn't our ultimate goal for them to become passionate, lifelong readers?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Cats in Krasinksi Square

The Cats in Krasinski Square

Written by: Karen Hesse
Illustrated by: Wendy Watson
Recommended Ages: 9 and up

This is a beautifully written, lyrical picture book about a little known incident that happened during the Holocaust. Putting a recommended age down is difficult, because of the subject matter. But, if read with an adult, it is a wonderful story about a young girl's innovative plan for tricking the Germans and aiding the Jews.

An unnamed Jewish girl lives outside of the walls of the Warsaw Ghetto with her sister Mira, who is in the Resistance. Somehow they managed to escape and live as Poles, not Jews; although they worry about their friends who are on the other side of the wall.

"I wear my Polish look.
I walk my Polish walk.
Polish words float from my lips
and I am almost safe,
almost invisible,
moving through Krasinksi Square
past the dizzy girls riding the merry-go-round."

The girl has befriended many cats that squeeze in and out of the Ghetto between the cracks. She imagines the homes they once lived in and gives them attention, but not food. She and her sister come up with a plan to hide food in the cracks of the wall for their friends on the other side. Unfortunately on the day of their plan, they find out that the Gestapo knows what they want to do. So the little girl comes up with an alternate plan, and they gather as many cats as possible and put them into baskets. They head down to the train station and wait behind the soldiers and their dogs for the train to pull in. As the passengers stream off, the little girl and other members of the Resistance open their baskets and let the cats out. Chaos erupts as the dogs chase the cats, and the soldiers are distracted. They are able to smuggle food through the wall into the Ghetto.

Children will appreciate that the little girl came up with the plan and that the cats were heroes in the story. Younger children may take the story at face value and leave it at that. Older children will want to know more, which is why it's critical for an adult to be there to answer the questions that most certainly will arise. Hesse does an admirable job of telling the story and there are both an author's note and historical note at the end that are critical reading for the somewhat older child. In fact, I would recommend that these notes be read prior to the actual story, as I think they will give it more relevance. The Holocaust is never an easy subject to broach with young readers, but The Cats of Krasinski Square shows how one little girl made a difference and it actually ends on a hopeful note.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Silly Billy (a picture book and a fun activity)

Silly Billy

Written and Illustrated by: Anthony Browne
Recommended Ages: 4-7

When I was at the library, I came upon this picture book about a little boy who worries about everything. Being from a long line of worriers myself, I was intrigued and won over by this simple story.

Billy is a little boy who worries about all sorts of things when he is in bed. He worries about things like hats and rain and giant birds. His parents try to reassure him that they are there and nothing will happen to him. But Billy still worries.

One night, when he is spending the night at his grandmother's house (and worrying about staying at other people's houses), he goes to his grandmother's room and tells her his concerns. Grandma understands completely, as she used to be a worrier like him. But she has a solution. She goes into her room and brings out some worry dolls. She explains that you put them under your pillow and they do the worrying for you while you sleep. Billy takes the dolls and puts them under his pillow, and finds out they work well.

There's a small twist at the end of the story, which I won't spoil here. But it's clever and fits neatly into Billy's personality. There's also a note at the end that describes the origins of Guatemalan worry dolls.

BookNosher Activity: Children may want to make their own worry dolls after reading Silly Billy. Luckily there are a couple of websites that offer easy step-by-step instructions for making worry dolls. This is a fun summertime activity for kids to engage in.

Toothpick dolls

Clothespin dolls (This is a little more elaborate, definitely needs parental assistance)

Garbage bag tie dolls (I like how this is made with mostly scraps from around the house.)

BookNosher Tidbit: If you and your child become intrigued with the legend of the Guatemalan worry dolls, here are a couple of books to check out. Let Your Worries Go
by Jessica Hurley and Trouble Dolls: A Guatemalan Legend by Suzanne Simons both explore in depth the origins and story behind the worry dolls.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Summertime and the Reading is Easy

With the school year ending, my thoughts naturally turn to summer reading. When my children were young, we always made a big deal about going to the library at the beginning of the summer and signing up for their summer reading program. This usually involved keeping track of all the books they read over the course of the next three months and in the end there was some sort of "reward," usually in the form of a book. We would also venture to our local bookstore so they could each pick out a couple of books to savor in the long, non-structured days that lay ahead.

What about those students who can't get to the library or afford to buy books? It's been reported that low-income students lose as much as three months of ground each summer to middle-income students. So I read with interest a June 2 article in USA Today about a free book program for low-income students in the summer that makes a lot of sense and may counteract this decline. An experimental program in seven states will be giving free books to thousands of low-income students, in the hopes of reducing this troublesome achievement gap.

Based upon a study that will be published later this year in Reading Psychology, Richard Allington, a reading researcher and his colleagues, went to 17 high poverty schools in Florida, and gave selected students twelve books (from a list the students chose) to read over the summer. They repeated this over the course of three summers, and at the end of the study found that those students who received the books had "significantly higher" reading scores and less of a "summer slide." So now the study will be replicated on a larger scale. It seems like a win-win situation if children are able to keep their reading up, as well as start their own library at home.

So what are some of the ways you encourage reading in your house? For some great ideas, here's an article from the Reading is Fundamental website, that offers some creative strategies for keeping reading fun during the summer. For as parents and teachers our goal is to ensure that our children love reading and become lifelong readers.