by Wendy Lawrence
I love a book that you can’t easily categorize, and this is one of them. At first glance, you think it’s a picture book, bright and boldly covered. But it’s also thick, almost like a middle grade book, and is 104 pages. When you look at the words, you realize it’s a kind of poem, the whole book written in beautiful language that mimics the dancing of its protagonist, Josephine Baker.
Title: Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker
Author: Patricia Hruby Powell
Illustrator: Christian Robinson (who has worked for Pixar and Sesame Workshop)
Genre: Nonfiction, Poetry, Art, Dance, African-American
Ages: 7 – 10, but younger children could be read a few pages and older children could use as a research text
This book tells of the life of an amazing woman who ran away from the slums of St. Louis with a dance troupe and made her way to Carnegie Hall and theatres in Paris. She fought tremendous racism, performing at clubs where she wasn’t even allowed to walk through the front door, places she wouldn’t have been allowed to eat. Josephine Baker ended up leaving for Europe where she felt better received and found tremendous success. The book doesn’t dance around any issues: it talks about the Ku Klux Klan, World War II. It talks about how she bleached her skin with lemon juice and how, even after beings so well received in France, she was called a “savage” and a “devil” in Austria. Always wanting to please, she dressed the next night in all white and sang a gorgeous lullaby, a Negro Spiritual called “Pretty Little Baby”. It worked. They called her an “angel”.
Josephine Baker adopted twelve children throughout her life, her famous “Rainbow Tribe”. They came from eleven countries and Josephine brought each of them up celebrating their own religion–Buddhist, Shinto, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and animist. She had a gorgeous and interesting life. She was still performing in her seventies when she died in her sleep after a long night of dancing.
The press release that comes with the book dutifully mentions how it is perfect for February (African-American history month) and April (Poetry month), but seriously, let’s hope it’s read all year long. I love that you can use this book to introduce some very heavy topics to your child, but in a very colorful, happy, positive way, not only because of the colors in the book, but because of the colorful, energetic character who titles it.
by Wendy Lawrence
When I saw this book, I immediately wanted to buy a copy for every kid I knew. I settled for only one and gave it to an artistic niece as I thought its subtleties might be lost on my younger boys, whose art tends to be a bit more on the abstract side. But I love everything about this book and think you will too. It would make a really nice–and unique–gift for your next birthday party or (dare I mention it yet) the holiday season.
This is an interactive picture book with photographic pages that have pieces missing, just asking for your young artist to fill in the spaces. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s the book trailer:
I love the way this book allows kids to interact with their reading and make their art a conversation between the author and themselves. Maybe if you ask nicely, they’ll let you play too, and you can talk to your own kid through the pictures you each add! And after you do, you can check out what others have done in the gallery, or even email in your own work!
by Wendy Lawrence
It takes awhile for kids to understand the whole notion of “time”. My three-year-old, for example, will ask for a “3-minute” snuggle and to time it, he will do one of two things: he will either count to 3 (this at least makes some sort of sense) or he will count down to 3, starting from some arbitrary number like 10 or 20 (and if it’s 20, the counting down isn’t often that linear). Either way, when he gets to the predetermined number, he decides that his predetermined time is up.
Another thing he does is talk about the past with all sorts of incorrect descriptors. “Remember last year when we ate oatmeal?” he says about that morning’s breakfast. Or “remember yesterday when we went to Seattle?” he says about last year’s trip. You get the picture. It will all fall into place at some point, of course, but in the meantime, I enjoy the vocabulary lapses immensely.
Title: At the Same Moment Around the World
Author: Clotilde Perrin
Genre: Picture Book, History, Culture, Science
This book won’t teach him any of that. BUT, it is related to time. When we go on trips, we often try to talk to our kids about the time zones. This has little effect, as you can imagine, given my previous description of what we are working with. But this book might help us out.
At the same moment around the world, by Clotilde Perrin is a beautifully conceptualized, written, and illustrated book about the time zones. It’s a long and skinny book with only 24 scenes. It starts with an illustration of a beach and a ship and says
It is six 0’clock in the morning in Dakar, Senegal. Keita wakes up early to help his father count the fish caught during the night.
The book moves through the world, stopping next in Paris where Benedict drinks hot chocolate before school, then to Bulgaria, Baghdad, and Dubai. It travels through China on the New Year and Japan and Russia before crossing the Americas, where a girl in Arizona watches a night train pass through the desert. It stops in one place in each time zone before returning to the original picture again. Keita and his dad are counting fish but on the first and opposite page, our focus is now on the boat we had seen earlier.
At the same moment, on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, it is five o’clock in the morning when Chloé finds herself tired from dancing all night.
I love everything about this book–the prose, the illustrations, the very idea of it. I love the way each page’s illustration continues to the facing page’s illustration, even though each is a different story in a different place. I love the diverse set of characters, places, and actions, and the way it makes a very abstract idea incredibly tangible.
This would be a wonderful book to read to kids before a vacation that crosses time zones. It would be great to compare this book to a world map and find all the places mentioned. Kids could then find other places that share a time zone with the place in the book and could ponder what kids in those cities might be doing at those times of the day. It would be a fun activity for a wide variety of ages, a good thing to do on an airplane ride or a rainy day. And anything that helps kids see that the world is both big and small is a good activity.
A little while ago, I wrote about A Warm Winter Tail, by Carrie A. Pearson. It will be time to read that soon, but wait. Not. Quite. Yet. My tomatoes still aren’t yet red. My grass is still green (and I guess at this point it will remain that way). And the kids just got dropped off at school a few hours ago. So there’s time. And what is there time for? How about Person’s latest book, A Cool Summer Tail.
Like the first one, it starts with the voice of a child:
How do humans stay cool in the summer, Mama?
Do they hang out their tongues,
like a spring that’s been sprung,
breathing fast in and out like this?
Kids will learn how other animals adapt to the warm summer months through the illustrations and the words which tells us what humans don’t do, but what animals clearly do.
Check out this book and use it as a great reference for talking about the changing seasons–very apt right now–and how animals adapt differently than humans. I also think it would be fun to talk about which of the adaptations humans CAN do (lay on the cool dirt like a bear, for example, even if we don’t often), and which we definitely CAN’T (spread our wings for shade like a butterfly).
By Angela Verges
It’s the time of year where parents are kicking into gear for the start of another school year. In addition to back to school season, it is the beginning of football season for my family. My teen son has played football since he was a little tyke.
We decided to welcome the season by selecting some of our favorite football themed books to read. One of my favorite picture books is Dino-Football by Lisa Wheeler and Barry Gott. The author uses rhyme to tell the story of the Greenblade Snackers and the Redscales on the gridiron.
The illustrator brings the story to life with colorful, active Dino’s. There’s an interception and even an end zone dance by one of the Dino’s. Did you know that Dino’s tailgate before a game? You have to check out the story to see what I mean.
One of my son’s favorite football books is Kickoff! by Tiki and Ronde Barber. This chapter book was inspired by the childhood of former NFL football players (and twin brothers) Tiki and Ronde Barber. My son has always been a reluctant reader, to find something that he likes to read speaks volumes about that book.
I liked reading Kickoff! because of the underlying theme of teamwork and perseverance. My son liked the book because he could relate to the characters.
If your child is feeling like he has the back to school blues, huddle up and select a book to kick off his new season of school.
What book would you select to read to kick off the back to school season?
by Wendy Lawrence
At some point, early readers (the people) get tired of the early readers (the books). For my first son, this was before he even opened them. I think I bought one or two out of a sense of duty, but wasn’t even that excited to read them myself. Some of them lack any obvious attempt at plot, characterization, voice, or any trait necessary to call something a “book”. And don’t get me started on the phonics ones.
But these! These are about robots! And aliens! And space adventures! And they have great titles! In fact, I’m pretty sure my son was drawn to this series, which was one of the first ones he read, just because of the title Ricky Ricotta’s Might Robot vs. The Stupid Stinkbugs from Saturn.
Written by Dav Pilkey, of Captain Underpants fame*, these are a great beginner series. They are books that can be read in one sitting, with easy words (and not too many words per page), tons of pictures, Pilkey’s characteristic flip-o-rama (essentially a two-page flip book illustration), and even instructions on how to draw all the major characters (well, the robot and the alien villians, not the boring ones like mom and dad). ;) One of my son’s drawings based on those instructions can be found here:
*For those of you who worry about that sort of thing, there’s nothing of the toilet humor in these books that so pervades Underpants. I realize that my first example has the word “stupid” in it, but that’s not really indicative of how these books are written.
My son’s favorites as he remembers them, are Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot vs. the Mecha-Monkeys from Mars, Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot vs. the Uranium Unicorns from Uranus, and … vs. The Mutant Mosquitos from Mercury. There is a first one, and they were written in planet order (Mercury, Venus, etc.), but you can read them in any order. Every book stands alone.
So, if you have an early reader, I would highly recommend these. A reluctant reader might read them with you–one page you read aloud, then next page he/she reads aloud. (Although I do think reading aloud makes it even harder, so consider that.)
Have you tried these? Do you think you might?
When my son first pointed to the Goosebumps books at the library, I was skeptical. I’ve seen one “scary” movie in my whole life. (I was dragged there more or less against my will. I spent almost the whole movie with my eyes closed and my hands over my ears.) Another example: I used to love the show The Closer. But I would start watching at the 15 minute mark to avoid the violence. Seriously. You should try it sometime–it’s more G-rated AND makes the mystery even harder to figure out because first you have to figure out what happened.
But I digress. Goosebumps is NOT a series I would have picked out as a child. In fact, I wasn’t even super excited to read it now. But the things we do for our kids, right? I read one of them. And I liked it so much, I read another. Then I let my 6yo read them. Here’s the scoop:
- They are not that scary! At all! And this is from a true wimp! The covers are the scariest part of the book by far. In one of the books I read, a kid is given a shrunken head as a gift that starts to move and things, but doesn’t do anything too terrible. I read another one in which the main character thinks his new friend is a monster, but no one believes him. Finally he realizes that not only is that friend a monster, but so is his best friend, his parents–and even him! But they are friendly monsters, at least to each other.
- Now, they aren’t without scare. In the monster book above, for example, the boy has a repeated nightmare about a monster scaring him while he’s swimming. The description of the dream could be scary but it is, at least, just a dream.
- I only read 2, but my son spent most of the summer engrossed in this series, and he thinks that some of the books were scarier than others. Of course, he loves that, and my guess is that any child who would read a book with a cover like these would love it just the same. To be safe, I would start with the original series. If your kid likes those, you can move on to the others, like Horrorland, or Most Wanted.
Some of the Goosebumps books have a neat twist at the end. My son read one where the main character claimed to have a best friend who was invisible. In the end, you realize he DOES have an invisible friend, and that invisible friend stays that way because they are a monster–which when described, you realize is just a human. And then you realize that all the main characters all along were alien creatures. I like that, because I like that it’s teaching my son to read carefully and understand more complex books. (Yes, I said complex in a post about Goosebumps.) He didn’t understand the twist at first and had to ask about it, but then when he read another one with a similar twist, he got it! Reading comprehension success! And all because of some children’s horror stories! Which just goes to show–the important thing is that they are reading.
Have you ever stepped out of your comfort zone when choosing books for your child? Let me know which books it was for and how it went!
By Angela Verges
Have you heard the saying, “what goes around, comes around?” Now apply that to the Hula Hoop. That hoop that goes swish, swish and round and round can be used for your fitness routine.
As a young girl, I remember competing in a neighborhood hula hoop contest. There were a few of us who thought we were the best. We could swirl the hoop around our neck, our knees and even one leg. Arms in the air and hips swaying were the ways we kept the hoop moving.
The hula hoop craze is still around, some like to do it for fun while others engage for fitness. I once challenged my kids to a hula hoop competition during a backyard picnic. They thought old people couldn’t hoop. It took a few attempts, but I managed to keep the hoop going for several revolutions.
When I read The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen by Thelma Lynne Godin, a flood of memories surfaced. The story opened with the main character saying, “Today is the day I’m going to beat Jamara Johnson at hooping.” I was instantly transplanted to a summer’s day in fourth grade standing in my grandmother’s yard with a hula hoop. I had no other care in the world except practicing with my hoop.
The main character Kameeka had a Hula Hoopin’ itch. She was so focused on becoming the Hulu-Hoopin’ Queen that she accidentally ruined the birthday cake that her mother was making for a special neighbor. The combination of lively language and detailed illustrations could easily cause the reader to want to swish and swirl a hula hoop with the characters.
After you’re done swishing and swaying through The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen with you child, check out Hooping-A Revolutionary Fitness Program by Christabel Zamor. This is a book for grown-ups that contains 50 step by step exercises to do with a hula hoop. There is also a 40 minute DVD that accompanies the book.
Title: Hooping – A Revolutionary Fitness Program Author: Christabel Zamor with Ariane ConradTitle: Hooping – A Revolutionary Fitness Program
Author: Christabel Zamor with Ariane ConradCreate a challenge at home that includes fitness and a hula hoop. You could set up challenge stations.
Station 1 Hula hoop for 15 seconds with the hoop on an arm or around the knees.
Station 2 Walk forward a few inches while hooping.
Station 3 Clap your hands 5 times while hooping (slow hand claps are allowed).
Station 4 Hula hoop with more than one hoop for 5 seconds.
Station 5 Toss a football through a hula hoop.
Are you convinced yet that hula hooping can include fun and fitness? Grab a hoop and start going round and round.
by Kathy Higgs-Coulthard
You’re a lifelong reader. You understand the inherent joy in creeping around corners with Harriet M. Welsh, hiding behind potted ferns to jot notes on Ole Golly and Mr. Waldenstein; the horror in sitting next to Fern at the Arable kitchen table and seeing Papa walk toward the barn with his ax; the devastation in learning along with Travis and Arliss that a beloved lab has hydrophobia and must be put down.
You’re a lifelong reader and you want your kids to be one too. You model your passion for great books by reading in front of your kids, reading with your kids, and sneaking off for a few minutes of quiet reading. When a polar vortex is on the horizon, you head not to the grocery store to stock up on staples like milk and bread, but to the library to grab books. When packing for long car rides, trips to the beach or a favorite camp ground, books are as important as a full tank of gas. You realize that no child is ever too young to be read to and that the comfort of a great story transcends teenage drama to connect families on a cozy couch. You do all the right things to instill a love of reading in your children.
But a study by the University of Michigan shows that the amount of time our children spend reading drops nearly 20% between the ages of 5 and 9. That statistic worries me and since the same study also found that reading increased school achievement (even more so than studying!), it should worry you too.
So, if we are doing our best to create lifelong readers, what is happening to these young readers when they turn 5 that reduces the time they spend reading? One obvious answer is school. The structure of a typical school day leaves little time for free choice reading. The other thing that happens right about that age is that kids are spending more time engaged in organized activities, like sports, Scouts, and fine arts. All of those are wonderful things! Keeping our kids healthy—intellectually and physically is important. But it is also important to remember that kids need time to sit still and read. Factor that in when your calendar starts to fill up. One family I know keeps a stack of books in the car to read while they wait at the community bus stop. Another family schedules after dinner reading time each night before they’re off to soccer practice. An especially busy mother of three devotes Sunday afternoons to a marathon reading spree.
You’ve made an important decision to build reading into your child’s life. Don’t let busy-family syndrome ruin that foundation. Whether they’re turning five or fifteen, a love for reading is the best gift you can give them.
The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew
by Margaret Sidney
What books do you credit with making you a lifelong reader?
Schools out! Begin a summer adventure with your child through books. Let your child’s imagination go wild and create a theme for books he would like to read this summer. Make it a challenge for the whole family by offering small rewards for each book read or each story a child has read to him.
If you child likes books related to tractors, planting gardens, or building sand castles, you can use the theme Dig into reading. This theme could also mean digging through your home library and re-reading your favorite books.
When my teen boys were younger, they loved to pretend they were camping out (somewhere in the house). Sometimes this meant throwing a sheet over the Living room table and pretending they were in a cave. For them, pitching a tent meant rearranging furniture to create the effect of being at a campground.
Our bonfire time consisted of sitting next to our sleeping bags in the middle of the floor and eating microwave popcorn. Of course there was a sharing of stories by flashlight.
I recently came across a fun idea recently, related to camps. The idea was to have a stuffed animal camp out. Since my boys are too old for this type of camp out, I challenged them to read a book about campouts or going to camp.
The book I selected to read was Ivy & Bean Make the Rules by Annie Barrows. Bean’s older sister gets to go to camp, but Bean is not old enough. Bean doesn’t really want to go to camp, but she comes up with a plan to create a camp of her own. With the help of her friend Ivy, rules are developed, a tent is made (using old curtains), and kids invited to join in.
One of the rules the girls develop is, “You can only have as much fun as you are willing to get hurt.” The girls are clever at finding ways to make their camp work. One of my favorite things about the book are the activities at the end.
Information is listed that tells you how to make your own camp; it lists what to do on day one through four. For example day one list says – pick a counselor, pick a name, make a tent, etc. There is also a word find and crossword puzzle that the reader can complete.
If your child enjoys solving mysteries, Nate the great by Marjorie Weisman Sharmat was a book. Nate the great is a youth detective who says he works alone. And he loves pancakes. One of his cases involved helping a friend find a lost picture. He asked questions, followed clues and satisfactorily solved the case.
At the end of the book there is a recipe for Nate’s Pancakes, directions for making cat crayons (melting old crayons) and Detective Talk (explains words that detectives use). Nate the great is a series that has many books from which to choose.
Do you have a book suggestion to jumpstart summer reading? Dig in and leave your suggestion.