Monday, January 25, 2010

Little Mouse Gets Ready by Jeff Smith

Most people know Jeff Smith from his masterful Bone graphic novels, but add him to the list of acclaimed authors for beginning readers. Little Mouse Gets Ready, a 2010 Geisel Honor Book, tells the simple story of Little Mouse getting ready for a trip to the barn with Mama and his siblings. Of course, as it usually is with little ones, telling the story is much easier than the act of getting ready.

“Oh boy, I love going to the barn!” says Little Mouse. “Yes sir! There are LOTS of places to run and hide in the barn!"

Little Mouse lays out everything he needs to get ready: underpants, socks, pants, shoes, and shirt. Starting with the underpants, Little Mouse explains to readers that some items are easy (underpants) and some items are hard (the second arm in a shirt) and some items are downright tricky (buttons). His narration of the process is sprinkled with the great stuff he’ll get to do at the barn like eat the seeds dropped by the chickens and the oats spilled by the horses and swim in the cow’s water.

Finally – finally! – Little Mouse is ready. “One… more… button… Mm! THERE! I did it! I’m READY!"

From Little Mouse Gets Ready, © 2008 Jeff Smith & Raw Junior. Used by permission

Fully dressed and ready to head to the barn, Little Mouse gets a surprise. “Well…” says Mama, “mice don’t wear clothes!”

I wonder when a graphic novel will be recognized by the Caldecott committee. I’m not an expert on Caldecott criteria, and someone fill me in if graphic novels would be ineligible, but one item stands out: “Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures.” Little Mouse’s response to Mama’s no-clothes declaration is wordless, but it says plenty.

From Little Mouse Gets Ready, © 2008 Jeff Smith & Raw Junior. Used by permission

Young readers will successfully read the text of Little Mouse Gets Ready. More importantly, they will enjoy the book repeatedly as more details of the seemingly simple illustrations are discovered upon subsequent readings.

Toon-Books have found a flawless formula and the scientists – er…authors – to masterfully mix the ingredients into beginning reader perfection. The proof lies not only in award recognition, but more so in the enjoyment and laughter of countless young readers.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Waukesha County Reading Council

Thanks to everyone from the Waukesha County Reading Council who attended Help Readers Love Reading today. I hope everyone was introduced to a new book or two (or more!) that you can't wait to take back to your students. Hopefully you took away some new ideas about how to use them as well. A special thank you goes to Colleen for inviting me to Waukesha to speak with you today and for taking care of all the planning. Thanks!

If you have any questions you didn't get a chance to ask, additional thoughts or comments, or anything else you'd like to share, leave a comment below this post or send me an email. I'd love to hear from you.

Thanks again for attending this morning's meeting, and thanks to everyone for all you do to Help Readers Love Reading!

UPDATE: Many of you mentioned a desire for more books geared at middle school and high school. All the reviews on the site are organized by grade level. Try here: Grade 6-8 and here: Grade Young Adult. Hopefully you will find more of what you are looking for. I've got plenty of books on the site for those age ranges, but for some reason they didn't make it into the presentation. Thanks for the suggestion.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The 2010 Newbery Medal - Some Quick First Thoughts

The 2010 Newbery Medal

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead - I can't argue. The only nit I'd have to pick was mentioned in my initial review. That whole time travel thing is open to debate, I think, and I wonder if the committee discussed whether or not it affected the novel's worthiness. Obviously, they felt it didn't, seeing that it has that shiny medal on the cover.

The 2010 Newbery Honor Books

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose - Haven't read it.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly - Another one that gets no argument from me. I thought it moved a bit slow at times, but that's just personal preference. I liked Calpurnia, I liked her grandfather, and I liked how everything turns out in the end.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin - Haven't read it.

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick - A rousing "Woo-Hoo!" for this one. As I said in my initial review, how can you not like someone who says, "Telling the truth don't come easy to me, but I will try, even if old Truth ain't nearly as useful as a fib sometimes." Loved the book, love the choice.

More to come as I get the books read, as well as reactions to the Caldecott and Geisel awards. For now I'll simply say the Caldecott didn't stir too much excitement for me, but the Geisel awards? It's time to stand and cheer!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Puzzling World of Winston Breen by Eric Berlin

Found: One sticky note containing the following message: "Tottally good/awesome! I really liked The Puzzling World of Winston Breen." Location: Attached to the cover of my copy of the book.

Allow me, for just a moment, a little soapbox standing. "Eh-hem. If you find a sticky note written by a child, similar to the one listed above, read the book. Thank the child repeatedly. Don't mention any spelling errors." Thank you.

Now as the book itself, here's my review: ""Tottally good/awesome! I really liked The Puzzling World of Winston Breen."

Winston is a kid who loves solving puzzles and sees them everywhere. Anagrams, patterns, numbers, word problems, pictures, you name it. Winston loves it. He finds them, solves them, and creates them. In the first chapter Winston gives his sister, Katie, a carved wooden box for her birthday. When Katie finds a hidden compartment containing four thin strips of wood with words on them, nobody believes that Winston, puzzle-man extraordinaire, isn’t behind it. Everyone thinks he planted them there.

He didn’t. He’s just as surprised as everyone else. The four wooden pieces end up being part of a larger set of sixteen. Put together, these sixteen pieces lead to a treasure left in the will of a very rich, local inventor. His four children could never work together, and the pieces eventually end up separated. Winston is drawn into the treasure hunt by the only remaining child, Violet Lewis, and two suspicious treasure hunters.

Each person owns four of the pieces. Each wants to find the treasure for different reasons. Two want the treasure. Violet Lewis wants to end her father’s mystery. Winston wants to solve the puzzle.

The book is filled with puzzles, and a website is given that contains all of them ready to print out, cut up, or write on. Some are answered within the story’s text, usually those that matter to the plot. Some puzzles are simply for the reader. Their solutions don’t matter to the story, only to Winston’s character development and the reader’s enjoyment. The only problem is that the story is so engaging, readers may find it difficult to stop reading to solve the puzzles!

Eric Berlin, a puzzle maker himself, has created a children’s book that will engage kids who enjoy puzzles and mysteries. Most readers will be able to solve a number of the puzzles and come away with the feeling that they helped Winston solve the biggest puzzle of his life.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A WiiBit Embarassing

Not quite a year ago I wrote a newspaper column about the iWants and WiiNeeds of my children and the lack of certain items in their lives. My most recent column revisits the topic - sort of - in light of recent events this past Christmas season.

And as I said in the column, I'm washing my hands (and thumbs) of all responsibility, and I'm casting the blame far and wide. Here are the links:

Plenty of blame to go around for Nintendo purchase OR the printable version.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Mercy Watson: Something Wonky This Way Comes by Kate DiCamillo

Mercy Watson hits a pig and butter bonanza when Mr. and Mrs. Watson decide to take the family to the Bijou to see When Pigs Fly. Even though Mercy’s favorite food is toast with a great deal of butter on it, the Bijou offers real butter on their buckets of popcorn, and those buckets are bottomless.

Predictably, neighbors Baby and Eugenia Lincoln climb in the backseat, followed closely by neighborhood children Frank and Stella. Some familiar characters are already at the drive-in. Officer Tomilello is in attendance with his wife and former burglar Leroy Ninker is now a reformed thief and cowboy-in-training, gainfully employed selling bottomless buckets of real-buttered popcorn.

With a familiar cast of characters now set, the now familiar chaos that follows Mercy Watson arrives as well. Mr. Watson and Frank leave to get popcorn, but Mercy, the scent of butter in the air, leaves to investigate on her own. Finding a large bucket of popcorn in the hands of a little girl, she helps herself. The young girl’s buttery scream of distress draws the attention of Officer Tomilello, cowboy-in-training Leroy Ninker, and Animal Control Officer Francine Poulet, who is also in attendance. Soon readers’ favorite firefighters, Ned and Lorenzo, are called.

Let the chase begin.

Mercy chases more popcorn. Everyone else chases Mercy. The chaos at the drive-in is absolutely thrilling to Mercy who always has loved a good chase. Finally, as they have in previous Mercy Watson stories, Ned and Lorenzo save the day, and everyone enjoys some hot buttered toast.

Readers can expect to enjoy Something Wonky This Way Comes as much as Kate DiCamillo’s other Mercy Watson books. Probably as much as Mercy enjoys hot toast with a great deal of butter on it.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Noisy Problem by Chris Monroe

There are a number of things that can cause an Arooga Boom Clang Clang sound in your house. You know, sometimes you’re laying in bed, maybe just starting to wake up, and suddenly Arooga Boom Clang Clang pulls you completely out of your slumber. Just off the top of my head, it could it be:

A. The furnace reacting to the -4 degree overnight low.
B. An early morning visitor in a Model T.
C. An elephant clogging the laundry chute.

No matter what the cause, when you have a tool belt like Chico Bon Bon, you can handle it. But finding the noisy problem can prove to be more difficult than solving the noisy problem. Where could it be? The bread box? The hamper? Under the floor boards? No, it was none of those.

What could cause it? A tricky family of woodpeckers? A lumberjack? Bats, monsters, or squirrels? Again, none of those. Believe it or not, there truly is an elephant clogging Chico Bon Bon’s laundry chute. An elephant named Clark.

Clark thought he was visiting his Elsa’s house, but Elsa lives two doors down. The next thing he knew, WHAM! Stuck in the laundry chute. Thankfully, Chico Bon Bon is one resourceful monkey.

A monkey with a tool belt. And tool belts have everything needed for solving problems. A chipper, a chopper, a bopper, a bipper. A tacker, a clacker, a snicker-snacker. A paper scraper, a glitter vac, a putty splapper, a tail clamp.

And numerous others, especially those used to laundry de-chute an elephant.

Kids will once again enjoy Chico Bon Bon’s adventure, even though this one doesn’t even take him out of his house. Author Chris Monroe has created a monkey who is thoughtful, thorough, and creative problem solver, and who proves to be a great friend.