Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Winter Fun with Kiwi Crate + Giveaway!

If you've read this blog much, or if you know me in my real life, you know I am anything but a crafty mom. I just don't have it in me. I aspire to be one of those awesome Pinterest folk who can turn a few bottle caps and some macaroni into a masterpiece du jour, with their toddlers no less, but alas, I fear it's not to be.

But my kid's another story. Sprout loves him some craft time. And when he started at preschool and began bringing home fantastic art projects one a regular basis, I knew we needed to step up the creativity around Casa de Kinser.

So what's a craft-challenged mama to do? Just so happens that I found the perfect answer for our situation in the form of one little green box. Kiwi Crate is a arts-and-crafts subscription service designed for kids ages 3-7 that is really beyond all my expectations. Really.

Here's the scoop: you sign your kiddo up, and every month a box of awesome arrives on your doorstep. It's tempting right from the get-go. You'll have to just let the dishes pile up and jump right into the fun.

Then you open it up and see all kinds of wonderful stuff. (You might lose your mind a little.)

Each Kiwi Crate contains all the supplies needed for two craft projects, tied together with a theme.

And when I say all the supplies, I mean *everything*. Ours came with high-quality watercolors, scissors, and pastels - score!

Sprout didn't have any trouble deciding which project he wanted to tackle - penguin bowling. As in, decorate your penguins and then use them as bowling pins, naturally. Right down a preschooler's alley, har har har.

We all got into the decorating fun. The Kiwi Craters not only sent us multiple penguins to decorate, they also included plenty of stickers for the perfect amount of flair for each one.

Sprout loved doing the decorating and using his imagination. We cracked out our markers to put on some finishing touches and give each penguin his or her own persona.

Sprout didn't let Daddy sit on the sidelines - he had to put down the camera and "make your penguins Daddy!". Unlike some of the stuff daddies have to do, this activity was pretty darn entertaining.

You will be very proud of your creation. You'll want to show it off to your family, your friends, the blogosphere.

This is the chance for us non-creatives to tap into our undiscovered artistic side. In our case, each of our penguins got a back story and a very original name. Like the one with the Rasta hat who Sprout named "Food-Bacon" (which, in retrospect, is just weird enough to be a celebrity baby name - you heard it here first.)

So then we had to try out the bowling aspect. . . first we did a bit of warmup with tabletop bowling.

It took tremendous focus and concentration to get those penguins flying. You gotta get your head in the game -- be the ball.

After a few warmup rounds, we were ready to go pro. STRIKE!

Coming soon to ESPN-3 -- Full Body Penguin Bowling! This might just be the next big thing, people.

Seriously, though, this was a way cool activity for all of us. Sprout loved having a creative outlet on a rainy winter day. Daddy loved the silliness aspect of the theme. Mommy loved not having to spend an hour in the craft store gathering up a bunch of supplies we'd only use once. It was all in that crazy Kiwi Crate ready and waiting for us. And Sprout was over-the-moon excited to hear he'd be getting another fun crate next month (the suspense is killing us).

Naturally we had to read some books to go along with our penguin-themed afternoon. We found three terrific stories to read, all about penguins, of course, but also about what it means to be a friend. (And not just a bowling pin!)

Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester - Tacky uses his unique talents to save the perfect penguins from danger, even though they've never quite appreciated him.

Little Penguin by Patrick Benson - Everybody's bigger than Pip, even the other penguins! But she soon discovers that even the big guys don't measure up to a very cool new friend.

Penguin and Pinecone by Salina Yoon - Penguin loves his friend Pinecone, enough to give him up when the two must part. But love doesn't go away so easily - instead it grows into something more.

And here's the best part - you too can get into the fun with your very own Penguin Bowling Set! The kind folks at Kiwi Crate have graciously provided us with a sample Crate to give away to one lucky winner. It comes complete with everything you need to bowl with penguins, plus a second activity of making postcards inspired by the Aurora Borealis. And there's other fun suggestions and surprises included also. You're going to love it!

(Photos provided by Jacob Kinser Photography. Prize provided by Kiwi Crate. Cuteness provided by Sprout.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Wild Cowboy by Dana Kessimakis Smith {The Children's Bookshelf}

Yikes, life can get busy, can't it? With grad school, work, social commitments, swim lessons, family time and all the other stuff we try to squeeze in, it just feels sometimes like there's not enough week to go around. Lately it's our library trips that have suffered - we used to be diligent about going every week, but these days we're lucky if it's once a month. I still bring books home from work quite often, but even so we all miss this time. Lesson to me - we need to get better about prioritizing so that we can make it happen.

One of the reasons I miss library visits is the serendipity of pulling something off the shelf and finding a gem. Sure, you can scope out books online, do keyword searches and read blogs to find what's new and great. But those oldies, the ones that are no longer at the forefront of every reviewer's list? Those are the kinds of books I love to stumble across. And for those encounters, there's really no substitute for an in-person shelf browse.

Sprout found today's pick himself on one of our last library trips. What's interesting is that even though I'm familiar with the publisher and the illustrator, Laura Freeman, I'd never heard of this one: A Wild Cowboy by Dana Kessimakis Smith. And it couldn't have been a better choice on Sprout's part because he's right in the thick of an imaginative phase, where "I'm a dinosaur" and "I'm a fireman" are everyday occurrences for us. So this tale of a young boy casting himself in the role of a cowboy was spot on.

Our hero is off for a visit at Grandma's with his little brother. Pretty straightforward, right? No way, pardner! Because our narrator is a "real live buckaroo", and as he describes his day it's all about cowboy life. There's blazing a trail (walking to Grandma's), rounding up the herd (chasing Grandma's puppies around the yard), eatin' grub (popcorn and juice boxes). This is a real serious gig for our cowpoke, who takes his duties and his cowboy leisure time quite seriously.

Smith's use of wild west lingo paired with Freeman's winsome illustrations makes for a very sweet reading experience. Sprout loved pointing out the silliness, like when the cowboy rides on his mama's back, pretending she's his horse (Sprout thought that was hilarious). I loved that the family in question is multiracial -- as I've said many times, there's a real need for depictions of diverse families in everyday settings, and this title fills the bill nicely. Best of all, this is a title that little ones will clamor to hear, with its steady rhymes and comforting yet interesting pictures. And moms and dads will find it just as fun too. After all, who wouldn't want to go along on this trail ride?

We'll be on the lookout for Smith and Freeman's other title, A Brave Spaceboy, during our next library trip - which I think I'm going to make an appointment for, so we don't miss it!

A Wild Cowboy by Dana Kessimakis Smith, published by Jump at the Sun/Hyperion
Ages 2-5
Source: Library
Sample: "We set up camp, this cowboy's home / A fire flickers and pops / I find some grub, some cowboy food / I eat till the rumblin' stops"


This post is part of The Children’s Bookshelf, a weekly linky party with the goal of connecting parents with great books for their kids. Do you have a book review, literacy or book-related post that you think will be helpful for parents? If so, please add your link below.

NOTE: By linking up you are giving permission for any of the co-hosts to pin and/or feature a your photo on a future The Children’s Bookshelf post. Kindly link up to an individual post, not your blog’s homepage. The hosts reserve the right to delete any links to homepages, commercial links, repeat links or otherwise inappropriate links. Thank you for your understanding.

You can also follow The Children’s Bookshelf on Pinterest or visit TCB’s co-hosts: Sprout’s Bookshelf, What Do We Do All Day?, No Twiddle Twaddle, Smiling Like Sunshine, My Little Bookcase, The Picture Book ReviewMemeTales and Mouse Grows, Mouse Learns. You can find more details here.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Mad, Mad, Mad! - 4 Picture Books for Taming Tantrums

Whoever dubbed them "the terrible twos" must have never have spent time with a three-year-old. I'm here to tell you that two has nothing on three when it comes to testing, challenging and fighting for control over every.little.thing. Seriously! And because Mama can't, or won't, give in to the incessant demands for things to be done Sprout's way, we inevitably run smack into the dreaded temper tantrum.

(And to the nice elderly lady who smiles and says "Enjoy every moment" when my kid is melting down in the checkout line at Target - surely you didn't mean this particular moment, right?)

Anyway, in an effort to give Sprout words for his emotions, and to help him understand that his feelings are all part of life as we know it, I of course turned to books. There are, thankfully, a number of picture books about anger and tantrums, but here are a few that especially resonated with us, and maybe helped a little with that anger management too.

First up is Rachel Vail's Sometimes I'm Bombaloo, a great springboard for discussion about the changeable nature of moods. Katie is a pretty easygoing kid, usually. She loves her family and she has great manners, even at the table. But every so often Katie gets pushed to the edge - and that's when she becomes Bombaloo, an angry monster who acts first and thinks later. Vail does a great job of exploring Katie's emotions, even hinting at what might have driven Katie to go Bombaloo (her brother knocking over her block tower. Sprout understands this one completely.) Bombaloo has consequences, as Vail demonstrates, but just as quickly as she disappeared, Katie is back to herself again. I love that there are apologies and hugs after the Bombaloo phase, showing that being sorry for your actions is an important part of the process. And it's given us a great new term for expressing our anger, which we now call "going Bombaloo".

Finn Throws a Fit by David Elliott follows a household through the rages and stages of one little boy's tantrums. Again, we have a generally mellow kid who, when his mommy offers him his favorite peaches, is suddenly overcome by a temper fit resulting in all kinds of crazy consequences. There are storm clouds in the nursery, then lightning in the kitchen, and before you know it Finn's hapless parents are trying to survive a storm of apocalyptic proportions. But it all passes soon enough, and Finn is back to his sweet self. Though Elliott doesn't delve into as deep an examination of mood as Vail does, he does chart the escalation of the temper tantrum effectively (Sprout says, "uh-oh, he's getting really mad now!"). And the messy, sketchy artwork by Timothy Basil Ering suits the varying moods of a tantruming toddler to the T. Peaches, anyone?

In Linda Urban's Mouse Was Mad, the title character is peeved from the get-go. We never do find out what set him off, but the more Mouse tries to act out his frustrations, the more angry he gets. He's hopping mad - but he can't hop near as well as Hare. He's stomping mad - but Bear's the king of stomping. And with each successive failure to properly demonstrate anger, Mouse gets more and more explosive. Finally Mouse is so mad that he can't even move. . . and he finds that in standing still, his anger suddenly evaporates. We talked about the solution Mouse comes to at some length as we read this book, and even tried it once, with shockingly effective results. Of course, the trick is getting Sprout to stand still, but Urban's incredibly important lesson - that sometimes you need to step away and just cool off - seems to be sticking with him. And anyway, it's better than being "rolling on the ground" mad!

I usually limit these quick review posts to three titles, but I just have to mention one of my favorites, Norton Juster's Sourpuss and Sweetie Pie. Readers will recognize the multiracial family from Juster's earlier book The Hello Goodbye Window, one of our all-time favorites. This time our little girl shows off her dual personalities, the contentious Sourpuss and compliant Sweetie Pie, as she visits her grandparents. It's hard to know just what makes one show up and the other disappear, but it's very clear that these two couldn't be more dissimilar. Sprout loves to pick out which one is Sourpuss (she of screwed-up face and crossed arms) and which one is Sweetie Pie (smiles and laughter, of course). And sometimes both girls are there at once, to Nanna and Poppy's great consternation. Tracking the evolution of moods isn't easy, but Juster and illustrator Chris Raschka give us one especially genius spread that does just that, as our heroine turns from angry to happy in the space of a few sentences. Parents especially will identify with the exhausted Nanna and Poppy, who hope for nothing more than to see just Sweetie Pie at the breakfast table.

What are your favorite titles for coping with emotions? Drop me a line and we'll check them out - we can always use one more!

Monday, January 21, 2013

I Have a Dream by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. {The Children's Bookshelf}

There are some few books you'll encounter during your travels that you just can't get out of your mind. This often happens to me with books that have a deep emotional impact, either because I read them at a critical moment in my life (i.e. when I was growing up) or because their subject matter touches me right where I live.

Today's pick is one of those books -- I Have a Dream, illustrated by the incomparable Kadir Nelson.

Many of us have read the text of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech, delivered on August 28, 1963 at the March on Washington. Personally I'd never heard the entire speech delivered aloud, so the fact that this picture book version comes with an audio CD was pretty incredible for me. But though I'd heard portions of the speech, though I'd read it all in history texts and biographies, I'd never combined those two forms of media with illustrations so powerful they will take your breath away.

This is an emotional experience, my friends.

Nelson selects passages of the speech that he pairs with his incredible paintings (the entire text is reproduced in the afterword). He brings Dr. King's powerful words to life with imagery that cannot fail to move you. From a perspective of the National Mall teeming with crowds present for the March on Washington, Nelson shifts to a closeup of a black hand clasping a white one, then on to a portrait of Dr. King himself. With each passage Nelson finds a way to visually reproduce the depth of feeling in Dr. King's speech, making the reader feel as though he or she is right there listening to this great orator in person.

The most impactful image for me, as the white mother of an African boy, is that of Dr. King's four children. As you might expect, this is accompanied by these words from Dr. King's speech: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." I have that same dream, today, for my own son.

Today we celebrate Dr. King's birthday, and we remember the sacrifices he and so many others made for equality for all persons. Today we will again hear his words, and dream of the day when all people, everywhere, can say they are truly, finally, free.

I Have a Dream by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., illustrated by Kadir Nelson, published by Schwartz & Wade Books
All ages
Source: Library


This post is part of The Children’s Bookshelf, a weekly linky party with the goal of connecting parents with great books for their kids. Do you have a book review, literacy or book-related post that you think will be helpful for parents? If so, please add your link below.

NOTE: By linking up you are giving permission for any of the co-hosts to pin and/or feature a your photo on a future The Children’s Bookshelf post. Kindly link up to an individual post, not your blog’s homepage. The hosts reserve the right to delete any links to homepages, commercial links, repeat links or otherwise inappropriate links. Thank you for your understanding.

You can also follow The Children’s Bookshelf on Pinterest or visit TCB’s co-hosts: Sprout’s Bookshelf, What Do We Do All Day?, No Twiddle Twaddle, Smiling Like Sunshine, My Little Bookcase, The Picture Book ReviewMemeTales and Mouse Grows, Mouse Learns. You can find more details here.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Picture Book Review - Unspoken by Henry Cole

Next week I'll be attending the ALA Midwinter convention, and I'm pretty much thrilled. Not only is it my first trade show as an almost-librarian, it's also the one where the ALA Youth Media Awards are announced. You probably know these awards more by their individual names: Caldecott, Newbery, Printz, Coretta Scott King, Sibert, etc. This is a big deal for us kidlit folks - think the Oscars for children's book geeks. Swoon!

The Awards will be announced on Monday, and the kidlitosphere is all abuzz in predictions. (Pragmatic Mom has a nice rundown of the frontrunners compiled from some heavy hitters in kidlit.) Usually I don't dip my toe into those waters, preferring to watch from the sidelines and root for my own favorites to take the top prize, or at least an Honor. But this year I'm putting it out there in the form of my own pick for the Caldecott, the prize for illustration: Unspoken by Henry Cole.

Unspoken, according to the author's note, arose out of his history of living in Loudoun County, Virginia, an area steeped in connections to the Civil War. Cole reports growing up hearing stories from elderly relatives, themselves connected in some way to people who had lived during the war. And so, Cole recounts, "It's not so suprising that I wanted to create a picture book that was evocative of that era. . . . I wanted to tell -- or show -- the courage of everyday people who were brave in quiet ways."

And that's exactly what Cole has done. In this evocative book, we are transported to a homestead during the Civil War, when a young girl living on the farm discovers a runaway slave hiding in the family's barn. She knows what she's expected to do, to raise the alarm, and yet the look in the stranger's eyes convinces her otherwise. She begins to sneak out food, day by day, bit by bit. Then one day slavers come looking, asking questions. The girl watches, hidden, and fearful for her friend's life. Later, she sneaks to the barn, underneath the night sky with the North Star shining bright overhead. And there she finds her friend has gone, but left behind a gift: a smiling doll, fashioned from the cornstalks behind which the slave found refuge.

Unspoken is a bit of an unusual choice for an award winner: it features a black-and-white palette AND it's wordless. The two characteristics themselves aren't that uncommon - Chris Van Allsburg won the prize for his black-and-white Jumanji, for instance, and Jerry Pinkney for the wordless The Lion and the Mouse. But the two together? That's a bit of a stretch for some. And then let's not forget that this is a historical title to boot.

But quite honestly I don't think any of these factors, taken singly or together, should stand in the way of Cole receiving the top honor this year. Because this, my friends, is a simply extraordinary picture book. There's so much we don't know -- who the slave is, why he or she found this place, where he/she is headed next -- but none of that alters one bit of the power of this story. Cole's use of pencil brings the stark contrast of light and dark to the forefront, where it belongs in a book about slavery and the Underground Railroad. The expressiveness of the features on the characters, in particular our heroine, communicates so much beyond the thread of narrative - it tells of the emotions that surround the difficult choice one girl must make, the connection she feels to someone she knows not at all, and the fear she experiences when it seems her bravery may be uncovered. Cole goes far beyond technical skill here, to tell a story of courage in the face of danger, of hope in the midst of unspeakable fear.

Unspoken, for me, elevates the picture book format to art form in a way that I think might cause even non-picture book fans to stop and take note. And, whether or not the committee agrees, that's the mark of a winner in my eyes.

Unspoken by Henry Cole, published by Scholastic Press
Ages 4 and up
Source: Library
Highly recommended

Bonus: a review of Unspoken from Kirkus Reviewer Julie Danielson

Friday, January 18, 2013

International Book Giving Day!

Quick, flip the calendar page over to next month. Got it? Okay, now take a red pen and draw a heart around February 14. That's right, Valentine's Day -- but our red heart has less to do with candy and Cupids than you might think. Instead, we're putting a heart around February 14 because that is International Book Giving Day, a very special day dedicated to getting books into the hands of kids all around the globe.

There's not much I'm more passionate about than making books accessible to children -- all children, everywhere, not just those whose parents can afford them. That's why I'm such an advocate of public libraries, and why we support organizations like Ethiopia Reads and Books for Africa. These groups, and so many others, recognize the power of the written word to change lives for the better. Building on that premise, International Book Giving Day began in 2012 and is going to be even bigger and better this year!

What I think is so tremendous about International Book Giving Day is that it takes a holiday that people are already aware of, and transforms the impulse to give into something that makes connections internationally. You can decide to participate in one, or all, of three ways:

1. Give a book to someone you know -- a friend, relative, neighbor, or acquaintance
This can be a new or used book, or one you loan to someone. It can be from your own collection or a title you purchase just for the occasion. Or, you can make a trip to the library and share books you borrow!

2. Leave a book in a waiting room or lobby
Find a place where kids will be stuck hanging around and make that time count by leaving a book behind. This is a great idea for titles your kiddos may have outgrown. Sort out those that are in good condition and give them a second life in a doctor's office or waiting area.

3. Donate a book - or several!
There are loads of organizations, both in your local area and working internationally, that could make great use of books you donate. Libraries, juvenile correction centers, schools, group homes, children's hospitals, daycare centers, shelters, foster care agencies - these are just a few of the places you might consider. Think globally too - by donating books or funds to an international literacy organization, you can change the life of a child half a world away.

For more information on how you can participate, including tons more fantastic ideas for book giving, click on over to the International Book Giving Day website.

Books are hope, magic through story that can strengthen and embolden and inspire every single one of us. By giving a book to a child, either in your own backyard or in a country you've never seen, you can spark that magic in another young life.

This February 14, we're giving books - will you?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Picture Book Review - Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp! by Wynton Marsalis

January can be a rough month when you have a little one. The holidays are over, and with them the excitement of all the activities that lead up to the big celebrations. The weather's not always great (at least not here in the northern climes) so trips to the park are few and far between, or maybe nonexistent. All those new toys are starting to lose their luster and soon moms and dads hear the dreaded "what can I do??"

This is when a trip to the library is in order, not only to load up on fun books to help while away the winter doldrums, but also to look for picture books you can pair with indoor activities. This could be a craft you make, an opportunity for dress-up or other imaginative play, or cooking up some delicious treats. (If you want inspiration for doing this kind of thing, I highly recommend the excellent blog Playing by the Book. This blogger and her kiddos do all kinds of crazy wonderful things inspired by the books they read - oh how I wish we could have playdates at their house!)

And that's where today's book comes in - I can see crafty moms and dads having a wonderful time conjuring up activities to go along with the new picture book by Wynton Marsalis, Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp!. Like one of our favorite library finds of this past year, Drum City by Thea Guidone, this rhythmic delight is sure to get you up out of the reading chair and marching around to the beat. Really, I dare you not to!

The premise is pretty simple, which is a good fit for the heavily onomatopoeic text: a young boy explores his world, noting the sounds that occur from the everyday objects around him. There's the rumbling garbage truck, the squeaky back door, the clicky ticking of the alarm clock by the bed. And each group of sounds is compared to a particular musical instrument - so that alarm clock's ticking is like the plucking of a violin, for instance. Soon you can't help but be swept away by the jazzy rhythm that our young hero finds pretty much everywhere.

Visually this is a riot as well. Paul Rogers' bold illustration style causes the objects Marsalis mentions to take on a life all their own. You can practically hear the music of the jazzy washboard player, and the marching tuba players take over the whole spread. The pictures are colorful and fun, adding to the whole sense of wonder and exploration - and fun!

Don't read this one if you don't like doing sound effects -- Sprout's daddy is much better with this book than Mommy is, because he can make all kinds of kooky sounds -- and be ready to do some music of your own once you're done. There's loads of opportunity to get up and pound out a beat, whether it's by making a drum out of art supplies or learning to play the spoons. The possibilities in this jazz-infused title are endless, just like the music you'll suddenly be hearing everywhere you go!

Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp! by Wynton Marsalis, published by Candlewick Press
All ages
Source: Library
Sample: "Our back door squeeeaks. A nosy mouse eeek-eeek-eeeks! / It's also how my sister's saxophone sometimes speee. . . . eeaks."

Monday, January 14, 2013

Monsoon by Uma Krishnaswami {The Children's Bookshelf}

The best picture books transport a reader to a particular time or place, engage them with all the senses in a fully-realized snapshot of that reality. This can be a fantasy situation -- I'm thinking of excellent imaginative books like Inga Moore's A House in the Woods -- or it can be an actual place. For parents and teachers looking to give kids an understanding of a specific cultural system, picture books can be the doorway through which all readers enter.

In Uma Krishnaswami's Monsoon, young readers are set down in the world of a young Indian girl, waiting for the monsoon rains to come to her home in the northern part of the country. The summer is a hot and dusty one, and the family cannot wait for the rains to come and scrub all the grit and grime from the air. Though they know the rains are not long in coming, still the intensity of the heat builds, and with it the worry that this will be the year the rains don't come. The girl reads the fears in the faces of the adults around her. Even the slightest rumble makes all faces turn to the sky, searching for signs that the clouds are gathering. When at last the weather turns, the sky breaks open and the sweet rain comes, making the girl and her family burst with pure and perfect joy.

This is a beautifully written and illustrated book, one that reflects a view of India that's inclusive and unique. The girl and her family aren't poverty-stricken, they aren't beggars waiting to be saved. Rather, they're just people like those in any other culture, held captive by the weather and waiting for sweet relief from the summer's intensity. Krishnaswami uses evocative imagery, poetry really, to tell her story. Readers will fairly swoon as she describes the heat and grit in the air, then celebrate with the family as rain finally arrives. And the artwork by Jamel Akib is perfectly suited to the tone of the story, with a hazy softness that builds the emotion even as the family wonders and worries about the rains.

As a family story, Monsoon is just as fully realized, with the strong and reassuring relationships among family members emphasized throughout. An added bonus is the author's note at the end, explaining the importance of the monsoon and the people's deep connectivity to the weather of their region. As with the best title, Monsoon is story, character and setting all drawn together in a gorgeous picture book that makes a great addition to any library.

Monsoon by Uma Krishnaswami, published by Farrar Straus Giroux
Ages 3-7
Source: Library
Sample: "Evening falls. I watch the faces on TV. Old and young, poor and rich, all across India, we wait for rain. The heat makes me feel like a crocodile crouching snap-jawed."


This post is part of The Children’s Bookshelf, a weekly linky party with the goal of connecting parents with great books for their kids. Do you have a book review, literacy or book-related post that you think will be helpful for parents? If so, please add your link below.

NOTE: By linking up you are giving permission for any of the co-hosts to pin and/or feature a your photo on a future The Children’s Bookshelf post. Kindly link up to an individual post, not your blog’s homepage. The hosts reserve the right to delete any links to homepages, commercial links, repeat links or otherwise inappropriate links. Thank you for your understanding.

You can also follow The Children’s Bookshelf on Pinterest or visit TCB’s co-hosts: Sprout’s Bookshelf, What Do We Do All Day?, No Twiddle Twaddle, Smiling Like Sunshine, My Little Bookcase, The Picture Book ReviewMemeTales and Mouse Grows, Mouse Learns. You can find more details here.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Nonfiction Review - They Called Themselves the KKK by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

This past semester I was fortunate to take a class on teen literature. We read some amazing stuff over the course of the 16 weeks in the class, and my professor really made every attempt to introduce us to a diverse cross-section of books for teens. One unfortunate side effect, however, was that my already formidable TBR list grew by leaps and bounds (sadly, my available reading time did not grow with it, so who knows when I'll get to all these wonderful books, but that's another problem).

One of the titles we read that really blew me away was Susan Campbell Bartoletti's nonfiction selection  Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow. Not only was the subject matter fascinating -- the effect of Nazism on tweens and teens who became part of the movement -- but Bartoletti's writing is top-notch. While never sensationalizing events, she has the ability to pull you into the story and absolutely compel you to keep reading, to find out how life turned out for the young men and women Bartoletti focuses on. The book was recognized with a number of awards, including a Newbery Honor and a Sibert Honor, and for good reason, because it's simply incredible.

Reading Hitler Youth left me wanting more from this talented author, so I turned to her more recent book They Called Themselves the KKK, published in 2010. This is another fascinating historical account, this time centering on the formation of the Ku Klux Klan in the period of post-Civil War Reconstruction. I knew little to nothing about the KKK's history, so I went into this one entirely fresh, and was amazed at the depth of historical detail Bartoletti was able to uncover.

Her story takes up right after the Civil War concludes, when the Southern states were still reeling from their devastation and defeat at the hands of the Union soldiers. Tennessee was particularly hard hit, and the residents of Pulaski, TN worried about their future in a country that intended to see the South punished for their rebellion. Six Pulaski men took up meeting in the evenings to reminsce about "the good old days" before war ravaged their region; it was at one of these meetings that the Ku Klux Klan was formed, as a club for men who shared the six friends' ethos.

To say the Klan took off like wildfire is an understatement. Bartoletti traces the rapid spread of the KKK through the South and also the tactics that caused its membership to swell, even if many of the new recruits joined against their will. To oppose the Klan was to risk reprisal, and few young men were willing to risk it. And very soon the Klan began to take steps to protect its members and other white Southerners from what it felt were overly punitive and biased laws and mandates.

Of course, we all know of the violence and bloodshed that was left in the wake of the KKK, but it is here that Bartoletti's book becomes most moving. She traces first-hand accounts from former slaves and others who stood up to the Klan and were severely punished for their trouble. Stories like that of disabled preacher Elias Hill, whose sermons caused the Klan to target him for inciting black-on-white violence, provide an essentially personal element to this period of history. Throughout the book, reproductions of photographs, illustrations and historical documents add depth and bring out the poignant moments of human suffering described in Bartoletti's text. Much of it is horrifying, and yet critical to understand events that followed, most notably the Civil Rights Movement.

With excellent resources like this well-researched and riveting book, history truly comes alive for students, in a way no dry textbook can do. It's easy to condemn the actions that were carried out by the KKK -- far harder to analyze what events brought the Klan to power and how its effects lingered for years afterward, even to this day. I so admire the balance, sensitivity and accuracy Bartoletti employs in this account, which should be required reading for every student of American history.

They Called Themselves the KKK by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, published by Houghton Mifflin
Ages 13+
Source: Library
Sample: "Despite the Klan's terror tactics, freedmen turned out to vote in extraordinary numbers. In Spartanburgh County, South Carolina, for instance, freedmen swam rivers, waded streams, and walked miles to reach the polls. 'A man can kill me,' explained Henry Lipscomb, 'but he can't scare me.'"

Bonus: Susan Campbell Bartoletti's visit to a KKK rally as background research

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Nonfiction Picture Book - Who's in My Family? by Robie H. Harris

We're in a phase right now around our house that is simultaneously the most entertaining and the most annoying one ever -- the "why" phase. I thought we'd been through this once before, and we had, but this new incarnation seems to be a deeper and more questioning one. Now instead of "why is the car wet?" it's more "why does it rain?". Everything is more philosophical. And it's great, if a bit frustrating when the question is something like "why are pancakes made out of eggs and milk and flour and salt?" (an honest-to-goodness query from last night's dinner).

So a quick flip through today's pick, Who's In My Family? by Robie H. Harris, told me this one would be just the thing for Sprout's current quizzical turn. Harris's goal with this and her other titles, including books on bodies, birth and health, is to present information in a clear and age-appropriate manner. And clarity is certainly the watchword here: Harris examines all the facets of what makes up a family, as well as the various aspects that different family members may either share or that may differ from person to person.

There's a lot here to recommend it as an addition for home libraries and classrooms alike. The prose is concise and straightforward, easy for kids to understand, which parents and teachers will appreciate. While the dialogue between the two main characters, Nellie and Gus, is a little stilted, the general upbeat tone works well with the pictures. Nadine Bernard Westcott did the illustrations, and they are charming, lively and fun, with lots of small details that make the spreads visually appealing. A whole chunk of the book centers around a trip to the zoo, so there are even family groups among animals shown here, reinforcing the overall message of Harris's text.

A big plus for us is the diversity - transracial families are featured prominently, as are same-sex parents, extended family members, older parents, and characters with disabilities. Differences are discussed in an open manner, and I appreciate Harris's no-nonsense approach to matters like varying skin colors within a family unit. This is great not only for kids whose families don't "match", like ours, but even more critical for families who do match, so all children can see that the bonds that unite family members go far beyond similarities in hair or skin color.

When you're looking to tackle the big topics with your kiddo, books like Who's In My Family? are exactly what you want on hand. And maybe a few adults should read it too -- you know, to remind us that "Most of all, and most of the time, and no matter what -- children and grown-ups and their families really do love one another!".

Who's In My Family? by Robie H. Harris, published by Candlewick Press
Ages 3-9
Source: Library
Sample: "Parents, sisters, brothers, grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles can all be part of a child's family. Often, good friends or a pet can be part of a child's family too."
Highly recommended

Monday, January 7, 2013

An Orange in January by Dianna Hutts Aston {The Children's Bookshelf}

Boy oh boy, does my kid love fruit. Really, I think it's his favorite thing to eat. He'd much rather have a slice of melon or an apple than a cookie any day. Every night we prepare his dinner plate plus a bowl of one of his favorites like grapes or pineapple on the side. And woe to us if we forget - to Sprout, a meal isn't a meal unless there's fruit involved.

Which is what made this particular library find all the sweeter, because not only does it focus on one of his all time most-preferred fruits, oranges, but also because it explains the cycle of how that orange comes to the table.

In An Orange in January, Dianna Hutts Aston starts by centering the story on one tiny blossom, glowing in the light of spring. From there, we follow the progress of the bees pollinating the blossom, to the orange itself beginning to manifest itself. Eventually the fruit is ripe, and it is picked by "a hand, brown with seasons of sun," then it is on its way to a grocery store. There it is selected by an adorable brown-skinned boy, who cradles his find carefully home, then takes it to school where he distributes pieces of the juicy treat to his friends. Yum!

Julie Maren illustrated this colorful title, and her pictures definitely add an air of realistic whimsy to the story Hutts Aston has to tell. In one fanciful spread, the boy pictures himself using his orange in various ways: as something to juggle, as a ball to pitch, as a globe to help him see the future. Sprout loves this part - he likes to laugh at the idea of doing anything with an orange but eating it, which he simply cannot imagine doing. He also likes the pictures at the end, when the hero has shared his orange with his friends on the playground. "They are sharing!" he says, delightedly. Another fantastic message to take away from this well-written book.

A big part of healthy eating is awareness, getting kids to understand the natural element in the food that they are consuming. With lyrical precision, Hutts Aston carries readers along for the journey of the food cycle. (That she made the main character a person of color is particularly wonderful - this is a message that all kids need to understand.) Helping to connect the dots between what's on our plates and where it came from, An Orange in January is a great way to make kids aware of agriculture and how food is sourced. No longer will they think of supermarket produce as springing only from boxes and bags - rather, they'll look at the trees and vines around them as a source of nutrition and deliciousness. And that's a treat that's everyone can appreciate!

An Orange in January by Dianna Hutts Aston, published by Dial Books for Young Readers
Ages 2-7
Source: library
Sample: "When morning came, the orange reached the end of its journey, bursting with the seasons inside it. / And two hands, pink with cold, shared its segments, so that everyone could taste the sweetness of an orange in January."


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Friday, January 4, 2013

Chapter Book Review - Keeping Safe the Stars by Sheila O'Connor

Last summer I participated in MotherReader's 48 Hour Book Challenge, which was an awesome experience (can't wait to do it again!). Though I didn't get to read as much as I'd hoped to, what I read was fantastic stuff, and probably my favorite title was Sheila O'Connor's Sparrow Road, her debut in children's literature. The book was not only beautifully written, it featured a host of interesting characters, the kind of people you just want to know more about.

So when I saw that O'Connor had a new title for children out this fall, I was, to say the least, pretty jazzed. Of course there's always that worry that the next book won't be as good, that it will feel like a repeat or fall flat in one sense or another. But that worry didn't prove out with O'Connor's latest title, Keeping Safe the Stars, a family story that's as tender as it is compelling.

The novel opens with thirteen-year-old Pride, the oldest of the three Star children, trying to decide just what she's going to do about the family's current situation. The kids -- Pride, her sister Nightingale and their brother Baby -- have had a hard road in life, losing their parents already and now living with their somewhat reclusive grandfather Old Finn on his remote patch of land. Old Finn is wonderful for the Stars, teaching them all sorts of things that most kids never get to know and always remaining sensitive to their uniqueness. (His reclusiveness comes from his criticism of the government, particularly President Nixon who at the time of the novel is on the verge of resigning.)But now Old Finn has been stricken with a brain infection, taken to the hospital in Duluth, and the three Stars are left alone on the land, with only the ancient Miss Addie for supervision -- though truthfully, Miss Addie needs more supervision herself.

Pride's got to keep the family going, she knows that. And most importantly, she's got to keep the Social Services people away. Otherwise she, Nightingale and Baby will end up with fosters, and there's no guarantee that those fosters will be the sorts of people Old Finn is, or that the Stars can stay together if they have to leave. Still, how's a young girl, barely thirteen, supposed to look after her siblings and a senior citizen, not to mention find the money to keep everyone fed, all while hiding Old Finn's absence from outsiders?

This novel reminded me of Cynthia Voigt's Homecoming, and Pride of Voigt's heroine Dicey Tillerman. Like Dicey, Pride is stubborn and driven, determined to keep her family together no matter the cost. And like Dicey, Pride results to any means necessary to provide for the Stars and protect them from the frightening graveness of their situation. But Pride is her own person, and the Stars wholly individual as well. Though the resolution to their situation could strain the realms of believability, in O'Connor's skilled hands it comes off as natural, inevitable. And though there are certain stereotypes reinforced here -- parent-like older sibling, smart but quirky middle sibling, reckless baby of the family -- the Stars never feel like cut-outs of some more well-worn cloth.

Though the historical setting may be a stretch for some, I think this would be a hit with readers who favor independent, resourceful narrators. Pride isn't perfect, and therein lies her charm; while she makes mistakes, and knows even as she does some things that she's gone off the past, ultimately she's motivated by her huge heart and love for her entire family. As she did in Sparrow Road, O'Connor has once again created a novel that's driven by careful plotting and intriguing characters, the sort you hope to return to, if only to see how they all turn out.

Keeping Safe the Stars by Sheila O'Connor, published by G.P. Putnam's Sons
Ages 9-12
Source: Library
Sample: "Mama used to say I came to earth a doer. Nightingale a dreamer. Baby came to earth a darer -- it's why he tried to fly and why he had twelve stitches in his chin. / Still, different as the Stars were, all of us were part of the same heart -- Mama's heart -- and even gone, her love kept us a family. No matter what, we hardly ever fought. I didn't want to fight with Nightingale now."

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Winter Wonderland - 5 Favorite Picture Books About Snow

Sprout's so disappointed - he was really hoping for a white Christmas, but it never materialized. I blame all these Christmas specials that show evergreens strung with lights against the snow, kids building magical snowmen, families skating on ice-covered ponds. What a bummer when you live here in the Pacific Northwest, where snow on Christmas is a once-in-every-so-many-years occurrence.

No matter though, because we're reading snowy books instead! First up was Denise Fleming's The First Day of Winter. We're fans of Fleming's unique illustration style, which combines dyed pulp and hand-cut stencils to create pictures with the flavor of collage and the depth of paintings. Beautiful! In this outing, Fleming uses the basis of the "Twelve Days of Christmas" carol to count down twelve days of winter, and all the things that a young boy gives to his snowman friend. By the end the snowman is bursting with life and has several woodland creatures to keep him company. Sprout enjoys keeping track of what's given each day and pointing it out in the pictures - great reinforcement for counting, too!

Kate Messner's fantastic Over and Under the Snow has been a favorite around here for several weeks, and we're sad to see it finally come due at the library. Beginning from the perspective of a family out for an afternoon cross-country skiing, Messner examines all the secret activity that goes on beneath the blanket of white that covers the landscape. Squirrels are nesting, bullfrogs brooding, tiny voles making their way through hidden tunnels. Sprout was captivated by the images of all this, done in cut-away fashion by Christopher Silas Neal. Having a sneak peek at the world of hibernating animals gave us plenty to talk about when the first hard freeze hit: "Mama, are the squirrels staying home in bed today?"

The next pick is one we first read last year, but enjoyed so much that we had to have it again this winter. Keith Baker's No Two Alike is just beautiful, a vivid look at the winter landscape that is set off by the presence of a pair of scarlet birds. As the friends venture through the wintry day, they examine all the things that appear at first glance to be the same -- snowflakes, branches, houses, roads -- but really are not. This is a gentle choice for storytime, as it captures the hushed feeling of a winter snowfall, and ends on just the right note. Fans of Baker's previous books will happily find the same stellar illustrations in this effort.

Phillis Gershator's When It Starts to Snow is another great title for looking at how winter weather affects animals and people differently. As a young boy excitedly roams in the building snow, he asks each animal he encounters "What do you do? Where do you go?". There's a different answer from everyone, but all are looking for a warm place to wait out the chilliness. From the rooster crowing in the barn rafters to the bear heading for his den, everyone has a plan for when the snow flies. And that includes our hero, who is so thrilled by the presence of the white stuff that he can't sleep! This one's for the kiddo in all of us, spellbound by the sight of the whiteness building and drifting just outside our windows.

For older kiddos, and their readers, Snowflake Bentley is a unique and delightful choice. Jacqueline Briggs Martin examines the life of Wilson Bentley, whose quest to capture photographs of snowflakes consumed him entirely. Bentley loved the snow, and he wished from a young age to share the beauty of it in a more permanent fashion than the temporary nature of snowflakes would permit. What I love most about this story is the way Bentley's family supports him absolutely, though they didn't understand his obsession -- that's a message every child should get, I think. Illustrator Mary Azarian created gorgeous Caldecott-winning illustrations for this title, which bring Bentley's thesis, the uniqueness of each snowflake among millions of its kind, to brilliant life.

Whether you're surrounded by snowbanks or camped out on a sandy beach, these wintry storytime additions are all full of icy delight!