Last week, Betsy Bird (Fuse #8) announced that she is conducting a 100 Best Picture Books readers poll on her blog at School Library Journal. She is looking for our top ten personal favorites, in order of preference. Betsy’s deadline is March 31, but since picture books and reading aloud go together, I set my personal deadline for this week.
Every time I thought I had the list together, I’d see one more post and the pile would come toppling to the floor. For now I have stopped the other great lists! I’m still fidgeting with the order, but today is my (self-imposed) deadline. So here goes … in alphabetical order.
The Empty Pot by Demi This is a beautifully told, beautifully illustrated folktale.
Hug illustrated by Jez Alborough It’s hard to compare this with other picture books, because with Hug, this is less about the story and more about the memorable experience of reading this with a young child on your lap.
Jumbo’s Lullaby written by Laura Krauss Melmed, illustrated by Henri Sorensen Brightly-colored illustrations complement a soothing poem about a baby elephant.
Lily and the Paper Man written by Rebecca Upjohn, illustrated by Renne Benoit This is a beautifully presented story of overcoming fears and compassion that doesn’t bang you over the head with its message.
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton. As kids, we would take turns playing the parts in the story – even the boys wanted to be Mary Ann.
The Princess Gown written by Linda Leopold Straus, illustrated by Malene Laugesen. Every list needs a fairy tale, and this one has all of the classic elements, without being Disney-fied.
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. This is one of my all-time favorite books. Even thinking about it, I can hear the crunch, crunch.
The Story about Ping written by Marjorie Flack, illustrated by Kurt Wiese. I would spend hours with this book. I “Yangtze River” sounded so exotic.
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig. This is a story I remember only by rediscovering it with Catherine. It reminded me of The Musicians of Bremen, a beloved Grimms fairy tale.
Time for Bed by Mem Fox, illustrated by Jane Dyer Every list needs a lullaby.
Sorry for the posting delay, I was off enjoying the posts du jour about reading aloud. Susan has packed Day Three with great content. She’s got three posts herself! I’ll plug in the day’s agenda below, but I want to make sure you don’t miss these tidbits …
Over at the Book Whisper, Donalyn Miller has opened her contest: “Submit your favorite read alouds; include testimonials and recommended ages; and enter to win the drawing for a copy of my new book, The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child published by Jossey-Bass and Education Week Press.”
Dr. Freud would probably have something to say, but I still have some of the bookmarks I made as a child: the macrame bookworms (6th grade); the leather book corner (4th grade?), and my all-time favorite: the ice cream cone (5th grade). Bookmarks can be a fun way to engage kids with books – they can keep their reading list on them, they can create art to express themselves. To get you started, we created a document with links to bookmarks you can download, instructions on how to make your own, and a collection of blank templates to get you started.
Be sure to stop by the Share a Story-Shape a Future blog, too. That’s where I’m going back to add links to posts that hosts add to their lists.
hosted by Susan Stephenson at the Book Chook blog
written by: Beverley Naidoo
published by: Amistad, an Imprint of HarperCollins, 2007
Audience (reading level): 10 and up (Flesch-Kincaid 5.6)
In this historical fiction novel, Beverley Naidoo takes us to Kenya in the early 1950s. This is the story of the Mau Mau rebellion, seen through the eyes of two young boys.
Mathew and Mugo share a friendship, just as their fathers had before them. The boys are the third generation of their families living in British-occupied Kenya. What had been the tribal land of Mugo’s grandfather now belonged to the Graysons. By British decree, Mathew’s grandfather owned 5,000 acres. The Kikuyus – Mugo’s people – were hired as staff and were allowed to create a homestead on some of the land.
It is November 1951, and the rumblings of a rebellion against the British occupiers are beginning to grow. Talk of the Mau Mau among adults was now spilling over to young ears, including Mugo’s and Mathew’s. This is where the story begins and their lives begin to diverge.
- Mathew believes that loyalty and friendship will protect them from the Mau Mau. Mugo is his friend. They do fun things together, they share secrets. Mugo saved his life – twice!
- When Mugo witnesses a Mau Mau initiation meeting – and sees his father take an oath, he is confused. Bwana Kidogo (little master) doesn’t always make good choices, but he isn’t like the white people the Mau Mau described.
Both boys struggle with trying to understand what is going on and what it means for their families. In their own way, they are angry and saddened by what is happening. Thanks in part to the heavy-handed Kenya Police Reserve, every event is blown out of proportion, fueling fear, resentment, and misunderstanding. The secrets they share become huge knots in their stomachs.
In December 1951, Lance Smithers, Mathew’s classmate and the zealot son of a Kenya Police Reserve inspector, arrives on the scene. He is a catalyst – more like a firebomb – that pushes Mathew and Mugo to harden their positions. Lance, as unlikeable as he is, is an important piece of the story. His close-minded, aggressive behavior helps the boys uncover their own feelings.
In Burn My Heart, Naidoo turns innocence on its ear. On first glance, the three boys’ indiscretions (disobeying a parent so they can hunt, staying up past bedtime, keeping secrets) seem typical of a young boys. They are children, and these are innocent, minor things. No one got hurt. As the story unfolds, that innocence is eroded. In part, because of their own actions, but also because of events thrust upon them. Yes, somebody did get hurt.
Whenever I read a book where the story built around black v. white characters, I always feel uneasy and ignorant. No matter how many stories I hear or read, I still have a difficult time understanding why people treat each other the way they do. I don’t “get” their reasoning, either.
In Burn My Heart, Naidoo helps clarify how things turn ugly. This is a story about Character. There were times in the story that I got angry at Mathew and ached for Mugo. There were times when I was angry at Mugo and ached for Mathew. In talking about the boys in her afterword, Naidoo closes with this adage:
the word in the heart is drawn out by talking.
THAT I get. Burn My Heart is exceptional, and Naidoo has crafted another wonderful story. I can easily imagine Mugo and Mathew walking down the street. There is no more Mau Mau, but fear and misunderstanding are still very much a part of this world. This is a book meant for readers pre-teen thorugh adult. It is destined to open some wonderfully thoughtful, candid discussions that are as relevant today as theywould have been in 1951.
Spring is coming, and so are the books. It’s hard to believe we’re starting to gear up for summer reading already. There are so many enticing titles in the spring catalogs. It will be fun to see what people send our way. In February, we got more chapter books than anything else. Because there is so much fantasy/adventure out there, books in other genres really stand out.
Easy Readers and Illustrated Chapter Books
Down on Friendly Acres Series written by Ronda Friend, illustrated by Bill Ross (Sunflower Seeds Press, 2008) These illustrated chapter books offer a story, humor, and recipes. Given the illustrations, varied type sizes, and themes, these look like they have potential for reluctant readers. (AR reading levels range from 3.4 to 4.8)
Oraculous Tales: Sword of the Ramurai written by Becky Ances, illustrated by Ryan Wilson This looks very clever and engaging. This is more than just historical fiction. Therea are pages with facts about samurais, sword fighting, and Asian dynasties. (Flesch Kincaid reading level 3.8)
Middle Grade and Young Adult
The Year the Swallows Came Early written by Kathryn Fitzmaurice (HarperCollins, 2009) The illustration on the front draws you in (young girl with her hands in the air as swallows fly by. It also fits snugly in your hands. I like that in books for middle graders. (Flesch Kincaid readability level 4.6)
Uncharted Waters by Leslie Bulion This looks like a great story for everyone, but it has several hooks that will make it attractive to reluctant readers. For one, the main character has just failed 7th grade English! This is a how-I-spent-my-summer kind of adventure. (Flesch Kincaid readability level 4.1)
The Secret of the Sacred Scarab by Fiona Ingram The cover for this book reminds me of classic mysteries a la the Hardy Boys. The story, set in Egypt, engages the readers in helping our heroes by decoding some hieroglyphics. (Flesch Kincaid readability level 4.9)
Henry the Impatient Heron written by Donna Love, illustrated by Christina Ward. Sylvan Dell Publishing always has creative stories wrapped around science lessons. The idea of learning patience is very appealing! (Flesch Kincaid readbility level 4.6)