27 January 2011

Junie B. Is In the House

We have been ambushed. Our nightly reading ritual has been overrun by a precocious (my nice way of saying really annoying) little girl who goes by the name of Junie B. Jones. The B. is for Beatrice but she prefers just B. Isaac bought a Junie B. Jones book at the used book store the other day and then checked one out of the school library this week. After he reads to us, we now read 3-4 chapters detailing Junie B.'s latest adventure.

If you haven't had the pleasure of reading a Junie B. Jones book, I don't want to give away the surprise. All I will say is that the kids love her. Even the older students, boys and girls alike. Parents and teachers are bit a less enamored with her, especially when the children start talking like Junie B. and using words that adults usually prohibit. Nothing profane, of course, but words that cross a line to rudeness.

Isaac is just starting to be interested in listening to chapter books at night. Our ritual used to be 5 books at bed time. It morphed into him reading 1 or 2 and us reading 3 or 4. With the addition of chapter books to our repertoire, our ritual will change again. While I may not be in love with Junie B. Jones, I do like that Isaac wants to read, and has the attention span to follow, a longer story that is not fully illustrated. Easy chapter books like the Junie B. Jones series are good introductions to longer books, most of which will be more pleasing to my literary palate.

23 January 2011

A Whale of a Good Time

Isaac has been bringing non-fiction books home from his school library the past couple of weeks. The last one was a rather lengthy book about frogs. I will be honest. We didn't read it. That was the first time we neglected to read one of his library books, but it just never made it into the nightly story time. Although, I think it would have definitely put him to sleep. It was more of a read-for-a-report type book than a let's-snuggle-and-read book.

This week's book, however, was much better suited to bedtime. The Best Book of Whales and Dolphins by Christiane Gunzi is an illustrated guide to, of course, whales and dolphins. On each spread there is a main paragraph about the animals, with smaller side paragraphs to add detail and explain illustrations. It was the kind of children's non-fiction that I can get lost in, perusing all the tidbits of information spread throughout the book. Isaac liked it, too.

After we finished the book and were about to turn out the lights, Isaac decided he needed to switch sleep toys. He dug through his closet to find his stuffed orca. Said orca is currently in bed with Isaac, dancing to "House of Bamboo" by Southern Culture on the Skids. Maybe we need to get Isaac a copy of Jimmy Buffett's "Fins" for his whale to dance to, though I guess that would be better suited to the nights he sleeps with his hammerhead shark.

16 January 2011

Picturing Snow

We have gotten an above average amount* of snow so far this winter. I have a love/hate relationship with snow. It is beautiful, but it causes way too much trouble, especially in a southeastern state that doesn't have the resources to deal with it.

One day last week, during our snow break, Isaac asked me if you can take pictures of snowflakes. After I told him that is it possible, but not something we have the equipment to do, I remembered a book that I had at school about a man whose passion was doing just that. So I brought it home to read to Isaac.

Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin is about Wilson Bentley, a Vermont farmer who dedicated his life to studying and photographing snow. It is fascinating to read about his process and even more fascinating to look at his photographs of snowflakes.

After we read the book, Isaac and I looked at some of his photographs online and then perused some more modern snowflake pictures. It was one of those rare times when the perfect book was available to answer Isaac's question and broaden his knowledge.

Snowflake photographs are stunning and the complexity and variation of the crystal formations is amazing. But I am content to look at them on a computer monitor. I have no desire to see anymore flakes up close, thank you very much.

*I have no actual data to prove this, but it certainly feels like it is true.

13 January 2011

It's Party Time

Isaac and I went to the bookstore to buy a birthday gift for his classmate this afternoon. Yes, I am that parent.

I really wanted Isaac to choose which one we would buy. I pulled a few off of the shelves that I thought would be fun and we sat in the children's section and read them. Isaac picked his favorites from my selections, but then he did take some initiative and began pulling books that caught his attention. So we sat and read those, too.

Here are a few we considered:

Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy by Jacky Davis. Isaac loves Ladybug Girl and this is a cute story about compromise and imaginative play. I though it would make a cute gift since it was going to a girl, but in the end it did not make the cut.

Edwina: The Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct by Mo Willems. It's Mo Willems, and we all know how I feel about Mo Willems. The humor is too understated for kids to really get it, but it is still a good story about self-acceptance. I pushed it hard, but it was cut from the short-list.

City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems. Do you see the trend? This is one that Willems did not illustrate himself, and it has a completely different tone that his other books. It is a story of friendship, but the frog dies (or so I assumed) in the end. Isaac said he was hibernating. It, too, was set aside.

Knufflebunny Free by Mo Willems. Okay, so I obviously had an agenda. This is the third, and last, "Knufflebunny" book. It is more for parents than for kids and I cry every time I read it. Isaac does like this book, but we wanted something funnier for his school friend.

No David! by David Shannon. Isaac just wanted to read this one. It wasn't really under consideration.

So what did we get? I am sure you will be surprised to learn that we bought two "Elephant and Piggie" books by Mo Willems. Our choices were We Are In A Book! and I am Invited to a Party!

We thought they were both very appropriate for the occasion.

12 January 2011

My Next Book Purchase

I saw a book listed on ALA's list of Notable Children's Books for 2011 that I will be buying this weekend. I haven't read it, but it sounds like something that I would write about here.

Here's a review since I can't give my opinion yet. Peter Reynolds, who wrote The North Star, has developed a companion website, also called Guyku, to encourage boys to write and give them a place to display their poems.

I see a Guyku project in my future.

11 January 2011

That Time Again

The lists are out. Librarians everywhere know to what I am referring, as do many non-librarians. It's Newbery and Caldecott time. It's like Oscar night for movie buffs, but geekier.

I have ranted about this before. Almost a year ago to be exact, when last year's awards were announced. So, I will leave it up to you whether or not you want to know where my frustration comes from.

I am not in any way dismissing the value of these awards or the books that receive them. I buy them for my library and I will read them to Isaac, if I haven't already. They are the oldest and most well-known of the awards given by ALA each year and serve an important role in bringing attention to good children's literature.

But, I would encourage you to look beyond the Newbery and the Caldecott lists to the other, lesser-known awards and lists that recognize very good, if not better, children's books.

Here are a few examples:

If you have a young child (pre-school, beginning readers) look at the Geisel Award winners for reading suggestions.

If you have a child who is interested in non-fiction (as many boys are) look at the Sibert Award winners for great titles.

Or look beyond the award lists all together and peruse the Notables lists. These are books that may not have won one of the prestigious awards, but have been recognized as exemplary.

Many states have award programs that empower children to nominate and vote for the books that get the award. North Carolina's program has been running for several years and the books on the list are always an interesting mix.

The ALA is a great resource for finding books to share with your boy. But these books are chosen by adults who are looking at specific criteria established by a committee. Boys, and other children, don't look at a list of criteria when searching for books to read. They look for subjects they find fascinating, covers that look interesting, or pictures that capture their attention.

So, keep the lists handy if you need some inspiration, but let your boy loose in the library and I am sure he will find something to read. It may not be on any list but his, but who cares?

10 January 2011

Not Just a Library

This is a blog about books for boys. It just so happens that, in addition to being the mother of a boy, I am also an elementary teacher-librarian. I sometimes veer off course and write about my work, but mainly this space is for sharing books that my son likes. I hope that it inspires others to read to their boys, but beyond that I do not have a grand agenda.

Okay, so that was basically a disclaimer before I go on with what I really want to talk about in this post. Libraries. Some people do not think we need them anymore, at least not in schools. Considering my profession, I am a bit biased on this topic. You know, job security, bills to pay, a son to raise and all that. Seriously, though, school libraries (and qualified librarians) are still essential to education. I could try to coherently string my thoughts together regarding why I think they are important, but the argument has been made much more eloquently than I ever could.

Joyce Valenza recently responded to a suggestion that libraries and teacher-librarians be down-sized with this blog post. Don't take my word for it that school libraries are essential and that teacher-librarians are important educators. Read hers and then look around and make up your own mind.

09 January 2011

Star Light, Star Bright

It is that time of year again. Resolutions are being made, and broken. Young and old are making goals to become better, fitter, smarter, stronger, nicer or whatever in 2011. Isaac even came home talking about the goal he had set at school this week. For the record, I did not make a resolution -- I always break them.

All of this evaluation and reflection is driven by a sense of wanting to achieve something and to leave a mark on the world. Peter Reynold's The North Star is a great book to read as we begin the New Year and evaluate where we go from here. It is a reminder for adults of the struggle to find the path that will bring us the fulfillment that we seek. It is a lesson for children on how to find the path that is waiting for them. And, for parents, it is a caution against forcing children down a path that they do not understand or choose.

Each of us has a North Star, a belief that guides us through life. It may take a while to define it and allow it to lead us, but it is out there waiting to be our beacon. Life can be overwhelming and scary as children navigate the different paths that are before them. As parents we can be a substitute for their North Star, but we cannot wholly replace it, either with ourselves or our desires for our children. The best we can do is point them on their way, gently guide them to safety if they start down a dangerous path, and hope and pray that they find the route that brings them peace.

Happy travels.

02 January 2011

Re-Focusing for the New Year

School starts back tomorrow after a week and a half of no schedules, no structure, and no school work. The alarm clock will go off at the usual time. I will make lunches as I usually do. I will get Isaac's usual breakfast ready. And we will all head off to our usual places for the day. I am hoping, though, that I can make the rest of this school year a bit unusual.

I brought home some journals to peruse during the holidays that I hadn't had the time to read in the fall, and I actually accomplished my goal of going through them over the break. One of them had an article about how to attract boys to the library. It was written by a middle school librarian, so many of her ideas would be hard for me to implement. But the general attitude that she promotes for getting boys interested in the library transcends age and grade levels.

Libraries in general, and school libraries in particular, are not the quiet domains of books and periodicals any longer. They are, or should be, noisy, busy places that are student-centered and child/adolescent-friendly. They house computers, games, videos, and cds, along with the books and magazines.

I have a fairly strong contingent of boys that I see in the library regularly. But I want more. So, at the risk of making this sound like a New Year's resolution, I am going to find ways to attract more boys to the library this year. Whether that means buying more graphic novels, allowing some more freedom on the internet, bringing in some games, or simply having the right attitude, I will be searching for the right mix of elements to pull the boys in.

Wish me luck.

01 January 2011

What to Read in 2011

The "Best of " lists are out and have been coming out for a few months. Various publications and organizations look back at the children's books published during the calendar year and give their opinion of what was "best." School Library Journal publishes its own list in the December issue. If you are looking for good books for 2011, here are some picture book highlights from the list.

Shark vs. Train by Chris Barton starts off the list. Isaac loved this book when we checked it out of the library. It's a great depiction of imaginative play.

Mo Willems makes the list with another Elephant and Piggie book, We Are in a Book! We love this author/illustrator, as I have said before, and this book is delightful. It is an easy reader and it brings an added element of reader interaction with the characters.

Here Comes the Garbage Barge! by Jonah Winter depicts the wanderings of the garbage barge that wasn't allowed to dock because no one wanted its load of trash. I remember this news story from my own childhood and Isaac enjoyed the humorous, though informative, portrayal.

There are many other excellent titles on the list. These were our favorites.

Happy New Year and happy reading.