5-7, 7-12, Books, Children, YA (Young Adult)

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling

This one goes out to all those parents, teachers, librarians, and kids who loved Wonder by R. J. Palacio and want something similar.  I gobbled it up and loved every second of it.

Title: Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus
Author: Dusti Bowling
Publisher: Sterling Children’s Books
Page #: 272
Genre: Middlegrade, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction

I made a video review of this one right after finishing it, watching it back several months later I realized that it took me a while to catch my footing while talking about it but if you can stick with my scattered thoughts for about a minute I get there and you can hear why I think this book is going to become an instant classic.

 

I liked it more than I liked Wonder which is blasphemy in some ways and warranted in others.  Definitely one to read to help introduce empathy and acceptance of diversity in kids, also a great way to discuss deformity, disability, and mental health at a young age.  One to pick up next week when it is published.

I look forward to Dusti Bowling’s future books because I’m sure she has a bright career ahead of her if this is any indication.  Well done.

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Musings

Easier to Follow!

I am one of those people who is constantly starved for time.  I want more time to read, more time to sleep, more time to relax and I end up skipping out on things that don’t feel efficient.  I figured this was doubly true for anybody who would read the blog so I have compiled a list of other places you can follow the blog to make getting content a little bit easier.  You can follow on whatever site you find yourself spending the most time with.

Follow the blog with Bloglovin

Follow the blog with Pinterest

Follow the blog with Tumblr

Follow the blog with Facebook

Follow the blog with Twitter

Follow the blog with Instagram

I hope this helps all of you on the go folks get the content you want.  I know that I definitely love having my content all in one place.  It means that I can scroll through Bloglovin on my break at work and everything is right in one place for me.

I know this isn’t exactly the best content I could throw out there for you, but one of the goals I have been trying to meet within my own life is to stay on top of housekeeping type content.  I need to make sure that I am consistently updating my social media, and staying on top of my schedule, adding videos to the appropriate posts, and all of the behind the scenes things that you don’t necessarily need to be made aware of constantly but that helps my own stress levels and helps you guys in smaller hidden ways.

Hopefully this post is helpful even if not completely full of content, I will talk to you again on Friday with an ARC review that I read forever ago, but couldn’t really talk about until now.

5-7, 7-12, Books, Children

Somewhere Among by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu Review

It was not until I was a fair way into this book that I realized how many things it was attempting to do, and only upon finishing it did I understand its mastery.

Title: Somewhere Among
Author: Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu
Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Page #: 448
Genre: Middlegrade, Historical Fiction, Poetry

This is a story about an 11 year old girl with a Japanese father and an American mother.  Her mother is currently pregnant with a new little sibling, after suffering several miscarriages, and is sickly.  Ema must accompany her mother to her grandparent’s house in the Japanese countryside.  She doesn’t want to leave her friends, she doesn’t want to miss her annual vacation to visit her mother’s parents in America, she doesn’t want to have to go to a new school where she will become a spectacle, but she does, because she wants this baby.  This is her story coming to terms with the good and the bad in life, with sacrifice, valor, and selfishness.  It was beautiful.

The thing that really caught me off guard about this one, and subsequently made me buy it, was the fact that it is written in verse.  Aside from some good ol’ Shel Silverstene, Robert Frost, or Emily Dickinson selections poetry aimed at kids is a little hard to come by.  Creating a narrative through poetry sounded like a great way to introduce a lot of modern poetry to kids.  Slam poetry, urban poetry, rap, all have the potential for narrative and they are growing ever popular.  I wanted to see if this was done well, if the form would enhance the story, or if it was just a gimmick.  I am glad to say it blew me away, rather than let me down.

The second thing that hit me was just how this is a piece with so many interlocking pieces: from what it is like to be biracial, what it is like to grow up in Japan, what it is like to become an older sibling for the first time, what it is like to worry about a parent’s health, what it is like to hear about something as major as the 9/11 attacks.  It was slowly rotating and focusing on all of these things and none of them felt forgotten or lesser.  I think part of this is due to the minimalist nature of verse. When writing in verse you can’t spend too much time with any one thing, less the poems become erratic or unhinged.  There is astounding balance in this book.  For every point there is a counterpoint, and rather than clashing, they exist harmoniously with each other.  This, is for sure, a sign of the author’s talent.

The last thing I want to touch on  I didn’t realize was a part of the book until I saw some of the headings.  (Careful consideration of the cover might have clued me in, but I didn’t look too deeply into it). I had the revelation while reading this book, that the children who would read it were not born before 9/11.  Part of what Annie does in this book is attempt to capture the horror of a terror attack.  This is perhaps one of the most important thing in this book, .  She compares 9/11  to the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and boy did I love it. It showed not just the immediate reaction to something so detrimental but the long term effects.  Aside from her own experience raising biracial children in Japan she was able to set this book in a way that perfectly explained terrorism and what it does, immediately and for years to come.  It helped build empathy, and teach forgiveness; the characters in the book know what it is like to live through an event like this and their empathy for the very country who perpetrated the acts of terror that shocked them is ground breaking.  It is important that these two are linked.  Just as Ema struggles with conflicting emotions, she sees something that brings everyone together and ironically it is the same thing that tears them apart: FEAR.

This book was incredibly well written, delicately plotted, extremely poignant and just all around wonderful.  I read it in one sitting (once you really get into it, reading verse is like being carried along on a song).  If you have a kid that loves to read, likes historical novels, wants to learn about living through 9/11, likes Japanese culture, any or all of the above?  Grab this guy.  It would make an interesting independent reading book as it raises many questions and dichotomies to be discussed in an essay.  It is just good stuff.  Highly recommended.

(Sorry I was absent for a month, been dealing with some rough stuff in the real world.  This was one of the many books I read on my hiatus and hopefully I can keep doing this at least semi-regularly for the foreseeable future.)

 

Adult, Books, Children, Musings

Ladies and Gentlemen, I Present: Summer Reading Challenges

I wanted this post to be more than just a link to a Pinterest board I have been curating for a while now, so I figured I would give the link:

I AM THE LINK!

as well as talk a bit about why I enjoy reading challenges.

For the past two years I have participated in a year long reading challenge, I figured now would be a good time to post this (rather than waiting until December or January) because I know that some parents struggle with getting their kids to read over the summer.

My answer to this: Gameify that.

Gameify is not a word.  What I’m saying is that if you make reading into a game, kids will be more motivated to do it, I know I am.

I went to Pinterest and looked at some of the challenges that teachers and parents have built, I encourage you to make your own based on themes, or genres, or your own kids interests.  It can be self motivated, or a competition.  The point of the challenge is not to be a homework assignment.  You aren’t forcing them to write an essay at the end of the summer, you are just trying to get them to read as much, or as widely as possible.

I chose pop sugar as my yearly reading challenge because I felt it had the most interesting selection of challenges.  They felt more varied and open to interpretation.  Sure a challenge such as “Read and Espionage Thriller” is pretty straight forward but “Read a book set in a hotel” or “read a book with a cat on the cover” were very interesting challenges for me.  It made the challenge fun, and helped me read outside of my comfort zone.  I was a wide reader to begin with, but this helped me think about what I was reading in a bigger perspective as well as pick up books that I may otherwise pass by.  I found great books that I loved this way.  I recommend you try as well, with or without your kids.

This was a super short and sweet post but I wanted to put it out there.

Reading is fun, let’s make it even better!

Books, Children, Musings

Reading Together: A Lifetime of Stories

One of the, I guess, tenets when it comes to reading (in general not simply when it comes to children) is that it is important to read with others.

In my adult life this takes the form of book clubs, where we all read individually then come together to talk about what we liked, disliked, felt worked, felt was horrendously done, felt was pushing boundaries, or too stuck in the tropes.  In this way, the solitary act of reading becomes communal.  Ideas that never occurred to me are brought up by people I care for and trust.  I am forced to read outside of my comfort zone consistently, to varying results, and in general have way more fun.  In fact writing or filming reviews and responding to the comments is also an aspect of this.  There is less structure involved, but it is definitely me reaching out into the void and seeing if anyone is reaching back.

So, what does this have to do with kids?

Well, I am of a firm belief that just because a child has crossed the hurdles and is reading on their own, doesn’t mean that bed time stories or story time should disappear.  I wish that more parents would continue reading books to their kids as they grow.  Here is why:

  1. It allows the parents to bring up difficult topics in a safe environment (that of you living room) in a way that distances the topic from the child.
    • The example I often give for this is that I would get parents coming in asking if there were any books for kids who were just going into middle school that would give them examples of peer pressure and bullying.  There are, and if you read those books together, it allows your child to ask you questions about the story, as well as allowing you to give your own input.  “Wasn’t the way that Suzy just stood there and let her best friend say means things about that boy a little mean?  Don’t you think she should have said something to her friend.  It made her uncomfortable and it made the other boy sad so why not tell her to stop that?”  Then you can have complex discussions about what it means to be a bystander, or how hard it is to stand up to friends, without it being about their own friends yet.
  2. It allows parents to curate books for their kids that they loved.
    • I don’t know how many parents came up to me an explained how sad they were that their kids’ weren’t reading one of their favorite books from childhood.  I suggested reading together in these instances as well.  It means that your kid will participate in the story with you, and you can talk about what it was like reading certain sections as they come up in the story.  It helps bridge the gap.  They might not be interested in reading it on their own because the covers don’t look as flashy as newer books, but they love you and I’m sure that more than 1 or 2 of you have watched a kid who was adamant against listening to a story slowly get sucked in when it is read aloud.  Give it a try, you might be surprised.
  3. It is a great reason to turn the t.v. off and stay in touch with your kids
    • I was definitely a child who wanted more than anything to sit at my computer playing video games all hours of the day and night, but books would sing their siren song and pull me away to other worlds as well.  If you make story time a family event, in the same way that television is a structured event in their lives, they will likely love it as well.  One of the things that makes T.V. so enticing is its dependable nature.  Every Thursday at 3 they know they can watch favorite characters interact and enjoy themselves.  As they grow older they may be more inclined to doing things with friends, but if you have a routine of reading on a particular night during the week, it becomes scheduled and they will log off to join you, or miss crucial aspects of the story.
  4. It improves reading comprehension and fluency.
    • Yes, reading silently will do this as well, but not all kids will sit with a dictionary at their side.  They might treat you like a living one if you read a book that is slightly more challenging for them.  You can instill good habits in this way by looking up the words, or teaching about context clues.  It will build skills that they will use for the rest of their life, not to mention build their vocabularies instantly.  Take the time, learn together.
  5. It gives you a reason to engage with your kids.
    • In the same way that you might want to share favorite books with them, they might want to share favorite books with you.  Yes, they may love something that you can’t stand, but if you read together and they tell you about everything love, excitement is infectious.  You will stop feeling like they are speaking a different language.  You will gain insight into the characters they take as role models.  You can even blow their mind with your great trivia about the books they love.  Kids want to feel appreciated and this is a very simple  way to do that.

Those are just a handful of reasons to give it a try.  I still read aloud to my friends.  I still listen to audio books.  There is something about listening to stories that is extremely basic to us as humans.  I hope that you incorporate it into your lives.  Stories are meant to be shared and I hope you enjoy sharing them.

7-12, Books, Children, YA (Young Adult)

The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz Review

Making our way through the backlist reviews, slowly but surely.  I promise that I will be posting the reviews for books I have read recently as well.  I just wanted to make sure this content was here for you all to find.

Title: The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or The Three Magical Children and Their Holy  Dog
Author: Adam Gidwitz
Illuminator: Hatem Aly
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
Page #: 384
Genre: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction

0-2, 2-5, 3-6, 5-7, 7-12, Books, Children

Reading Levels Explained by a Children’s Bookseller

I want to start this post out by saying, if you have never encountered me or this site before (Welcome!) you can learn a bit about me and why I am doing this in the tab at the top of the page, otherwise I hope this is helpful!

Reading levels were one of the hardest things for me to wrap my head around when I first started in the kid’s section.  There were so many different systems.  A parent would come in and say that their  kid was reading L books so what did I recommend.  I stood their in a stupor (what the heck does an L book look like, is it shaped like an L, is L a character I haven’t heard of).  Then even more parents would ask about level 17 books and I would stammer something about how my beginning readers only went up to 5 and have to ask them more questions about the age, size of books, reading ability etc.

Let me pour the knowledge I have collected here for you.

I am going to link a few resources I think will be really helpful throughout this post (they will be embedded links in the text and set to automatically open new pages if you want to finish the post and read them after).  This isn’t just some divine knowledge I gained by looking at the kids books long enough.  I had to spend time outside of my job to understand this.  I needed to be a resource to my customers and if I didn’t know what I was talking about, then I was a pretty shoddy one, I didn’t want to be shoddy.

Not every parent will be given a reading level.  Let’s start here.  Some parents just ask about books recommended for 12 year old boys who like video games.  This is fine, in fact this was great because there are whole sections of book stores directed directly at 12 year old boys who like video games.  Those attributes are very easy to use, any bookseller who has spent a few days in the kids section can help in this case.  I made a video a few months ago where I discussed the “types” of kids books (that is the age bracket recommended for the different physical looking books you will find in any given kids section) if you want a brief over view. I explained the down and dirty basics of a kid’s section and why this particular question would be easy to answer.

However, knowing which books are appropriate for your child and which books are too challenging without reading all of the books yourself (which I’m not against, in fact I am of the mind that reading all of the books myself is just good fun) is daunting.  In that case you go to the professionals (or the internet, hey there folks who found this post through google, I assure you, I am at least semi-professional).  Teachers and librarians use certain systems created by psychologists and publishers in the field of children’s literature to rate, or gauge the “reading level” of books.  They will often have your kid do a simple reading test and say ah yes, this child is reading at the F level.  This is of little or no use to you as a parent, but its better than nothing.  You walk into the book store, tell the lady standing behind the counter that your kid reads F level books and she looks at you blankly then proceeds to ask you a barrage of questions rather than just showing you to the section you need.  We came full circle here.

Here is what you need to know and in fact would be far more helpful to tell a bookseller than “F Level” because not everyone is as dedicated as I am to finding the right book for your child, but they will have recommendations in some form or another.

I posted a link in the previous paragraph giving a chart that compared several different ranking systems to each other.  One of them was the Fountas-Pinnell Guided Reading Text Levels.  This one was my personal favorite because each level had defined characteristics.  As a book seller I could pull out my reference, read the short description, and find a book that matched it.  There are other similar methods which will do the same, so when you are given the reading level by the teacher, librarian, whomever, ask what the system is called and search to see if there is a comprehensive list explaining what each level means.  If the bookseller is completely lost you can say, “At K level she is starting to read chapter books, she is less reliant on pictures, and it would be good to add in some larger more complicated words that she has to either decode through context or through her growing knowledge of basic English grammar., but make sure it doesn’t go over 150 pages.”  To which the bookseller will reply, Oh, chapter books, right this way.

The second thing I suggest is to read both this article on Popular Psychology by Paula J Schwanenflugel P.H.D. (Oh my god this last name, I’m so sorry) and Nancy Flanagan Knapp P.H.D. is my post from early this week where I discussed how your language regarding books and their reading level will shape the way your kids approach books for the rest of their life, not only because it gives you some tips on how to tell if a book is too hard for your kid but also for some help in how to choose books with your child in the book store.  Which can be a difficult thing, I know, I worked there.

There are resources available to you.  Whether it is someone like me who is passionate about reading, about kids reading, about the books that kids are reading and about helping parents, teachers, and librarians navigate the rapidly expanding kids book market, or through your local librarians, your kids teachers, whomever.  You are not alone.  This wasn’t something they taught me in college, it wasn’t even part of my training in the book store to be honest.  I just knew the correct internet channels and was fortunate enough to converse with very knowledgeable folks in their field.

For any specific questions, or recommendations you can always ask me below in the comments or anywhere through my socials, and of course follow the blog because I post reviews as well as helpful chatty posts like this one.  At least I hope it was helpful, if it wasn’t please give me some constructive criticism down below as well so that I can do better moving forward.  I want to do well.  I want to help.

I hope you are having a lovely week and I will talk to you again soon.

3-6, 5-7, 7-12, Books, Children, Musings

The Harm of “Too Hard” for Reluctant Readers

I want to talk about this but I figure I should give a disclaimer:

This is my personal opinion.  It is the opinion of someone who worked in the children’s section of a book store and heard time and time again, “Oh no, you can’t have that one, it’s too hard for you.” In various tones, from disgruntled exasperation to affectionate concern.  

I want this to stop.

Why? I hear you ask, it is just our way of getting our kids to put down a book that they aren’t ready for and pick something closer to their own reading level.

When you use words like “that is too hard”, or “that is not for you”, you are telling the child that a book they are interested in (even if it is only on an aesthetic level) is wrong, or that they are wrong for wanting it.  The English language is a remarkably versatile and malleable language.  There are ways to explain your concern so that the kid doesn’t feel shut down, discouraged, or in some cases indignant.

I had a teacher tell me that the easiest way to tell if a book is the proper reading level for a child is to use what she called “the five finger rule”.  You open to a random page, it could be the first page, the last, but I would suggest somewhere in the middle, and have them read.  For every word they can’t figure out (meaning they are allowed to take their time and sound it out, with your help if you wish) but if they give up they have to put up a finger.  [note: this excludes made up words or names as the child will likely not have heard them before] If all five fingers are up then the book is too challenging for them.  So rather than looking at the size of the book, the recommended age bracket, or any of that, sit down with them and take a minute.  See if they can read a page.  If they can’t then you ask, “is this a book that you still want to read?”

A lot of the time if it was too hard for them they will say themselves that it was too hard and put it down.  If they do still want to read it then ask if they want to read it together (I am going to make a post where I talk about reading aloud and how it shouldn’t stop when kids can read for themselves).  Sometimes they will agree and other times they want to struggle through.  In this case, I find it best to say, okay this is a book that we will get to challenge you, but let’s also find a book that is a little easier so you can give your brain a rest.  This way you are not saying the book is wrong for them, or they are wrong for the book, you are encouraging them to work hard and if they are truly interested in the subject matter they will be more willing to muddle through.  Often times when they find an easier book that they are also interested in they are willing to let go of the harder one because they realize that it was too hard but didn’t want to walk away empty handed.

I completely understand when parents tell me they don’t want their reluctant readers to become completely despondent.  They know that the kid will  have to write reports for years to come and if they make the wrong move it will become a never ending struggle to get their kid to complete simple assignments.

Kids aren’t born hating books.  In my experience all children love being told stories, they like flipping through books, they like being asked questions and having opportunities to show their knowledge.  The thing that discourages them from books is either feeling humiliated (how many people remember popcorn reading and how there would sometimes be that one kid who would hate reading aloud and they somehow were asked to read the most) or through deciding that books aren’t for them.  The latter is generally a result of people they either love or respect using discouraging language: Books are too hard, you aren’t good enough, that is for kids like your sister (who is two years older and therefor a stronger reader in general, you would be surprised how kids take this as meaning that they need to find something else to do when reading is their sibling’s “thing”).

If you make reading a family affair. (Think of reading aloud to the family as the new family game night, although I’m all for family game night as well).  Try and pick books that are interesting to you, your spouse, your child or children.

I am going to try and create a tag where I label stories I think are great read aloud books for older kids as I continue on this journey so that you have a resource.  If you ever have any questions regarding that please ask me as well on any of my socials.

This post, wasn’t meant to be a reprimand, or really to discourage parents at all.  It was simply to say that the words that we use have an effect.  They are internalized.  Books are important.  Stories are a great way to learn lessons in a safe environment.  They allow kids to ask questions.  They let parents introduce new topics with a predefined structure.  Don’t lose them over something so trivial as “too hard”.

I hope this helped.

If it didn’t, please feel free to tell me why in the comments down below, I might make another posts on this topic in the future when the little one in my life is older (he’s two and really just likes pointing to farm animals and saying their sounds, not so picky)

Books, YA (Young Adult)

Almost Adulting by Arden Rose Review

Here is a post for all of those parents of teens.  I admit that my focus on here and in life is very focused at the younger (tween) market than it as teens but I am going to try and at the very least throw something out there for you.

Title: Almost Adulting
Author: Arden Rose
Publisher: HarperCollins
Page#: 208
Genre: Self-Help, Tell All, Humor

 

Hope you enjoyed our take on this one.

As always, if you have any questions, recommendations, comments, etc. you can find me all over the interwebs or right down below in the comment section.

Books, Children, Musings

The “Types” of Kids Books Explained by a Bookseller

This is technically a backlist video that I made way back at the beginning of the year, but I felt it might be helpful to post it here as well.  The room I was filming in was sweltering  despite it being  the middle of winter and I broke out an old camisole to wear and it wasn’t until I was editing that I realized it looked as if I wasn’t wearing  a shirt.  Oops.  Nothing R rated, just a bit too risque for my liking.  Apologies for that.

 

Hopefully this was at least a little bit helpful and I can help you guys with any more questions you may have in the comments, through email, or on any of the social medias.