Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Summer Lessons -- One Idea

I sat down and talked with my two oldest to get some rough structure ideas for the summer. We settled on having a library day (Mondays look good for this and help start the week out with new reading material), some pool time, some cleaning time (my idea, of course), some sustained silent reading, and some art time.

Art time?

I had to do a little searching because while Bookivore loves Art, she hates Crafts. So I was looking for something that fell more under Art and less under Cut-Paste-and-Glitter. What I found was a gem of a site that offered me projects based on actual artists (you know -- people who get paid to make art)or on artistic principles.

Woot Woot!

It's called -- appropriately --
Art Projects for Kids, and I love that all the projects have been classroom tested. Some projects need a template, which may only be available for a small fee, but most are free. FREEEEEEE!

Another nice feature is that the projects mostly require stuff you're likely to have at home or can get easily at a local craft store -- paint, oil pastels, chalk. One or two require fancy art stuff like gesso, but there's enough there that you can just skip those and find something else to do. We're going to focus mainly on drawing and painting. As a bonus, some projects upcycle old CDs and CD cases or old magazines.

To make this relevant to the books we're reading, I may adapt some of the projects to include objects or places we're reading about. Or I might just have them write about their art -- the perfect double bonus.

Summer starts in T-minus 3 days and counting!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Summer Reading Programs -- Free Books!

Where did Bookivore go? Not far, but my life was so crazy-busy this winter/spring that I was forced to take a hiatus. Sorry, peeps. I just

But I'm back, though maybe not as frequently, and I want to remind everyone that summer is literally right around the corner. Take advantage of these free programs to score some new books for your kids and build their reading skills into the bargain.

Half Price Books Feed Your Brain .

THIS PROGRAM HAS CHANGED: It's for kids 14 and under. Kids need to read 15 minutes a day during June and July. Parents total weekly reading numbers and initial. When kids reach 600 minutes, they can go into the store and trade their logs for a $5 coupon. Not a rewarding as in previous years, but still a worthy goal. Starts June 1, ends July 31, 2011.

Barnes and Noble Summer Reading 2011 Imagination Destination:

This program has not changed. Kids download a reading log and read 8 books. They can bring their book logs into the store and choose a free book from their list of freebies. Runs from May 24 to Sept. 6, 2011. I looked very carefully and could not find either an upper or a lower age limit, but the book choices range from 1st through 5th grade, so that may be the assumption. In the past, the expectation has been that kids will read the books themselves, so kindergarten is probably the lower limit.

Borders/Waldenbooks Summer Reading Challenge:

THIS PROGRAM HAS CHANGED. If you still have a Borders or a Waldenbooks near you, this is another option. Our store is closing because of the company's recent bankruptcy announcement, so my kids can't do this one. Kids 12 and under read 8 books, then bring completed logs into a Borders or Waldenbooks and can save 50% or more on "selected items." These are listed on the worksheet, which you can download here. May 26 - Aug. 1, 2011.

I'll be back later this week with some ideas for summer activities with kids.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Best Books of 2010? Part Deux

Yesterday I reviewed the first half of Amazon's picks for Best Children's Books of 2010. Today we finish the list. If you like, you can look at the whole Amazon list here, and of course you can read my earlier post on the first 5 books on the list.

Brontorina, by James Howe. I like this one. Brontorina is trying something that may well not work out -- that takes some courage. The other children are portrayed as helpful and encouraging -- something all children need help being from time to time. The illustrations do a lovely job of conveying just how big Brontorina is, filling the page with her, even to the point that parts of her are off the edges and not visible to the reader. And the problem is resolved not when Brontorina changes, but when everyone around her adapts to her differences. A nice selection.
Ladybug Girl at the Beach, by David Soman: This one gets only a tepid response from me. I know some people are enchanted with this series, but it's a "meh" for me. One book about Ladybug Girl was enough, I think. A fourth book seems too much. Sorry, this one's an SMP (Shameless Marketing Plug).

Of Thee I Sing: A letter to my daughters, by Barack Obama: Well, if it's not an SMP, it's certainly an SPP (Shameless Political Plug), but for all that it's actually kind of a nice book. The illustrations are gorgeous, always a good thing, and the subject matter -- all the qualities the writer either sees in or wants for his children, exemplified by Americans of the past. Children are introduced to Georgia O'Keefe, Billie Holliday, Cesar Chavez, Helen Keller, George's wonderfully multi-cultural, historical, even inspirational. For older kids, through 3rd grade.

Three Little Kittens, by Jerry Pinkney: Pinkney has been around quite a while, and has tackled classic fairy tales and nursery rhymes before. He's also a Caldecott Medal Winner for his 2009 The Lion and the Mouse, so anything by him packs a lot of talent and expertise. That's why I feel kind of guilty panning this one. The illustrations, normally a highlight in Pinkney's work, fell flat for me. Yes, they're lush, but they somehow looked like he was channelling Jan Brett and the fusion didn't quite work for me. And frankly, as nursery rhymes go, The Three Little Kittens is one of the more annoying ones out there, so for me this whole volume fell flat. Not an SMP, but not, for me, worth a mention on a top 10 list.

Dog Loves Books, by Louise Yates: I'm a sucker for book lovers and this one had me about 3 pages in. Dog does love books -- he loves the smell of them, the feel of them, he loves everything about them. He loves them so much, he decides to open a bookstore. This is a simple story with whimsical, soft watercolor illustrations that capture the imaginative journeys books can take us on. It will appeal to younger children, and maybe even encourage them to love books like dog does.

So there you have it: My highly opinionated take on Amazon's Best Books of 2010.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Best Books of 2010?

Amazon sends me these lists occasionally -- mainly because I spend enough there to support a small, third-world village -- and occasionally I find those lists helpful and interesting. More often, though, I find them to be shameless plugs for the endless spinoffs and sequels that dog the children's book industry.

Yesterday I got another one entitled Best Books of 2010. These are Amazon's editors' picks for best kids books of 2010. Again, it's a list that looks like a mixture of careful consideration and marketing strategy. There are three entries that are sequels, so only 70% of the list is new stuff, some by established authors and some by relative newcomers.

Here's my humble take on it:

Art and Max, by David Wiesener: Yes. Wiesener's artwork makes this one a good choice. He's an established author with really innovative illustrations. Love the lizards, love the focus on art, love the gorgeously illustrated story. Deserves a spot on the list.

Olivia Goes to Venice, by Ian Falconer: I loved the first Olivia book. I liked the second, I liked the third, I liked, mildly, the Christmas book, and then I got a little saturated with Olivia and have had no real desire to learn more about her exploits. There's been so much Olivia that this one doesn't really break new ground or offer anything in the way of freshness. Sorry. This one's a Shameless Marketing Plug (SMP)

The Quiet Book, by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Renata Liwska: Yes, Yes, Yes! This is a sweet, achingly simple (in the best possible way) book that shows different kinds of quiet. From "Sleeping sister quiet," to "First look at your new hairstyle quiet," this one is beautifully complimented by Liwska's soft paintings. Excellent for toddlers and young children.

City Dog, Country Frog, by Mo Willems, illustrated by Jon Muth: Here's a pair of established writer/illustrators collaborating on a lovely story about a dog and a frog that become friends. Later, when frog is gone (read: dies) dog remembers him and befriends another. It's for younger kids and may offer a nice way to talk about emotional losses with children as they identify with the animals in the story. Deserves to be on the list.

A Bedtime for Bear (Bear and Mouse) by Bonnie Becker: This one is a sequel to Becker's A Visitor for Bear, but I think it deserves a spot on the list for two reasons. One, it's only the second book in the series and has not reached the point of over-saturation like Olivia, and Two, the chracter of Bear cracks me up. I love that he states things so firmly, so categorically, and that his firmness masks a lot of insecurity. He is pitch-perfect, as is his funny relationship with Mouse, who sees through the insecurity and helps Bear navigate his fears.

This post is so long, that I am going to review the second half of the list in my next post. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Bookivore Takes a Breather

Where has Bookivore been?

December turned out to be wall-to-wall crazy, so I took a little hiatus during which I made cookies, attended Christmas programs, saw the Nutcracker, wrapped more presents than I could count, listened to my kids play Christmas carols on the piano, spent time with extended family, and dug my way out of this on Christmas Day:

It truly was going to be just a quick break -- like a week or so, but then I caught something that was suspiciously like pneumonia, though no one at my doctor's office called it that. Whatever it was, it flattened me for a while and that put an end to my blogging ambitions.

But, my kids went back to school yesterday and I finally have time (and healthy lungs) to take a breath and think about books again. We/they/I did a lot of reading over break and I am ready to rock -- but not until tomorrow.

See you then!

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Quick Christmas List for 2010

Bookivore and Mr. Bookivore learned early on that it was impossible (and fruitless) to compete with grandparents in the toy-giving department, so we began giving books to our nieces and nephews instead. When our own kids came along, we found there were always books we wanted to get for them, so why not save them for Christmas and dilute the river of toys a little with some quality literature? After all, every book you buy is one less toy that will break or end up at Goodwill.

So here's the breakdown for 2010:

The Lost Hero: two copies of this for our tween nephew and niece. Hardbacks of this one are reasonable through Amazon. I also saw them at Costco for about the same price.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda: for my 11 year old nephew. Should be a hit.

Maximum Boy books: a new old series that my 7 year old recently discovered. 11 year old Max Silver accidentally becomes a superhero and has fast paced, silly adventures saving the planet. Humor that is a bit more sophisticated than Captain Underpants (but not much).

Down, Down, Down and Sisters and Brothers: We love Steve Jenkins books and these are two fairly recent ones. Informative text, beautiful collage art. These are for my 7 and 4 year olds.

Ingo: for my 13 year old niece. Loved the dark tone of this mer-people tale.

Hunger Games series: for my 16 year old nephew. He's a total omnivore when it comes to books and has been trying to get these from the library and failing. Not sure if we'll be getting him Mockingjay, but the first two for sure.

Sabotaged: for my 9 year old daughter. She began the Missing series and really likes it, so book three is going to make an appearance under our tree.

The Girl Who Could Fly: this one for my 11 and 13 year old nieces. 11 year old Piper McCloud discovers she can fly, just before she's packed off to a school for special kids called I.N.S.A.N.E. -- nothing ominous in that, right? A gem of a book.

Bobby Vs. Girls (Accidentally): for my 9 year old daughter. She is very into humorous writing now, so this one should work. Fourth-Grade Bobby Ellis-Chan is sandwiched between two sisters and has a girl as his best friend, but this is not something he wants to advertise. He gets into a series of mishaps (like finding his sister's underwear static-clinging to his shirt the day of his speech) that should have my daughter rolling.

The Case for Christ for Kids: my daughter specifically requested this one, so I think Santa is going to bring it. I haven't read it, but if it's anything like the adult volume it should be pretty good.

The Once Upon A Time series: my 12 year old niece really likes these, so we're getting her a couple to round out her gift pile. I have not personally read any of these, but my sister-in-law speaks highly of them. There are a bunch of them, retelling both classic and lesser-known fairy tales.

Here's what I'm NOT getting:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid 5: The Ugly Truth. Although both my son and his cousin want this one, I can't do it. I am not a big fan of the Wimpy Kid books -- I find the characters mean and crude and disrespectful. Sorry, no sale.

Knufflebunny Free: I loved the first two Knufflebunny books, but this one just jarred me. I realize the author is trying to show the passage of time by giving the parents in the story new hairstyles and such, but I found the change really hard to swallow. Hmmmm....maybe I'm more of a toddler than I thought.

Next week is the start of the Scholastic Warehouse Sale, so I may add a few things to my list if I hit some good deals (okay, who are we kidding -- I will almost certainly overbuy in the the book department. Don't judge me). You can check out last year's recommendations for seasonal books if you like and you can check Scholastic's website for a warehouse sale near you.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

The big question: Is Origami Yoda real?

Well, of course he's real. I mean, he's a real finger puppet made out of a real piece of paper.

But I mean: Is he REAL? Does he really know things? Can he see the future? Does he use the Force?

Or is he just a hoax that fooled a whole bunch of us at McQuarrie Middle School?

So begins The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, by Tom Angleberger. And the central question, of whether Origami Yoda really knows things revolves around his "animator," the school's oddest kid, Dwight. The argument is simply that Dwight is too weird to give good advice, otherwise he wouldn't be so weird, right? And yet Tommy and his friends Kellen and Harvey begin tracking Origami Yoda's patients -- or victims -- to see whether he is the real deal or not.

This book brings up a number of middle school issues -- the kid who cries in P.E., the kids with the awful nickname, the kid dealing with an embarrassing crisis, the kid who wants to see an R-rated movie his parents have nixed, the boy who likes the girl who might not like him -- each handled by Origami Yoda. It's nicely done, all woven neatly into the mystery of Origami Yoda, which makes it more factual and less melodramatic than it might have been.

I think this one will play equally well with boys and girls, but especially with boys for a couple reasons. There's the obvious Star Wars theme, which will appeal to boys, it's loaded with doodles ala Wimpy Kid, and the main characters are all boys. Each chapter is a first person account by Tommy or one of his friends; a few are also by girls they know, but most of the story is told by boys. This would make an excellent Christmas gift for 7-12 year olds on your list, especially if they're boys.

The writing style is easier than I expected: Accelerated Reader puts it at a 4.7 (4th grade and 7 months) which seems about right. My 7 year old and my 9 year old read it over the holiday weekend and both really liked it. They especially liked the instructions at the back of the book for folding your own Origami Yoda. Having spent last Saturday folding little paper Yodas, I can offer you this advice if you find yourself in a similar situation: start with half of an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper cut or torn neatly to a 5.5 x 8.5 rectangle, then follow the approximate proportions shown in the diagrams instead of the measurements as they didn't actually work that well. The author's website offers instructions for folding an origami Yoda like the one on the cover if you're up for a challenge.

Get this book you must. Enjoy it you will.