Chapter Book Authors to Know

Let’s have a conversation about time. The universal concept that, like weather, can carry any attempt at small talk across cultures, borders, and possibly even languages.  Begin any discussion with someone over 30 by saying any of the following, “Where does the time go?”, “Oh, would you look at the time.”, “Are there ever enough hours in the day?”, or “All I did was blink and 10 years went by.” and suddenly you have plenty of time to communally lament your lack of time.

It would be the easiest list I can imagine:

Things I Don’t Have Time For:

  1. Anything!

And now, with your severe lack of time firmly established, you are forced to deal with the ironic reality that your staunchly independent reader needs help finding books to read. One would think that the older a child got, the less work it would be to find books for him or her. Nope. You not only need to painstakingly browse the picture books for that perfect combination of clever words and magnificent illustrations, you also need to have pre-read the entire junior section of the library in search of that perfect combination of intelligent wittiness and late elementary school goofiness.

In an effort to give you enough time to search the library for a book of your own (I know!), here is my list of authors you can give to your middle to late elementary school aged child with the confidence that they will enjoy any of their books. And you will not have to read every book before hand (but you probably will because they are that good).

  1. Roald Dahl – Your timing could not be better for a summer of Roald Dahl. With the BFG coming out as a movie, you have the perfect starting point. You cannot go wrong with Dahl, his writing is the perfect combination mentioned above.
  2. E.B White – We all know the treasure and torture that is Charlotte’s Web, but White’s other books are excellent as well.  The Trumpet of the Swan is the one to try next.
  3. Kate DiCamillo – If your child has not read Because of Winn Dixie yet that should be their first library check out next week. But don’t stop there, she has so many excellent books including a series,the Mercy Watson books, for your beginner chapter book reader.
  4. Stuart Gibbs – For those kids who have read every Boxcar Children and Encyclopedia Brown book they can find, Gibbs’ Moon Base Alpha series and Spy School books are the perfect answer. His books are exciting, adventurous, and full of fun mystery.
  5. Beverly Cleary – In some use of magic few authors possess, Beverly Cleary has been able to transcend time. Her books take place in a world and culture far different from what our kids know and somehow her stories still relate. Every child can appreciate the sibling drama of Ramona and Beezus but there are many more equally fantastic stories to be found by her.
  6. Chris Colfer – Yes, you read this right, Chris Colfer – the guy from Glee. I was skeptical at first as well, but honestly his books are excellent. Each of his books in the Land of Stories series has been a best seller and for good reason. These are the only books that my 9-year-old literally could not put down. Think of this series as the book version of the television show “Once Upon a Time” but for kids.
  7. A.A. Milne – The original Winnie the Pooh books are amazing. The first time I read them to my older kids I was shocked by the depth, wittiness, and wisdom in Milne’s words. Don’t let your child be scared off by the fact that these are the “Winnie the Pooh” stories, they are so much more.
  8. Eleanor Estes – If you have an animal lover, Estes’ stories about the pets of the Pye and Moffat houses will be well loved. Newberry Award winner Ginger Pye is the one to start with but they will want to keeping read the others.
  9. Brian JacquesRedwall. Do I need to say more?  For the budding fantasy fiction lover, these books are a great place to start.
  10. Patricia Wrede – Her Enchanted Forest Chronicles books are the equivalent of The Paperbag Princess for chapter books. Disgruntled princesses, dragons, wizards, and magic…what more could you ask for?
  11.   BONUS – Because you have read all the way to the bottom of this list, here’s an extra one for you!  Suzanne Collins (of The Hunger Games fame) wrote an excellent, lesser known series called The Underland Chronicles. The first book Gregor the Overlander will have your older elementary school age child enthralled by this bizarre underground world.

(I should also say that C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling have been left off intentionally; much like Dr. Suess, they have transcended lists.)

Which authors would you add to the list?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New Favorites: Author Edition

You know those moments when you are reading and the way an author turns a phrase has you re-reading the sentence just to appreciate it or an author creates a character so believable that you feel like you have met an actual person (only to have  people say insane things to you like, “Christy, you do realize Sirius is a work of fiction, right?”)? Recently, I had these moments with a new-to-me author.

Marti Dumas writes in a way that connects; she connects you to words and characters and leaves you searching Amazon for everything she has ever written. Her writing style is funny, witty, thoughtful, and engaging for children and adults. She has created a character who loves ninja dancing, she has embedded Dr. Who references in her writing, and she has written a blog post titled “Be like Stephen King”. If you have not stopped reading this and started searching Amazon yet, go ahead, I’ll wait.

She has introduced the world to a fantastic character in Jaden Toussaint. I have found myself, repeatedly, reading about his adventures on my own.  Jaden is a young boy who is all about exploration, experiments, and excitement while being raised in a family of readers.  His interactions with his family are genuine and hilarious. The way Dumas describes Jaden’s problem solving process is excellent.  In an amazing turn of events, the first book about Jaden called Jaden Toussaint, The Greatest: Episode 1 The Quest for Screen Time, is free on Amazon right now. So far, there are 3 episodes about Jaden Toussaint, The Greatest.

Dumas has also written the longer chapter book, Jala and the Wolves.  Jala is a 6 year girl who is about to have an unexpected adventure.  This is a book that your children will thoroughly enjoy reading on their own, but you will find yourself inventing reasons to read it to them (despite all the boxes of silent reading they need to check off for their homework).  She also has the upcoming chapter book called, Jackie’s Dragon, and considering the author and the fact that a little girl is interacting with a dragon, I have no doubt it will be fantastic.

Laughter isn’t the best medicine, but it helps

Some weeks go as follows:

  • Monday:   Are you awake?  Is it Monday?
  • Tuesday:    Your first blissful thought is, “Oh thank God, it is Friday!”  No good can come from this day.
  • Wednesday:   Thinking about Friday all day yesterday gets you curious about your weekend and all the reading you will get to do.  Nope, your Google calendar squares are just solid blocks of colors for Saturday and Sunday.
  • Thursday:    That wonderfully fizzy cola (yes…judge) you have been able to avoid drinking until the appropriate time of 10 am hits your tastes buds completely flat and thoroughly disgusting.
  • Friday:     You get woken up by a panicked child realizing that their long ago assigned book report/diorama/poster combo is not due next week but today.  Yes, thank God it’s Friday!
  • Saturday:   You have no idea what just happened.
  • Sunday:    Is the next day Monday?  Have you had a vacation before said Monday? (This is a trick question as either a “yes” or “no” answer is equally bad for you).

Take heart, while every thing around you is falling apart, here is a list of books that will make you and your child laugh every single time.  No, those five or ten minutes of laughter will not change a single thing, but you will read and you will laugh and we all know some weeks that’s as much as you can ask for.

  1. The Day the Crayons Quit  (Drew Daywalt) – Because who knew crayons were so funny!
  2. 11 Experiments That Failed (Jenny Offill) – Because life.
  3. The Book With No Pictures (B.J. Novak) – Because this is the only book that has given my three year old belly laughs.
  4. Count the Monkeys (Mac Barnett) – Because things are never as simple as that.
  5. Stick  (Steve Breen) – Because the last page.
  6. Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late (mo willems) – Because Pigeon.
  7. Where the Sidewalk Ends (Shel Silverstein) – Because hilarity ensues.
  8. The Monster at the End of This Book (Jon Stone) – Because Grover cracks everyone up.
  9. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Judith Viorst) – Because life, even in Australia.
  10. The Three Ninja Pigs (Corey Rosen Schwartz)- Because ninjas and pigs.

What hilarious books are on your list?

 

 

Freebies: The American and European Classics

These books need no introduction. They are free and they are many. Enjoy!*

*It should be noted that, although these books are considered classics, some of them are problematic. Many were written at a time when slavery and/or colonialism were at their height. If you have not re-read these books as an adult, it would be good to do. Then you will be prepared to have candid conversations with your child about the historical context these comments come from and the importance of learning from our errant history.

By way of example, in The Secret Garden, at beginning of the fourth chapter there are several exchanges between Martha and Mary that contain racist statements. When Mary comments on how different England is, Martha says, “I dare say it’s because there’s such a lot o’ blacks there instead o’ respectable white people.” Martha then says that she has nothing against “the blacks”…but you cannot help but read that white people are the “respectable” ones and your children will not miss the distinction. After this, Martha tells Mary that she expected her to be black and Mary is furious, saying, “You don’t know anything about native people. They are not people – they’re servants…”

These are horrifying words. And this from a “trusted” classic children’s book! The Secret Garden is not alone in this. If you are reading aloud to your child, you will have to decide how to censure and/or discuss this as you read. But if you are letting your child read by themselves, you need to make sure these words do not go unaddressed or he or she will begin think of them as normative. We should not presume that these concepts are “over their heads” or that children will not be affected by such language. We all know the power of the written word and children are always attuned to much more than they are given credit for. It is much wiser, and even necessary, for us to instruct our children directly on the injustices and wrongs done while providing them with a correct view of acknowledging,  valuing, and respecting our differences as humans.

We want to raise conscientious readers and that begins with us, as the adults in their lives, being conscientious teachers.

 

 

Freebies

You know that trip you are planning, the one that came to you in a moment of energetic optimism (really is there anything on earth more dangerous than energetic optimism…I think not), the one that is going to help you “get away” and, magically, is not going to cost a fortune.  You know, that one!  Turns out, trips costs a fortune.

Or maybe you are staying home this summer but you find yourself already counting down your 50,400 minutes of summer and you are needing creative ways to justify the amount of screen time going on in your house.  You have already out spent your craft, summer field trip, and fun budget.  Turns out, staying home costs a fortune.

This will help.  What follows is a list of *free* books on Amazon.  They are all free downloads with Kindle app.  Even if you do not have a Kindle, just download the Kindle app on whatever device you are willing to place in the hands of your child and let them read at will.  There are thousands of free books available but I have learned that where ebooks are concerned, the best things in life are not always free…with a few exceptions.

Picture books:

  • The Ugly Duckling  (Hans Christian Andersen)  The classic tale of judging a book by its cover.
  • Lily Lemon Blossom: Welcome to Lily’s Room  (Barbara Miller)  A cute story about a little girl who wants to show you her room.
  • Harry the Happy Mouse  (n.g.k)  This story follows a chain of kindness that all begins when Mouse decides to help Frog.
  • Cassidy and the Rainy River Rescue   (Keely Chace)  Cassidy may be fast but she quickly learns more is needed on a farm than speed.  The animals must learn to use their gifts to help each other.
  • Bedtime, Little Bear   (John Lancer)  Mother Bear keeps calling Little Bear in for bedtime but all he hears are the sounds of nature .
  • The Sleepy Dragon  (Amanda Bannikov)  Knight Kimothin has yet to slay a dragon, a fact the other knights do not let her forget.  She must find a dragon.

Chapter books:

  • Jaden Toussaint, the Greatest (Episode 1: The Quest for More Screen Time)  (Marti Dumas)  If you only download one book, this should be it!  Jaden is an experiment loving, hilarious, and crafty kindergarten boy who must figure out how to get his parents to approve more screen time.
  • Rebekah – Girl Detective #1: The Mysterious Garden  (PJ Ryan)  With flowers disappearing from the community garden, Rebekah is determined to find the thief.
  • The Black Star of Kingston (S.D. Smith)  In the prequel to the highly praised “The Green Ember,” we learn about a brave group of rabbits who have been forced from their home and must start a new life in a new land.  It is a fascinating tale of sacrifice, leadership, and courage.  There are some intense moments throughout the book that may prove scary for younger readers or even older, sensitive children.
  • The Mystery of Claw Mountain and The Mystery of the Missing Money (Paul Woxham)  From The Mystery Series, most of series costs money but these two are free.  They can be easily compared to The Boxcar Children books.  A group of fun loving, adventure seeking children find themselves embroiled in a variety of mysteries.  These are great vacation reading books for your older kids.
  • The Ridiculous Adventures of Michael Mattingly: #1 The Terrible Monster  (Jackie Vandall Thomas III)  This is a funny, quick story following Michael Mattingly through the mundane parts of his day as he waits for his real adventures to begin through his fingers on his computer keyboard.

 

 

New Favorites

It feels unfair to the old standbys, the Corduroys, Red Wagons, Freight Trains, and Snowy Days,  to start off my book recommendations with a book I read for the first time last week. I can’t help myself, the new book is too good to be put in line.  And so I begin with a new favorite.

With it’s opening sentences, “Morris Lessmore loved words.  He loved stories. He loved books.”, I was immediately drawn to William Joyce‘s The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.  Every part of this book, the words, the illustrations, the story, even the layout of the sentences, fits together perfectly.  The cover, with the look of perplexed surprise on Morris’ face, the name “Lessmore”, the heartbreaking but peaceful plot, they are all brilliant.

The story follows Morris Lessmore through a series of events ranging from ordinary where he “writes one orderly page after another”, to devastating in which “every story has its upsets”, to magical where he meets a woman “being pulled along by a festive squadron of flying books” (I mean, really…that sentence!) until he finally finds his place in, where else but, a library.  Here he discovers that “each book was whispering and invitation to adventure.”

And what could be more true about books than that!  May your adventures begin “with the opening of a book.”

 

Public Service Announcement:

You will notice that there are a lack of book cover pictures on my blog.  I assure you, this is not some glaring lack of cultural awareness on my part, so don’t judge me too harshly!  I am a beginner to this world of blogging and do not know all I should about copyright laws.  I would rather err on the side of caution and not use book cover pictures until I am confident I am using the illustrators’ works correctly.

I encourage you to think of it as “wonderfully retro” or “reminiscent of a simpler time.”  You can think of Well Worn Pages as the Book With No Pictures of blogs.

It’s a list!

I am a sucker for lists.  I am not afraid to make a list about everything, watch:

Things to make a list about:

  1. Things to write about in a blog (this list seems inexhaustible when said blog is imaginary, now though…I wonder)
  2. Things to remember (this list actually is inexhaustible)
  3. Things I have forgotten (I give up)
  4. Meal ideas (a masterful work of fiction)
  5. Ideas for how to get the children to get along (it turns out reading while letting them fight it out is an ineffective strategy)
  6. Number of side-eyes, slight shakes of the head, tsks, and “wow, you have your hands full”s I get when going anywhere with FOUR (gasp) children.
  7. Books I want read (because, librarian complex)
  8. Books I really want to read
  9. Books to read first before the books I really want to read
  10. Books to never, ever read again (a small but strongly worded list)

See what I’m talking about?  Lists!  All of that to say, there are going to be some lists on this blog.  I know, right?!  Finally, a blog or website that will list things, it’s what the internet has been missing…oh, wait!

In all seriousness though, when dealing with the overwhelming volume of children’s books, I have found it helpful to start with a list of authors that you can’t go wrong with. To that end, here is my list of picture book authors you should know (be forewarned, I am going to exclude Dr. Seuss because he has transcended lists at this point):

  1. Ezra Jack Keats     Snowy Day, Whistle for Willie and The Trip are a few of my favorites by Keats.  His Little Drummer Boy is a must have Christmas book.
  2. Kadir Nelson   Kadir Nelson is one of those author/illustrators who make it easy for you.  If you see his name on a book, go ahead and buy said book!  They are excellent.  The one being read most in our house  is He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands.
  3. Jane Cabrera    The illustrations in Cabrera’s books are just lovely.  Many of her books are fun re-told nursery rhymes or children’s song.  For something other than that, try The Lonesome Polar Bear. It is wonderful.
  4. Karma Wilson     Her books about Bear and his friends on various adventures are guaranteed to be read and re-read and read some more.  If you enjoy her books but are looking for something besides the Bear books, try Mortimer’s First Garden.
  5. Kevin Henkes     Chrysanthemum and Owen are classics for a reason, but they are just two examples of his many excellent books.  You really cannot go wrong with any of his books, especially for your sensitive child.
  6. Chris Raschka   I have already mentioned the wonder that is Yo!Yes? (you need to read this book) but he has other very good and playful books, including Caldecott Medal winning A Ball for Daisy.
  7. Jan Brett    Famously known for The Hat and The Mitten, Brett is a fantastic storyteller.  It is her illustrations that bring her stories to life so beautifully and my favorite example of this is The Umbrella.
  8. Lois Ehlert   The bright colors on her pages and the rhythm of her words make Ehlert’s books easy to read.  You will find your kids looking at them even when they can’t read the words.  Planting a Rainbow is always on my floor having just been looked through by one child or another.
  9. Maurice Sendak     I don’t even want to think about where children’s literature would be without the brilliance of Where the Wild Things Are.  For all the wild chaos Max brings, Sendak uses his illustrated character Little Bear (the series is written by Elsa Holmelund Minarik) to restore order to his collected works.
  10. mo willems   If you do not laugh out loud reading about Pigeon and his demanding sassiness, then you are dead…your heart is just dead!  While you are busy laughing, your children will be chanting “NO” at all Pigeon’s ridiculous suggestions.  Fun all around.  Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus is my personal favorite.

Who would be on your list of 10 must read authors?

 

 

 

Summer Reading Programs

There are approximately 50, 400 minutes of summer vacation when my children are not sleeping.  If I am guessing, I’m going to say there are approximately, oh I don’t know, 50,400 times that I will hear something along the lines of “I’m bored,” “there’s nothing to do,” “can we ( insert something insane that only four bored children could think of),” “you’re so mean” (wait, that’s a different kind of blog. This is about books, people, don’t side track me).

Now I know some of you are thinking this is a perfect time to use the line “if you’re so bored I can find something for you to do” or finally use a very inspiring, Pinterest worthy chore chart that will revolutionize the way your children view their time, making them responsible contributors to the maintenance of the home.  I wish you well!  Again, that’s a different kind of blog, definitely not written by me.  I am all about reading and certainly not above bribery (or “motivation,” if that makes you feel better about what we’re doing).

To that end, there are some very good summer reading programs available for young readers.  Your local library is the first place to go.  Every year there is a different theme and this year, at least here in Southern California, it’s “Read for the Win” (librarians are so creative, honestly!).  Usually, you can find a “Read-to-Me” club for your non-independent readers (you know the ones who claim they can’t read, but will catch your EVERY missed word/page) and then a separate one for the independent readers.  After a determined number of books or minutes, they are motivated with a free book or prize.

Barnes and Noble also has a way to for kids to earn a free book through their “Celebrate Summer Reading” program.  Each child has a reading journal and they answer three of four questions about books they have read.  Once the journal is turned in, the child receives a free book but there is a designated list of giveaway books for each age.

Half

I apologize for this one ahead of time…just reporting what there is. Kids can earn Chuck E Cheese tokens with their ReadingRewards. There is a reading chart that can be downloaded.  After reading everyday for two weeks, the chart can be turned in to Chuck E. Cheese for 10 free (except for the cost to your sanity) tokens.  This can only be done one time per child.

Scholastic Books has a program as well.  Through their site, kids log their reading minutes online and earn “virtual prizes.”  For example, after a certain number of minutes they unlock new books available for them to read online.  They can also be entered into summer sweepstakes to earn prizes from the craft company Klutz.

If you know of or find any other programs out there, please share, you (i mean, your kids) can never have too many books…no matter what your floor says!

 

 

Library Magic

I still remember the first time the library became a magical place for me.  It was 1995 (yes, that is a long time ago) and I was a senior in high school.  As seniors are wont to do, I was avoiding all work and trying my best to distract those actually working in the library (sorry, Miss Gillispie…does it make a difference that now all I want to do is be a librarian).  I decided to go to the children’s section and have “storytime” and because libraries are magic, I found this amazing book called Yo! Yes? by Chris Raschka.  I think I read that book every day for the rest of the year and now I read it to my children. It introduced me to a world where volumes could be communicated with just one word and a carefully illustrated page.

As the mother of four children ages 3-9, picture books, first readers, and beginner chapter books are a significant part of my life.  Despite my love of books and libraries, when I am standing in front of rows of books with any number of children running around the library doing who knows what (well, I’m sure the other mothers and the librarians know what, but I remain stubbornly unaware), functioning on minimal sleep, distracted by what we have to do next and what I have already missed, finding the joy in discovering that hidden gem of a book that will unlock my child’s love of reading is the very last thing on my mind.  I find myself staring at said rows trying to figure out how to pick out a library book, as if I don’t have approximately 30 years of experience, which brings me to the point of this blog.

Sharing book recommendations and ideas is something that infuses (some would say “dominates”) most of conversations and a lot of my time.  Here I am able to write it down so that I don’t forget what I have read and recommended or what has been recommended to me, as well as open this space up to hear your recommendations.  Basically, I plan to live vicariously as a librarian through this blog…just to be clear!

May the books of your house have well worn pages and the people of your home discover!