Tag Archives: realistic fiction

For Mama: Books for Mother’s Day

Today is Mother’s Day and what better way to celebrate than through all of the literature the celebrates mothers. Moms appear in a lot of children’s literature as they are primary caretakers for so many children. What got me thinking about this post, other than it being Mother’s Day, is the classic book by Robert Munsch – Love You Forever. We had two copies of this on our house because moms love it and kids like to hear about how much they are loved. This story still brings a tear to my eye.

Not all stories about moms are the same because not all moms are the same. Some of the best stories about moms talk about all the different moms about there and how they love us, no matter who they are and no matter if we try to flush their keys down the toilet. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Mom and Me by Marla Konrad. For very little ones, this picture books shows moms and kids from all over the world and the love that they share. Though it does not identify location or culture, the photos show children how different moms still do many of the same things.
  • Mama’s Kiss by Jane Yolen. The always fantastic Yolen shares the hilarious tale of what happens when Mama’s kiss does hit its target and instead starts to travel the world.
  • Mother Number Zero by Marjolijn Hof. A recent chapter book for older readers, Mother Number Zero explores the issues of adoption and wanting to know all of ones mothers.
  • Brushing Mom’s Hair by Andrea Cheng. Another chapter book for older readers, this verse novel explores the emotions of Ann as her mother deals with breast cancer.
  • I have already mentioned the fabulous Mommy, Mama, and Me by Lesléa Newman in my post about GLBTQ lit, but Mother’s Day means it deserves another mention. Along the same lines check out Molly’s Family by Nancy Garden about drawing exactly what your family is to you and In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco, which deals with adoption as well as same sex parenting and the love and challenges that go with both.

There are almost as many stories about moms as there are moms. No matter what form your family takes – happy Mother’s Day and happy reading!

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Happy Birthday to Me: Books about Birthdays

Today is my birthday and as much as I love mine, I know children love theirs more. Because of this love, birthdays are a common topic in children’s literature, from the parties that make their lives to the embarrassing moments that make them wish their birthday had never happened. Here are some great stories about birthdays:

  • 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass. Imagine having your birthday happen over and over again. Sounds like fun, right? Well, what if it was the worst day of your life and your former friend and birthdaymate was going through the same thing? A funny story about friendship, and time, go awry. Finally is the sequel and though the main character is different, birthdays still play a prominent role.
  • Scaredy Squirrel Has a Birthday Party by Melanie Watt. For younger kids, this is a hilarious tale of what to do and not do at a birthday party (answer: sit quietly) that you didn’t even want to have. This is a great addition to the other Scaredy Squirrel stories and will be appreciated by shy kids who haven’t always had the easiest time at birthday parties.
  • A Party for Papa Luis/Una Fiesta para Papa Luis by Diana Gonzales Bertrand. A bilingual cumulative tale tells the story of the preparations for Papa Luis’ birthday fiesta!
  • Fancy Nancy and the Fabulous Fashion Boutique by Jane O’Connor. What’s a post about birthdays without a Fancy Nancy book? When her sister’s birthday party takes a bad turn, Fancy Nancy helps out with her fabulous fashion sense and products from her front yard boutique.

Celebrate birthdays all year with these fun stories.

The Last Frontier of Literature: Books about Alaska

When talking about princesses and Cinderellas the other day, I failed to mention a new favorite in the Cinderella variations – The Salmon Princess, which is an Alaskan Cinderella story (you can tell because it’s about salmon fishing and the princess wears Xtratufs). This got me to thinking about Alaskan children’s literature. I am originally from Alaska. I was born and raised in Juneau, the capital city, and because of this I have a fondness for stories about Alaska. Plus, anything you can do to dispel myths that Alaska is constantly covered in snow, that there are 24 hours of sunlight or darkness in all parts of Alaska (it’s a big state!) and that everyone lives in igloos (this ignores so much of Alaskan Native cultures), the better. Alaska is the Last Frontier and there’s a lot of children’s literature about it, ranging from information books to folklore to historical and contemporary fiction.

(Sandy Beach from my last winter trip home, December 2009)

Alaska has a great history of storytelling because of the Native Alaskan traditions as well as the early Russian immigrants and the Filipino, Irish, and other immigrant groups of Alaska. I’m particularly fond of the Tlingit/Haida tales I heard growing up in Southeast Alaska, especially those about Raven. Raven is a trickster and is involved in a number of Tlingit creation stories, like how Raven stole the daylight (included in this volume of Native American creation myths). Check out stories like Totem Tale: A Tall Story from Alaska,The Wave of the Sea-Wolf, and The Frog Princess: A Tlingit Legend From Alaska (retold by my very favorite Eric Kimmel) for good examples of this Alaskan storytelling tradition.

Alaska is a vast wilderness and the people who grow up and live there have a unique view on life and many feel a special connection to nature. There are many subjects about Alaska that children would enjoy reading about, including:

  • the Iditarod Sled Dog Race
  • amazing animals like all types of bears (especially the fearsome Kodiak Grizzly), caribou and moose, salmon, puffins, and narwhals
  • Gold Rush. The stories from Skagway are especially interesting and this book is a good place to start. Another part of Alaskan storytelling comes from the Sourdoughs, the miners that came to find gold in Alaska. One of my favorites growing up, partially because of a particularly good reading by my 8th grade English teacher, was The Cremation of Sam McGee.
  • modern stories from Alaskan Native cultures. There is a tendency for many non-Native children (and adults) to view Native cultures as something that exists in the past when these cultures are still very much alive. Learn more about the tribes of the Aleutians, the tundra, the far North, Southeast, and all the varying regions of Alaska.
  • nature! From temperate rainforests (my hometown area) to the tallest mountain in North American (Denali) to the tundra, Alaska is filled with beautiful wilderness and exciting things for children to learn about

If subjects are too broad, a couple of great authors to start with are Cherie B. Stihler (she did a great adaptation of the Gingerbread Man called the Sourdough Man) and Susi Gregg Fowler. Both of these authors have a number of different types of books based in Alaska that will get you started on your journey into the Last Frontier.

 

Bang! Kapow!: The Power of the Graphic Novel

Graphic novels have become essential parts of many youth library collections, but they still have a long way to go in the minds of many adults and others that work with books and children. From simple stories to intense situations, graphic novels are both a great introduction to reading as well as great reading in and of themselves.

Not all adults are on board with graphic novels, even from other adults, but I believe this to be a mistake. From the adult world of graphic novels, Neil Gaiman‘s Sandman series is widely considered to be literature in graphic novel form. Gaiman is also now well known in the children’s literature world, having published fantasy novels like Coraline, which have been adapted into graphic novel form.

What makes graphic novels so great for libraries is their power of interest. Though they are getting a lot of buzz right now, they have been a part of the youth library for a long time. As a child, I was obsessed with Archie comics, specifically Josie and the Pussycats. Because I was already a heavy reader, no one questioned what I was reading. The important thing to remember is that reading is reading. Depending on the graphic novel, the vocabulary may be complex and help your reader develop their reading skills. Furthermore, because graphic novels span so many genres, it can easy enough to pull interest from a graphic novel to an easy reader or chapter book. Fantasy and science fiction are well-tred categories of graphic novels, but you can find them in every genre from realistic fiction to poetry.

Though they have pictures, graphic novels are not picture books and can span the entire spectrum of a youth library collection. Take care when selecting a one as it may deal with situations your reader isn’t developmentally ready for. So what should you do to learn more about graphic novels or find good ones? Scholastic has a great primer for those who are completely unfamiliar with graphic novels. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center from the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is a fantastic resource, including reviews, awards lists, and materials to understanding more about the graphic novel phenomenon.

If you are already familiar, best of graphic novels lists are everywhere. The easiest place to start is YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens. Many of these are appropriate for tweens and mature children. Other places to look are:

Don’t be afraid of the graphic novel! With such a wide variety of resources available from so many libraries, it is easy to start and it is easy to get hooked yourself. Reading is reading, even if there are superheroes with kapow! bubbles over their heads. You never know where they might lead.

Some of my new favorites are:

  • Meanwhile by Jason Shiga. If you haven’t heard of this one yet, you will. It was in YALSA’s Ten Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens, but is appropriate for nearly all readers. It’s a Choose Your Own Adventure book on steroids, with 3,856 different story possibilities that you will not want to put down.
  • American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. Winner of several awards, including the Eisner Award (named for graphic novel originator Will Eisner). It’s an engaging story told equally through pictures and text and is well worth your time.
  • The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sís. This Siebert Award winning book tells of Sís’ childhood in Communist Czechoslovakia. Though many children today have little idea what the Cold War was, this informational text is easy to understand and is made more palatable because of its graphic novel format.

Favorite Childhood Authors

Yesterday’s post got me thinking about my childhood favorite authors. Though some of them may be obvious, they include:

  • Roald Dahl
  • Dr. Seuss
  • Jon Scieszka
  • Eric Kimmel
  • Beverly Cleary
  • Judy Blume
  • E.B. White
  • Eric Carle

As I mentioned yesterday, Roald Dahl continues to be a favorite of mine. As much as I loved any other author, he was always first. His putting children first as the hero is part of what has made him an enduring figure in the children’s literature canon. He has an entire month (it’s Scrumdiddlyumptious September) dedicated to him! He also recognizes that children love silly things. Who else would come up with a word like scrumdiddlyumptious? And what are snozzcumbers? If you’ve read The BFG, you know!

Reading The Twits, 1993

The author, age 10

Nonsense is part of what makes children’s literature so fun to read, even as an adult. Dr. Seuss is the all-time master of nonsense. The reason nonsense is so important is because it triggers the imagination. What kinds of words can you make up? What do they mean? Say something silly and then try to define it. By doing so, you’re working on literacy skills and vocabulary. Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelusky are favorites because of their awareness of the power of silly. Another silly favorite? Jon Scieszka. From The Stinky Cheese Man to The Frog Prince Continued to The Time Warp Trio series, everything I read by him was ridiculous and made me laugh.

Not everything I was a fan of as a child was silly. Like a lot of children from the 80s and becoming big readers in the 90s, I loved The Babysitter’s Club and The Boxcar Children. Series books are still popular with kids and it’s not hard to see why. You get to follow characters over a period of time and many adventures. These characters gain depth and you get to know them. It also makes the question “What do I read next?” very easy to answer.

I was also a fan of classic children’s literature. I tore through The Secret Garden, couldn’t get enough of Anne of Green Gables (and the rest of her stories), and loved Ramona. Obviously I was a fan of historical fiction and realistic fiction. I also loved folktales. Eric Kimmel is an astounding storyteller and very prolific. Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins was my absolute favorite Chanukah book growing up, so much so that I would take it out of my parent’s closet at random times of the year just to read it because I couldn’t wait until Chanukah rolled around again.

Another category I adored was fantasy. Though I wasn’t as into dragons and knights, I liked animal stories, particularly those by E.B. White. My copy of Stuart Little is falling apart, but that’s because it is so well loved. Recently, I picked up a copy of Charlotte’s Web, which is an enduring favorite of many children. Though not as fantastical as some, these both represent the breadth of fantasy novels.

And speaking of animals, the work of Eric Carle is beloved because of his artwork and representation of animals. Admittedly, I started reading him later on, when my younger brother was given The Very Hungry Caterpillar. This beautiful picture book drew me in and made me a lifelong fan. Picture books are wonderful for children of all ages and you never know what’s going to catch a child’s eye at any age.

Many children have a wide variety of interests and you never know what might snag them into reading and reading a lot. Though obviously anyone interested in working with children should attempt to keep up with the ever changing field of children’s literature, introducing a child to one of your childhood favorites is a great place to hook children in. Your passion for the text often translates into the way you talk about it. That enthusiasm is contagious. Shel Silverstein is still a favorite of children and it’s not just because he’s silly. It’s also because of the generations of children that loved him before and shared that love with the next group of kids.

Share the love. Share your favorites!