Open Sesame: Florida Backdrop Provides Canvas for Chaotic Caper

Skink – No Surrender
New Teen Novel By Carl Hiaasen

When Malley runs away with a guy she met online to avoid going to a New Hampshire boarding school, her cousin Richard knows she’s in trouble. With the help of an ex-governor-turned-wild-renegade named Skink, Richard sets out on a crazy recuse mission deep into the Florida swamps.

Skink–No Surrender, the new novel by author Carl Hiaasen, delivers a fantastic story from start to finish. High-risk adventure spiked with laugh-out-loud humor ensues as Richard and Skink track Malley and her kidnapper. Action, drama, suspense, surprise, outrageous characters, and a heroic journey – the book has it all. Even a landscape full of its own set of dangers. From breezy, ocean beaches to steamy, buggy swamps, the Florida landscape plays a multi-dimensional role, serving as backdrop for the story, providing both beauty and tension, and producing threats like intense heat, fierce storms, killer pigs, and hungry gators. It may even reveal the extinct ivory-billed woodpecker. Read the rest of this entry »

Open Sesame: 9 Picture Books Capture the Great Beauty of Fall

Autumn’s Paintbox: Picture Books That Feature Foliage

It’s that time of year when sweaters come out of hiding, and soup bubbles on the stove, when the cold descends and wood smoke rises, when morning fog gives way to crisp afternoons and long, star-filled nights. It’s that time of year when pumpkins smile from porches and apples pile up in the kitchen. It’s a time of change and preparation, of magic and mischief, of quiet and camaraderie. It’s fall in New England, and the signs of the season are abundant. Just look to the trees, the lure of leaves, where autumn’s paintbox hangs on every deciduous limb. This month’s selection of picture books, featuring one newly published book and a handful of perennial favorites, is an ode to autumn leaves, those fiery, smoldering, golden bursts of color before the landscape pales and freezes.

Fall Leaves, written by Loretta Holland and illustrated by Elly MacKay, is a brand new picture book celebrating the changing season. From the onset, the book pulls you right into its ethereal setting: an image of an autumnal forest with two children playing at the edge of a pond. While soft yellow and orange light filters through the trees, their reflection on the water shows a much different winter scene. Opening the book, readers find a multi-layered experience. The light-box illustrations were cut piece by piece from yapo (plastic) paper and set up in a three-dimensional mini theater, into which light was shone from different angles. The effect is stunning and luminescent, and captures that golden, autumnal light of the season. Throughout the scenes, the two children move in time with nature, playing, bird-watching, biking, and dancing, until fall itself leaves, and the orange, red, and umber turns to the gray, lavender, and blue of winter. Two-word lines in large print play on the meaning and usage of the words, fall and leaves, creating a poetic context for what is happening in the pictures, such as “Fall arrives/Birds leave/Leaves twist/Rain falls/”. Below these pieces of poetry, is a nonfiction component that explains what is happening in nature from a scientific standpoint. While these explanations may be too wordy for young enthusiasts, older naturalists will appreciate the information. A beautiful book to herald the season. — Published by HMH Books for Young Readers, 2014. ISBN: 978-0544106642. Read the rest of this entry »

Banned Books Week Highlights Freedom to Read

Graphic Novels Highlighted

Banned Books Week September 21-27, 2014

It may surprise some to find out there are hundreds of reported attempts to ban books every year in the United States. It may be even more astounding to hear that since 1990, the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) has received reports of more than 18,000 attempts to remove materials in schools and libraries for content deemed by some as inappropriate, controversial or even dangerous.

Banned Books Week, September 21-27, 2014, reminds Americans about the importance of preventing censorship and ensuring everyone’s freedom to read any book they choose. According to ALA’s OIF, for every banned book reported, there are many more that are not. Read the rest of this entry »

Open Sesame: 5 Picture Books For Kindergarteners

School is the New Frontier: 5 Picture Books For First-Timers

The first day of school is a huge leap for many young children. The world of school is different than the world of home. Excitement, anxiety, curiosity, fear, and uncertainty are feelings shared by all petite pioneers as they head into the big, new territory of school. Sometimes a good story is all that’s needed to calm a fear, tickle a nerve, boost confidence, and generate joy.

Here are five new picture books for young adventurers getting ready to explore school for the first time. You’ll find an astronaut, a cat, a panda, monsters, and even a Norse goddess, venturing into the unknown, finding fun, friends, and their own brand of special… Read the rest of this entry »

10 Literary Guides for Expanding Family Reading Time

Literary Guides 2014

This summer’s installment of the annual series Summer Reading Resource: Literary Guides for Expanding Family Reading Time presents families with suggestions for rich reading material to explore together. Each suggested title is accompanied by a teacher-designed guide that includes a description of the book’s educational potential, critical thinking questions to help readers process what they’ve read, activities to support and strengthen literacy skills, and suggestions for activities that allow readers to explore the themes presented in each story deeply and experientially. Written by graduate students in Antioch University New England’s Integrated Learning program, the literary guides offer families a comprehensive resources to help enrich at-home learning and touch upon a wide variety of topics.

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Literary Guide for S.D. Nelson’s “Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story”

Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story
by S.D. Nelson

Written by S.D. Nelson, Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story opens readers’ eyes to life in a Native American village in the Dakotas. Based on Waheenee: An Indian Girl’s Story, told to an anthropologist by Buffalo Bird Girl herself, the story follows Buffalo Bird Girl through a full year’s worth of seasonal changes and activities, teaching readers about Hidatsa culture and the ways in which the seasons dictated their lives.

The book begins in the spring, with Buffalo Bird Girl helping to prepare fields and process meat from animals hunted by the village’s men. In the summer, readers learn about Buffalo Bird Girl’s responsibility to protect corn fields from animals, and her adventures berry picking and tuber-harvesting. During the fall, the entire village harvested crops and celebrated with a feast and dancing. In the winter, cold weather drove Buffalo Bird Girl’s village to migrate to a place with a milder climate, so as to be spared the harsh winter of the Dakotas.

The rich story teaches readers a wealth of information about Native American life and culture. The fact that the story’s protagonist is not an adult allows young readers to develop connections to her life more easily – they, too, can imagine doing seasonal tasks as chores to sustain their family and they, too, can relate to capturing rare free moments to play with friends. It is in connecting to Buffalo Bird Girl that readers will do most of their learning for, though they may find many similarities between their lives, the cultural divide between our lives today and that of Buffalo Bird Girl is deep and wide. Though here in western Massachusetts, the seasons dictate many of our activities, they do not force such drastic change upon our lives as they did upon the lives of members of Native American cultures. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Rebecca Stead’s “When You Reach Me”

When You Reach Me
by Rebecca Stead

What grows when it dies, but eats when it drinks? This and other riddles provide an intriguing and puzzling pre-read warmup for Rebecca Stead’s Newbury Medal-winning book, When You Reach Me. Classified as a science-fiction mystery novel for young adult readers, the story is a riddle-filled puzzle that will intrigue and fascinate savvy tweens and almost-tweens.

When You Reach Me is set in New York City in 1978, and is centered around the mysteries filling the life of a girl named Miranda. Miranda’s favorite activities are watching The $20,000 Pyramid, reading her favorite book (A Wrinkle in Time), and adventuring through her Manhattan neighborhood with her best friend, Sal – who helps her navigate the surprising and sometimes slightly scary things that they encounter nearby. The story truly begins when Sal and Miranda drift apart, which begins after a mysterious boy punches Sal in the stomach while they walk down a street together. After losing her best friend, Miranda encounters some other strange events – the spare key that she and her mother keep hidden is stolen, and Miranda gets a strange note from a mysterious source. Though she and her mother change the locks and assume the trouble is over, Miranda keeps getting notes – and must stay silent, though she knows not who is writing them or what they are pushing her towards.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Mildred Pitts Walter’s “Alec’s Primer”

Alec’s Primer
by Mildred Pitts Walter

Alec’s Primer is a story of freedom – a true one. Based on the real-life experiences of a man named Alec Turner, the book follows a young boy born into slavery through childhood on a plantation, fighting for the north during the Civil War, and finding freedom in Vermont. Though born a slave and forbidden to learn literacy skills, young Alec learned to read with the help of the plantation owner’s granddaughter – who insisted that Alec learn the alphabet despite the trouble that he would be in if he were to be found out. In learning the foundation of reading and writing the English language, Alec gets his first taste of freedom and dreams of someday escaping to Vermont – though he does suffer punishment for learning to read. Read the rest of this entry »

Open Sesame: New Picture Books Explore Rich Themes

A Wave of New Picture Books

It’s summer! One of my family’s favorite seasons to jump into the pages of a good book. Lucky us, there’s a wave of new titles rolling off the presses. Here are eight picture book picks for young readers. You’ll find bulldogs and poodles, a panda and a pilot, a dragon, a ninja, barefoot critters, a home on wheels, and an imaginary friend. Hold on to your little ones and jump in – the story’s fine!

Have You Seen My Dragon? by Steve Light, invites readers on a city prowl and counting expedition as they help a boy find his dragon somewhere in lower Manhattan. Detailed cityscapes drawn in mostly black and white provide an urban playground for young adventurers. Numbered maps on the end papers show the story’s route through the city and add more interactive appeal. Fun seek-and-find picture book. (Candlewick Press, 2014   ISBN: 978-0763666484)

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Literary Guide for Mordicai Gerstein’s “The Mountains of Tibet”

The Mountains of Tibet
by Mordicai Gerstein

Literature Guide: The Mountains of Tibet

An accomplished writer, illustrator, and animator; local author Mordicai Gerstein‘s books for children are moving, beautifully illustrated, and feature deep themes that children of all ages (and the adults in their lives) can relate to. In The Mountains of Tibet, Gerstein weaves a lovely story about kite-flying and the passing of time with a lesson about reincarnation and Buddhist culture. Not only do readers learn to think about what happens after death, but the story inspires them to think about the many different belief systems that exist in cultures all around the world – helping to open their eyes to the vast diversity amongst humans.

The Mountains of Tibet focuses on a young boy who lives in a small village, high up in Tibet’s mountains. His favorite activity is kite-flying, and he spends his childhood imagining all of the places in the world that he might travel to when he is older and dreaming of all of the adventures that he may have in other parts of the globe. Despite his dreams of travel, the boy grows up to be a man who remains at home in his small village, serving as a woodcutter amongst the community in which he spent his childhood. Eventually, once he has accomplished much and becomes an old man, he dies and finds himself posed to make an important decision. Finding himself in a strange place that is somewhere between the earth and the rest of the universe, the man is given a choice: to remain as part of the endless universe, or to choose his own reincarnation without knowledge of his previous life. The man chooses reincarnation and, in a heart warming twist, he revisits his own hometown and experiences another life there as a kite-flying young girl.

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Literary Guide for Jeanne Birdsall’s “The Penderwicks”

The Penderwicks
by Jeanne Birdsall

Literature Guide: The Penderwicks

Our first chapter book featured in this series, The Penderwicks – which takes place in the Berkshires – is a fantastic family summer read. Featuring a quirky cast of characters, a bit of mystery, and a healthy does of adventure and mystery, Jeanne Birdsall’s The Penderwicks is a story that can appeal to readers of all ages. While the accompanying literary guide is designed for use with 5th grade students (ages 10 and 11), the story is appropriate for young elementary students (though they may need some support with comprehension), yet can be enjoyed by tweens, teens, and adults – especially when done as a family read-aloud. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for William Steig’s “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble”

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
by William Steig

A Caldecott Medal-winning book, William Steig’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble has been well-loved by multiple generations of children. Published in 1969, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble seems timeless – the fable-like quality of the story paired with Steig’s simple illustrations have allowed the book to appeal to young readers for decades without the story losing its popularity as American culture evolved.

An excellent read for children who are early on in their elementary school careers, the story is about a young donkey named Sylvester and his discovery of a surprising pebble that grants wishes. Unfortunately for Sylvester, however, soon after his discovery of the pebble and its magical powers he encounters a lion, and wishes to be a rock so that he doesn’t have to be afraid. Of course, the pebble turns him into a rock and, as his rock-body has no arms, Sylvester drops the pebble – making him incapable of wishing himself back to being a donkey. Months pass, and his family and neighbors miss him terribly and search high and low for him. One day, his miserable parents decide to have a picnic in order to cheer up. In a serendipitous chain of events (the likes of which can only be found in children’s books), Sylvester’s parents happen upon the magic pebble and accidentally-on-purpose wish him back into their lives. Read the rest of this entry »

New York Times Summer Reading Contest for Teens Inspires Literacy via Current Affairs

New York Times Summer Reading Contest for Teens

For many teens, summer can be a whirlwind of activity – between outdoor explorations, visiting friends, working on hobby projects, and maybe some volunteer work or a part-time job, there often isn’t much free time left! However, many schools send students home with a list of books – some required, some suggested – that they are to read and fully digest during their break from classes. Adding some educational material to the summer isn’t a bad thing – though teens can be very busy, it’s also quite healthy for them to stimulate their intellectual curiosity. School lists can include everything from Fyodor Dostoevsky to Barbara Kingsolver, and are compiled with the students’ learning and growth in mind.

The New York Times is, for the fifth summer in a row, offering an additional way for teens to learn and grow through summer reading. However, instead of focusing on major literary works, the program uses the Times’ own content as “required” reading. The New York Times Summer Reading Contest asks teenagers to read at least one interesting news item per week, and to share a brief piece of writing about why the piece sparked their interest. Open to students ages 13-19, the contest allows for one entry per week – meaning that students are welcome to read as many pieces as they want, but that they must choose a single one to write their submission on. After the week has ended, one student opinion will be posted on the New York Times website!

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Literary Guide for Arthur Dorros’ “Abuela”

Abuela
by Arthur Dorros

Literature Guide: Abuela

Set in urban Manhattan, Arthur Dorros’ story Abuela combines magic, memories, and bilingual text to tell a beautiful and imaginative story about childhood, family, immigration, and Hispanic culture. Paired with beautiful images created by illustrator Elisa Kleven, Abuela is an excellent example of a bilingual and multicultural children’s book.

In the story, young Rosalba and her abuela (grandmother) are returning by bus from a trip to feed the birds. During the ride – perhaps inspired by recent interactions with feathered friends – Rosalba wonders what it would be like to fly, and to see the city from the sky. She and her grandmother go on a wonderful imaginary adventure, exploring some of Manhattan’s greatest sights from a new angle. They examine the shapes of clouds, pay a visit to the Statue of Liberty, and greet the rooftops from above. Alongside the events of Rosalba’s imaginary journey are stories that her grandmother tells of her life before she immigrated to New York. Inspired by Rosalba’s ideas, the stories teach Rosalba (and readers of the story) about her abuela’s cultural roots and what her life was like before she immigrated to New York City.

Abuela is a fantastic story to pair with studies of Hispanic culture, and presents families with an opportunity to learn some basic Spanish phrases together. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Esther Averill’s “The Fire Cat”

The Fire Cat
by Esther Averill

Sometimes, you just need a silly story.

And Esther Averill’s The Fire Cat is exactly that.

A Harper Collins I CAN READ book, and originally published in 1960, The Fire Cat tells the story of a spotted cat named Pickles, who has big paws and lots of trouble figuring out what to do in life. After bumbling around a bit, and receiving help from the wonderful Mrs. Goodkind, Pickles is eventually adopted by a fire department, and learns to be a fire cat! He uses his big paws to do all sorts of fire cat jobs, and grows into himself more and more the longer he stays at the fire house. Read the rest of this entry »

Innovative Library Summer Reading Programs Stimulate Learning

Holistic and collaborative approach to reading programs boosts child’s summer learning experience

Children are stimulated to learn more about science through reading fiction and non-fiction books with this year’s nationwide reading program, “Fizz, Boom, Read!”

Once school days come to an end, children’s free time becomes seemingly endless. From a youngster’s perspective, the summer reaches on forever – nine or ten weeks can feel like an eternity when it’s impossible to imagine all of the things that will occupy the time between now and September. In addition to camp, family vacations, and endless outdoor adventures (swimming especially!) is another summer tradition – public library summer reading programs!

In Massachusetts – and across the country – public libraries participate in the Collaborative Summer Library Program. Each year brings a new theme to the program, and libraries work to incorporate educational programs, celebrations of learning, and constant reading in order to provide a comprehensive summer reading program that not only encourages families to read together, but allows participants’ reading to be supported by educational activities that relate to the program’s theme. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Patricia Polacco’s “My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother”

My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother
by Patricia Polacco

Beloved children’s author and illustrator Patricia Polacco has written countless classics, covering everything from dyslexia to raising chickens. In My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother, Polacco shares a story of sibling rivalry infused with aspects of the Ukrainian culture in which she was raised. Set in Michigan on Polacco’s grandparents’ farm, the story follows Patricia through a variety of older-brother-related frustrations, mostly based in his habit of challenging her to contests that he always won. In the story, Patricia endures intense frustration and anger – the special kind unique to childhood. Eventually, Patricia beats her brother at something, but it involves riding the carnival merry-go-round for so long that she faints and falls off! Her determination to win the contest is obvious when her brother discovers what has happened, and their relationship is forever changed.

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Literary Guide for Elly Mackay’s “If You Hold a Seed”

If You Hold a Seed
by Elly Mackay

Looking for ways to enhance you family reading time? Hilltown Families has a wealth of resources for supporting families with kids of all ages in expanding the stories that they read together into deeper learning experiences.

Our 2014 Summer Reading Resource series will be featured here on Hilltown Families every week throughout the summer, sharing downloadable guides to children’s literature written by graduate students in the Integrated Learning teacher preparation program at Antioch University New England. Each literary guide pairs a featured book with suggestions for ways to help children expand their thinking, create connections to the text, and allow their literacy skills to grow. These guides contain outlines with discussion topics, critical thinking questions, and suggestions for many other activities that are designed for use in classrooms but can very easily be adapted for supplemental education use at home. Weekly featured titles will cover a wide variety of themes, lengths, and levels of difficulty – meaning there’s something for every family, and for every reader! Some are classics and some are lesser-known gems, but all of the books present lots of potential for helping families use their reading as a foundation for further learning.

The books included in the series include both picture and chapter books, and cover all of the ages and developmental capacities typically found in grades K-5. Check back weekly for a new guide, or check out the resources offered in our 2013 series.

The first guide in this summer’s series is Canadian author/illustrator Elly Mackay’s book, If You Hold a Seed.

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Google Lit Trips Puts Literary Characters Back on the Map

Computer program supports and deepens family-friendly literary experiences; encourages sense of place

When springtime showers nix outdoor exploration and playtime, what are adventure-hungry families to do? Check out Google Lit Trips, a computer-based resource that pairs Google Maps with the travels taken by characters in hundreds of great books for readers of all ages and abilities. Ranging in theme and age group appeal from Mem Fox’s classic picture books to a nonfiction chronicle of life in Sudan, Google Lit trips offers virtual explorations to pair with curiosity about numerous themes and geographic locations.

Using Google Maps’ satellite and street view functions, each Google Lit Trip traces the path followed by characters in a story. Moving along the route traveled can help students to visualize the character’s journey, gain perspective on the distance traveled, and examine the landscape in which each portion of the story took place. The real-life images help to enhance readers’ understanding of the story’s setting, and may help them to better understand the descriptive language that an author used to explain where the characters traveled. Additionally, exploring a Lit Trip can help students develop and practice map skills and sense of direction. While a route guided by words may take shape in a reader’s mind, they may not apply what they know about spatial relationships and maps to what they imagine. However, by imagining a character’s journey while following a map, readers can work on solidifying concepts as basic as north and south, or even the more complex geography of far away places and spaces.

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Open Sesame: Craft & Storytelling Urge Us to Jump Into This Graphic Novel

This One Summer: A New Graphic Novel For Young Adults

Rose has returned to the summer cottage at Awago Beach, the special get-a-way her family takes every year. Her summer friend Windy is at the beach too. Rose’s memories of the cottage are happy, treasured times, but this summer feels different. Rose wants to watch horror movies instead of cartoons, she’s crushing on the teenage boy at the general store, and some of Windy’s childish habits are starting to get on her nerves. Plus her parents’ fighting is making their special retreat full of tension and sorrow.

This One Summer, the new graphic novel by cousins Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, serves up an emotionally drawn story about change, friendship, and family. From the onset, readers are invited to jump right in, like the cover illustration of the two girls jumping into the water. And what readers may notice first is the color. Shades of blue, ranging from light gray to dark purple, are reminiscent of vintage manga and evoke a feeling of nostalgia. The blue is soft, which makes it easy to sink into the story’s experience, but it’s also somber and serious, which deepens the story’s emotional tug.

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100+ Science Books to Support STEM Learning at Home & in the Classroom

Science Books to Support Self-Directed Learning & Interests

Experience is always the best teacher – and this is especially true for children! However, when kids are eager to learn about a topic, the experiences available might leave some space for supplementation. After you’ve explored the woods, caught critters, messed about with materials, and exercised all five of your senses together, it might be time to turn to print materials in order to help kids add specific language and detail to their understanding of scientific topics. And, in addition to being filled with lots of useful and fascinating information, science-themed books give children valuable practice reading and interpreting non-fiction material – a skill that will allow them to develop strong skills for self-teaching and answering their own questions.

Whatever topic children are learning about, there are age- and reading level-appropriate materials available. And, thanks to the creativity of children’s authors and illustrators, they’re not only informative but engaging and filled with photographs, diagrams, drawings, and other visuals that children in comprehending text. Read the rest of this entry »

Poem-Mobiles: Bizarre Cars & Humorous Rhymes

Crazy Car Poems

In a nod to National Poetry Month and to my youngest, an April baby who loves things that go, here is a new book filled with humorous rhymes and fantastically bizarre cars. Poem-mobiles: Crazy Car Poems is the work of the 2011-2013 US Children’s Poet Laureate, J. Patrick Lewis, and award-winning children’s poet, Douglas Florian. Together, they have created a collection of futuristic automobiles, from the Giant Bookmobile of Tomorrow and the Caterpillar Cab to the Eel-ectric Car and The Sloppy-Floppy-Nonstop-Jalopy, which will have readers wheeling with delight. The poems, cast in short lines, simple language, and clean rhymes, are highly accessible, great for reading aloud, and full of clever puns. Like the “Bathtub Car,” “With hot-water heating/ And porcelain seating,/ The bathtub is speeding – /A white limousine./ That’s sudsy with bubbles./ Forget your car troubles./ Its purpose? It doubles/ By keeping you clean!.”  Read the rest of this entry »

A Flock of New Bird Books Take Flight

A Flock of New Bird Books Take Flight

Standing in the middle of Northampton, the day before spring equinox, I looked up at the sky just as a flock of geese were veering north. The forecast may have called for freezing rain and snow, but the geese knew otherwise. They knew winter was sinking, and spring was most certainly on the rise. I love birds for that. Their return to our feeders, their songs weaving through newly budded branches, their nests taking shape under the eaves of our porch – are all signs of spring. And this year, to our delight, a flock of new bird books has landed in our reading repertoire just as the first robins have returned to our yard. A perfect complement to bird watching, here are seven new bird books to share with your own little peeps.

Mama Built A Little Nest, written by Jennifer Ward and illustrated by Steve Jenkins, is just right for the youngest bird enthusiasts. Combining a playful four-line poem with a few lines of scientific facts, the picture book introduces a specific bird and the type of nest they make for their young. Includes the weaver bird, hummingbird, penguin, falcon, woodpecker, and more. A great creative nonfiction pick for wee learners.

  • Mama Built A Little Nest written by Jennifer Ward and illustrated by Steve Jenkins. Published by Beach Lane Books, 2014. ISBN: 978-1442421165

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New Children’s Book Highlights the Pioneer Valley

Night Night Valley
Children’s Picture Book Highlights the Pioneer Valley

Night Night Valley is a community-based picture book that encourages both literacy and community engagement.

If you’re raising kids in western Massachusetts, Night Night Valley, a sweet children’s book based in and around the Pioneer Valley, is a must-read for your little ones at bedtime.  Written by Jennifer S. Page and illustrated by Rachel A. Chapman (both of Amherst, MA), Night Night Valley travels through our local landscape as night time arrives.  Your children will recognize many of the water-color illustrations that depict life in western Massachusetts.

Local food is highly valued by many families, and the book begins with a nod to our many farmers’ markets and open areas for picnicking. Subtle referencing to the Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens and the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art are made with illustrations of butterflies and “hungry caterpillars.”  Local parks like Look Park, Groff Park and Holyoke Heritage State Park will peak your child’s interests with recognition and encouragement to begin the journey towards sleep.

“The Kids at Look Park have all gone to bed. ‘We had so much fun on the train ride,’ they said.”

And if your child hasn’t yet made a visit to these locations, they have possibly seen the many landmarks this delightful bedtime story references, like Mt. Pollux, the Connecticut River, downtown Amherst & Northampton, and apple orchards.

“Downtown is so quiet, no traffic right now. The farmer has said good night to his plow.”

  • Night Night Valley. Written by Jennifer S. Page and illustrated by Rachel A. Chapman. Published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; Lrg edition (February 14, 2014). 28 pp. ISBN: 9781480079908

 

Children’s Literature & Resources that Support Math

Children’s Literature Can Make Math Fun!

Children’s literature can make math accessible and fun!

It seems as if the connections between children’s literature and topics within many academic disciplines are endless. Captivating stories introduce fascinating historical eras, animal tales for young readers share basic concepts of biology, and stories of community teach children about interacting with new people and building relationships. However, somewhat elusive within children’s literature are math concepts. Perhaps the most challenging academic subject to integrate smoothly into your family’s everyday life, math has often been taught through memorization and drilling rather than through curiosity-driven exploration. However, despite it’s elusiveness, math is very much present within children’s literature, and there are numerous resources to support families in exploring math together… and making it fun!

We asked Beryl Hoffman, assistant professor of Computer and Information Technology at Elms College in Chicopee, and a homeschooling mom living in Florence, what children’s literature she would recommend for families wanting to supplement learning (and a love) of math at home.  She had several great picture books to recommend for children that playfully explore math concepts within a story… Read the rest of this entry »

Black History Month: Six Featured New Titles Bring History Alive

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Five New Picks for Kids and One Just for Grown-Ups

In honor of Black History Month, I’ve selected five new kids’ books that bring history alive. Courageous individuals, unsung heroes, and influential, but little-known, events, reach through pages of text, photos, art, and poetry, and connect young readers to the struggles and achievements of the civil rights movement. And as a special addition this month, I have a book recommendation just for grown-ups, because I can’t help spreading the word about a wonderfully outrageous book related to abolitionist John Brown.

Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up To Become Malcolm X, written by his daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, and illustrated by AG Ford, tells the story of Malcolm’s boyhood, with a special focus on his parents, Earl and Louise Little, who raised their children with love and “unstoppable optimism and faith.” The enchanted world of his mother’s garden and the stirring speeches of his father help shape Malcolm in his early years. When his father dies and Malcolm and his siblings become wards of the state, his upbringing helps forge an indomitable self-reliance, which carries him through difficult times, and eventually helps him become a zealous leader of equal rights. Lots of emotionally wrought text and rich-hued oil paintings throughout the book’s 48 pages create an intimate portrait of Malcolm’s boyhood. A good read for middle graders and beyond.

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Three Picture Books for the Year of the Horse

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Galloping into 2014: Three Picture Books for the Year of the Horse

As the Year of the Water Snake slithers away, the Lucky Chinese Year of the Wood Horse comes galloping in with the promise of victories, adventure, travel, fiery energy, decisive action, good fortune, and free-spirited independence. In searching for books to coincide with the marking of the new year, I discovered these three beautiful picture books that portray ancient China through folktale and fantasy and feature magnificent, powerful horses.

The Race for the Chinese Zodiac

The Race for the Chinese Zodiac comes to us by way of Australia, where it was first published in 2011. Candlewick released it here in the states this past November, perfectly timed for the lead up to Chinese New Year. Author Gabrielle Wang retells the ancient story of the race to become one of the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac. When the Jade Emperor promises to name a year after the first twelve winners to cross the river, thirteen different animals accept the challenge. Each chooses their own method of crossing the river from swimming and flying to raft-building and log-floating. And each reveals their personality traits through competitive spirit, from being kind and supportive to selfish and deceitful.  The easy pacing and large print make for a good story time. And illustrations reminiscent of ancient China give the book visual appeal. Illustrator Sally Rippin used traditional Chinese ink on watercolor paper and also created linocut “chops,” or stamps, showing the Chinese character for each animal. Designer Regine Abos digitally dropped in the texture and color behind Rippin’s hand rendered illustrations to create a modernized vintage look.  Includes additional annotations on the zodiac years and symbols.

  • The Race for the Chinese Zodiac written by Gabrielle Wang, illustrated by Sally Rippin, with design by Regine Abos. Published by Candlewick, 2013. ISBN: 978-0763667788

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HFVS Underground Railroad Episode (Podcast/Radio Show)

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Hilltown Family Variety Show
Underground Railroad Episode

WXOJ LP – 103.3 FM – Valley Free Radio
Northampton, MA

Featured Video: “Follow the Drinking Gourd.” According to American folklore, this song was a “musical” map which led fugitive slaves north to freedom. For a history of the song, see www.followthedrinkinggourd.org.


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Discover the Songs: Lyrics & History

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Four Picture Books to Capture the Magic of Snow

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Snowflakes Ahead!

“It’s snowflaking!” my youngest shouts every time the snow flies. There is such joy and wonder in his simple expression that I can’t help but turn my face to the sky to catch some of that magic. It’s the same magic that has called all my kids outside, bright and early, after that first snowfall, still in their jammies and wild bedhead, just to get their mittened hands on snow, to catch flakes on their tongue, to grab a sled and go barreling down the hill. Four new picture books capture a bit of that snowflake magic – the quiet, the impermanence, the beauty, the thrill. So when your rosy-cheeked children have returned from a world of winter white, have donned dry socks and are nestled in the warmth of family, share a story of snow. And remember, spring is just a season away.

Big Snow

Open SesameIn Big Snow, David awaits the coming of a winter storm, hoping for the first big snow of the season. He tries to help his mother with holiday housecleaning, but each task reminds him of snow, from the flour that goes into the cookie dough, to the suds in the bathtub, to the crisp, white sheets. His excited anticipation keeps drawing him outside to check the skies. When his mother tells him to take a nap, David dreams of a giant blizzard, with snow drifts piling up in the living room. He wakes to his Dad’s footfalls and the real storm in full swing. The straight-forward storyline and soft watercolor illustrations portray a tender and warm family life, while capturing the excitement and anticipation of the first big snow.

Big Snow written and illustrated by Jonathan Bean. Published by Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2013. ISBN: 978-0-374-30696-0

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Gratitudes and Graces: Book of Poetry, Prayers, & Songs of Thanks

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

New Book Serves Up Gratitudes and Graces

Master Eckhart, who died almost seven hundred years ago said, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you,’ it will be enough.” – From Giving Thanks: Poems, Prayers, and Praise Songs of Thanksgiving

Giving Thanks: Poems, Prayers, and Praise Songs of Thanksgiving is the newest collaboration between Katherine Paterson and Pamela Dalton. Paterson, a Newberry Medalist and author of some of the most beloved children’s books, including Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved, selected over 50 poems, prayers, and praise songs that reflect on the act of giving thanks.

The book is divided into four sections – “Gather Round The Table,” “A Celebration of Life,” “The Spirit Within,” and “Circle of Community” – and each section begins with Paterson’s personal reflections on being thankful. Universal principles of gratitude and joy are served up from across cultural and religious traditions, pulled from songs and spirituals, and echoed in the voices of people through the ages. A Vietnamese farmers’ prayer, an ancient haiku, a Shaker song, a Pueblo blessing, poems from Emily Dickinson and Wendell Berry, the words of Hildegard of Bingen and Martin Luther King Jr., are just some of the nuggets Paterson offers… Read the rest of this entry »

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