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Novelist: A Cure for the Reading Funk

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I have been in a reading funk lately. Even as a librarian, I find myself having a hard time connecting with that just right book.  Usually my motto is “So Many Books-so little time.”

Life feels stressful at present and I want pure escapism.  Perhaps I’ve worked so hard reading children’s books for this blog that I haven’t found time to read for  me.  Usually when I walk into a library, I feel like a kid in a candy store.  But sometimes, I feel overwhelmed by the choices.  My reading life has never fit in to simple categories.

One great cure for the reading funk is the Novelist Online Database.  It’s available on most public library’s webpages.  Library employees will be happy to share this resource with you.  Novelist recommends books for adults, teens and children. It links back to the library catalog so you can reserve the book

Novelist can…

  • help you locate all the books by your favorite author.
  • provide read-alikes for popular authors and titles
  • provide genre lists for countless interests.  (There are 8 themed lists for teen graphic novels and 13 themed lists for adult mysteries.)
  • locate a book with a particular setting.
  • find books in series
  • find informational as well as fiction books.

Once you locate a book, there are book reviews, age range, lexile levels and subject headings.  I have been using Novelist and Novelist K-8 for years. I have yet to tap into to all the resources available.

Novelist is a great tool for teachers and homeschoolers.  It’s easy to find books that supplement the curriculum.  Historical fiction can be a great way to help students grasp history.  Parents can also use Novelist to help children explore their interests. This database has evolved over time to meet the changing needs of its users.

Novelist is as its best recommending books to upper elementary, teens and adults. The upper elementary years  can be a golden age of reading. .  During this time, children begin getting more specific in their reading choices. If we want children to enjoy reading, we need to offer them lots of choices. There will be more competition for entertainment as children reach their teens.   Finding the right books for children and teens is a key ingredient in creating lifelong readers.  Novelist is a great tool in this process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Books by Beverly Cleary

April 12, 2016  was Beverly Cleary’s 100th birthday.  Here are a few of the books that she has written:

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Otis loves to stir up excitement at school.  He especially loves to pick on Ellen Tebbits, perhaps because she is so neat, clean and well behaved.

When Otis goes too far, Ellen and her best friend, Augustine, seek revenge.  Will Otis get what he deserves?

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When Keith’s  family stays at an old hotel, Keith meets a talking mouse who rides his toy motorcycle.  Ralph S. Mouse becomes a hero for Keith and his family.

Other books about Ralph’s adventures are Runaway Ralph and Ralph S. Mouse.

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Henry Huggins wants to do something important, like Scooter, the seventh grader on his street, who delivers papers.  Getting a paper route isn’t as easy as it looks, especially when you show up for the interview, hiding four kittens in your sweatshirt.

Henry is quite enterprising and works hard to achieve his ambitions, even when that pesky Ramona gets in his way.

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This is the first book where Ramona emerges as the main character.  Although this book is written from a kindergartner’s perspective, the audience for this book will be older children who will find Ramona’s antics amusing .  Other Ramona books are Ramona and Her Mother, Ramona and Her Father, Ramona the Brave, and Ramona Quimby, Age 8.

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Leigh Botts is the new kid in town.  His parents have recently separated and someone keeps stealing his lunch. Leigh shares his daily troubles with his favorite author, Mr. Henshaw.

This is a very different book for Beverly Cleary.  It received high critical acclaim including the 1984 Newbery Medal.

 

 

 

 


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Happy 100th Birthday Beverly Cleary!

(April 12)  Today is Beverly Cleary’s 100th Birthday!

In case you haven’t heard, Beverly Cleary is the author of over 40 children’s books. including the popular Ramona and Ralph S. Mouse books. These books are still popular in 2016.  Cleary seemed quite spunky when she was interviewed by Jenna Bush Hager on the Today Show last month. http://www.today.com/parents/99-author-beverly-cleary-beloved-generations-readers-t82256

I was first introduced to Beverly Cleary’s books by my childhood buddy, Nancy Clements. Nancy was a year and a half older than me and  introduced me to many things.  She first told me about Otis Spofford, a modern day Tom Sawyer who was always picking on Ellen Tebbits because she was so neat and clean and well behaved.  We were horrified when Otis cut Ellen’s hair.  We played games where we alternated being the “evil” Otis and his favorite target, sweet well-behaved Ellen.

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After Otis and Ellen, I read all the Henry Huggins books.  Henry was a little nicer than Otis, but he always found himself in trouble.  Ramona Quimby began as a fairly minor character in the Henry Huggins series.  She’s barely mentioned in Henry Huggins.  When my fifth grade teacher at Walter Bickett, Mrs. Cason, read  Henry and the Paper Route, we all howled at Ramona’s antics as she created havoc in Henry’s life.  So it isn’t surprising that she got her own series.

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Ramona seems to be Cleary’s most endearing character.  She’s always a little baffled by the world around her.  Why won’t her kindergarten teacher tell her how Mike Mulligan used the bathroom?    Why  can’t she be a paper boy like Henry Huggins?

CCF24032012_00011  Cleary’s books are timeless.   In the later Ramona books, she deals with some heavy issues when her father loses his job and her favorite Aunt Beatrice gets married.  Ramona’s struggles are seen from a childhood perspective. They don’t go out to eat anymore and the adults are grumpier than usual.

Just as Otis Spofford hated the goody two shoes children in his basil reader,  Beverly Cleary had no use for moralistic literature:

 I was so annoyed with the books in my childhood, because children always learned to be ‘better’ children and, in my experience, they didn’t. They just grew, and so I started Ramona… and she has never reformed. [She’s] really not a naughty child, in spite of the title Ramona the Pest. Her intentions are good, but she has a lot of imagination, and things sometimes don’t turn out the  way she expected.

 

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More Read Alouds

 Here are some more great books for reading aloud to students in K-3:

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Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann

Officer Buckle visits schools and talks to students about safety.   His talks bore the students until he gets Gloria, a police dog to accompany him.  When Officer Buckle goes alone, the  children all fall asleep   When Gloria goes alone, she falls asleep on stage. Afterward, there are many accidents.

Officer Buckle and Gloria  return with the best safety tip #101- Always stick with your buddy. This book received the 1996  Caldecott Medal.

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 Don’t Laugh Joe by Keiko Kaska

 Joe the Possum is always giggling. He  can’t seem to master the art of playing dead, not even for his favorite dessert, a bug pie.   Then one day a hungry bear shows up…Kasza even manages to make possums look cute.

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Flight School by Lita Judge

Penguin wants to fly more than anything.   So he enrolls in flight school.  After practicing for weeks with no success; penguin is brokenhearted  until his teacher, Flamingo, has a brilliant idea that just might work.

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 This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers

Wilfred loves his pet moose. even though Marcel does follow rule #4 very well-Don’t make too much noise while Wilfred plays his record collection or rule #7-Go whichever way Wilfred wants to go.

One day on a long walk, Wilfred makes a terrible discovery,  Someone else thinks she owns the moose.  What will Wilfred do now?

 

 

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Why Audiobooks?

About 10 years ago,  I fell in love with audiobooks.  I felt torn because I had adult books I wanted to read and prize winning children’s books that also deserved my attention.  Audiobooks became part of the solution!   I began looking forward to my time in the car.

Audiobooks can be enjoyed by the whole family. Consider taking them along on your next road trip. For this post, I have selected audiobooks that families can enjoy listening to together.

On the Reading Rockets Website, Denise Johnson lists these benefits of listening to audiobooks.

  • Introduce students to books above their reading level
  • Model good interpretive reading
  • Teach critical listening
  • Highlight the humor in books
  • Introduce new genres that students might not otherwise consider
  • Introduce new vocabulary or difficult proper names or locales
  • Sidestep unfamiliar dialects or accents, Old English, and old-fashioned literary styles
  • Provide a read-aloud model
  • Provide a bridge to important topics of discussion for parents and children who can listen together while commuting to sporting events, music lessons, or on vacations
  • Recapture “the essence and the delights of hearing stories beautifully told by extraordinarily talented storytellers” (Baskin & Harris, 1995, p. 376)http://www.readingrockets.org/article/benefits-audiobooks-all-readers

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The Harry Potter books are among other things, hilarious, but never more so when they are narrated by Jim Dale who creates over 200 voices and special effects for all the wizards, muggles, goblins and house elfs that pass through Hogwarts.  The Harry Potter volumes are among the top selling audiobooks of all time.  Children who have already read these books will notice things they missed.

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Country music singer and actor, Lyle Lovett, brings  Kathi Appelt’s adventure tale, The True Blue Scouts of Sugarman Swamp to life.  Two raccoon scouts, Bingo and J’miah are trained to wake the Sugarman, a Yeti like creature, in the event of trouble.  And trouble is coming!  Jaeger Stitch, world-class alligator wrestler, plans to turn the peaceful swamp into to the world’s tackiest theme park. To make matters worse, a gang of feral hogs are headed  toward the swamp.   Lovett has the perfect southern drawl. This story will appeal to a wide range of ages.

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I raved over Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan’s Echo in an earlier post. (https://librarianlou.wordpress.com/2016/03/15/for-music-and-history-lovers-2/) This recording helps complete the book.  The harmonica pieces are printed in each section, but its not the same as hearing the music which will be more familiar to  parents than their children.

In the section set in Nazi Germany, the heavy but clear German accents are vital in creating the characters of evil Nazi leaders as well as the kind voices of Frederich’s father and uncle.  Dialogue that looks confusing in print will be clearer in the audio version.  Echo won the 2016 Newbery Honor Award and the audiobook won one of two 2016 Odyssey Awards for outstanding productions in children’s recordings.

Don’t let the costs of audiobooks discourage you.  Many are available at the public library. Services like Audible are also making these books more accessible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Of Hamsters and Princesses

harriettheinvinciblePrincess Harriett Hambone isn’t your typical princess, even for a hamster. She doesn’t like getting all dressed up and hanging around the palace. She dislikes her etiquette lessons. She doesn’t want to be sad or melancholy like other princesses. She loves ridiing her quail, Mumsey, and pretending to slay dragons.

Harriet’s parents can’t help but be a little overprotective. They know that their daughter is under the curse of the wicked fairy, Ratshade (listed third on Fairy-God Mouse Today’s Most Wicked List.)

Ratshade showed up uninvited to baby Harriet’s christening party and cast a spell. On her 12th birthday, Harriet will prick her finger on a hamster wheel and fall into a deep sleep.  There are three conditions:

  • Harriet will not need food or water while asleep.
  • She will not need to use the bathroom.
  • The kiss of a prince will wake her.

Harriet’s parents tell her about the spell on her tenth birthday. Harriet, being the optimist that she is, concludes that she now has two years to be invincible.   She celebrates by jumping off the highest tower in the castle into the moat, knowing that nothing can happen to her until she turns twelve.

And so the next two years bring glorious adventures for Harriett and Mumsey as they go cliff diving, dragon jousting and hunting Ogrecats. She rescues ” helpless maidens from terrible dragons and helpless dragons from terrible princesses”. Harriet develops quite the reputation in the kingdom making it difficult for her parents to line up a prince to rescue her.

When the evil Ratshade shows up on Harriet’s twelth birthday,  Harriet plans a counter attack with disastrous results. All 117 occupants of the palace are asleep, Harriet must find a way to reverse the spell.

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Harriet the Invincible is the first book in a new series by Ursula Vernon of Dragonbreath fame. With its many cartoon pictures and large font, it makes an excellent early chapter book. There is enough sophisticated humor that upper elementary students will also enjoy this fairy tale parody. Boys too will also enjoy stories about the nonconformist princess. It has more pictures and fewer words than the Dragonbreath books.

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The second book in this series Of Mice and Magic will be published on March 15.

 

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Encouraging Empathy in Children

Most children and adults are scared of the severely handicapped.  We feel awkward, we don’t know what to say.  We may assume a person is not intelligent because of their appearance.

Out of My  Mind by Sharon Draper is another book that encourages children to empathize with others.  (See Empathy and Reading)  Both Absolutely Almost and Rain Reign are about children with learning problems.  Children like Albie and Rose could be among your child’s classmates.

Melody is severely disabled. She is  unable to walk, talk or feed herself. She has spent most of her time in special education class. Most people have trouble seeing beyond her twisted body and involuntary movements to recognize that she is very intelligent and full of personality.  We see the world through Melody’s eyes.  .

Melody has struggled  with limited communication.  For most of her life, she had many things she wanted to say but no way to say them.    When Melody accidently knocked over the goldfish bowl, she was helpless to let anyone know that her pet is in trouble.

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A new computer with  special  features begins to change that.  She is able to store more vocabulary and express herself through the computer’s voice.  She can now have conversations with other students. But it’s  the school quiz bowl that allows her to shine.

There are children who make fun of Melody.  They don’t seem to understand that she understands them completely. Other  classmates, Rose and Connor, are friendly but awkward.  When she goes to a celebration dinner for the quiz bowl team, she still has to be fed by her parents.

Students on the  Quiz Bowl team become envious when a TV News Station focuses its interview on Melody.  She encounters major disappointment when she is not notified of a last minute flight change and gets left behind in the national competition.

This is a powerful book.  Melody deals with each day’s problems, rarely expressing self pity.  She doesn’t compare her life to her classmates.  She experiences sadness and rejection but that never defines her.  She deals with her disappointment with her teammates in ways that earn their respect.

This book is so well written that it is difficult to do it justice in a review.  Sharon Draper, the author, also has a severely handicapped daughter.  She did not base Melody’s character on her daughter, instead she creates a unique individual.

Draper talks more about her novel on her website:   Sharon Draper on “Out of My Mind”