The Rules of Summer

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“What did you learn this summer?” I asked my daughter on one of the last evenings before school started.  Her quick reply was her newest accomplishment: riding a bicycle without training wheels.  Her pride was still fresh, and I could hear it in her voice.  I hugged her close with a smile.

This summer has been quieter than last.  Mostly we’ve spent our summer peeking out the windows to check on our daughter as she played outside with the neighborhood kids.  Sometimes I sat outside on the front steps with a book as the kids played.  I listened to their games, stories, and ideas with interest as I flashed back to summers I spent with a pack of neighborhood kids.

I always seemed to be one of the oldest of the group, and I was the oldest child in my family as well.  I imagine my role wasn’t dissimilar from the older boy in The Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan who imparts the wisdom of his years to a younger child, including rules like “Never leave one red sock on the clothesline” and “Never be late for a parade.”  The art is surreal and sometimes ominous, revealing the dark parts of childhood relationships along with the sublime.

I don’t remember any of the misinformation I passed down to the younger kids (whether mistaken or purposeful), but it seems it is part of childhood to “learn” some not quite right ideas from those who come before us.  Tan renders that so beautifully in his book; I think most adult readers will find something to jog a memory of childhood summers–perhaps a rule or idea from an older sibling that seemed true at the time but now is as fantastic as some of the scenes from the book.

Though my daughter is an only child surrounded by same-aged kids on our block, she doesn’t completely miss out on this universal experience.  She spends a lot of time with her eight-year-old aunt, who told her never, ever to touch a fire hydrant.  They are super hot from all the fire inside.  You have to be careful.

It seems some things never change.

 

Read more about The Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan:

The book is also available as an app, and there is a teacher’s guide.

 

Friday Find: Brains On!

brainson“Wait! Pause it!”

We were listening to an episode of Brains On!, and my six year old could barely hold in her comments and questions.  I let her choose among the recent episodes, and she chose Is There Life on Other Planets? which opened with an excerpt from a science fiction story about aliens written by a kid, not too much older than my daughter.

“So this is a real story written by a real kid?” was her first question.  Then we had to go to the Brains On! web site to see the young author’s alien drawings.

Astrocat_001That was only the beginning  of the speculation and discussion that the episode sparked in her.  It wasn’t just the day we listened to it, either.  The ideas stuck with her enough to bring it up again and again.  We explored more about space in Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space, which has a great spread with speculative aliens that my daughter loved.

We will definitely be listening to more of Brains On! And catching up on past episodes.  I love that it features kids asking real kid questions, and I am excited to explore more science with my daughter.

Since I am always thinking about books, I already have a few books in mind for some of the other episodes:

  • For Water, Water Everywhere we will check out Did a Dinosaur Drink this Water by Robert Wells and Let’s Drink Some Water by Ruth Walton.
  • The Soil–Can You Dig It episode fits well with A Handful of Dirt by Raymond Bial.
  • In How Do You Catch a Cold? there is talk of sneezes; Explore more in Sneeze! by Alexandra Siy.
  • If you listen to Is There Life on Other Planets? with kids a bit older than my six year old, you can direct them to The Alien Hunter’s Handbook by Mark Brake for more about what life is and how to find it.

Happy listening, reading, and exploring!

Interested in past Friday Finds posts? Click here

Reading while waiting

IMG_0178.JPGI’ve had a bit of extra reading time over the past couple of days as I’ve mostly been stuck in a jury waiting room.  I didn’t really think about my reading choice for the first day of jury duty; I just grabbed a book from my library stack.  How was I to know that I’d grabbed a road trip novel that typifies a wandering spirit on a day when I was confined to an underground room?  Despite the circumstances, I did enjoy the story.  And I had plenty of time to read it. ;)

Let’s Get Lost had several elements that I tend to like in a book.  It was a feel-good story of self discovery with a little bit of romance.  Not to mention a connection to the Twin Cities and references to music I like.

To celebrate a cute book and getting through my first two days of jury duty, I thought I’d share a musical connection to the book.  Here is Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Oh Comely,” which has a small but significant place in the story:

As a side note, when I got home from my day of jury duty during which I finished this book, my partner had Neutral Milk Hotel playing.  Weird, right?  I bring this up because I just read a book that focused on coincidences, and I’m seeing them everywhere these days.  If feel-good road trip romances aren’t your thing, maybe the thought-provoking suspense of She is Not Invisible is more your style.

Either way, don’t forget your book if you have jury duty.

 

On the week’s events

SecretHum_cover_FINALIt has been a long and difficult week for many people.  My news feed for the past week has been full of difficult topics–stuff that we don’t often want to talk about.  Mental illness, suicide, race relations, violence.  A lot of people seem to be feeling raw and angry over these things.  I don’t blame them.  Parts of me are raw and angry too.

This week I read The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer.  It is a middle grade novel about a girl who is in her own difficult spot.  After years of living a here-and-there life with her mother, Grace is grieving her mother’s loss and trying to figure out where she belongs now.  It is a lovely story about grief and identity that made me tear up several times. Mostly I felt like the novel was about hope.

Whenever Grace had to start at a new school after yet another move, her mother would tell her, “You can do this.  You are brave, and you are loved.”  I want to repeat those words to so many people right now.

You are brave.

You are loved.

I can’t change the world with those words, but perhaps if we keep talking and keep changing our own small worlds, things will get better.

Trends in Teen Fiction

A couple of weeks ago, a librarian colleague asked for some input on the trends in teen fiction for the year. Since I am getting ready for my team’s big Best New Titles Booktalk this fall, I have been knee deep in teen fiction.  Here’s what I’m seeing:

  • wewereliarsSecrets, Lies, and Unreliable NarratorsWe Were Liars has been one of the most anticipated and talked about titles this year, but it isn’t the only one that will keep you guessing.  Just a quick scan of the ARCs on my desk shows Little Blue Lies by Chris Lynch and Little White Lies by Katie Dale.  There are secrets in We are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt and What We Hide by Marthe Jocelyn.
  • Fish Out of Water – I have a small running list of teen fiction on this theme, and I’ve added three books to it already this year: Wild by Alex Mallory, Searching for Sky by Jillian Cantor, and Starbird Murphy and the World Outside by Karen Finneyfrock.
  • Multiple Perspectives – Of course there are the dual perspective romances following the popularity of Eleanor & Park, but there are also books that use multiple narrators to tell the story, like The Art of Secrets by James Klise, The Truth about Alice by Jennifer Mathieu, and A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall for example.

I’ve also seen at least three teen novels in 2014 or early 2015 that are about the rapture, which strikes me as an odd little mini trend.  That said, I did like the two rapture books I’ve read so far.  I’ll be curious to see what my colleagues come up with for #YAlittrends.  Watch the Teen Librarian’s Toolbox for updates.

A Visit to Clifford’s World

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Everyone knows Clifford the Big Red Dog.  He has been around for over 50 years–first as a very popular series of picture books and then as a television show.  Now he’s an interactive museum exhibit too.

This exhibit, designed by the Minnesota Children’s Museum, happens to be at my old library (the one I grew up going to) for the summer, and we stopped there briefly when we visited recently. My six-year-old could have played for hours in Clifford’s World just like she has in the Our World exhibit at the MN Children’s Museum.  She served us lunch at the restaurant (while I pointed out the sign that talked about teamwork) and delivered mail all around Birdwell Island (which gave me the opportunity to point out the other signs about being kind, playing fair, and more).

clifford1It’s hard not to like Clifford.  He always has good intentions even if things don’t always go right the first time.  He might be a lot bigger than the preschoolers who love him, but he’s not so different from them.

The exhibit will be back in Minnesota in September at the Rochester location of the MN Children’s Museum and in the Twin Cities in October.  It’s well worth your time if you have a young Clifford fan in your family who would enjoy exploring Birdwell Island and seeing a nine foot tall Clifford statue up close.

The words you’re not supposed to say

Most of us learn from a pretty young age that there are good words and bad words.  The “bad words” might be hidden from us at first, but eventually someone slips.  Probably while driving.  Or maybe a big kid shares them at school.  Eventually they come out from the shadows, and parents freak out.  Or at least, it seems like most parents do.  I don’t.

Frankly, I don’t swear very much myself.  But I know that other people do, and I don’t expect that I can keep such words hidden from my daughter for long.  Well, in all honesty, I haven’t even tried to keep them from her.  I shrug when my child-free friends apologize for dropping a “bad word” in front of my six-year-old.  Sometimes I’ll even say I’m less concerned about those words than I am the words that hurt people’s feelings.  If any words are bad, it’s the hurtful ones.

Maybe that sounds like some kind of hippie-tastic idealism, but this article echoes my opinion on it pretty well, and I have no doubt that my daughter, a word lover from a very young age, will continue to expand her vocabulary to include all sorts of words, inappropriate and otherwise.  From the article:

“Obviously, Shawn and I don’t want Gracie to walk up to her kindergarten teacher and ask where the bleep she can put her bleeping backpack. But we’re unconvinced that, say, when she gets to high school, she should get grounded for describing a bad day to us with words that help her to express herself.

Hopefully, Shawn and I will instill an expansive vocabulary and love of words in our daughter so that she won’t often need to resort to swearing.”

Turns out, there’s a picture book for this very situation (Isn’t there always?): The Very Inappropriate Word by Jim Tobin.   When Michael learns a new word on the school bus–never used in the book–he loves using it.  He loves words in general, and this one seems especially good.  How does his teacher handle the situation when the word gets around the classroom?  Some kind of punishment?  Washing his mouth out with soap?  Nope.  She send him to the library to find more words.

In the end, it was just one word among many.  That’s all.  No one was hurt in the speaking of the word.

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There’s a more detailed write up about the book at Kirkus, and there’s a book trailer here. No matter how you decide to approach curse words in your family, give this book a chance.  It’s an opportunity to explore why words have the power they do in a way that doesn’t talk down to kids.  And that’s important no matter what words you’ve decided to use or not use.

If you liked… Cosmos

downloadI suppose a better title for this post would be “If your kids liked Cosmos” because I really want to share some of my favorite science titles for the families who have been watching Cosmos together and want to keep the awesome science education going now that it’s over.

  • Gravity by Jason Chin – I love the way that Jason Chin’s picture books take an unusual approach to science, and his newest book does that with gravity.  It is very simple and visually striking.  Well worth sharing with young children to talk about what keeps us to the earth, what makes things fall, etc.   (Ages 4-8)
  • Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space by Dominic Walliman – This grand tour of space is guided by Professor Astro Cat in a fun and friendly way.  It’s stylishly designed and easy to understand. Even kids who aren’t as interested in science will likely be drawn in by the infographic style illustrations and funny asides in the text. It is also worth noting that the author holds a PhD in Quantum Physics, so he knows his stuff.  (Ages 8-10 – Though my 6 year-old loves to browse through it too)
  • How to Make a Planet by Scott Forbes – Start with the Big Bang and follow the steps that led to the earth we know today.  This is a fact-filled science book with the twist of being a “how-to book” for kids interested in having a planet of their own.  (Ages 8-12)

Not to mention some of the books I’ve mentioned on this blog in the past. You are Stardust and Older Than the Stars are two of my favorites.

What are some of your favorite science books for kids?

My Summer Wonders

We ushered in our summer with a busy weekend that was full of sun.  After several days (weeks?) of rain, it was much needed sunshine–at least, it was much needed by me.

IMG_2009IMG_2012 IMG_2014We celebrated the solstice on Friday evening at our Unitarian-Univeralist church, caught a puppet show on Saturday morning at the library (highly recommend catching one of the many performances of Molly and the Magic Boot this summer; my daughter is still singing the “hootenanny” song–though perhaps that’s not a selling point. . .), and joined ten thousand other music fans for Rock the Garden on Saturday night.

While Matt and Kim stole the show for me (even though I was not previously familiar with them), Best Coast deserves a mention for singing “Why would you live anywhere else?”  Of course, they were referencing California, but on the first day of a Minnesota summer, there is no better place to be.  Why would you live anywhere else right now?

Our summer has just begun, of course.  In the weeks to come we will be camping, swimming, grilling, and more.  What will your summer bring?

If you need some inspiration, try a picture book: Summer Wonders by Bob Raczka is a good place to start. It celebrates summer with simplicity and ice pops.  What more could you want?

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Perhaps at the end of the summer we will be able to make our own book of wonders.

If you like… Mo Willems

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This post is for my daughter and her kindergarten class, who have all fallen hard for Mo Willems.  It is also for all the people who say “Do you know Mo Willems?” when I say I work in children’s books.  I have never met the man behind the pigeon, but I am very familiar with his books.  Mostly, though, this post is for the parents who need something to read with their kids when all the Mo Willems books are checked out of the library (as they always seem to be).  Perhaps one of these alternatives will suffice for the day.

If you like the way that Knuffle Bunny captures a universal childhood moment in a way that appeals to both kids and adults, try Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein.  As a bonus, the book also features a dad/daughter combo.

If you like the interactive nature of the Pigeon books, try Cat Secrets by Jeff Czekaj.  It has been in regular rotation at our house recently since we have a new kitten, but it’s fun even without a feline family member. Other potential titles: The End (Almost) by Jim Benton or You’re Finally Here by Melanie Watt.

If the funny friends in the Elephant & Piggie books are your favorite, try When Elephant Met Giraffe by Paul Gude for another set of animals navigating friendship with a touch of humor.  I also like the dry wit of Maxwell Eaton in The Adventures of Max and Pinky: Best Buds.

Need more suggestions?  Here are a places to find more reading material for your Mo Willems fan:

  • KDL Recommends Mo Willems Readalikes – More books in the spirit of Mo Willems
  • The Geisel Award – Willems has won this award for beginning readers more than once.  Check out some of the other winners and honors.  Might I recommend The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli.
  • Storytime Skit: Mo Willems – Everything you need to know to plan a Mo Willems event for your library, classroom, or whatever.