Friday, December 19, 2014

Easy Reader Review: Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli (Cybils Nominee)

Number One Sam
by Greg Pizzoli
2014. Disney-Hyperion
ISBN: 9781423171119
Sam is used to being number one - after all, he's the best at every aspect of racing! He is shocked when he loses to his friend, Maggie, but he gets an even bigger surprise during their rematch.

Greg Pizzoli's The Watermelon Seed is a tough act to follow, and indeed Number One Sam is destined to be forever overshadowed by its successful predecessor. This book does include several qualities of successful easy readers: a strong structure, repetition of key phrases, an appealing plot, and an unexpected ending. Unfortunately, it does not have the same spark as The Watermelon Seed, or as many of the other fresh and exciting books recently published for beginning readers. The book's format also works heavily against it, as it looks like a picture book. and will probably be shelved as such in most libraries and bookstores, thereby preventing it from being easily found by its intended audience. Another problem is the story's clear and obvious moral. It's a fine lesson, but the end of the story reads more like a teachable moment than a satisfying conclusion to an entertaining tale.

Number One Sam is reminiscent in some ways of the George and Martha books, but it is not quite as sophisticated or subtle. It's an adequate book, but one likely to be quickly drowned out by its more memorable and exciting peers.

NOTE: This book was nominated by Betsy for the 2014 Cybils Awards in the Easy Reader/Early Chapter Book category. I am the organizer and a first-round panelist in this category, but this review reflects my opinions only, not those of any other panelist, or the panel as a whole. Thanks! 

I borrowed Number One Sam from my local public library.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Early Literacy in Everyday Places: The Movie Theater

Taking preschoolers and elementary schoolers to the movie theater can be a great way to keep them warm and entertained on those cold afternoons during Winter Break. While you're there, try out some of these quick and easy early literacy activities.
  • Review size words at the concession stand.Popcorn and soda come in small, medium, large, and even extra large sizes. Point out these words on the menu board, and explain the differences between them. For added fun, connect these concepts to the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
  • Point out letters and sight words in the preshow reels.Many theaters project celebrity trivia and other information onto their screens even before the previews begin. Help your child find familiar letters and words by playing "I Spy" or another guessing game. See how many words you can read together before the lights go down. 
  • Guess at the plots for upcoming releases.Take a look at the posters for forthcoming films and have your child explain to you what is happening in each picture. When you see previews for these movies, your child will find out how close he came to figuring out their storylines. This activity also encourages kids to make predictions based on context clues, which is important for reading comprehension. 
  • On the way home, ask your child to recall his favorite parts of the film.By asking your child to tell you about his favorite scenes from the movie, you support his narrative skills. As he describes for you what he remembers about the movie, he is practicing expressing his thoughts in an organized and interesting way. You can help him further by asking leading questions to prompt him to develop his thoughts and explain them clearly. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Chapter Book Review: The Case of the Stolen Sixpence by Holly Webb (Cybils Nominee)

The Case of the
Stolen Sixpence

by Holly Webb
2014. HMH Books
ISBN: 9780544339286
Maisie Hitchins lives in her grandmother's boarding house in Victorian London, where she is expected to behave like a proper young lady. Instead, Maisie develops a nose for crime, as she investigates two cases. The first involves her newly found dog, Eddie, who was nearly drowned before Maisie rescued him, and the second involves the local butcher's boy, George, who is accused of stealing from the till in the butcher shop even though Maisie knows he would never do such a thing.

This book suffers from a slow beginning, a poorly developed setting, and historical vocabulary far beyond the abilities of readers in the target age range. While the mysteries themselves are interesting, they take way too long to get going, and the first few chapters, which could have been spent on introducing kids to where and when the story takes place, are wasted on unnecessary scenes that contribute nothing to the plot. Maisie also does not seem like she could possibly be twelve years old - eight or nine, maybe, but not twelve. The gap between her chronological age and her maturity calls into question how much the author really understands her audience.

Instead of The Case of the Stolen Sixpence, young girls interested in historical mysteries might try the Enola Holmes books by Nancy Springer, the Roman Mysteries by Caroline Lawrence, or some of the American Girl mysteries.

NOTE: This book was nominated by Jen Robinson for the 2014 Cybils Awards in the Easy Reader/Early Chapter Book category. I am the organizer and a first-round panelist in this category, but this review reflects my opinions only, not those of any other panelist, or the panel as a whole. Thanks!

I borrowed The Case of the Stolen Sixpence from my local public library.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Young Adult Review: My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins (ARC)

My True Love Gave to Me
Edited by Stephanie Perkins
2014. St. Martin's Press
ISBN: 9781250059307
My True Love Gave To Me is a collection of twelve love stories set during the holiday season.

Since each story is so different, each one gets its own short review:

  • "Midnights" by Rainbow Rowell jumps in time between New Year's Eves in different years as a romance slowly develops between best friends Mags and Noel. Rowell's great ear for dialogue makes this a special treat. 
  • "The Lady and the Fox" by Kelly Link is a surreal story about Miranda, who spends her holidays with the Honeywell family, but feels very much like an outsider since her own mother is in jail. Her only solace is spending time with Fenny, who may or may not be real. Kudos to the author for writing a ghost story that is romantic and not scary!
  • "Angels in the Snow" by Matt de la Pena takes place in an apartment building where two college students are staying instead of going home to their families for Winter Break. Shy is too proud to admit to Haley, the girl upstairs, that he doesn't have any food or money, while Haley makes excuses to keep visiting him. This is one of the real highlights of this book and would make a great read-aloud for teens on a library visit.
  • "Polaris is Where You'll Find Me" by Jenny Han imagines what would happen if Santa had an adopted daughter, a girl named Natalie, who was surrounded by elves but longed for a human boyfriend so completely that she invented one. The teen-friendly re-imagining of the North Pole is really clever.
  • "It's a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown" by Stephanie Perkins brings together Marigold, a frequent visitor to the local Christmas tree lot, and North, the boy whose family owns the lot, who helps Marigold solve a decorating problem at her apartment. Like Perkins's novels, this one features a swoon-worthy leading male and a well-rounded, quirky leading female.
  • "Your Temporary Santa" by David Levithan takes place on Christmas Eve, when a teen boy plays Santa for his significant other's younger sister in place of her father who has left the family. Like most of David Levithan's work, this story is a mix of humor and angst
  • "Krampuslauf" by Holly Black is one of the strangest stories of the collection. What begins as a realistic story about a group of friends throwing a party morphs into a surreal fantasy story involving a Krampus. This story will definitely appeal to fans of mythology and magical realism.
  • "What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth?" by Gayle Forman is about two college students (one Jewish, one black) who feel out of place at their rural university until they accidentally find each other at a Christmas caroling event. This is a much more uplifting story than Forman's If I Stay, and in few pages it explores many complicated subjects, including race. 
  • "Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus" by Myra Macentire takes place during a pageant, which the main character is required to help with after he accidentally sets the original location for the show (a church) on fire.  This story is another highlight of the collection because it has a male narrator and a unique premise.
  • "Welcome to Christmas, CA" by Kiersten White takes place in a small California town where Maria and her mom work in a restaurant. When a new cook named Ben takes a job there as a cook, it is revealed that he has a special talent for predicting what people will like to eat even it's not on the menu. The great thing about this story is that it keeps Ben's full name a secret until almost the end, and the reveal is really satisfying!
  • "Star of Bethlehem" by Ally Carter tells what happens when a teen star switches places with an exchange student and spends the holidays with strangers in the middle of nowhere in the midwest. This story shows Carter's talents beyond the spy/adventure genre. 
  • "The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer" by Laini Taylor is a fantasy story inspired by Celtic mythology. It's a great taste of Taylor's writing for non-fantasy fans unfamiliar with her work. 
This book is a great survey of the many types of stories currently being published for teens. For adult readers who don't know much about YA books, this book would make a great crash course. For teens, it will be a great way to celebrate the holiday season, enjoy new stories by favorite authors and learn about new authors not yet discovered. Impressively, every story is well written and engaging, and there truly is something for everyone. A must-buy for libraries and a must-read for teens and the adults who work with them.

I received a digital ARC of My True Love Gave to Me from St. Martin's Press via NetGalley.
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