Snow & Rose offers a wonderful reading experience.

Snow & Rose, by Emily Winfield Martin, is nothing short of a pleasure.  It is the kind of book you will be proud to give as a gift; a book you secretly hope someone slides off your bookshelf to admire.  The production of this book, especially considering the book market today and that the book is published by a large publishing company, Random House, is absolutely fantastic, and nearly exquisite.

This is a beautiful book.  Emily Martin does a wonderful job with her illustrations.  They have a classic fairy tale look to them; however, they also offer a bit of modern whimsy you may miss and won’t notice until you return to them, which you will, and inspect them more carefully.  Also, the details stand out.  The page numbers have a little flair of their own; the chapters begin and end artfully. Gold foil lettering stands out on the cover and spine, and you’ll enjoy the interior, introductory panels that open the book and the eye-catching illustrations that help pull you into the story while also pulling you away from it by their demand to be appreciated.  Finally, the clean, clear font choices, the lettering of the chapter headings, and the weight of the paper all say this is a book of which to be proud. 

“And the ending of that story is the beginning of this story. Snow and Rose didn’t know they were living in a fairy tale—people never do.” 

The book opens with a simple exposition ending with this quote.  It is an effective setup; because of what we know about these girls, we can’t help but wonder where the author will take our characters.  While thinking about how to start talking about this story, it really strikes me how real their mother’s grief is, and how that creates the lack of supervision which allows the girls the freedom to experience their story.

As the story unfolds and the cast of characters find their places, one thing that works well is the conflict between the Huntsman and the forest animals.  As the questions and suspicions arise about the real nature of the monstrous forest creatures and the threats they pose, the threat of violence takes on a more immediate concern due to how it could impact the families involved.  Keeping in mind that this is a children’s book, I still feel this is an area whose dramatic effect could have been even more pronounced if it was explored a little more.

The librarian, and more specifically, the library, was a great component of the story.  The library of things, and the stories yet to be told that the things represent, gave a magical element to the story that keeps your attention and makes you guess what wondrous events might soon take place.  I enjoyed seeing these stories find their place in the larger narrative and wanted even more of this part.

As an antagonist, and the character who most resembles his counterpart in the old Grimm’s version of the fairy tale, the dwarf works.    He isn’t the most memorable character because he seems a little flat, but the unveiling of his true character throughout the story is well-paced and moves the plot in an engaging way. 

Overall, Snow & Rose is a beautifully published book and offers a well-told story you and your young readers will enjoy.  Reading this story aloud and appreciating the art’s quality together is an experience you’ll long remember even if you won’t recall all the specifics.  This would be a great class read and a thoughtful gift.

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What do you get for a boy named Bat? A skunk named Thor, of course!

Last year I read a book titled Rain Reign, by Ann Martin, which was selected for the 2017 Oklahoma Children's Sequoyah list. It was the story of Rose, her father (struggling on his own to understand and raise Rose), a stray dog, a hurricane, and Rose's uncle. It was a very well-written book and dealt with some difficult topics that had the book hovering between an upper elementary read and a YA selection. I highly recommend it to 5th-7th grade readers.

However, this left me wondering: what can I recommend as a good book with a neurodiverse character for those younger elementary-aged readers? Now I have one; A Boy Called Bat, by Elena K. Arnold. This book is charming. You will love how all the characters in this book are dynamic; there are no cookie-cutter characters with standard, stereotypical traits. The book is so good because of this. In addition, its simple, though surprisingly, elegant language makes it accessible to readers as early as 2nd grade. This book is going to be great as a class set to get those younger grades talking and thinking about what they read.

Bat's mom is a veterinarian and she has brought home an orphaned baby skunk. She tells Bat they are only keeping it for a month so it can get strong enough to be released. Bat has other plans. He decides to prove to his mother that he is the skunk's best option for a good future, and that a skunk will make a great pet. Along the way, he also has to deal with his exasperated older sister and the back-and-forth of alternating weekends with Dad, an experience relatable to many children.

You'll fall in love with Bat and his family; you will also get frustrated along with them as they deal with the same lessons all families deal with. This is a great book about learning to respect each other's differences. It also shows how every family has struggles, and no matter how ordinary the struggles, what's extraordinary is the amount of love, respect and understanding each family finds to hold itself together.  

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Halloween Book Guide For Kids

I have to open with this one because it is my newest choice and it is awesome! Any book with glowing green underwear that you can’t get rid of has got to be amazing. The book, Creepy Pair of Underwear! by Aaron Reynolds, is another story following Jasper the rabbit, who you may recognize as the star of Creepy Carrots. Jasper needs new underwear, and there in the midst of all the tighty whities is a pair of creepy underwear that Jasper thinks are “glorious.” When he gets them home and puts them on one night, everything is great until “...the underwear glowed. A ghoulish, greenish glow.” Admittedly, the artwork by Peter Brown is so fun in this book. Jasper soon learns that when your underwear is creepy and glows, sleep is difficult. This starts Jasper’s quest to be rid of the underwear. This book is so fun, and it is about creepy, glowing green underwear: c’mon, you know the kids will make this their favorite as well.

 

There are two books on the lists which are poetry collections, An Eyeball in My Garden, selected and edited by JenniferCode Judd and Laura Wynkoop, and Trick-or-Treat by Debbie Leppanen. The first book, An Eyeball, has longer rhyming poems and black and white illustrations. It is the creepier book of the two, but still has dashes of the gross and the humorous. Pick your favorites to share with your kids. The Trick-or-Treat book is much more whimsical. It has bright, fun illustrations and operates with short, quick turning poems your kids will enjoy reading aloud.

 

Bone Dog by Eric Rohman is one of my new favorites on this list. It opens with, “Ella and Gus had been friends for a long, long time.” Ella, Gus’ dog, is getting old. So Ella makes Gus a promise under the full moon. What follows is both funny and sweet, and there is a moment in the middle of the book where the illustrations made me laugh aloud and cheer. You will love this book as much as the kids to whom you read it. It’s touching and terrific.

The titles of the next two books speak for themselves! Extreme Pumpkins and Extreme Pumpkins II by Tom Nardone are attention-grabbing non-fiction titles. They offer instructions on how to make a wide variety of carved pumpkins. Better still, there is a picture of each pumpkin, which is really what interests the kids. A few of my favorites include the puking pumpkin, the booger-eating pumpkin, and the afraid-of-pie-pumpkin. Note, if you only have a chance to get one of these books, the second is much more fun and child-friendly than the first.

This next book is destined to be a librarian’s classic. Bats in the Library by Brian Lies was published in 2008 and continues to be a favorite of many readers, especially librarians. It tells the story, in rhyme, with fantastically illustrated pages, of a night bats find their way into the library. The bats explore the library in the manner of children, checking out the computers and the copy machine, flipping through pop-up books, and listening to story time. This book needs to be in your collection, and it will be read for years to come.

 

Yes, the author of this book is THE Jerry Seinfeld. Halloween is the book that will make kids laugh and they will tell their parents and friends about it. However, it is the adult reader that may have the hardest time reading this one without cracking up. Luckily, you can find a copy with a CD where Seinfeld actually does the reading. It is basically a clean, stand-up routine about Halloween. Also, there is a really good lesson you can teach kids about how illustrations work together with text in this book. This one will make you laugh and remember the old Halloween costumes you used to wear.

 

 

Selected next is a good, spooky read with a repetitive refrain. It plays on children’s imaginations and how it can run away from them. On a Windy Night by Nancy Raines Day will have kids sitting on the edge of their seats, wondering if our young treat-or-treater from the story is going to make it home safe, or if something is after him. The resolution is like a sigh of relief, and you can see the children visibly smile when they realize everything will be okay. But you haven’t turned all the pages yet…

 

I don’t think any collection is complete without a book of goofy jokes. I’ve chosen Kooky Halloween Jokes to Tickle Your Funny Bone by Linda Bozzo for that honor today. This collection of jokes is very kid-friendly and will get good laughs from your early elementary crowd. Some of them are so ghoulishly bad, you’ll have no choice but to chuckle along. You’ll find many knock-knock jokes, limericks, and things like this: How does a witch know what time it is? She looks at her witch watch.

 

 

Another great read for campfire settings, October, or anytime you want a little fright is Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz. This is a collection of old stories and folklore many of you may have forgotten from your childhood. All the stories in this book are short to very short, and several can be read in one setting. I have used these for scary story time for both a 4th-5th grade group and a middle school group. There are some great, repetitive stories and thought-provoking stories in here. My favorite, however, are the "jump stories." These are the ones where you stomp your foot, or get real quiet, sucking the readers in before making a loud noise and watching them all jump. I recommend picking a few for your reading and practicing them so that you'll be able to maximize the fun and spookiness of these tales.

 

If you have read Gail Gibbons, you’ll know she seems to have cornered the non-fiction holiday market. The selection of books she writes always begins with the holiday name followed by is. Our selection, of course, is titled Halloween Is… Depending on which holiday in the series you are reading, the books tend to offer a little historical information, some anecdotal stories about legends associated with the holiday, and descriptions of the types of activities people participate in during those holidays. Admittedly, there are times I wonder about the line between fiction and non-fiction in these books, but the simple drawings and easy subject material do offer a quick summation of the holiday.

Sometimes, you just can’t beat a picture book with good sounds. Add well-drawn, colorful illustrations of a couple bunnies dressed for Halloween, and you have Boo, Bunny by Kathryn O. Galbraith. This book must be read aloud with inflection and enthusiasm. Read it right, and kids will lean in when you whisper, and jump in their seats when your voice gets loud. Add the right sound effects, and your kids will ask you to read it over and over. It is a simple story about two rabbits finding each other for a night of trick-or-treat fun and friendship. You will find yourself eager to read this one aloud again and again.

Do you have a willful child in your home or class? If so, then Annie Was Warned by Jarrett J. Krosoczka will resonate with you and that child. Annie can’t be told anything; she is going to do what she wants. When everyone warns Annie not to go to the creepy house on Halloween night, does she listen? Of course not; you see, Annie isn’t scared. What follows is a short tale of possibly creepy things followed by questions like, “Was it a spider?” Of course, each time it wasn’t. This builds expectations up until the point when Annie arrives at the old mansion and there are warning signs posted everywhere. Still, Annie opens the door and then...well, read it.

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Two Books We Should All Read and Discuss

Out of My Mind, by Sharon Draper, like R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, is one of those books that everyone needs to read. It is a great book for upper elementary or even early intermediate grade discussions. Kids at that age are beginning to understand injustice, see the good and bad in the world around them, and sense that they will be able to make a difference in it.

This book tells Melody’s story. She is a brilliant eleven year old. In fact, she’s one of the smartest students anyone will ever meet, but she is treated by most teacher’s like a toddler and repeatedly subjected to the same alphabet and nursery rhymes year after year. When you have Cerebral palsy, are unable to speak up for yourself, are stuck in a pink wheelchair, and have very limited control of your limbs, it is hard not to feel like a prisoner in your own body. Fortunately for Melody, she does have Mrs. V. Mrs. V realizes Melody’s abilities and uses technology to allow Melody to truly communicate with others. This opens Melody’s world and enables her engagement with her peers unlike she has ever experienced. It even offers Melody an opportunity to show everyone her intelligence.

Not everyone is comfortable with her newfound voice. My daughter read this book a few months after I. She told me this book made her mad. Hearing that assured me that she understood the book. There are few books out there that can completely change how you think about the world and how you view those around you. This is one of those books.

Stella by Starlight is a great book for book discussion. There are readers who don’t like historical fiction because it seems too far removed from the life they are living now. Closer inspection reveals that the story of the past can offer great insights into the struggles of the present. Stella’s story takes place in North Carolina during 1932. She and her brother JoJo are out in the middle of the night when they stumble across a meeting of cross-burning KKK members. JoJo is confused about the purpose of the men in white hoods, but Stella knows they mean trouble.

This book deals with some of the harsh realities of segregation. Stella and her community are going to have to determine what is worth fighting for and how to fight for those things. There is a great scene in this book where Stella goes with her father so he can register to vote. The scene is affecting and understated, and one of the most moving in the whole book. Discussing this book with kids, it is easy for them to see how unequal segregation was and how terribly people can be treated because of prejudice. That is a great place to transition the conversation into one about bigotry and prejudice in America today.

The great thing about Sharon’s books is that they don’t conclude with pretty resolutions where all the world’s wrongs are put right. Although they are children’s books, they don’t shy away from real world situations. These books allow children to grapple with and discuss issues of substance and give adults a great platform from which to begin these conversations.

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Recommended: Fun Read Aloud Books for Children (Grades 2-5)

First, Fortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman. My daughter and I read this aloud together a few years ago in less than an hour. If you have a reader who enjoys a crazy, silly, unexpected adventure, then this is your book. When mum goes away for a trip and leaves dad in charge, he runs the family out of milk. Bad show, Dad! He has to make it up to his son and daughter. He goes to get the milk, "And then something odd happened." This adventure has pirates, hot air balloons, a dinosaur inventor, wumpires, talking volcanoes, and ponies, of course. Clever ponies. Don't be surprised if you have to read it aloud again, and again...

The only series I'm going to mention in this post is The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley. My daughter and I read these, making it through book 6 before she finally got to the point where she felt she was too old to read aloud together. Many of you have memories that stand out in the lives of your kids which mark a turning point, one of those moments you realize your child is getting older and even though you know it is supposed to happen, you can't help but feel sad when it comes and know you'll never get back what has just passed. For me, this is a big one. We spent a lot of time reading aloud together, and it was hard to let that go. But back to the book. This series is a good mix of adventure and mystery. I do need to mention that there are fairy tale murders to investigate, so you need to keep that in mind when deciding if this is right for your audience. If you have a group of kids who want a story with clues and a little danger, these fractured fairy tales are an excellent choice. The kids will love to see how familiar character become new again.

Another great read for campfire settings, October, or anytime you want a little fright is Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz. This is a collection of old stories and folklore many of you may have forgotten from your childhood. All the stories in this book are short to very short, and several can be read in one setting. I have used these for scary story time for both a 4th-5th grade group and a middle school group. There are some great, repetitive stories and thought provoking stories in here. My favorite, however, are the "jump stories." These are the ones where you stomp your foot, or get real quiet, sucking the readers in before making a loud noise and watching them all jump. I recommend picking a few for your reading and practicing them so that you'll be able to maximize the fun and spookiness of these tales.

Kate DiCamillo's name may be familiar to many of you who know children's books. Unfortunately, one of her books is charming and too often overlooked; that book is The Magician's Elephant. This quick, quaint read involves many of the characters who live in the village which gives the book a good sense of community. It's central figure is a boy looking for his sister who is probably dead, but he is given hope by a fortuneteller who states to him, cryptically, "You must follow the elephant." Another great part to this book involves a magician who only knows one trick. When this magician decides to use his magic in order to impress a woman (and why else do you learn magic, I ask), it goes terribly wrong. Also, you don't want to miss Yoko Tanakas' fantastic illustrations. This is an absolutely enchanting read.

Another spooky entry, Mary Downing Hahn's Took, was all the rage at the school's book fairs last year. My stepdaughter, who is an excellent reader and a reluctant one, read this one last year and then gave it to me to read (after, of course, she let her bff read it). Ms. Hahn, who is a former librarian, specializes in ghost stories for kids. This one is based on an old story that my stepdaughter and I found and read following her reading of this book. She really enjoyed seeing that this book was an expanded version of an American folktale, and we actually had the opportunity to talk about the differences in the two. There is plenty that is creepy in this book. There are dark woods, conversations with a doll (shiver), missing kids, an old woman who may be a witch, and a man-eating hog called Bloody Bones. If you want a eerie story that you can also use to talk about folktales, Took is likely for you.

I hope you have a chance to read these books to your class or kids at home.  Please let me know in the comments what other books you have found are good read aloud books for children in these grades.

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Amulet Volume 1: The Stonekeeper

This is an older review that I had never posted. It is funny to read, because my daughter and nephew are now a high school sophomore and senior. As they have grown, we’ve had so much fun passing time making up stories and playing in libraries and bookstores. All childhoods should include time in both. At this point, I’ve read through book 5, and believe book 8 is, or will soon be, published.

Amulet, by Kazu Kibuishi, is a graphic novel found in most children’s graphic novel collections. I really would not have read it if I hadn’t been sitting in the children’s area of a library as my daughter and nephew were playing. They were doing well without my immediate attention, so I pulled a book off the shelf, flipped through a couple pages, then turned to the beginning. The short prologue was tense and heartrending, and had me hooked.

What follows is a great adventure story, no matter your age. I admit that I am occasionally underwhelmed by a child or teen protagonist; they can seem whiny to me. There are exceptions, this book included. The book unfolds with great mystery and imagination. There is an alternate world, a magic amulet, a missing, eccentric grandfather (it’s a goal of mine, btw, being an eccentric grandpa), a kidnapped mother, and more. And besides a great heroine and her brother, there are fantastic machines. I must say, without spoiling the book too much, that the moving house at the end has me totally hooked and I have already requested the next book just to say what part it will play.

This review wouldn’t be doing the book justice if I didn’t bring up the artwork. What was really cool about the artwork is that it propels the story with as much, or more, momentum than the text. This art isn’t background; it works through the story, often being the sole vehicle for telling the story. You have to read the “pictures” as much as the text to follow this tale. Overall, this was absolutely charming, and a lot of fun. Now that I have finished it, I guess I’d better check it out for my daughter. 

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