Oh, the Thinks You Can Think

The Great Cake Mystery: Precious Ramotswe's Very First Case

Five words on the cover of a new children's book caught my attention, and I knew I had to read it.  One was Mystery (I really like mysteries), one was Cake (I adore cake!), and the other three were Alexander McCall Smith - a favorite author of mine!  McCall Smith explains in an afterword that he felt compelled to explore the childhood of Precious Ramotswe, the heroine of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency mystery series for adults.  He found that many adult readers were sharing that series between generations, and thought it would be nice for children under age 10 to have books about Precious they could perhaps read themselves.  In The Great Cake Mystery (and oddly enough, we have the same book under the U.K. title - Precious and the Monkeys), the young Precious realizes that an overweight classmate is being unfairly blamed for stealing pastries.  She helps the others at her school identify the true culprits, while also imparting a gentle lesson about not judging people by their appearance.  The text is interspersed with lovely illustrations in shades of red, black, and gray, by Iain McIntosh. Extras include information about the characters and about the geography of Botswana, a reader's guide with discussion questions, and even a recipe for Precious's Sponge Cake Worth Stealing.  Recommended for grades 1-3.

What Are You Reading Today?

Bloomington Reads!Help us call attention to the importance of literacy as we celebrate Bloomington Reads! week, May 6-12. The second annual event, sponsored by the Foundation of Monroe County Community Schools, features a week of reading and literacy-related activities in our community to spotlight the importance of literacy. (See the mccsfoundation website for a listing of upcoming events.) Just 20 minutes of reading a day can build a community of readers.

While many of us get in the habit of reading aloud to our pre-readers, children who have begun reading on their own still benefit from having an adult read aloud to them. Reading aloud a story to an independent reader can be a chance to share new vocabulary. Reading aloud also provides an independent reader with an opportunity to hear fluent reading, which helps them build their own fluency and ability to read with proper pacing and expression.

My preschooler and I have been enjoying some new picture books, including: Betty Bunny Wants Everything and the Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas. And in between re-reading some of his favorite Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, my 3rd grader looks forward to listening to his dad read aloud from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy.

It's important to remember, too, that children learn to value reading, not only by having someone read to them, but by seeing the adults in their lives spending time reading. No matter whether it's a hardcover or paperback book, e-book, magazine or newspaper -- what do your children see you reading? What are you reading today? 


So B. It is a very special novel by Sarah Weeks.  Heidi, a twelve year old girl lives in Reno, Nevada with her mentally disabled mother and a quirky neighbor.  Homeschooled by her neighbor, Bernadette, Heidi lives a very unconventional life.  Her mother has a vocabulary of only 23 words,  Bernadette is afraid to leave her apartment, and Heidi's one friend, Zander, is overweight, loves junk food,  and lives in a world of made up stories.

The mysteries of how Heidi and her mother arrived at the apartment, who pays for their apartment, and what her mother's strange word "soof" means,  haunt the reader as well as Heidi.   When Heidi finds a roll of film and has the photos developed they reveal her mother at a Christmas party held at Hilltop Home in Liberty, New York.   Heidi simply cannot rest until she pieces together Mama's past.  She decides she must travel there alone in order to discover who her mother is, and, in the journey she discovers a great deal about herself.  This book is about identity, asking questions, and living both with and without the answers.  A memorable and unusual story,  So B. It would be great for ages 9 and up.

*Selected as an ALA Best Book for Young Adults.

Look for Early Literacy Spots at the Library

EarlyLitandPatThere are so many everyday opportunities to talk with your young child about letters and numbers and other early literacy concepts -- things your child knows about reading and writing before they can actually read and write. You can point out letters on street signs and store names, or note the numbers on speed limit signs and addresses on buildings. We are reinforcing this idea that developing a child's knowledge of letters, numbers, colors, shapes, sizes, etc. can happen in small ways every day, by creating "Early Literacy Spot" activities throughout the children's area of the Main Library.

Soldier Bear

We librarian types tend to pay a lot of attention to award-winning books, although we can't deny we're often a little disappointed when our personal favorites don't win. The Mildred L. Batchelder award is given each year by the ALA's Association for Library Service to Children "...to the most outstanding children's book originally published in a language other than English in a country other than the United States, and subsequently translated into English for publication in the United States."

Elephant and Piggie: In a Book and At the Library!

With a wry wit honed as an Emmy Award winning writer and animator for Sesame Street, author and illustrator Mo Willems broke into the world of Children's Literature in a big way in 2003 with a bus obsessed pigeon.

A Magpie's Dilemma

Sometimes the simplest of stories convey complex ideas most beautifully. More by I.C. Springman has just a few words on each page, but the illustrations vividly depict the hazards of collecting too much "stuff." The story features a magpie - a crow-like bird that folklore recognizes for its attraction to shiny objects -- and which commonly describes someone who collects odds and ends of little value.  (I do believe I am parent to a couple of magpies!)

Titanic Sinks!

As a young child, my older sister taught me a version of a song about the doomed ship Titanic that was so jolly in tone, it belied the sober meaning of the lyrics. I merrily sang/yelled, "Husbands and wives, little children lost their lives, it was sad when the great ship went down...to the bottom of the sea!  Glug glug glug glug!" having no idea I was singing about a true tragedy. 

Author Barry Denenberg, using the conceit of a fictional newspaper and reporter, brings the historical event roaring back to life in Titanic Sinks! Since we are just weeks away from the 100th anniversary of the sinking on April 15, 1912, I immersed myself (sorry!) in the make-believe correspondent's excited dispatches to his newspaper. 

Through Another's Eyes

Out of My MindOne of the great things about good books is that they can reveal life through another person's eyes.  That revelation is especially engaging when the character has some barrier to ordinary self expression.  I recently read two fine books that offer fresh perspectives on school and life in general from characters who have trouble communicating with the world. 

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick

ImageIn 1984, Jumanji author Chris Van Allsburg compiled a storybook made up only of images with captions that hint at the fantastical and the scary, the strange and the beautiful. These mysterious illustrations were said to come straight from a man named Harris Burdick and, in the years since the pictures reached the public, the illustrations in The Mysteries of Harris Burdick have been used as a storytelling guide and even a jumping off point to help kids to their own fiction. 

 More recently, Van Allsburg hired a list of favorite children's authors to interpret the images from Van Allsburg's popular work. The result is The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, a 221 page compilation of short stories that flesh out the weird and fantastical elements present in Van Allsburg's original images. Authors ranging from Sherman Alexie to Stephen King, from Walter Dean Myers to Kate DiCamillo and many, many more all lend their voices to very different types of stories. The compilation also features an introduction from favorite, but oddball, author Lemony Snicket.


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