Blog: Kids Lit Picks

kids picks

Lions of Little Rock

written by Kristin Levine

Ages: 9-12 years (approximately grades 4-8)

Meet Marlee.  She’s a
timid, twelve-year-old girl who hasn’t quite come out of her shell.  In
fact, she doesn’t talk much at all.  If she says one word at school all
day, her family considers that an accomplishment.  Social situations are
extremely difficult to get through.  So to Marlee, the idea of starting
Junior High is scary and overwhelming.  Luckily for her, she finds a
friend in Liz, the new girl at her middle school.  Liz is Marlee’s polar
opposite—confident, well-spoken, witty, and fun to be around.  Thanks to
Liz, middle school quickly becomes more bearable.  Even fun.  Then
one morning, Liz doesn’t show up for school.  Days go by and Marlee’s new
friend doesn’t return.  When Liz is found out to be different from the
other white students at her schools, she is pressured to leave.  Marlee
eventually finds out that Liz has left school for good…and without even saying
goodbye.

This piece of historical fiction
is set in Little Rock, Arkansas during a time in U.S. history when racial
tensions were high and the color of your skin determined where children
attended school.   Lions of
Little Rock
, one of this year’s Rebecca Caudill Nominees,
is a great discussion book for both boys and girls.  While it is set in a
different time period, this is a story of friendship, family, fear, and courage
that is relatable and timeless.  This book requires a basic understanding
of the historical context.  Even so, young readers who are comfortable
reading contemporary stories of realistic fiction will easily find themselves
learning to care and root for the friendship these characters share

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Birthday Bunny
Battle Bunny

written by
Jon Scieszka and Mac Burnett
illustrated by Matthew Myers


Ages: 5-9 years (approximately grades kindergarten - 3)

Alex has just received Birthday
Bunny
as a gift from his well-intentioned Gran Gran.  It’s a sweet picture book about a gentle
bunny and his forest friends who are planning a surprise birthday party for him.  This saccharine story gets a total rework when
Alex uses his pencil to transform Birthday Bunny into Battle Bunny, a no-nonsense,
eye-patch-wearing, villainous rabbit with his sights set on world
domination. 
 
Hand-drawn sketches and doodles over the original, oil-painted
artwork, as well as penciled-over text make Alex’s version of Battle Bunny an action-packed tale full
of humor, wit, and creativity.  After
waking up with special powers on his birthday, Battle Bunny heads into the forest
to set his evil plan into motion.  He
chops down trees, makes things explode, and challenges various woodland
creatures to fights in his war against the world.  It looks like he might be unstoppable until
Alex, our fearless author and illustrator, swoops in to save the day.
 
This book would be a fun read aloud or as a starting activity
for a writing program.  Even with the cross
outs and added words, the original text can still be read and both kids and
adults will get a kick out of comparing the ho-hum story with Alex’s
“improvements.”  While the idea of writing
in a book may feel taboo, this book will inspire readers to re-imagine and
recreate their own stories from beloved and not-so-beloved tales.
 
This title is suitable for ages 5 – 9 and grades K-3. The
book’s publishers have also created a website www.mybirthdaybunny.com where readers
can download and print the original Birthday
Bunny
story to create a custom version and upload it via tumblr.  Here are some of the unique and creative results!

Find Battle Bunny in our catalog.

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Swindle

Title: Swindle

Author: Gordon Korman
Age Range: 9-12 years ; grades 3-7
Genre: adventure ; school story

Griffin Bing is always “the man with a plan” – one that usually involves his friend Ben. This time Griffin’s plan includes breaking and entering, coming face-to-face with a fierce guard dog, and recruiting an assorted of helpers from his 6th grade class, an effort to retrieve an extremely rare and valuable baseball card from an unscrupulous dealer. The first in a series of three, so far – the tale is fast-paced and completely focuses on the kids’ point of view. While the action is somewhat improbable (okay, very improbable), Korman doesn’t tie up the ending in a completely phoney bow. Griffin doesn’t win all his battles, but he does end up in a good position. Some adults might be challenged by some of the details of Griffin’s plan (breaking and entering) as well as his “omitting” to the tell the truth to the police when he becomes a suspect. This book would lead to a good discussion on the question of “do two wrongs make a right?” and what to do when adults don’t listen to kids. A good book for boys and girls, Swindle would also work well for a read-aloud. The story of Griffin Bing continues with Zoobreak (2009) and Framed (2010).

Find it in the catalog.

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Sarah Simpson's Rules for Living

Title: Sarah Simpson’s Rules for Living

Author: Rebecca Rupp
Age range: ages 9-12 ; grades 4-6
Genre: realistic fiction ; family problems ; diary

Sarah receives a blank journal for Christmas and decides to keep a diary. Sarah is a list keeper – covering everything from Things I Do Not Like about Kim (her dad’s new girlfriend) to When Lying is Justified. The journal takes us through a year in Sarah’s life during which she adjusts to living without her dad who is now living in Los Angeles with Kim, a blonde tennis instructor who “looks like Barbie.” Back in Vermont, Sarah also deals with her mother’s “good friend,” Jonah, and his 5-year-old son, George. Add typical 6th grade angst and a school play to the mix and no wonder Sarah needs a few “rules for living.” But Sarah is wise beyond her years – and not immune to making a few wisecracks and strong comments in her journal. This slim volume covers a lot of ground over the course of the year.

Find it in the catalog.

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We the Children

Title: We the Children

Author: Andrew Clements
Age Range: ages 9-12 ; grades 3-6
Genre: mystery

First in the Benjamin Pratt & the Keepers of the School series,

Ben and his friend Jill, sixth-graders at the Oakes School, learn that something fishy is going on in their seaside school. Mysterious coins, sneaky adults, changes and challenges in Ben’s family, and a thrilling sailing race add up to an adventure in which Ben and Jill try to save their school – given to the community in 1783! – from being destroyed to make way for an amusement park. Will they succeed or are Ben and Jill in over their heads? Andrew Clements is a master at the school story – the kids are empowered and brave and realistically drawn, often fighting unevenly matched battles against semi-nefarious adults. The only downside to We the Children is the very abrupt ending, with little resolution to the main challenge; this book is definitely the first in a series.

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Turtle in Paradise

Title: Turtle in Paradise

Author: Jennifer L. Holm
Age Range: 9-12 years ; grades 4-6
Genre: historical fiction ; family problems

Turtle is the practical voice of reason in her family, despite being only 11 years old; this is a useful trait as Turtle’s mom, Sadie Bell, is a slightly dreamy and overly optimistic, live-in housekeeper. Sadie Bell is beautiful and romantic, which sometimes causes problems with her employers, so Turtle and her mom have a somewhat nomadic existence. When a new employer refuses to let Turtle live-in, Sadie Bell sends Turtle to live with relatives in Key West. Taking place in 1935, during the Great Depression, the book tells the tale of Turtle meeting new people – some of whom are close relatives – and discovering secret treasures buried by pirates and family members. Turtle in Paradise offers humor – the Diaper Gang babysitting business – and adventure – a hurricane rages while the kids are stuck on an island. Lots of period details are included, such as regular references to the comic strips Little Orphan Annie and Terry and the Pirates. In addition to receiving a 2011 Newbery Honor for this title, Holm has received the same award for Penny from Heaven (2009) and Our Only May Amelia (2000); she is also the author of the very popular Babymouse graphic novel series.

Find it in the catalog

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Raiders’ Ransom

Title: Raiders’ Ransom

Author: Emily Diamand
Age Range: 9-12 years ; grades 3-8
Genre: dystopian

This lively, British adventure tale is set in the next century after an apocalyptic climate change has submerged most of England and returned society to the Dark Ages. A young orphan girl, Lilly, embarks on an adventure involving a “jewel” (actually a relic from the high-tech 21st century), the kidnapped daughter of the prime minster, and the son of the leader of a lawless band of raiders. Lots of adventure, peril, and betrayal, and even a rescue or two follow at a fast clip. A few of the scenes offer scary and/or gruesome description, but there is also some humor in the characters’ misunderstanding of technology of the past (computers, referred to as "‘puters", are sort of mythical items). I suspect there are also some inside jokes involving British names, places, and practices that might go over the heads of those on this side of the Atlantic, but it doesn’t hinder the understanding of the book overall. I listened to Raiders’ Ransom in audio book format at the suggestion of two patrons, both of whom enjoyed it while on family trips. The audio book features a boy reader and a girl reader, reflecting the dual points of view found in the story.

Find it in the catalog.

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Leaving the Bellweathers

Title: Leaving the Bellweathers
Author: Kristin Clark Venuti
Age Range: 9-12 years ; grades 3-7
Genre: humorous ; family

Imagine if the Penderwicks were quite potty or the Moffats were mad and mischievous; you would have a close match to the Bellweather family. The children – Spider, Nina, and triplets Brick, Sassy, and Spike – are super smart, very crafty, and dreadfully creative. Professor and Mrs. Bellweather are extremely eccentric and dreamily distracted. None of this is good news for the family butler, Tristan Benway. Little do the Bellweathers know, Benway is eagerly counting down the days, hours, and minutes until he can abandon this family and their wild animals, bagpipes, and other means of making mess and mayhem. Hilarity ensues at every turn. This is a great choice for the reader who enjoyed the Series of Unfortunate Events, with the especially fun difference that the adults are in peril at the hands of these benignly dastardly and dangerous children. Readers who relish wacky family stories, improbable escapades, and seeing children triumph will enjoy Leaving the Bellweathers.

Find it in the catalog.

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City Dog, Country Frog

Title: City Dog, Country Frog

Author: Mo Willems
Illustrator: Jon J. Muth
Age Range: 0-8 years

The combination of Mo Willem’s sparse language and Jon J. Muth’s luminous, emotion-filled paintings is unexpected, yet delicious. This story of a friendship chronicles the year in the life of a city dog who meets a country frog on his own turf (lily pad?). Together, dog and frog explore the other’s idea of fun and the natural environment around them. As the story follows the seasons, the natural cycle of life asserts itself and the frog’s life ends, City Dog wonders if he’ll have another friendship like the one he shared with Country Frog. The beautiful, sparse language and gorgeous, expression-filled illustrations are perfection; this is on my shortlist for Caldecott. City Dog, Country Frog would be a terrific read-aloud for children through 4th grade. The death of frog is addressed very gently – he’s simply not at the pond when dog arrives to spend the winter with his friend. But it’s not all poignant sentiment; there are many humorous moments, mostly conveyed through the illustrations.

Find it in the catalog

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