Thursday, April 27, 2017

Saying Good-bye with Mrs. McBee

Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan, author of Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3, knows the bittersweet of saying good-bye to a lot of people and places, which was part of her inspiration for writing Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3. In the book, the students of Room 3 find out Mrs. McBee will not be returning to the school for the next year. As each student helps their teacher prepare the classroom for next year's students, the children each find their own way of saying good-bye by celebrating their beloved teacher and remembering the wonderful memories they have together of that year.

Along with her debut picture book that encourages readers to acknowledge and celebrate transitions like the end of school, McLellan prepared an activity guide for anyone who is preparing to say good-bye. With the end of the school year looming, and Teacher Appreciation Day just around the corner, these activities can help make saying good-bye to your favorite teacher more sweet than bitter.

Make a Memory Box with everyone who helped make a certain place special. Each person can contribute their favorite memory, and then the best of a classroom or building or house is preserved in the box.

Pictures are one of the best and easiest ways to preserve good memories. By creating a place or people-specific book, the story or narrative of time spent together will be easy to see and easy to enjoy all over again.

Every person has their own way of helping to say goodbye! Make everyone an "expert" certificate to designate jobs and responsibilities in cleaning and preparing to leave a classroom or building.

Get the full activity guide on Pinterest or download it here! Get to know the author and creator of the activity guide and Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3 in this Q&A.

You can find Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3 at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

King & Kayla's World

When we first saw this brand-new beginning chapter book mystery series from Dori Hillestad Butler (author of The Buddy Files), we knew we had a winner. And the King & Kayla fan club has only grown from there. If you haven't yet met this endearing duoand even if you havefind out more from the series editor Kathy Landwehr, get some free King & Kayla-themed activities, and enter King & Kayla's world!


Q: When you first saw Dori's proposal for the King & Kayla series, what made you say, "I LOVE this! It's my favorite thing!"?

A: It’s very hard to write simply—and to do so while also telling a well-constructed mystery story and introducing two endearing characters is a real accomplishment. Dori Butler is a natural at telling these simple stories and making them fun and engaging.

Q: There are countless easy readers on the market todaywhat does King & Kayla bring to the table that's missing from current offerings?

A: Each King & Kayla story is a delightfully constructed and satisfying little mystery. King and Kayla each contribute to the solution, using their distinctive personalities and skills. And their process also offers a terrific model of deductive reasoning.

Q: So much research went into each detail of these books. What was your approach on the following and how did you determine which direction to take?

King & Kayla and the Case of the Missing Dog Treats
By Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Nancy Meyers
A: I started by reviewing all of the Geisel Award-winning early readers for the past several years, as well as other popular and well-received books in this category. That helped us develop a model for layout and design.

The text was in excellent shape editorially, but the author and I made sure that each story unfolded in a somewhat predictable manner; the mystery was solved in a consistent pattern, and the key elements occurred at roughly the same point in each story. We also made sure that certain elements, such as Kayla’s lists and King’s exclamations, were consistent in style.

Once we moved to design and layout, we focused on font selection initially, so that we could determine how much space the text would take up on each page; that gave the illustrator some sense the room she had to work with. 

After we’d settled on the font, the size, and the leading, we moved onto the next level of typography decisions. Would we indent paragraphs? Use page numbers? Allow styles like bold or italic? Involve punctuation like ellipses?

Q: King is loyal, but a little distracted. What makes him the perfect partner for Kayla's adventures?

A: King may have a short-attention span—as so many of us do—but he also notices details that Kayla misses, including things like smells and clues that are on a dog’s eye level. Plus, he can be single-minded when something bothers him; in some cases, his actions force Kayla to take notice of things she might otherwise overlook.

Q: What's next for this dynamic duo?

A: King & Kayla and the Case of the Mysterious Mouse will be out in fall 2017. When King’s ball goes missing, Cat with No Name tells him that a mouse took it. But how could a tiny mouse take a dog toy? Then in spring 2018, we’ll have King & Kayla and the Case of the Lost Tooth. Kayla puts her tooth in the Tooth Fairy pillow, but then it disappears. If the Tooth Fairy doesn’t have it, then where is it?

Get the King & Kayla Decoder and Dog Treats Recipe on Pinterest or download them. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Frogs, Princesses, and Critical Thinking

Critical thinking and information literacy are vital skills for children in today’s society. Educators have always been seeking to help students look at information critically, and discerning fact from fiction has now become especially important. For young readers, look no further than Prince Ribbit by Jonathan Emmett and Poly Bernatene to begin that conversation.

Most people may be familiar with the classic fairy tale “The Frog Prince” by the Grimm brothers, where a young princess makes a deal with a frog that helps her, and she in turn agrees to invite him into her castle and share her food, drink, and bed with him. In the story, he ultimately turns into a handsome prince, and they agree to marry and move to his kingdom. (Learn more about the magical tale here.)

But in Jonathan Emmett and Poly Bernetene’s clever, thought-provoking spin, when three princesses meet a conniving talking frog who suggests that if they pamper him to his heart’s content, he will turn into a handsome prince (just like in their story books), nonfiction-loving Princess Martha suspects otherwise. Armed with frog-filled facts from her science volumes,  she sets out to expose Prince Ribbit and prove that he is just an ordinary amphibian fooling her two sisters. But “just because it’s in a book doesn’t mean it’s true.”

Children can enjoy this book for pure entertainment’s sake, but Prince Ribbit can also be a fun exercise in metacognitive reading skills. The phrase “just because it’s in a book doesn’t mean it’s true” is used by multiple characters throughout the story to support their own beliefs—Princess Martha uses it to persuade her sisters to look past their fairy tale stories.  Her sisters in turn use that phrase against Princess Martha and her science books. And when a surprise twist repeats the phrase on the very last page, the reader must think about whether that phrase applies to everything he/she just read.

The reader has been seeing (or hearing) the words “just because it’s in a book doesn’t mean it’s true” for 30 pages, but have they actually learned that lesson? This ending forces—even if it’s only for a brief moment—readers to think critically about everything they’ve just read.

They must consider character: Based on what they know of Martha’s character, is she the type of person to marry for looks after he becomes a prince (despite hating the man’s personality when he was a frog)?

They must consider tone: Based on what they’ve read so far, does this feel like a smooth and realistic ending to the story?

They must consider textual evidence: Didn’t the narrator tell us repeatedly that the frog is cunning and sly, that he’d “come up with a plan” to make his dream of being wealthy and well-fed come true? And didn’t the frog devise this plan immediately after hearing the story of The Frog Prince?

The reader is either rewarded for their critical reading at the conclusion of the story OR is reminded in “gotcha!” fashion of the book’s lesson: be critical; you can’t trust everything you read.

A Fuse 8 Production’s Betsy Bird said it best: “With a steady hand and a working brain, a parent, teacher, or librarian could easily spin this book into a lesson that would ultimately do child readers a world of good. Read carefully. Read critically. Read everything and then form your own opinion from the facts, as best as you can gather them. Or, if you just prefer, read this cute book because it has princesses and talking frogs in it. As far as I can tell, that’s a win-win situation.”

You can find Prince Ribbit at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Reading Around the World

Today is International Children's Book Day! Since 1967, we have used Hans Christian Andersen's birthday to celebrate children's books and inspire a love of reading throughout the world. And because tomorrow kicks off this year's Bologna Children's Book Fair, we wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate some Peachtree books that are read in other countries. With strong universal themes and experiences that children can relate to, regardless of country or culture, these books can be enjoyed not only in English, but in languages from around the world.

Madeline Finn and the Library Dog
Themes: Dogs, Friendship, Libraries, Reading
Age Range: 48

"It's fun to read when you're not afraid of making mistakes. Bonnie teaches me that it's okay to go slow, and to keep trying."

Bonnie and Madeline Finn have reached more countries in more languages (about 19 so far) than any of the other books on our list. Not only have the adorable illustrations pulled at heartstrings around the world, we believe every reader that comes to this story who has experienced the joy books can bring wants to spread that experience, that feeling, to anyone reluctant or worried about reading. Everyone needs to be reminded to keep trying.

The Yellow Star
Themes: Courage, Responsibility, WWII
Age Range: 812

"What if the good and strong people of the world stood shoulder to shoulder, crowding the streets and filling the squares, saying, 'You cannot do this injustice to our sisters and brothers, or you must do it to us as well.'"

Carmen Agra Deedy, author of The Yellow Star, asks a question in her author's note that is, without a doubt, the driving reason that her beautiful story of unity and hope in the face of hatred has reached hearts and minds around the world. It also helps that Yellow Star won the Bologna Ragazzi Award for Children’s Non-Fiction, which honors the best graphic and editorial production in children's literature internationally.

The Cheshire Cheese Cat
Themes: Charles Dickens, Friendship, Loyalty
Age Range: 8–12

"He was the best of toms. He was the worst of toms."

Skilley, an alley cat with a terrible secret, and Pip, the resident mouse at a popular public house, have romped around the world in this Dickens of a tale. The engaging, page-turning action of this story gives it the feel of a classic novel, aside from its references to Charles Dickens's classic works, and its strong themes of loyalty and friendship make it universally appealing to anyone looking for a good read.

Star Gazer
Themes: Hard Work, Horses, Patience
Age Range: 812

New in town but ready to dive headlong into the more rural culture of Southern Michigan, Jordan is a character to whom, as the theme is here, many around the world have been able to relate. Chris Platt, author of Star Gazer and multiple other middle grade novels, focuses on friendship, horses, and the impact of both on young people. These themes cross borders and languages despite the American setting.

Do You Know the Monkey Man?
Themes: Divorce, Family, Mystery, Siblings
Age Range: 1014

When Samantha discovers a family secret, her fateful decisions set into motion a chain of events and confrontations that will change her family's lives forever. Dori Butler's suspenseful and sensitive story of a broken family and everything it takes for a young girl to face the truth has been translated for young readers from cultures around the world.