The Book of Languages

The folks at Owlkids Books speak lots of different languages. In honor of their recently published The Book of Languages by Mick Webb, they created this video to share some words and phases from the languages we speak.

Review (Plus): “Rude Cakes” by Rowboat Watkins

Rude Cakes

My eight-year-old son approached and asked what I was doing. I told him I was reviewing/reading a book for Ms. Beth at Books & Whatnot. He informed me he would like to read it as well because it looks amazing. He is right. The cover does hook an eight-year-old, especially with the word “Rude” in large letters on it. So I let him read it.

From the eight-year-old after finishing Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins:

“This book does a great job of explaining how people can be rude and not have any manners. The cake doesn’t even listen to his mom and argues with her at bed time. It has a one-eyed monster who does listen and is very nice. I really liked the one-eyed monster. He looks friendly. Mom, the cake learns to be nice to the crumbs because of the monster’s example. Some of the people in my class need to read this book.”

I couldn’t have said it better. Thanks, Mr. Watkins. I will be sharing Rude Cakes with my son’s classroom.

In the store:

As we leave the classroom for a summer break, it is the ideal time to display books for summer time “growth.” Place together books which teach morals, values, math, grammar and things to do with your children. Children need to continue to be held accountable for their behavior throughout the summer months. Some parents are seeking educational materials to keep their children’s mind sharp through the break. Make it easy for parents to find and easy for them to purchase.

In the classroom:

Headstart, along with Common Core State Standards, has aligned the early childhood development into nine major domains. One of them is the Social-Emotional Domain of childhood development. Rude Cakes illustrates multiple social settings where he is rude, domineering and abrasive. Watkins has used the crumbs to show their emotions with simple words and actions. The relationship between all characters in this books provide an opportunity to discuss behavior and attitudes with appropriate behavior. This is a wonderful story to read and a great follow-up discussion.

Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins (Chronicle Books | 9781452138510 | June 2, 2015

Review (Plus): “Stella Brings the Family” by Miriam B. Schiffer, illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown

Stella Brings the FamilyWhat a conundrum little Stella faces when her class is having a Mother’s Day celebration and she doesn’t have a mother. Stella has two wonderful parents who tuck her in every night, pack her school lunch and bring her kisses when she hurts herself. When trying to figure out this dilemma, her friend tells her a simple answer, bring them both! Stella decides this is a wonderful idea. She will bring both her Papa and her Daddy to the Mother’s Day celebration!

In our evolving societal roles for children, Miriam Schiffer allows her reader to see the dilemma children face with upcoming holidays which are gender specific. Little Stella doesn’t have to chose; she gets to bring the whole family. The illustrations by Holly Clifton-Brown enhance the story as well by depicting different ethnicities, genders and settings in Stella’s life.

In the store:

A display of children’s books for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day would be a great tie-in to this book. With Father’s Day approaching it is a great segue for both gay parents and parents who have adopted children. Often times we think we have explained our roles to children, but what they experience through school and their peers are far from what we think they are understanding. Reading books provides opportunities for discussions about questions our children may have. It is a big and confusing world. Roles are becoming more fluid and we need to be adaptable to the ever present changes. Schiffer touches on Mother’s Day, but shows a child who has two mothers as well and gives a lead to the upcoming Father’s Day.

In the classroom:

I love Mother’s Day being in May. I have received a plethora of hand-print hot pads, painted pots and beautiful construction paper cards in this month. I have never thought of how awkward this holiday could be to a child with two fathers. It is a brilliantly crafted book and has me saying “Duh!” to myself. This is the perfect classroom read when you start crafting for the upcoming gender specific holidays. Encourage your student to craft for whomever they see as the role of “Mother.” Be open minded and ready for discussion with your students in the classroom. The illustrations make it easy for your students to understand.

Stella Brings the Family by Miriam  B. Schiffer, illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown (Chronicle Books | 9781452111902 | May 5, 2015)

Alex Is Reading

Alex Is Reading

I follow several of your blogs, and when I see something that I like–something that intrigues me or prompts me to say, “Well done.”–I write about it. Recently on Brookline Booksmith’s blog, I noticed a periodic posts with the same title: Alex Is Reading.

Alex Schaffner is one of the team of four children’s booksellers at Brookline Booksmith, along with Kylie Brien, Amy Brabenec, and Clarissa Murphy.

“I started working at the Booksmith in August of 2014 and my first blog post went up in November. I post to the blog generally every second Monday,” she says. “I alternate Mondays with one of the other kids’ booksellers, Amy, who posts kids’ related bookstore news and has an awesome comics feature called Stick Figure Amy. Kylie spearheads a monthly blog feature of If You Like book recommendations (all YA) for different popular TV shows.”

The blog is linked from their main website,, and individual blogposts are linked on Twitter. All four of the children’s booksellers post on @kidsmithbooks, which is one of the stores two Twitter accounts.

“One of the biggest struggles we have is not having actual, physical room to show love for all the books we want to–or even carry everything we want to on our shelves. Alex Is Reading posts are sort of designed to draw attention to titles people might not be noticing–maybe some of them have shelf talkers and some of them get handsold, but others go by unnoticed, even though there are definitely readers for them in our community,” says Alex. “And the hope is always that if one familiar title ends up on a list, every other title on that list will suddenly become a lot more appealing. ‘Hey, I liked this book! Maybe I’ll like these other five books as well!'”

Their efforts are paying off. A recent blogpost announced an expanded YA section, and the booksellers wrote about having the room to display their favorite backlist titles.

“Our store evaluates how every section is doing periodically, and the result is sometimes, gloriously, more shelf space. The whole kids’ section has been expanding over the last few years,” she explains. “YA got to grow this year, and we thought it would be a good time to give it more features–like bringing the nonfiction titles actually aimed at teen readers into their space, and grouping together YA short stories and poetry where they’d be easier to browse. We did also get to bring in some backlist titles we each cared for.”

I like the way the booksellers at Brookline Booksmith divide the blog writing responsibilities to consistently deliver content while making the task less daunting. And I like that each writer has established a consistent theme for her individual posts so the reader knows what to expect when they see Stick Figure AmyIf You Like, or Alex Is Reading.

It was difficult to find all of the children’s booksellers in one place at the same time, but the four recently Holly Black’s launch party for THE DARKEST PART OF THE FOREST at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley. From right to left: Kylie Brien, Amy Brabenec, Alex Schaffner, Clarissa Murphy, courtesy of Alex Schaffner.

Review {Plus}: “Spelled” by Betsy Schow

Spelled 9781492608714_d986dI was born and raised in Kansas, the ‘Land of Oz.’ When people learn you are from Kansas, inevitably they will make a crack about red shoes, a dog named Toto, or say “You aren’t in Kansas anymore…” I have seen the movie; I have read the book; I was given the part of the Lion in the play; I have seen the musical Wicked; I have read the series of Oz books by L. Frank Baum. I have been there and done that with the infamous tale of Kansas. Yet I was a bit apprehensive as I started reading this book. Could this new author, whose fame started with a nonfictional book, rewrite an old tale to a YA audience? Yes! Betsy Schow hooked this curious yet cautious Kansas girl with her refreshing version of the Wizard of Oz Spelled.

Dorothea is a young princess from the Emerald Isle. Her family has been cursed and she can never leave her home for fear of unleashing fire upon the earth destroying everything she encounters. Yet Dorothea can no longer endure this hardship. She is forever trying to figure a way out of the castle, her curse and the life she has to live.

The evil witch Griz entraps Dorothea into making a wish to undo the happily ever afters of all stories forever. Dorothea, and her amazing Ruby shoes, must discover how her curse of Emerald flames can help save herself, her Prince charming and the people of the Stories. The fun doesn’t end with the conclusion of the book. Schow nicely sets up the end to continue into a series of more “glammed” fun with Dorothea in upcoming books.

The story is good, but the thing that got me the quote from another Princess or storybook character at the end of every chapter; snippets from their stories in relationship to advice Dorothea should take. Schow’s wit and humor was amazing. She uses explicit adult language twisted into fairy tale language. It is extremely clever and made for a truly enjoyable new spin on an over-done story.

In the Store:

Pull out the stops and have a Wizard of Oz themed event. You can even have a few employees act out a quick rendition of L. Frank Baum’s story. The Lion, Tin Man, green witch, munchkins and even flying monkeys are all characters in Schow’s story, but as different as possible from the original creation. If you don’t want to have an event, or don’t have the time, an Oz display–in all its variations and formats–would capture customer attention.

In the classroom:

Common Core Standards for 3rd, 6th and 9th grade have the compare/contrast themed narrative in common. A student can easily read this book and compare/contrast it with the one of the many other versions of The Wizard of Oz story. If you do not have the time to read two versions, you could always show a version. I like to incorporate different genres of movies. The musical, Wicked, would be a wonderful version to compare with Spelled. Both stories take an unusual perspective of Baum’s original story.

Although science classrooms do not have Common Core State Standards placed upon their curriculum (yet), they are still being asked to implement them in various ways. One easy way to implement CCSS into the science classroom while reading this book is for a teacher to take advantage of the title. Have your students read the book and use science to determine what spell is the most effective. Dorothea must fight both witches. No houses fall from the sky in this story. Each character has a strength and weakness with chemicals: Dorothea has the advantage of flames, one which will melt if she touches water and her Prince Charming has the power of ice on his side. Each of these involves chemicals and their reactions. Have your students create brown sugar witches. How does the sugar react to the flames, water or ice? What is the hypothesis? What is the outcome? Who prevails? Have your students write claims based on their hypothesis and their findings. Teach them about reasoning and how to write this out in paragraph form. As a science teacher you are allowing them the opportunity to experiment while following it up with CCSS literacy and writing skills.

Spelled by Betsy Schow (Sourcebooks Publishing | 9781492608714 | June 2, 2015)