Autumn and harvest time go hand-in-hand with independent reading time. My first BookPage blog post of this school year provided an introduction to STEM, STEAM and STREAM for parents. (Read it here.) Now I want to suggest two novels that parents and children can enjoy together, and which offer wonderful connections to math and science for third- through sixth-grade readers.
In 2010, Aaron R. Hawkins, a professor of electrical engineering at Brigham Young University, published his debut novel for children, The Year Money Grew on Trees. Hawkins said he was inspired by his own memories of growing up in New Mexico and working on his family’s orchard. I’ve been recommending this delightful title as a read-aloud to parents, librarians and teachers ever since I reviewed it for BookPage five years ago.
The year is 1983. Jackson Jones, the book’s 13-year-old hero, has the chance to obtain an apple orchard—but only if he can earn $8,000 from the crop. Jackson convinces his sisters and cousins to help. The book’s humor—and magic—is in watching Jackson and his team learn about pruning, irrigating and fertilizing, to say nothing of trying to figure out the economics of their new business. The author has included maps and illustrations of mechanical equipment and irrigation systems, along with mathematical calculations.
The Year Money Grew on Trees is a wonderful book for budding farmers, engineers, businesspeople and just plain lovers of apples. Check out Hawkins’ website for pictures of some of the equipment used here.
Another debut novelist, Jacqueline Kelly, received a Newbery Honor for her first book, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (2009). (A sequel, The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate, was released earlier this year.)
Like The Year Money Grew on Trees, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is historical fiction—only it’s set a bit earlier, in 1899 Texas. Here, the STEM connections are most strongly related to natural history and botany, for Calpurnia’s grandfather is a devoted follower of Charles Darwin, whose book The Origin of Species was published in 1859.
Each chapter in The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate begins with a quotation from Darwin. Calpurnia, the only girl among six brothers, dreams of becoming a scientist herself someday, to her parents’ dismay. Calpurnia tries to fulfill her mother’s expectations that she learn domestic arts, but the truth is, she much prefers exploring the natural world with Grandaddy. One of the highlights of the novel is the duo’s discovery of a new species of plant “heretofore unknown.”
This is a wonderful book for young scientists and plant lovers—both girls and boys. It also complements many nonfiction books on botany, Darwin and the natural world available at your library.
This fall, grab an apple (or some warm homemade applesauce), curl up and read!
Deborah Hopkinson wrote about Charles Darwin in Who Was Charles Darwin? She has also written about the 19th-century astronomer Maria Mitchell in Maria’s Comet. Next spring she will publish Follow the Moon Home, a book about sea turtle conservation with Philippe Cousteau. She's also a regular contributor to BookPage.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month! Eighteen-year-old Aija Mayrock has written the ultimate guide for any kid struggling with bullies, The Survival Guide to Bullying, based on her own difficult experiences. In a guest blog post, Mayrock shares how she went from victim to anti-bullying spokesperson.
The first time I was told I was worthless, I was 8 years old. I felt like I had my purpose taken from me. I was bullied every day at school. When I got home, it didn’t end, because I was cyberbullied as well.
I thought perhaps I could create my purpose again through words. I created fantastical worlds to escape into. I wrote in class, out of class, at home and everywhere I went. But soon I stopped writing. My classmates told me that I wasn’t good enough to write. And I guess because I was 8 years old, I believed them.
So I ventured to the school library every chance I got. I read as many books as I possibly could. And that’s where my dream of writing a book began to blossom. From my early teenage years, I wanted to help other kids survive bullying. But I didn’t know how.
I always read how-to guides on making friends or having confidence. But none of them ever really addressed the issues I was going through. I was terrified of going to school every morning, in fear that I would be torn to shreds by my classmates. I began to hate everything about myself. I lived an online life where I was cyberbullied terribly, yet I didn’t know how to protect myself.
I knew there was a way to shine a flashlight into the unknown for the rest of the kids being bullied. So I started re-reading my diaries that I had kept since the age of 8. I decided to build a book from 8-year-old Aija’s fears and foes.
Eventually my streams of consciousness turned into a guide that could help any kid navigate their way through going to school, having confidence, cyberbullying, finding their creativity and living a happy, healthy life.
It was the guide that I always needed, but never had.
I self-published it a year ago on October 1, 2014. I spoke at local schools and tried to get it into as many kids' hands as possible. My dreams came true when Scholastic published it this summer.
I wake up to hundreds of messages from kids around the world who have heard my story or read my book. I now realize why the bullying happened.
It took me so many years to be able to stand up after being knocked down so many times. It took me even longer to be able to pick up a pen and paper and know that I was worthy enough to write.
I found my purpose in a book I created to help others being bullied find THEIR purpose. It always takes a dark night to be able to see the stars.
BookPage is thrilled to reveal the cover for There Is a Tribe of Kids, the upcoming new picture book by Lane Smith! It will be released next spring from Macmillan Children's. Click to view larger.
Lucky devils that we are, we were granted a sneak peek of the book, and readers can expect a rich and absorbing—and very funny—exploration of collective nouns. Smith answered a few questions about the new book:
BookPage: What inspired your new picture book?
Smith: In the summer of 1969 I was an 8-year-old boy living in the foothills of Corona, California. One evening after several hours of exploring caves and climbing rocks I found myself lost and unable to find my way home.
That night I stumbled onto a herd, also called a tribe, of goats. Mostly kids, as their young are called. They shared their food with me and led me to water. If it had not been for these goats who knows what might have happened to me. As the night grew colder, I found warmth in their fur as we huddled together to sleep. In the morning, they led me home.
I never saw them again.
Over the years the memory of this night faded, and I haven’t thought much about it until your question, ‘What inspired There Is a Tribe of Kids?’ I wonder, could There Is a Tribe of Kids have something to do with that time so long ago, that dreamlike night under the stars with that other Tribe of Kids . . . ?
NAH! I think I just wanted to make a book with lots of different animals.
In choosing groups to feature in the book, what do you think is the silliest group name? Most unfair?
I’ve always thought a Murder of Crows was both the coolest collective noun ever and the most unjust. I love crows. I feed them every morning and could watch them all day long. They are smart, clever and funny and don’t seem the slightest bit murderous.
Why is this book important to you?
I don’t know if important is the right word. I try to avoid “statements” with my books. But the fun thing about picture books is you can do something wildly, stylistically different with each one: sometimes realistic, sometimes cartoony, sometimes goofy, sometimes abstract. I wanted this one to be dreamlike but also a believable journey, so the art is a mixture of the scribbly and the rendered. It’s probably the loosest book I’ve done.
What are you most excited about for young readers to discover with your new book?
I think it will be a good book for group discussion. I never really say if the boy in the story is lost and trying to get back to his “tribe,” or if he was born alone and looking for acceptance with different animal groups. It will be fun to hear what young readers think.
If there were a large group of Lane Smiths, what would that group be called?
My wife Molly said, “an Annoyance of Lanes,” but I think she only said that because she wasn’t sure how to spell “an Adorableness of Lanes.”
Getting your kids back to school in the fall just isn’t as simple as it used to be. Gone are the days when buying a new backpack, shoes and notebook would be enough. Now, in addition to understanding macro-educational policies, standards and testing requirements, parents must also make sense of ever-changing acronyms, such as STEM, STEAM—and now STREAM. What’s behind these terms and what can a parent do to help support a child’s learning?
The acronym STEM has been around for awhile; it stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. STEM education refers to teaching and learning in these fields, from preschool to post-doctorate, in both classroom and informal settings. STEM education initiatives are designed to ensure that young people have opportunities in these fields, and to make the U.S. more competitive internationally.
Several years ago, STEM was expanded to STEAM, an effort to incorporate art into the mix. STREAM wasn’t far behind—a reminder that reading and writing are essential. As Rob Furman wrote in his 2014 Huffington Post article, “Without the ability to read and write, there is not a job to be found for which STEM or STEAM education is going to be enough preparation.”
What’s a parent to do? Fortunately, reading great books at home—and seeing reading as a jumping off point for the exploration of the world, is the best place to start. Sometimes just following your child’s lead is all it takes. Examples abound: Gardening books for preschoolers can lead to explorations of how plants get energy, and young children are naturally curious: a fictional story about a bear can lead to nonfiction books about mammals and hibernation.
Here are some tried-and-true tips:
Deborah Hopkinson is the author of titles such as The Great Trouble (about the history of cholera), Sky Boys, How They Built the Empire State Building (construction and engineering) and Who Was Charles Darwin? Her newest book is Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in WWII Denmark, out August 25. She's also a regular contributor to BookPage.
Emma Donoghue is best known for her international best-selling novel Room, which was a finalist for the Man Booker, Commonwealth and Orange Prizes. The story of 5-year-old Jack, who has spent his entire life within the confines of a single room with his Ma, is fierce and daring, but young Jack's pitch-perfect narration is what has given the novel such staying power.
With that unforgettable young narrator in her back pocket, Donoghue will publish her first middle grade novel, The Lotterys Plus One, with Scholastic's Arthur A. Levine imprint in February 2017. Sumac Lottery is a little girl at the heart of a big, loving family——six siblings, two moms and two dads all piled into a big Victorian house called Camelottery. It's a lovely life—but then her racist, homophobic grandfather moves in, too.
Says publisher Arthur A. Levine, "This is a tale about the unbridled joy of living in a big, loving family, and the lengths to which one creative nine year old will go when that crazy, delicate equilibrium is threatened. Only a writer with the incredible skill of Emma Donoghue could present such a vibrant bounty of personalities with perfect clarity and true heart."
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: View all our coverage of Emma Donoghue's books.
It's tough to compete with swimming pools, lake days and bike rides in the sun. To keep kids reading all summer long, it's going to take a whole lot of adventure and magic. Fortunately, there are several new children's books that fit the bill:
Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley
Ten-year-old Micah Tuttle has grown up listening to stories about the amazing Circus Mirandus, with its talking animals, invisible tigers and otherworldly performers. But when he discovers that magic is real, Micah and his new friend Jenny go in search of a miracle. “Once in a while, it’s good to be ridiculous and amazing," writes debut author Beasley. So true! Read more>>>
Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes
This enchanting story set in the Louisiana bayou explores the world of 10-year-old Maddy as she discovers her family's magical legacy. Readers will love the novel's Southern roots and African mermaid mythology, which features a uniquely heroic mermaid. Read more>>>
Grounded by Megan Morrison
The classic Rapunzel fairy tale takes off in a fun, imaginative direction, as our naive heroine discovers her safe little world in the tower may not be all it seems. She journeys into the world of Tyme with her friends Jack and Prince Frog, and their adventures make the pages fly by. Read more>>>
Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
With codes, puzzles and literary references, this one will delight young readers who may already be inclined to opt for reading over swimming. The story of 12-year-old Emily as she attempts to win the great Book Scavenger game will both challenge and entertain. Read more>>>
Woof by Spencer Quinn
In the first in a new middle grade series, Birdie and Bowser form as lovable a sleuthing team as Chet and Bernie, the stars of Quinn's best-selling adult mystery series. In their first adventure, Birdie and Bowser take on the mystery of Grammy’s mounted championship black marlin, which has gone missing. Everything's more fun with a dog! Read more>>>
Nooks & Crannies by Jessica Lawson
Plucky Tabitha Crum has been invited with a group of other children to the huge, possibly haunted Hollingsworth Hall. With her mouse sidekick, Tabitha unearths the secrets of the mansion—and makes some new friends along the way. Read more>>>
The Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry
Kids might not want to think about classes and field trips between the months of May and August, but they'll be laughing too hard to care while reading Pulitzer Prize winner Barry's hilarious novel about a school trip to the nation's capital. Read more>>>
Return to Augie Hobble by Lane Smith
One word to describe Smith's first novel for middle grade readers: wacky. It's all over the place—in a good way. This story of an amusement park, werewolves (possibly) and homework might not make sense to you, but kids will likely devour it. Read more>>>
Beach House by Deanna Caswell, illustrated by Amy June Bates
This pleasant, gentle picture book captures the joys and rituals of the family beach trip, from unloading the car and prepping the house before all parading to the water, to relaxing at the end of an exciting day with a bonfire in the sand. Read more>>>
Pool by JiHyeon Lee
This deceptively simple picture book finds a little boy hesitating at the edge of the swimming pool, but as soon as he dives in, he makes a new friend. Together they explore an imaginative deep-sea world full of incredible creatures. Read more>>>
Ice Cream Summer by Peter Sís
A little boy reveals all the amazing things he has learned throughout the summer, but clearly he's been thinking about one thing above all else—ice cream! Read more>>>
For so many BookPage readers, the library is a very special place, and summer reading is something we look forward to as much as a vacation itself. Not all young readers feel the same way about summer reading—but fortunately, this year there's a hero to fight summer reading blues. The Collaborative Summer Library Program (CSLP), the largest summer reading organization in the country, has tapped their first-ever National Summer Reading Champion, and the honor goes to none other than Kate DiCamillo.
We contacted DiCamillo, who is a two-time Newbery Medal winner and now both the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature AND the National Summer Reading Champion, to talk about summer reading and just how awesome it is:
Congratulations on being the FIRST EVER National Summer Reading Champion! What does this position mean to you?
It means I get to champion books! And libraries! And reading! It means that I get to promote the idea of reading books that you want to read. I was a kid who went to my public library’s summer reading program every summer. I loved it. It mattered to me.
What will be your greatest challenge as CSLP’s National Summer Reading Champion?
The biggest challenge is to make sure that I don’t use too many exclamation marks when I am writing (and talking) about CSLP and their programs. This is something that I believe in so much because it connects directly to the joy of reading.
The 2015 theme is “Every Hero Has a Story.” How do you define a “hero”?
A hero, for me, is the person who hands you a book. Librarians are heroes.
What do you consider to be the most important reason to encourage kids and teens to read all summer long?
Reading expands our universe. It enlarges our hearts. It entertains us and educates us and illuminates the world we occupy. Summer reading does that and winter reading does that. Lifetime reading does that.
What books (or kinds of books) do you most often recommend for summer reading?
Oh, I’ve got a list of classics that I love (The Borrowers, Paddington the Bear, Ribsy, Harriet the Spy, Island of the Blue Dolphins) and new books that I adore (Cody and the Fountain of Happiness, Circus Mirandus, The Great Good Summer), but I am, mostly, a big fan of standing back and letting a kid pick the book they want to read.
If you don’t mind me saying, I would define YOU as a hero for giving us so many marvelous stories! Speaking of . . . can you give us a sneak peek of your next book?
It’s a book about three friends. It takes place in Florida . . . in the summer time . . .
Learn more in DiCamillo's video address below, and read more here.
BookPage is excited to reveal the cover for Frank Einstein and the BrainTurbo, the third book in the Frank Einstein series from Jon Scieszka and Brian Biggs, to be released August 18. Click to view larger.
The first two books in the series, Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor and Frank Einstein and the Electro-Finger, became New York Times bestsellers with a winning combination of real-life science and humor. In book three, Frank Einstein and the BrainTurbo, kid-genius scientist and inventor Frank Einstein's adventures continue—this time involving the science of the human body.
Frank and his best friend, Watson, along with Klink (a self-assembled artificial intelligence entity), create the BrainTurbo to boost the human body and help their baseball-pitching pal Janegoodall. But when Klank goes missing, they must first rescue their robot pal and stop T. Edison—Frank’s classmate and archrival—from stealing their latest invention and using it against them.
We've already had lots of fun with Scieszka and Biggs for this series, as they shared their favorite scenes from book one. BookPage checked in with the writing duo to find out more about book three.
Author Jon Scieszka (left) and illustrator Brian Biggs (right)
BookPage: What are you most excited about in the new book?
Jon: This book, and the whole series, completely excites me with the big idea of inventing a new kind of narrative for kids—equal parts hardcore information, action narrative and humor. Shelve under: InfoFictionHumor!
Brian: Robots playing baseball! Klank is my favorite character in the series, and in the third book we spend a lot of time with him. New layers of his personality are revealed, and we realize that things aren’t as simple as they might originally seem.
If you could choose any invention from the series, which would you want to use in your real life? What would you do with it?
Jon: I would really love to have the invention from Book #6, and I would use it to access other worlds and universes, create an intelligent universal love and allow all lifeforms to eat lunch whenever they want to.
Brian: The Electro-Finger, for sure. I’m really into bicycling, and on a long ride when I’m making my way up another steep hill, it would be nice to just press the button and zoom to the top. Also, I’d like to wire it so it could help me draw faster. Maybe.
What’s it like working with each other?
Jon: Bizarre. Insane. Ridiculous. Educational. Crazy. And Fun. We go back and forth a lot to make sure the science is just right . . . and Klank is always goofy. And it's always fun to see how Brian shows scenes I have imagined. It's a lot like working with Klink and Klank and Watson.
Brian: Jon stands over me as I draw the pictures and chuckles every time I make a mistake. It’s pretty annoying, but it’s OK because I try to add things into the illustrations that later on make him have to change the text.
We work together well. I think we have the same weird sense of humor, and since we were both 12-year-old boys once, I think we enjoy reverting to those mischievous kids we once were to make these stories.
Also, he remembers my birthday, which is nice.
What would you like to tell all brilliant kid scientists out there?
Jon: Ask questions. Test answers. Find out for yourself how the universe works. It is so important for the future of our world to be scientifically literate. And the truth of the scientific world is endlessly crazy, beautiful and fascinating.
Brian: Use your powers for good. Not evil. Make enormous donuts with your scientific knowledge, not vegetables.
Believe it or not, it's the first day of spring! Raise your hand if you're sick of gray days and ice—or if you're pretty sure the spring equinox is a big fat liar (looking at you, NYC). Littlest readers can celebrate the return of spring (or dream of it) with a fresh crop of picture books:
Shawn Sheehy sneaks plenty of fun facts into his outstanding new pop-up book, Welcome to the Neighborwood. Each spread reveals the home of a different creature, from spiders to hummingbirds. I love how this delicate paper craftsmanship mirrors the intricacy and fragility of nature, encouraging little ones to both explore and respect their environment.
For another unique offering that gets up close and personal with nature, April Pulley Sayre's Raindrops Roll zooms in on the magic of rain with a captivating balance of science and poetry. Seven Impossible Things blogger Julie Danielson shares a few spreads from the book on her blog here.
The title of Kadir Nelson's If You Plant a Seed recalls the slippery-slope hijinks of a certain demanding mouse and his cookie (or moose and muffin, if you prefer), and the rabbit and mouse at the beginning of this gorgeous book certainly need to learn some manners—but fortunately they do, and their gardening efforts become a sweet allegory for the importance of kindness and sustainability.
You Nest Here with Me, written by Jane Yolen and her daughter and fellow birder, Heidi E.Y. Stemple, and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, is a classic bedtime book—but with so many baby birds tucked into their little homes, it's also a classic springtime book.
Carin Bramsen's Just a Duck? is on this list simply because of its hyper-vibrant illustrations. It's a story of unlikely best friends who learn to appreciate each other's unique strengths, but there's something about the colors, textures and, most of all, hilarious expressions that reminds me of all the best parts of spring.
Finally, the bears have it in two exceptional new picture books: The magical paper collages in Finding Spring by Carin Berger capture just how hard it is to wait for new seasons; and The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach is irresistibly full of mischief and bright, sunny adventures.
Want even more? Check these out at your local library:
You can view all our children's picture book coverage here.
BookPage is thrilled to reveal the cover for The Day the Crayons Came Home, the sequel to the best-selling The Day the Crayons Quit, written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers! It will be released this August from Philomel. Click to view larger.
But what have those high-maintenance crayons been up to? We chatted with Jeffers for the release of The Day the Crayons Quit, so for this new book, we wanted to hear from author Drew Daywalt:
Author Drew Daywalt
BookPage: What originally inspired you to share the plight of these grumbling crayons?
Daywalt: It wasn’t really by choice. My crayons told me that if I didn’t bring their plight to the public eye, something terrible might happen to me. What would you do? Like Duncan, I complied. This conspiracy of silence has to end. These little wax cylinders are terrors and the world needs to know!
Last time we checked in on the crayons, they were pretty ticked off, though Duncan did make a concerted effort to honor their many demands. Why are they coming back in this sequel? What do they want this time?
Money. Cold hard cash. They want the Benjamins and they aren’t afraid to use violence to get them. NO, I’M JUST KIDDING! Seriously though . . . poor Duncan. He finally gets one group of crayons to chill out and a whole NEW group shows up griping at him.
In The Day the Crayons Came Home, it’s a whole new batch of crayons, and their complaints are about how Duncan has lost, broken or neglected them. We know all these crayons already, because we're all kind of Duncan. They’re all the ones we melted, broke, lost or otherwise treated crappily when we were kids. (Is crappily a word? Oh man, did I just invent a word? I did! Yes! You’re WELCOME, Webster!) But in all seriousness, what I think makes the new book really special is that it’s a story about homecoming and acceptance no matter what . . . but with lots of complaining.
Illustrator Oliver Jeffers
Which crayon do you most empathize with?
In the new book? I’m Neon Red Crayon. Yeah. For sure. He’s kind of a lovable goof who has no idea where he is or where he’s going, but he’s really enjoying the ride. Or . . . I might be Glow-in-the-Dark Crayon. He draws scary things that then totally freak him out when it’s dark. Also kind of an idiot. Hmmm . . . I’m seeing a pattern here in myself.
What’s your favorite part about working with Jeffers?
He smells nice. Actually, It’s the sense of fun when we’re working. A lot of what Oliver and I do is try to make each other laugh. He also has a cool Irish brogue, which makes me 25% cooler just by standing next to him when he talks. What I bring to the table is that I have large strong shoulders and I could easily carry him if I ever needed to rescue him from, like, a burning building or something.
What would you like kids to remember next time they pick up their crayons?
Not to do drugs.
The animated film rights for The Day the Crayons Quit were purchased by Universal Pictures last year. Hooray for crayons!