Thursday, January 31, 2008

Ravenlocks and the Three Ice Bears: The Three Snow Bears by Jan Brett

As winter settles in, Jan Brett's recent retelling of the venerable Goldilocks tale, The Three Snow Bears, seems just right for the season.

Aloo-ki, an Inuit girl, is out on a fishing expedition when her sled dogs begin to drift away on an ice floe. Trying to follow, she finds an igloo with promise of warmth and hot soup drifting from its smoke hole. Inside no one is home, but Aloo-ki samples the three bowls of breakfast broth cooling on the table, tries on the three sets of boots beside the fire, and with a "Time for a nap" and a yawn finally falls asleep in a just-right pile of warm furs nearby.

Meanwhile a family of polar bears, strolling while their soup cools, come upon some adrift Huskies. Mama and Papa Bear slip into the icy ocean to push the dogs to safety and tie them outside their igloo. Inside, Baby Bear discovers his soup gone, his boots askew, and someone snoozing in his sleeping furs.

Awaking to the frightening sight of three looming snow bears, Aloo-ki dives between Papa Bear's huge legs and makes her escape. Finding her sled and dog team just outside, she hops aboard and flies toward home over the ice, not forgetting to wave a thank-you to the bemused bears she leaves behind.

Brett's Arctic re-setting of the old English story of a trespassing lass is deft, and her portrayals of the facial expressions of the venturesome girl and the bears who suffer a home invasion are charmingly humorous, but it is her beautiful landscapes and backgrounds, in their palette of whites, grays, and ice blues, with touches of warm brown and deep red, which light up the well worn story with a fresh touch. Brett journeyed to Inuit lands to prepare her paintings for this book, and the touches of native decorative patterns in the clothes and in the frames around each picture give the well-traveled story a firm sense of place.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Just Another School Day : Science Fair Day by Lynn Plourde

Everyone in Mrs. Shepherd's class was loaded down with posters and potions,
Gizmos and gadgets,
Chemicals and contraptions.

It's Science Fair Day in Mrs. Shepherd's class, and the classroom is awash with widgets and a-buzz with students nervously putting the finishing touches on their projects before the judging begins. That is, everyone except inquisitive student Ima Kindanozee, who is roaming the room asking everyone questions about their projects. (Her project, of course, is an untidy pile covered by a red tablecloth with a warning sign to keep away.) "Did you make it? How's it work? What's this switch for?" she queries.

"This switch," unfortunately, is the launch button for Josefina's model rocket, which works just fine, thank you, and soars convincingly out the window just as the hefty and harried principal Mrs. Helm appears at the door to inspect the projects. Mrs. Shepherd manages to head off Mrs. Helm, who moves on, grumbling about losing thirteen and a-half minutes from her tight schedule, while Josefina scurries about to reset her rocket project.
Ima has already moved on, however, this time managing to disarticulate Dewey's giant dinosaur skeleton model. Undeterred, Josefina moves right on to the table where a classmate in painting and labeling an enormous model of the brain. "Is that what it really looks like? What's it made of? Can it think?" she asks, ignoring the creator's warnings not to touch. In no time Ima is deep into the brain model and most of the "sticky, icky goo" is stuck on her hands and in her hair.

As Mrs. Helm is politely turned away again, Ima moves on to Maybelle's project, again ignoring the "NOT READY. DO NOT TOUCH" sign, pushing the START button and filling the room, "splat, splash, hissss!" with colorful pieces of fruits and vegetables.

At last everyone's project except Ima's is ready for inspection. Ima's work seems to consist of 999 pages of questions and answers about everyone else's work. Just then Principle Helm makes what she clearly intends to be her official and FINAL appearance. Thinking on her feet like the veteran teacher she is, Mrs. Shepherd appoints Ima to be Mrs. Helm's guide, and, surprise, surprise, Ima knows all the right questions and answers about each display:

"Why does the sun glow?
How does the hamster know?
What makes the lava flow?
How did that plant grow?"

Ima is the only student who doesn't earn a science fair ribbon, but she is the one chosen to write the lead article about the fair for the school newspaper, with the appropriate by-line, Ima Kindanozee, Reporter

Science Fair Day, published this month by Dutton, is the latest in author Lynn Plourde's series of special days in Mrs. Shepherd's class, including Teacher Appreciation Day, Book Fair Day, Pajama Day (Picture Puffin Books), and, of course, School Picture Day (Picture Puffin Books), all capably and comically illustrated by Thor Wickstrom.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

It's Science Fair Time, 2008! More Books to Save Your Sanity

Schools have traditionally sought to beat the mid-winter blahs with school-wide science fairs, and the deadline for those outlines sets off the annual search for do-able projects that don't require a parental graduate degree.

Janice VanCleave's Great Science Project Ideas from Real Kids (Janice VanCleave Presents) (Wiley and Son, 2007) is an example of a book which meets the criteria for a good science project guide. VanCleave first defines the "science project."

"A science project is an investigation designed to find the answer to one specific question or proposal called a project problem."

VanCleave follows with an easy-to-read section titled "How to Use This Book" in which she advises students on how to set up and keep a project log as they research a category, topic, and specific project problem, and determine their hypothesis, methodology, design, presentation, and evaluation to execute the project. In this section VanCleave also offers a good description of the useful terms independent variable, dependent variable, controlled variable, and controls.

Each of the forty projects is based upon real student exhibits and provides lists of materials, sources and supplies, clear directions, illustrations and diagrams, and suggested methods of analysis, evaluation of the data, and presentation. Project problems include examples such as "What type of container increases the shelf life of bread?" and "How does density affect the buoyancy of an object?" These projects are just right for students in the middle grades and are grounded in scientific principles which reinforce curriculum objectives in Grades 4-7.

VanCleave's book also includes excellent appendices, including Appendix A with 100 project problems and Appendix B which provides an extensive bibliography titled Science Project and Reference Books, broken down into categories such as astronomy, biology, chemistry, etc., as well as a seven-page Glossary and four-page Index.

Other very useful guides by Janice VanCleave are Janice VanCleave's Guide to the Best Science Fair Projects (Janice VanCleave's Guide to the Best Science Fair Projects), Janice VanCleave's Guide to More of the Best Science Fair Projects, and Janice VanCleave's A+ Science Fair Projects.

For those students with specific subject area interests or requirements VanCleave has added Janice VanCleave's A+ Projects in Biology: Winning Experiments for Science Fairs and Extra Credit (VanCleave A+ Science Projects Series), Janice VanCleave's A+ Projects in Earth Science: Winning Experiments for Science Fairs and Extra Credit, Janice VanCleave's A+ Projects in Physics: Winning Experiments for Science Fairs and Extra Credit (VanCleave A+ Science Projects Series), and Janice VanCleave's A+ Projects in Chemistry: Winning Experiments for Science Fairs and Extra Credit (VanCleave A+ Science Projects Series)

For a more exhibit-oriented approach, students looking for experiments which involve showpiece constructions can't go wrong with Neil Ardley's 101 Great Science Experiments. Using DK Publishing's trademark color-popping spot art to good advantage, veteran science writer Ardley provides everything needed to create working models exhibiting project outcomes, with titles such as "Build a Turbine," "Build a Water Wheel," or "Lift a Load with Water."

For a discussion of what to look for in a science project guide and additional book recommendations from my post of January 27, 2007, here is the link.

Labels: ,

Monday, January 28, 2008

Groucho Woulda Loved It! Duck Soup by Janet Urbanovic

Jackie Urbanovic, whose homey and hilarious Duck at the Door hit the New York Times bestseller list, has an even funnier sequel starring that mallard Max.

In Duck Soup enthusiastic amateur chef Max is still working diligently at his avocation. Although his Cracker Barrel Cheese and Marshmallow Soup and Way Way Too Many Beans Soup have been a flop with his thirteen co-pets, he is determined to create a Max masterpiece this time. This pot of soup just needs a petite soupcon of something special, Max decides after a taste.

But while he zips outside to pluck a few choice herbs from his kitchen garden, Brody the St. Bernard, Dakota the kitty, and Bebe the parakeet can't resist sneaking a sip from his fragrant stockpot. But what this? One of Max's bright green feathers is floating atop the pottage! Yikes! Could Max have fallen in?

"I think I know where Max went!" whispers Dakota.

"I told him never to cook alone!" gasps Bebe.

Dakota grabs a wooden spoon and thrusts it into the huge pot. "Max, grab the spoon!" Dakota yells. But Brody has a better rescue strategy. "I know! The strainer! The big bowl with the little holes! GRAB IT!" Quickly the frantic pets start pouring the soup through the strainer.

"A-A-H-H-H! There's his HEAD!" says Bebe (covering his eyes with his wings).

"Silly! It's only a potato," says Brody.

"EYEBALLS!" shrieks Bebe.

"Guys, it's only tiny onions," says Brody.

"HIS FEET!" yells Dakota.

"Calm down, you two," says Brody. "It's only carrot slices!"

Just then Max bounces back into the kitchen with his basket full of fresh herbs, just in time to to see his deluxe dinner gurgling down the drain.

The final double-page spread shows a despondent Max, the ever patient, pet-loving Irene, and her menagerie of dogs, cats, and birds around the dining table with take-out pizza for all.

"We know you're disappointed," Irene tells Max soothingly. "But at least you're not duck soup!"

Urbanovic's illustrations are just as winsome and winning in this engaging sequel. The long-suffering animal lover Irene and her menagerie's priceless facial expressions make this story one that will keep kids coming back for a second helping of Duck Soup.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Groundhog Roundup III: Gregory Groundhog Predicts the Weather by Bruce Koscielniak

Bruce Koscielniak takes a humorous look at the media in his spoof of groundhog hoopla in his picture book Geoffrey Groundhog Predicts the Weather.

Sure, Geoffrey Groundhog listened to his mother's advice about what to do on February 2. But when nobody shows up to get his opinion of the big day (no more winter!) Geoffrey takes it to another level, trotting down to the Mooseflats County Daily Gazette to pitch his weather report to the editor. When the newspaper headlines his prediction and its readers rejoice in the return of spring, Geoffrey becomes the darling of the media. His smiling face is featured on billboards and the sides of buses, advertising everything from toothpaste to Groundhog Brand Jogging Shoes. "Predicting the weather is easy," Geoffrey brags.

When the next winter rolls around, Daily Gazette editor Merton Moose lines up full media coverage for Geoffrey's Going Out event. Merchants proclaim Groundhog Day sales, television cameras and lights are set up around his burrow, and crowds of citizens gather with pom poms and signs to welcome Geoffrey's appearance.

Unfortunately, Geoffrey's clock doesn't go off in the morning, and when he awakens late, he is so discombobulated by the blaze of lights and camera flashes when he appears that he can't tell whether he has a shadow or not. The Daily Gazette has to run a disappointing headline in its morning edition:


Spinning the belated event like the media maven he is, Geoffrey promises a prediction at an afternoon press conference, where he confidently predicts six more weeks of winter. When interviewed about the basis of his belated prediction, however, Geoffrey has to confess that he consulted an expert. "I called my mom," he admits.

Koscielniak's spoof of the media hype around Punxsutawney Phil's annual appearance is ably assisted by his ink and watercolor illustrations of the small town media guys and the scenic snowy surroundings of Mooseflats County.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

Groundhog Roundup II: How Groundhog's Garden Grew by Lynn Cherry

Author-illustrator Lynn Cherry, known for her notable celebration of rain forest ecology The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest, takes it down to a smaller, but equally beautiful piece of ecology, the homey vegetable garden in her How Groundhog's Garden Grew.

It's spring and Little Groundhog awakes hungry enough to make a buffet of his neighbor's garden. Squirrel points out that planting his own garden is a better plan for the future and begins to teach him the timeless tasks of the prudent gardener, gathering seeds and root vegetables, drying and saving them for the next growing season. After the two hibernate away the next winter, they get started making their garden grow, sowing seeds, setting out onions, potato eyes, carrot roots, and even perennial asparagus, providing for their future needs and preserving the environment around them.

What makes this picture book exceptional are Cherry's superb illustrations, done in realistic style with glowing colors. Double spreads of Groundhog and Squirrel in their garden alternate with smaller illustrations surrounded by incredibly realistic borders showing growing plants, from seeds to seedlings to mature, fruited plants. On the page discussing pollination another border features garden insects which are beneficial partners with the wind in aiding cultivation. Each page tells its own story, with a multitude of visual detail to be observed.

When the garden is mature, Squirrel teaches Groundhog to preserve his bounty by cooking and preserving some of the food, and the fruits of their labor are shared in a feast of thanksgiving, with the page borders showing the mature plants and their produce.

Not just a Groundhog Day story, How Groundhog's Garden Grew. is a great extension of the coming-of-spring tale, especially for those regions where February actually brings the beginning of spring planting time. The wonderful illustrations will inspire children during classroom plant cycle units, but the book offers anyone a chance to celebrate the wonder of growth and fruition.

Labels: , ,

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Waddler Who Wintered Over: Duck at the Door by Janet Urbanovic

Jackie Urbanovic's ebullient Duck at the Door starts the fun right on the title page, which shows a weary, wayworn wanderer of a little mallard trudging, head down, through the deep and driving blizzard, a dollop of snow on his head.
This duck, it seems, has been channeling the grasshopper in the old Aesop's fable, floating lazily back at the lovely pond while his more diligent flock members are flapping up the migratory flyways. Now, with snow blowing and no Wellingtons on his little webbed feet, he's looking for a home for the winter.

This duck is in luck. The door he knocks upon is opened by Irene, a pleasant middle-aged woman who apparently loves animals, since the door opens to a cozy, fire lit living room which she shares with a menagerie of animals, ranging from St. Bernard Brody to parakeet BeBe, with at least 4 cats, a hare, a parrot, and three more dogs.

"My name is Max, says the duck. "I though I'd love winter, but it turned out to be cold and very lonely."

"Winter isn't so bad when you have a warm home," Irene says, hospitably bringing Max in and holding the frozen little mallard close.

Max adapts well to group life, hogging the easy chair, television and remote, much to the exasperation of the other pets. By February Max even becomes an amateur chef, chopping and sauteing right along with the cable cooking show gurus. By March, he's made himself totally at home, swan-diving off Irene's head into her bubble bath with his flock of rubber duckies.

In fact, Max takes up a lot of space--his own and everyone else's personal space, it seems. The dogs are tired of watching Max's endless reruns on TV; Dakota, Coco, and Jesse Bear the cats are tired of eating his Tofu Surprise and poor old Brody is just plain tired of sharing his doggy bed with Max. "Someone has to talk to Max," they all think, looking meaningfully at Irene.

But hark! Are those quacks we hear? Irene is saved by the flock--the return of Max's flock, which has him out the door and off to the pond in two shakes of his tail feathers, leaving Irene holding his chef's hat and Brody riding herd on his rubber duckies. The residents spread out gratefully as a tofu-free silence falls pleasantly over the house.

But soon, it seems, Max is missed by all. It's cat food, cat food, cat food every day for the cats, and with no one to fight with over the remote, watching TV isn't a thrill for the dogs. Brody is reduced to brooding over a single mallard feather left behind in his beloved dog bed.

Just when things are looking dismal for Irene and her menagerie, there's a knock on the door. "Max!" they all cry, and throw the door open, only to find the prodigal duck and his entire flock ready to move in for the whole winter. All Irene can say is "Welcome Home!"

Urbanovic's illustrations for Duck at the Door are simply hilarious, with the faces of Irene and her pet posse telling the story of the mallard home invasion with subtle humor. A great read-aloud for groups or one child, this one is bound to take its place as a standard seasonal story for the picture book crowd.

Labels: ,

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Journey to the Bottomless Pit: The Story of Stephen Bishop & Mammoth Cave by Elizabeth Mitchell

For Black History Month, coming up soon, Elizabeth Mitchell's Journey to the Bottomless Pit: The Story of Stephen Bishop and Mammoth Cave offers middle readers information on slave life in the mid-1800's, the story of about the little known but fascinating explorer of Kentucky's Mammoth Cave, and some of his thrilling discoveries far underground:

Now Stephen took Stevenson to the edge of the Bottomless Pit. Stephen threw down a burning scrap of paper to demonstrate how deep it was. Slowly the paper fell, twisting and turning as it burned, until it was lost in total darkness. No bottom could be seen.
They stood the ladder at the edge of Bottomless Pit. Carefully they lowered it until the other end touched the far side. But as soon as Stephen crawled onto the first rung, the ladder teetered. Stevenson knelt immediately to brace the ladder....[Stephen] and Stevenson looked at each other. Were they crazy to be trying this?

...Now Stephen had to figure out how to take the lamp. Without light, they wouldn't be able to see on the other side. But he needed both hands to hold on to the ladder.

"I've got an idea," Stevenson said. From his vest pocket he pulled a clean white handkerchief. He wrapped it tightly around the metal handle of the lamp. "Can you carry it in your teeth?" he asked Stephen.

Stephen Bishop, a nineteen-year-old slave, was selected to guide tourists through Mammoth Cave when it was purchased by his owner in 1838. Intelligent, brave, and enterprising, Stephen soon began to explore the vast unknown regions of this cave, the largest east of the Mississippi. Often alone, with only an oil lantern and small candles, in his non-work hours he carefully explored, memorized, and charted the miles of caverns, tunnels, and crevices in the cave. It was Stephen, guiding the enthusiast H. C. Stevenson, who first made the perilous crossing over what was known as the "Bottomless Pit" and discovered the passage they named "Fat Man's Misery" which led to the first underground river located in Mammoth Cave.

Although Stephen Bishop was responsible for the first official map and the discovery of most of the beautiful domed caverns for which Mammoth Cave is famous, as a slave he got no public credit for his work. Yet Stephen used the opportunities which his position garnered him to educate himself in geology and speleology and met and guided many famous and notable figures of the mid-nineteenth century through his cave.

Elizabeth Mitchell's Journey to the Bottomless Pit: The Story of Stephen Bishop and Mammoth Cave is a fictionalized biographical account of the working life of Stephen Bishop. The glimpses of slave life she provides in the course of the narration point up for young readers the amazing life journey of the uneducated but brilliant slave whose amazing discoveries rank with those of better-known nineteenth century explorers.

In addition to its historical value, Mitchell's book is an adventure story which takes the reader into the dark passages, underground rivers with eyeless fish, and the dazzling domed chambers for which this magnificent cavern is known. Journey to the Bottomless Pit is a 2008-2009 Tennessee State Book Award Nominee.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Daring a Happy Ending: The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt

When Holling Hoodhood begins seventh grade at Camillo Junior High, things don't look so good. Holling is sure Mrs. Baker hates his guts.
That afternoon he starts looking for an ally at home. His mom offers platitudes and his dad blows him off because Mrs. Baker's family is a client of Hoodhood & Associates architecture firm. Hopefully, Hollings tries his sister Heather:

There was only my sister left. To ask your big sister to be your ally is like asking Nova Scotia to go into battle with you.

But I knocked on her door anyway. Loudly, since the Monkees were playing.

She pulled it open and stood there, her hands on her hips. Her lipstick was the color of a new fire engine.

"Mrs. Baker hates my guts," I told her.

"So do I," she said.

"I could use some help with this.... What am I supposed to do?"

...She leaned against her door. "Mrs. Baker hates your guts, right?"

I nodded.

"Then, Holling, you might try getting some." Then she closed the door.

And that's what Holling tries to do. It's not easy. His principal, who seems to be prepping for banana republic dictator, can't get his name right, and since he's the class's only Presbyterian, he is stuck with Mrs. Baker every Wednesday afternoon while Jewish and Catholic students are released for religious instruction. While doing classroom chores he lets her two pet rats escape somewhere above the ceiling tiles, and Mrs. Baker decides that Holling's time would be better spent reading Shakespeare with her, beginning with The Tempest. Surprisingly, Holling seems to get Shakespeare and with a push from his teacher finds himself in the local production of the play, starring as the fairy Ariel, "in yellow tights with feathers on my butt." When a bully plasters the school with photos of Holling in costume from the newspaper, Holling's status goes as low as it can go.

Yet Holling rallies, saving his sister from a skidding bus, taking Meryl Lee Kowalski on a Valentine's Day date to see Romeo and Juliet, leading the Camillo Junior High track team to a surprise regional victory, and coming up with the money for his runaway sister to take a bus home. Amid a background of the war in Vietnam, in which Mrs. Baker's son is missing in action, Holling works his way through Shakespeare and begins to work out his own future. Finally, Holling finds he has the guts to confront his father after the family attends his friend Danny's Bar Mitvah:

"Would you want to stand up there with all that stuff all over you and chant at everyone?" my father said.

. . ."He became a man," I said.

"You think that's how you become a man, by chanting a few prayers?"

"You think you become a man by getting a job as an architect?"

My father straightened. "That's exactly how you become a man," he said. "You get a good job and you provide for your family. You hang on, and you play for keeps. That's how it works..... So who are you, Holling?"

"I don't know yet," I said finally. "I'll let you know."

Holling lets the rest of the family drive away, his sister smiling in the back seat, and goes back inside the temple to dance at Danny's Bar Mitzvah party. He meets up with Mrs. Baker, where they talk about the ending of Much Ado About Nothing while they wait for a dance to end.

"A comedy isn't about being funny," said Mrs. Baker.

"We've talked about this before."

"A comedy is about characters who dare to know that they may choose a happy ending after all." she said.

"Suppose we can't see it?" I asked.

"That's the daring part," said Mrs. Baker.

The Wednesday Wars, a 2008 Newbery Honor book, is a whale of a coming-of-age novel. Set against the emotional turmoil of the Vietnam War and building political turmoil preceding the election of 1968, it is as current as today. Although Schmidt's book offers plenty of laughs, we know that getting to that happy ending is never going to be easy. Yet somehow we also know that Holling Hoodhood's happy ending is going to be well earned.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

When That Old Chariot Comes: Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford

With the artful collaboration of illustrator Kadir Nelson, Carole Boston Weatherford's Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom (Caldecott Honor Book) makes the moving story of Harriet Tubman, the "Moses of her people," accessible to the picture book reader.

Born into a large family in Maryland in 1820, Harriet (born Araminta Ross) learned of the horrors of slave life by the time she was seven, when, hired out to a white neighbor by her master to rock a new baby's cradle night and day, Harriet was beaten whenever the baby cried and once hid in a pigpen for days to avoid the whip. Scarred and impaired for life by a massive blow to the head from her master, Harriet grew up longing for release from her servitude:

"I am your child, Lord; yet Master owns me,
drives me like a mule.
Now he means to sell me south in chains to work cotton,
rice, indigo, or sugarcane, never to see my family again."

Escaping through the nearby swamp, dodging patrollers and traveling only by night, Harriet made her way toward the free state of Pennsylvania, hidden and helped along the way by the courageous Quakers and other conductors along the Underground Railroad. Tiny Harriet, barely five feet tall and half-starved, knew her chances were small, but she drew upon every bit of strength to go on:

"Harriet, your father
taught you to read the stars,
predict the weather,
gather wild berries,
and make cures from roots.

Use his lessons to be be free.
You will meet again."

Arriving a free woman in Philadelphia, Harriet worked as a cook and maid and ministered to other refugee slaves at church. Learning many secrets of the Underground Railroad from them, Harriet returned to her home plantation, first to bring out her sister and her child, then her three brothers and friends, and at last her 70-year-old parents. By this time, however, the Fugitive Slave Law had passed, and Harriet's family was no longer safe from seizure and return to their master even in Philadelphia, so she moved her family to Canada to keep them free. Still Harriet, by this time known as "Moses," with a bounty of $40,000 on her head, continued to guide escaped slaves to freedom, eventually 300 in all.

"But I am a lowly woman, Lord."

"Harriet, I have blessed you
with a strong body, a clever mind.
You heal the sick and see the future.
Use your gifts to break the chains."

And use her gifts Harriet Tubman did. A friend of leaders such as Susan B. Anthony and Louisa May Alcott, Harriet provided a home and help for a succession of ex-slaves, worked as a nurse, spy, and soldier for the Union Army, and in post-war years, seeing the future, spoke widely and often for the women's suffrage movement at rallies for equal rights to education, the vote, and full citizenship.

Winner of both the Caldecott Honor Award and the Coretta Scott King Award for picture books, Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom (Caldecott Honor Book) tells the inspiring story of a life, a great American life, well lived.

Harriet Tubman's life is a worthy starting point for books for Black History Month. For preschoolers, a good beginning is An Apple for Harriet Tubman In their new picture book Glennette Turner and Susan Keeter recount Harriet's own childhood story, passed down through her great niece, in which five-year-old Harriet is forbidden to eat any of the apples she is ordered to gather in her mistress's orchard. When she is caught giving in to temptation, she is roughly beaten. But when after the Civil War Harriet is able to buy her home in Auburn, New York, she proudly plants and enjoys her own apple orchard.

For primary grade readers a solid beginning chapter biography is David A. Adler's A Picture Book of Harriet Tubman (Picture Book Biography). Notable biographies for older readers include Jacob Lawrence's Harriet and the Promised Land, Ann Petry's Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad, and Dorothy Sterling's Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman.


Monday, January 21, 2008

Money Matters: Raising Money Smart Kids by Janet Bodnar

It's the time of year, with holiday bills still coming in, taxes not far ahead, not to mention the market going down like a deflating party balloon, that money is on the minds of us grownups more than we'd like.

But how about our kids? Do they have a grasp on the concept of cash flow? Janet Bodnar's much hailed Raising Money Smart Kids: What They Need to Know about Money and How to Tell Them (Kiplinger's Personal Finance) takes on those money matters--the thorny issues of teaching kids to respect, spend, save, and ultimately earn money sensibly. Bodnar, who writes Kiplinger's "Money Smart Kids" column, begins with a tough test for parents, "Test Your Money Smarts." Here's a sample:

Your 14-year-old son has been saving half of his allowance and mony earned from neighborhood jobs. Now he wants to use the money to buy an expensive iPod. You
1. allow him to buy it.
2. offer him your old turntable instead.
3. tell him there's no way he can touch his savings.
4. buy it for him as a birthday gift.

Managing money is admittedly an intimate and subjective business. Bodnar does a good job of balancing parental needs and perogatives against the need for children to have the real-life, hands-on experience of spending, earning, and saving money before they go out on their own. Many of Bodnar's principals are not hard and fast; she advocates using personal judgment regarding your family's financial needs and goals and assessing the money style of your child as well as your own in fashioning your rules. She does have some strong beliefs, however. Advances on allowances are a No-No. Payment for good grades is unwise. Credit cards for children and teens are a BAD idea, except perhaps for rechargeable debit cards for college students away from home.

Bodnar believes that the main purpose of children's allowances is to teach them how to manage their money, how to save it for special purchases, how to resist impulse buying, how to shop for the maximum bang for the buck. She's no spoilsport. She believes in allowing children to spend their money in their own way (provided their purchases are safe) to inculcate the desire to work and to save for a reward and to let them learn from their early mistakes how to avoid big ones later. For example, here are her five things 10-year-olds should know about their own money:

1. They will have to pay for their own movie tickets, snacks, and other expenses (except for school lunches) out of their allowance.
2. They will not get an advance on their allowances.
3. They should be able to navigate a grocery store with a list and bag a bargain or two.
4. They should have a savings account in a real bank--and they should understand that although they can withdraw money, it won't be the same cash and coins they put in.
5. They will not get everything they ask for.

Bodnar threads her way through the pitfalls of allowances, 'tween and teen status symbol purchases, home chores (paid and unpaid), savings, interest, and investment, neighborhood jobs, early teen work, late teen and college student independence (almost), dealing with divorced parents and doting grandparents, and boomerang graduates who move back in after college--all with both common sense and a sense of humor. Raising Money Smart Kids: What They Need to Know about Money and How to Tell Them (Kiplinger's Personal Finance) has been called "the best resource for parents trying to raise kids with the ability to cope financially and succeed in our society."

One of the best nonfiction books for kids themselves is Neale S. Godfrey's Ultimate Kids' Money Book, which snappily covers all the money basics, from barter to stocks and bonds in a colorful, kid-pleasing format, well illustrated with humorous cartoons and plenty of "sticky-note" info-bits that summarize and nail down the concepts covered on each page. Explanations of complex ideas such as supply and demand, banking and business plans, inflation and recession are delivered in scenarios which are familiar to elementary and middle school readers. A four-page glossary reinforces the vocabulary developed in the text and an excellent index makes the book usable for casual readers or report writers alike.

For younger readers there are many picture books which deal with money management. For the youngest readers, there's Rosemary Wells' wonderful Bunny Money (Picture Puffins) in which big sister Ruby's wallet, fat with saved-up money for Grandma's birthday present, grows progressively thinner as Max picks out candy-filled vampire teeth for Grandma, drips syrup all over himself, and has to have his clothes washed at the laundromat (at Ruby's expense) before they finally settle on affordable gifts for the birthday girl. Wells provides endpapers with copyable "bunny bucks," humorously depicting rabbit versions of celebrities as diverse as Desmond Tutu and Julia Child, so that children can print their own medium of exchange to practice their bunnynomics.

For slightly older kids Judith's Viorst's classic spendthrift story, Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday shows her favorite fall guy Alexander (yes, that Alexander) frittering away the money his grandparents give him on their Sunday visit. Alexander is absolutely going to save his money for a walkie-talkie, except that impulse purchases (a one-eyed bear and a used candle) and sheer mishap with his money (down the toilet and into cracks) reduce his pocket change to bus tokens--again!

For beginning readers, Lillian Hoban's Arthur's Funny Money (I Can Read Book 2) "does the math" with Arthur and little sister Violet as they try to open their own sidewalk business. At Accelerated Reader level 3.1, this "I Can Read" book gives the early independent reader a chance to get a good giggle and an education in basic economics at the same time.

Labels: ,