Monday, September 18, 2017

We the People: Books for Constitution Week

Do you remember taking a civics class? Learning about the branches and duties of government? Watching "I'm Just a Bill" from Schoolhouse Rock? If so, it's likely that younger generations do not. In fact, a 2016 comprehensive study of recent college graduates found that:

-Only 20.6% were able to identify James Madison as the "Father of Our Constitition." (Most named Thomas Jefferson--clearly mixing up the Declaration of Independence with the Constitution.)

-Half of college graduates could not explain how the Constitution is amended.

-Nearly half incorrectly stated the term lengths of senators and representatives (Article 1, Section 1-2).

(As a contrast, 76.7% of college graduates over the age of 65 knew how the Constitution is amended.)

With Constitution Week approaching, there's no better time to study our Constitution and to teach its value and importance to young citizens. The Daughters of the American Revolution have celebrated Constitution Week since 1956, as an effort to emphasize civic responsibility and pride. We have many outstanding books for young American readers to instill knowledge and pride in our great living document:

Granted, the Constitution is not the easiest (or most interesting) read. Luckily, Constitution Translated for Kids is a top-notch choice for learning about our Constitutional rights.

Yes, you know that James Madison was the architect of the Constitution, but can you name any other signers other than Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin? The Founders: The 39 Stories Behind the U.S. Constitution reveals the long and drawn out fight to create and ratify the original Constitution.

Jonah Winter's picture book biographies are always fun and informative reads (hoping for a Lou Gehrig biography from him!) The Founding Fathers! Those Horse-Ridin', Fiddle-Playin', Book-Readin', Gun-Totin' Gentlemen Who Started America is a slightly irreverant take on the men who shaped our nation, specifically focused on the drawn-out battle to create our Constitution.

The "If You Were There" series is classic nonfiction (I remember reading them!), and still a worthy resource. If You Were There When They Signed the Constitution presents the basic facts and intriguing details in a fun-to-read question and answer format.

Russell Freedman is a giant in children's nonfiction; winner of the 1988 Newbery Medal book Lincoln: A Photobiography, he continues to create unforgettable history reads.   In Defense of Liberty: The Story of America's Bill of Rights is an eye-opening and thorough account of the tension-filled creation of the Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments), as well as challenges to the Bill of Rights over time.

Kathleen Krull is another great in children's nonfiction; she recently updated her A Kids' Guide to America's Bill of Rights for a new generation.

Shhh! We're Writing the Constitution is another classic in children's nonfiction.

If you want to read the original constitution, try The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation. Created in a graphic novel format, it's a great choice for middle school students and higher.

Lynne Cheney, the former Second Lady of the United States, has made a post-White House career of writing children's books on American historyWe the People: The Story of Our Constitution is a picture-book length (30 pages) look at the delegation that formed the original Constitution.


Benjamin Franklin is inarguably one of our most fascinating and colorful characters in American history (and unique among the Founding Fathers in that he is the only person to have signed the three major documents that formed American independence: The Declaration of Independence, The Treaty of Paris, and the Constitution). Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin is a vibrant tribute to this unique man, complete with actual quotes.

Jean Fritz's James Madison: Father of the Constitution continues to be a memorable read about the "Father of Our Constitution" and the fourth president of the United States.

Don't feel like tackling Ron Chernow's massive Alexander Hamilton biography (I admit I'm looking a little askance at his enormous Ulysses S. Grant book coming out in October, but still can't wait to read it!)? I recently finished Teri Kanefield's impressive Alexander Hamilton: The Making of America, perfect for those wanting a more substantial read than our other Alexander Hamilton books for children.

For online information about the Constitution:

Congress for Kids

U.S. Constitution for Kids 

Constitution Facts is not designed for children, but it's a great resource for middle school students and older (and includes fun quizzes as well, including one that tells you which founding father you would vote for!).

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library

Monday, September 11, 2017

Remembering September 11, 2001

It's been sixteen years since the horrific events of 9/11/2001. An entire generation has grown up in the aftermath. In the 16 years since the attacks, a number of outstanding children's books have been written--fiction and nonfiction--to help those who were not yet born understand the significance of the day. If you're searching for books to help you explain this momentous day, here are some top choices:

14 Cows for America is definitely one of the best choices for talking about 9/11 with young children, as it emphasizes the outpouring of kindness and empathy in the aftermath as opposed to the actual events of the day. After Masai tribal members in Kenya learned about the attacks from a member returning from New York, they decided to gift the US with 14 cows to help the country heal. It's a stirring and inspirational story about compassion and friendship.

Combining articles and photography from The New York Times's coverage of the 9/11 events and aftermath, A Nation Challenged: A Visual History of 9/11 and Its Aftermath is a moving tribute to both the major and intimate stories that were covered by the newspaper.

Published to coincide with the 10th anniversary, America is Under Attack: September 11, 2001 remains one of the most powerful children's books about the attacks. Told in the form of a newspaper account, Don Brown's sensitive portrayal through text and illustrations is one you won't soon forget.

Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey is another strong choice for those searching for books to use with younger children. The John J. Harvey was a very powerful fireboat in its heyday; being a 1930s fireboat meant it was long in retirement on 9/11/2001. However, with fire hydrants at the Twin Towers being out, and the fire fighters needing all the critical water from the Hudson River, the John J. Harvey was called into action. Firefighters had to make some creative adjustments to make it fully operational, but the John J. Harvey certainly proved its worth.

Heroes of 9/11 includes true tales of first responders at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Shanksville, PA (where Flight 93 crashed). This is a great choice for independent readers that emphasizes the heroics and courage exemplified on that day.

Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story memorably shows the sharpness of "before/after" through following the lives of four middle schoolers whose lives intersect on 9/11.

The young readers' edition of The Red Bandanna hasn't been released yet, but you may already be familiar with the bestseller of the same name. Welles Crowther was an equities trader and a volunteer firefighter who saved an estimate of 18 lives before dying in the South Tower collapse. Survivors recalled him wearing a red bandanna over his face during the rescues; Crowther's bandanna was a signature look, one he adapted after his father gave him a red bandanna to keep in his pocket during church. Crowther's story is one of the most unforgettable stories of self-sacrifice and courage from that horrific day; I can't wait to read it.

Towers Falling is probably the most relatable to young readers, as it follows a group of fifth graders learning about the events as a history lesson. Three young New Yorkers work on a class project about how communities grow and are strengthened (which will lead into the lessons about 9/11) and discover how the events that happened years ago continue to affect their family and community. Out of the recent 9/11 children's novels that have been published, this one is my favorite so far. It's deeply compelling and heartfelt, as two of the children include a child whose father witnessed the attacks, and a young Muslim girl who faces prejudice due to her religion.

What Were the Twin Towers? is part of the very popular Who Was/Where Is/What Was series that introduces young independent readers (4th-5th grade reading level) to a wide range of historic personalities, geographic locations, and historical events.

For more age-appropriate explanations of 9/11/2001:

The 9/11 Memorial and Museum's Talk to Children About Terrorism 

Scholastic's What Happened on 9/11?

PBS's general "Talking to Kids About News"

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Fall for Books: Books for Fall

Fall is my favorite season, so as we turn the calendar to September, I'm dreaming of cooler weather, colored leaves, football games,  and holidays spent with family and friends. Fall 2017 won't officially start until September 22, and we probably have a few more days of hot and humid weather; however, if you're a fall fanatic like me, it's not too early to get excited about fall!

While fall is made for outdoor adventures, cool crisp fall days are also made for cozy reading days. Here are some of my favorite fall books for young readers:

Although I'm not including Halloween books in this post (that will come later!), the scope of Apples and Pumpkins focuses on visiting the pumpkin patch and picking out the perfect pumpkin, with Halloween being mentioned only at the end. On the other hand, if you're looking for a Halloween story that's not about the supernatural elements of the holiday, this is an ideal choice.

Awesome Autumn  is a vivid celebration of all things fall--everything from brisk fall weather to playing football outside with friends. A mix of illustrations and photos add variety, with fun craft ideas thrown in for good measure.

The Busy Little Squirrel has been one of my standard read-alouds since it was published in 2007. This simple and attractive tale of a squirrel busily preparing for fall is tons of fun: bright illustrations, opportunities to practice your best animal sounds, and a very determined type-A squirrel.

Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn  is a sure bet for these in-between days of summer/fall. Not much to the story--just a very observant nature-loving girl noticing the changes in her community.

The Rookie Reader series is one of my favorites for easy reader nonfiction. How Do You Know it's Fall?  is a top-notch introduction to the fall season for young readers. Topics from the change in weather, animal migration, fall holidays, and more are covered in this attractively designed reader.

Kevin Henkes fans are impatiently waiting for In the Middle of Fall ; not surprisingly, it's already received amazing reviews! When I think of Henkes's illustrations, lovely pastels come to mind, so I'm super excited to see how he works in the rich colors of autumn in his latest story.

Wonderfall is one of the most gorgeous fall-related picture books I've seen. Written/illustated from the perspective of a tree, this is a wondrous journey through leaves changing colors, families celebrating holidays, and animals preparing for the cold winter ahead.

If you're counting down the days until fall, these books will definitely be great to have on hand when fall weather hits for real!

National Dog Day was August 26, but dog books are awesome any time of the day. I recently blogged about my favorite recently published dog books for ALSC.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Caldecott 2018: Early Favorites

With the year halfway through and the Fall 2017 publishing season creeping upon us, I wanted to take a look at my favorite reads of the year--so far!--and think about their Caldecott/Newbery/Printz possibilities. I have a dismal track record with my favorites winning, but hope springs eternal, right?

(Randolph) Caldecott Medal

What is the Caldecott Medal? The Caldecott Medal, first awarded in 1938, is given to the illustrator of the "most distinguished American picture book for children."

Who is eligible for the Caldecott Medal: Illustrators must be residents or citizens of the United States. The book must be published in the previous publishing year, and not originally published in another country (US territories and commonwealths not excluded). Audience for the book includes children 14 years and younger.

Top favorites:

A Perfect Day has been my top favorite for the Caldecott since we received it in February; there's still a lot left in the year for outstanding picture books, but I keep returning to this one. While there are many books about simple (and simply) wonderful days, Lane Smith brings his offbeat humor to this gem, which makes it less saccharine than others.

Elisha Cooper is DUE a Caldecott; if you're not familiar with his work, you are missing out. Cooper does animal/nature themes exceptionally well, and  Big Cat Little Cat  is even better than my (previous) favorite Cooper picture book, Homer. Be warned: you might need the tissues for the middle of the story, but it's one of the best "circle of life" picture books in recent memory. And although this has nothing to do with criteria, I love the fact that it's a NICE cat story, instead of a sneaky/snarky cat (as much as I love the Bad Kitty series!).

You know who else is due a Caldecott? Antoinette Portis, and Now  just might be her ticket. Not much story to this one; just gorgeous illustrations and a sweet message about enjoying everyday moments.

Kadir Nelson is a two-time Caldecott Honor recipient; could Blue Sky, White Stars earn him the Medal? It's a stunning tribute to American heritage, symbols, landmarks, and the diversity of this country's people. From the Statue of Liberty to the wonder of the US space missions, it's a gorgeous reflection of our unique country.

Other considerations:

Early Sunday Morning is gorgeous and glorious in its depiction of a young girl preparing for a special children's choir performance at church. This is the inaugural title from Denene Millner Books, which seeks to publish stories featuring everyday lives of African-American children; can't wait to see more from this line!

Mighty Moby's illustrations by Ed Young are jaw-dropping; the story's premise is a stretch (a young boy reenacts Moby Dick in the bathtub...?), but dismissing that, has a great read-aloud quality that isn't always present in Caldecott books.

As I mentioned, read-aloud quality is not a criteria for the Caldecott, but it's always a sweet (and rare) bonus when the Medal/Honor books are awesome read alouds. Over and Under the Pond is not only a fabulous read aloud, but it's a fabulous NONFICTION read aloud. And with its detailed and mesmerizing illustrations, this is surely one to watch for Caldecott 2018.

If you're longing for days spent at the seashore, you must read There Might be Lobsters. It's a darling tale about a dog that faces its own fears, with illustrations by Laurel Molk that will sweep you away to a lovely beach paradise.

 2017 is the centennial birthday for poet Gwendolyn Brooks, which makes We Are Shining a beautiful tribute to her work. Jan Spivey Gilchrist's illustrations are illuminating and joyful; one of my favorites from this year.

I still have plenty of 2017 picture books to go through (and more are on the way!); I'll update this post in December with my final choices! In a future post, I'll discuss why these books are on my radar for Newbery 2018 (want to add a few more possibilities before I discuss Newbery):

Genevieve's War (My second favorite--ending is a bit rushed.. But one of Giff's best in some years.)

The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming  (I. LOVE. THIS. Currently my top favorite.)

Short (always root for the "lighter" reads!)

If you want to learn more about the Caldecott Medal (and other Youth Media Awards), including past winners, check out ALSC's comprehensive site.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library

Monday, August 14, 2017

Sweet Reads: Books for National Honey Bee Day

Beekeepers and other friends of bees have celebrated National Honey Bee Day on August 19 since its inception in 2009. While it's certainly fine to be alarmed by bees (doubly so if you are allergic), children should understand that, for the most part, bees will leave you alone if you keep a respectful distance, and that bees are actually our "friends" that  play crucial roles in food production. If you'd like to introduce your children/students to the importance of bees in our world, here are some awesome titles for a wide range of ages:

Bear does not like bees! Not only do they bother him, but they steal honey. Luckily, Bee is right there to teach him a lesson about not only the helpfulness of bees, but also their willingness to share honey. Bear and Bee is a charming story about two unlikely friends, with a subtle message about assumptions.

Want to explain the process of beekeeping to young listeners? The Beeman is your best bet. Through simple rhyming text, a young boy narrates his grandfather's care of his hives, from wearing protective covering to finally collecting the honey. Grandfather's tools are also labeled and defined, and the activity of the bees is also detailed; a lot of great information is packed into this story!

One of my favorite nonfiction series is Scientists in the Field; each volume is a fascinating introduction to scientists (often working with local communities when they can) dealing with a specific crisis, animal, or naturally occuring event. The Hive Detectives follows a group of scientists researching the reasons behind an apiarist's loss of four hundred hives, complete with brilliant photographs.

Anne Rockwell's nonfiction titles are ideal for young readers; in Honey in a Hive, she takes readers through the life cycle of a honeybee and how nectar is produced into honey.

If you have a kindergarten or lower elementary school student, The Honey Makers (and everything else Gail Gibbons has written) should definitely be on your list. Like Gibbons's other informational picture books, this would work well as a read aloud.

Everything is calm and quiet for a little girl collecting berries for jam when...UH OH! A bee happens to be buzzing about in the same spot she is! Thankfully, although both are a bit suspicious of each other, both learn to peacefully coexit.  Jam and Honey is a gentle and loving story with a sweet message about respecting other creatures.

These Bees Count! brings us on a super cool field trip to a beekeeper's farm! Farmer Ellen teaches these lucky students how collect pollen, produce honey, and help the environment. An author's note provides more indepth information on the importance of bees and how colony collapse is threatening these vital insects.

For more information on bees, check out the J 595.799 section.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library

Monday, August 07, 2017

Kindergarten Kids: Books for a New School Year

Even if a child has experienced preschool, starting full-day kindergarten is a huge step! We have many outstanding stories that will help ease the transition:

Follow the Line to School is a fun interactive tour of a school: when readers follow the line, they "explore" the classroom, library, art room, cafeteria, and more.

If you're familiar with Jane Yolen's How Do Dinosaurs...? series, you know that the books present incorrect and correct manners in a funny and lighthearted manner.  How Do Dinosaurs Go to School? illustrate what to do (have fun playing with friends at recess) and what not to do (jump on your desk!) in the series' usual hilarious way.

Ollie's School Day: A Yes-and-No Book is another interactive book that's sure to spark some giggles and conversation. Ollie has several choices to make about his school day, such as what to wear...should he wear a bathing suit? A police officer's uniform? Of course not!

School's First Day of School  takes the "first day of school" concept with a different twist; instead of presenting children who are nervous about starting school, we see the SCHOOL express worry about the new school year. Will the students like him? Be nice to him? Adam Rex's wacky humor is on full display here, with charming results.

This is My Home, This is My School is one of the few picture books that address homeschooling; through a young boy's perspective, readers follow a large and active family through a typical school day. This is a followup of sorts to Jonathan Bean's darling Building Our House.

Looking for more "back to school" books? Check out my recent ALSC post featuring unique books about schools in different countries.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library