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Everyone Likes Dogs: Great Books About Dogs

by Miriam Downey 28. May 2013 18:11

 I recently read an article by a veterinarian who said that there are certain breeds of dogs that he isn't seeing much of any more. The list included Irish setters, cocker spaniels, and collies among others. All three of these are breeds of dogs that have played important roles in my life. The writer of the article suggested that the popularity of certain dog breeds has to do, in part, with the breeds of dogs that are being shown on television. He suggested, for instance, that when the show Lassie was no longer on the air, the popularity of collies waned, and that when the Taco Bell ads featured the talking Chihuahua, the popularity of the Chihuahua dramatically increased.

Many of us have dogs that we love. I inherited a mutt named Buck when my son and family moved into a third floor condo in Chicago. No room for a dog. Buck came to live at our house. He was already an old dog when he came, and he lived with us for five years. Every afternoon at 3 pm, he would come and lay his head on my lap. "Leave your desk. It's time to go for a walk," he seemed to be saying to me. Such a wonderful dog!

This week, let's look at some chapter books and novels where dogs play an important role. Several of these books are available as ebooks, while the rest are available at your library or book store.

Chapter Books

Bulu: African Wonder Dog by Dick Houston. A true story of an incredible dog that became the foster parent to orphaned animals in the African bush.

Lad: A Dog by Albert Payson Terhune. Lad is a collie dog with a soul. The first in a series of books.

Lassie Come Home by Eric Knight.The first book in a series about a beautiful collie. There is a movie and an entire television series based on this book. There is also a picture book series by Rosemary Wells based on Eric Knight's books.

Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard. The first book in a series about an Irish Setter. Wonderful adventure series.

Old Yeller by Fred Gipson. Yeller is a stray dog on the Texas frontier. A Newbery award book. Also a movie.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Justor. Milo and his watchdog named Tock take a memorable magical journey.

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. A boy and his two hounds roam the countryside. A children's classic.

Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Marty finds an abused beagle named Shiloh in the hills, but there is nothing but trouble when he brings the dog home.


Alpha Dog by Jennifer Ziegler. Katie's adoption of Seamus, an orphaned dog, changes her whole world.

Marley and Me by John Grogan. The golden retriever Marley plays an important role in a young family's life. Also a delightful movie.

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DeCamillo. Opal goes into the grocery store and comes out with a stray dog. She names him Winn Dixie after the store. An excellent movie as well.

The Dog Who Wouldn't Be by Farley Mowat. The absolute funniest dog book ever!

Sounder by William H. Armstrong. Sounder is the pet dog of an African American sharecropper family. Newbery award book and a great movie.

Books About Choosing and Caring for Dogs

Complete Dog Book for Kids by the American Kennel Club.

How to Speak Dog by Sarah Whitehead.

Puppy Training for Kids by Sarah Whitehead.

My Dog! A Kid's Guide to Keeping a Happy and Healthy Pet by Michael J. Rosen.



Graphic Novels for Middle and High School Students

by Miriam Downey 12. May 2013 12:28

The graphic novel is a genre that has evolved over the last 20 years. Although they have some aspects of a comic book, they are very different from comic books in topic and style. The graphic novel combines a story line that is a complete plot with a lot of illustrations. Some of the dialogue appears in bubbles; other dialogue appears in text. Some parents might be concerned that graphic novels are either not appropriate for students or are not "good" literature, but they have evolved to the point that many graphic books are receiving awards from the major book awards. Even classic children's series like The Babysitter's Club and Nancy Drew (and even Jane Eyre) are now appearing as graphic novels.

Here are some ways that graphic books promote reading and literacy:

  • They can motivate reluctant readers to read. Educators report great success getting reluctant readers to read graphic novels.
  • They are great for struggling readers, special needs students, and English-language learners. In the same way picture books work for younger children, graphic novels work for middle school and high school students.
  • They are highly accepted by librarians and educators.
  • They foster the acquisition of critical reading skills.
  • They have many of the same literary themes as classic literature.

Frankly, I love graphic books. I was first exposed to them when my book club read the graphic memoir Persepolis by Marjane Santrapi. It is such an intensely written and illustrated book that I was completely enthralled. It is the story of the Iranian Revolution of the 1970s told through the eyes of a little Iranian girl. It was made into a movie which was nominated for an Oscar. It is appropriate for high school students.

Another of my favorites is The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie. This novel is based on the author's experiences as a Native American who left the reservation to attend another high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Alexie won the National Book Award for this memoir.

For middle school students, of course there are the books in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney. These are widely popular books that reflect all the anxieties of middle school age kids, and they are very funny too. There are several movies, and Kinney has a series of cartoon classes where he teaches kids to draw cartoons like he does. You can find the videos here.

Here are some other graphic novels that your teenager will enjoy.

Bone by Jeff Smith. Hilarious and action packed. 10 volumes in all. (middle school)

Smile by Raina Telgemeier. A memoir of the author in her middle school years.

Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi. There are 5 books in this fantastical series. (middle school)

The Arrival by Shaun Tan. A remarkable wordless graphic novel about immigration. (high school)

The Good Neighbors series by Holly Black. Three books in the series about a mysterious, darkly beautiful world. (middle School)

Maus: A Survivors Tale by Art Spiegelman. An incredible portrayal of the Holocaust through the eyes of Spiegelman's father. (high school)

If your teenager is truly interested in graphic novels, he/she will want to look at this website. It is an excellent resource.



The Public Library: A Great Resource for Homeschooled Children

by Miriam Downey 10. May 2013 07:52

One of my fondest memories as a child was walking up the marble steps of the Carnegie Library in the little town in Minnesota where I spent my early childhood. I was overwhelmed by the surprises that awaited me--more books than I could possibly imagine and a story time once a week. And that was before computers, DVDs, and audio books and all the other wonders that libraries now hold.

Some important new research from the Pew Research Center finds that the majority of parents, especially those with children younger than 18, view the library as an important resource for their children. See how you compare with the parents in the Pew study. "Some 50 percent of parents with children under the age of 12 read to their children every day, and another 26 percent read to their children at least a few times per week." The younger the children, the more likely that parents are to read with them every day. Mothers especially are more likely than fathers to take their children to the library.

A research analyst for the Pew project commented: "Parents' ties to libraries are all the more striking because parents are more likely than other adults to have computers, Internet access, smartphones, and tablet computers. the presence of this technology in their lives might make them less reliant on libraries . . . but the opposite is the case--the more technology they have, the more they're likely to take advantage of library services." You can find the Pew research study here.

It is likely that the public library is even more important to home school families. All across the country, public libraries are realizing that the homeschooling population is growing, and many, if not most, public libraries are offering services to families, including programming, resource services, special computer services, websites, and special story hours for home school groups.

Here are 10 good reasons to take your child to the library:

1. It's Free.

2. It is much more than a collection of popular fiction books. There is something for everyone.

3. Downloads, online resources, and media are free. Most libraries now lend ebooks.

4. There are great librarians eager to help.

5. You can get recommendations and help with material choices.

6. Children's programming and special events.

7. Free wifi and computers.

8. Special programming and materials for home schoolers.

9. Supporting your library supports the community.

10. It's free.

 Free public libraries are one of the great assets that we have in our democracy. We will only have them if we continue to support them and use them. Here are some interesting books about libraries and librarians that you can find in--of course--your local library.

Picture Books

Miss Brooks Love Books! (and I don't) by Barbara Bottner. A first grader finds a book that she can love.

D.W's Library Card by Marc Brown. D.W. has learned to write her name and can get her own library card.

Book! Book! Book! by Deborah Bruss. The animals wander into the town library with humorous results.

The Inside-Outside Book of Libraries by Julie Cummins. A well-illustrated look at a variety of libraries.

Walter's Magic Wand by Eric Houghton. Walter finds magic in the library.

Goin' Someplace Special by Patricia McKissack. Tricia Ann is on her way to the library for the first time in the Jim Crow segregated South.

Chapter Books

Return to the Library of Doom series by Michael Dahl. The librarian and the specialist save the world in a series of chapter books for grades 4-6.

The New York Public Library Kid's Guide to Research by Deborah Heiligman. an excellent guide for middle graders who are doing research for the first time.

The Library Cat by Vicki Myron. How an abandoned kitten changed the life of the librarian-author. There is also an adult version of this book.

Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck. How a small town library changed the lives of the inhabitants.

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians series by Brandon Sanderson. Four zany adventures involving thirteen-year-old Alcatraz and a host of evil librarians.

The Library Card by Jerry Spinelli. Four stories about the magic of having a library card.

Teenage Book

The World's Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne. A remarkable memoir about a librarian and weightlifter with Tourette Syndrome. Very inspirational.

The Library Cat by Vicki Myron. How an abandoned kitten changed the life of the librarian-author. There is also a chapter book version of this book.

Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration during World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference by Joanne Openheim.


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