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Moving Beyond Frozen: Let It Go!

by Miriam Downey 31. January 2015 10:39

The other day, I said to my 3 -year-old granddaughter: "I have got a song running around in my head and I can't get rid of it. Do you ever get songs running through your head?" She thought for a moment, and then said: "I think that my song would be 'Let It Go'." Of course it would be! She is 3 and she watches Frozen obsessively. When she and her little brother made a snowman the other day, they were upset when it didn't come to life.

Apparently, there is no end in sight for the Frozen phenomenon. Our local auditorium is even having a Frozen sing-along movie planned for next Saturday.

Most parents, on the other hand, are done with Frozen. If you are one of those families trying to freeze out Frozen in your household, here are some books that might move your young ones away from their obsession. By the way, this list comes from the Modern Parents, Messy Kids website.

Snowmen all Year by Caralyn and Mark Buehner. If Olaf is your child's favorite part of Frozen, they'll love this book about magic snowmen that don't melt and get to enjoy all the seasons of the year. 3-8 years.

A Baby Sister for Francis by Russell and Lillian Hoban. Sometimes having a little sister can be tricky. But running away isn't the answer as Frances learns in this sweet book. 4-8 years.

Brave Irene by William Steign. When a dress must be delivered for the ball that night, Irene volunteers to brave the storm to get the dress to the duchess. Brave girls, snowstorms, and ball gowns. This book is perfect for Frozen lovers. 4-8 years.

Penny and Her Song by Kevin Henkes. Penny wants to express herself in song, but her parents are too worried about the younger children being disturbed. Easy Reader 4-8 years.

The Lemon Sisters by Andrea Cheng. Snow is always better with sisters. This is what Elsa, Ana, and the Lemon sisters have in common. 4-8 years.

One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo and David Small. What do you do when you bring home a penguin? 4-8 years.

The First Snow by David Christiana. Mother Nature really only likes warm weather, but she discovers how delightful a snowy day can be. 4-8 years.

Journey by Aaron Becker. A beautiful, wordless magical world. Ages 3-8.

Here are two books for older readers or are great read alouds.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. This is a spin on the Cinderella story. 10 -14 years.

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. Ani takes it upon herself to save her kingdom and herself. 10-16 years.

Have fun. Enjoy the weather and enjoy the books!



Blog | English

Want to Be a Scientist? Read These Biographies

by Miriam Downey 5. January 2015 08:06

I recently had the opportunity to see two movie biographies of famous scientists. The Theory of Everything about Stephen Hawking, the physicist, and The Imitation Game about the inventor of the computer, Alan Turing. Both of these movies portray science and scientists in a realistic light and are appropriate for high school students. If you have seen the movies, you might be interested in these biographies:

Stephen Hawking: Breaking the Boundaries of Time and Space by John Bankston

Alan Turing: The Architect of the Computer Age by Ted Gottfried.

Fewer young people are going into science careers, even though many young people are extremely interested in science and mathematics. Statistics have shown that STEM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) are being encouraged among young children, but that older students are opting for other career paths. Additionally, there are very few women beginning careers in the sciences. A recent article on the National Geographic website discusses the ways women are discouraged from pursuing careers in science. However, the trend seems to be changing as more careers in science are opening up. It is time again for young people to look to STEM for career choices.

This website has information about STEM careers.

This website has short biographies of famous scientists.

So, if you are really into science and mathematics and want to think about a career in the sciences, you need to get a realistic view of what such a career would look like. Reading biographies of scientists will be really valuable to you. Here are the names of several new biographies that might interest you. They are appropriate for grades 4-9 and will be available at your library or bookstore.

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman. The story of a brilliant but unconventional mathematician.

Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different by Karen Blumenthal. The biography shows the influence of Jobs on our current technological world.

Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman. The story of Charles Darwin through the context of his marriage.

Rosalind Franklin and the Structure of Life by Jane Polcovar. The life of the English chemist who helped with the discovery of DNA.

Up Close, Jane Goodall by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen. An honest look at the famed biologist.

On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne. This picture book perfectly mirrors Einstein's endless search for answers.

Odd Boy Out: Young Albert Einstein by Don Brown. Another excellent book about Einstein.

Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by Robert Byrd. Emphasizes Franklin's scientific discoveries.

Starry Messenger by Peter Sis. The story of the astronomer, Galileo.



Blog | Libraries, Library Books | Math | Science

What to read--classic or contemporary fiction?

by Miriam Downey 7. November 2014 16:55




As I was growing up, I read just about anything that was put into my hands or that I got from the library. Mostly I loved to read the stuff that all kids love--humor, mysteries, and as a middle grader, teenage romances. Generally, I skipped the classics, although I did read a lot of illustrated classics comic books. My all time favorite book, however, is a classic, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I read Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain for school, and I read all of Shakespeare's plays at some time or another for classes I took. But in general, I was and I remain, a best seller reader.

Which brings me to the topic of whether children should read classic or popular literature. Which is better? If your child is choosing between Charlotte's Web by E.B. White and Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey, of course it would be better that they read Charlotte's Web. But if your child is choosing between Captain Underpants and the PlayStation, Captain Underpants would be the better choice.

The argument over classic or popular literature for children was the theme of a recent article in The New Yorker by Rebecca Mead. She quoted the famous children's author Neil Gaimon, who said that he didn't think that there was such a thing as a bad book for children. "Fiction is a 'gateway drug' to reading. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories."

Mead uses the Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan as her example. These are a series of novels written for middle grade students about a boy who is half Greek God and half mortal. Children not only read a great story line, but they also learn about Greek Mythology. She acknowledges that these are extremely popular books, but she hesitates to call them classic books. She uses as an example the Greek Mythology book that Riordan has put together about Greek Gods and contrasts it with D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths. The D'Aulaires' book could be classified as classic literature for children, while the Riordan book is full of 21st century conversation and slang.

So--what to read? Here is a list of 100 of the best children's books, and I would suggest that you start here. Perhaps for every book your child picks out at the library, you pick one out from this list. Some of these books have been around for a very long time, and some are relatively new. All of them could be classified as classic children's books.

New York Public Library list of 100 Great Children's Books.

The article by Rebecca Mead in the New Yorker


Blog | English

Not So Scary Halloween Books for Beginning Readers

by Miriam Downey 10. October 2014 06:47

Five Little Pumpkins Sitting on a Gate

Five little pumpkins sitting on a gate.

The first one said,

"Oh my, it's getting late."

The second one said,

"But we don't care."

The third one said,

"I see witches in the air."

The fourth one said,

"Let's run, and run, and run."

The fifth one said,

"Get ready for some fun."

Then whoosh went the wind,

and out went the lights,

And five little pumpkins rolled out of sight!

The other morning I visited my granddaughter's kindergarten to tell a story. The children wanted a Halloween story because they had just been to the pumpkin patch and the corn maze. I told a story about Trick or Treating when I was a little girl and knocking on the door of an empty house. Nobody was there, of course, but the emptiness of the house was scarier than if a ghost had answered the door. We sang a slightly scary Halloween song, and the children jumped up and down, shouting "Tell it again! Tell it again!"

Children love a little bit of scary. I have collected some wonderful children's Halloween stories that are just right--a little bit scary and a lot of fun. These books are appropriate for beginning readers. If you want Halloween books for older readers, you can find lists of books in the October postings from previous years. These books are all available at the library or bookstore.

Scared Silly! A Book for the Brave by Marc Brown. There are 50 poems, songs, stories, and riddles in this collection.

Six Creepy Sheep by Judith Ross-Enderle. A surprise awaits the little lost sheep on Halloween.

Ragged Shadows: Poems for Halloween Night by Lee Bennett Hopkins. This is a wonderful selection of poems for the season.

Scared Silly: A Halloween Treat by James Howe. The Bunnicula characters are involved in a silly, scary Halloween.

Dragon's Halloween: Dragon's Fifth Tale by Dav Pilkey.Three short stories about Dragon at Halloween.

Scary, Scary Halloween by Eve Bunting. Great illustrations and not so very scary.

Arthur's Halloween by Marc Brown. Another Arthur adventure.

Sheep Trick or Treat by Nancy Shaw. For fans of the Sheep in a Jeep series, this is a satisfying Halloween adventure.

Oliver and Amanda's Halloween by Jean Van Leeuwen. This is a great early chapter book about a family Halloween adventure.

You might also be interested in Enchanted Learning's fall and Halloween printable books. Lots of fun and activities.



Blog | English

Book or Movie? What Should We Do First?

by Miriam Downey 30. July 2014 07:40


 What do you like to do first--read the book or see the movie? My grandchildren and I had an interesting discussion about this dilemma around the breakfast table the other day. I was asking specifically about the movie The Fault in Our Stars, which my 13-year-old granddaughters had just seen. I have this book by John Green sitting on my desk, waiting for an afternoon so I can read it before I watch the movie. I asked the girls if they would like to read the book now that they had seen the movie. Thus the conversation. The girls had loved the movie so much that they both wanted to read the book.

My 17-year-old grandson piped up and said that he liked to read books after he had seen the movie. He said that when he read the Hunger Games books, he had the vision of the characters from the movie in his mind. He was quick to add that he had loved the Percy Jackson books so much that the movie didn't compare to the images he had in his mind. So, as we discussed the issue, what emerged was the idea that it can go both ways--sometimes the book is better; sometimes the movie.

So, here's a summer challenge for you. There are a wealth of movies based on children and teen books. Today I am going to give you a list of ten book-movie pairings for elementary grade children. Next week I will give you a list of book-movie pairings for middle and high school-aged kids. Try them out both ways--movie first and then book first. See which one you like best.

I have provided a link for the book if it is available online. Of course, the books will all be available at the library, and it is likely that the movies will be available at the library as well, but they will also be available at some of your other movie sources. I also indicated the year of the movie. This is only a partial list. A more complete list of book-movie pairings can be found here.


Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. (The movie is the Walt Disney version updated in 2010).

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. (Animated version 1973 and live version 2006).

Five Children and It by E. Nesbit. (Movie is 2005).

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. (Disney Version, 2010).

Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg. (movie 2000).

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield. (movie 2008).

Holes by Louis Sacher. (movie 2003).

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. (Disney version updated 2007).

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers (movie updated version 2009). Also a new movie about the making of the Mary Poppins movie called Saving Mr. Banks (2013).

Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater. (movie 2011).

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. (movie 1997).


Blog | English

Interactive Reading

by Miriam Downey 16. July 2014 11:13

My father had one story from his childhood that he loved to tell. It was a simple story about him harnessing his horse, Topsy, to the wagon, loading the wagon with milk cans, and riding into town to the dairy with his dog, Jack. What the children loved was the interaction; they could go "clippety clop: as Topsy clattered down the road, and "bow wow wow wow" as Jack asked for a treat. Grandpa told the story many times to his grandchildren, and they even told it at his memorial service, even though they were all adults by then.

Children love interactive stories, particularly kindergarten and first graders who are just beginning to read for themselves. A new book, Born Reading, by Jason Boog, published by Touchstone just this week, has a great list of interactive story books that children love. I heartily recommend his book to you if you have young children.

Here is how to read a book interactively. Read it to the child first, then read it again having the child help you make the sounds or cry out the important words. Finally, hand the book to the child and watch him/her read it aloud even if they can't read yet.

I had this experience this week. I read No! David! by David Shannon to my granddaughter. It is an almost wordless story of a toddler who is always doing something naughty. I changed David to Davick, which is her toddler brother's name. She thought it was the funniest thing ever, because, of course, we are always saying No! to Davick. Although she is only three, she soon was reading the whole book herself, pointing to the word No! Then she wanted me to read it to her again, only this time she was the one being scolded. it was so much fun!

 Here is Boog's list of great interactive books from his book Born Reading.

Pete the Cat by Eric Litwin and James Dean. A groovy cat teaches kids how to cope with life's little problems. You can find several songs and some other activities at this website.

I Got the Rhythm by Connie Schofield-Morrison. Lots of music on a trip to the park.

Can You Make a Scary Face by Jan Thomas. Children make funny faces to match the story. Here are some activities to do as follow-up.

From Head to Toe by Eric Carle. Children imitate and complete a series of exercises.

Press Here by Herve Tullet. Touch the pages, shake the book, and blow on the pages.

Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson. This fun book has you tapping it, shaking it, jiggling it, and blowing it a kiss.

Don't Push the Button by Bill Cotter. A bit of reverse psychology.

It's a Tiger by David LaRochelle. Lots of noisy animal sounds.

Clip-Clop by Nicola Smee. A horse carries animals around the barnyard. A story you can reenact with your kids.

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems. A pesky pigeon wants to take the bus for a joyride, but your child will love to tell him to stop!

I am indebted to Jason Boog for this list of books. He has a wonderful website that is filled with lists of books and activities for children. You can access it here. The books can all be found at the library or your local bookstore.







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Blog | English | Libraries, Library Books

Summer Reading Challenge: Read a Book Series

by Miriam Downey 30. June 2014 05:53


"Mom!," my nephew called! "I just can't stop reading! Do I have to go to bed?" That's something that warms any mother's heart. Evan was reading a book in a series of historical fiction called The Sons of Liberty by Paul Thompson. Think back on your own childhood reading? If you were at all like me, you loved books that were part of a series. You may have read about Mary, Laura, and the other members of the Ingells family in the Little House books, or maybe Nate the Great, or the girls from The Babysitter's Club. Most of us also remember reading comic book series like Archie or Superman. Our parents were just happy that we were reading. Today's parents would be happy that their kids are reading rather than playing video games.

Research shows that the most important key to creating confident readers is for children to take pleasure in the experience of reading. As anyone who has taught a child knows, it takes practice to become a good reader. Children who read a lot by choice and enjoy it are far more likely to succeed at their schoolwork than those who dislike reading.

One researcher, Catherine Sheldrick Ross, suggests: "Series books minimize the risks of reading, which is probably particularly important for novice readers who have not yet developed confidence in their ability to make book choices." She suggests that series books teach beginning readers about the process of reading itself--strategies for making sense out of extended text. She concludes that series book reading might be an essential stage in "their development as powerful literates."

For example, my grandsons loved the Percy Jackson series of books. One grandson said to me excitedly: "Grandma, you have got to read these books. They will teach you all about Greek mythology!" They sure did. I had to find an online list of Greek Gods to use as a cheat sheet as I was reading. My twin granddaughters have been reading the Anne of Green Gables series this summer (which, by the way, you can find online at Project Gutenberg.)

In my career as a librarian, I have noticed that the children who read books in series read the most. Those children actually devour books in the same way they devour hamburgers and fries. There is comfort in a set of characters with whom the child is familiar. For the youngest readers, there are fewer words to learn. They already know the words Amelia Bedelia or Frog and Toad. The middle reader wants to know what is going to happen next to characters they have grown to love. The older reader becomes hooked on the philosophy of the book--the consequences and the cause and effect.

Does it matter if the books are great literature? I am going to propose the thought that it doesn't matter too much, because summer is a time to read for fun. Save the classics for the school year. That's the reason some books are called "beach reads!"

If you go to the section of the Free World U's library called Other Great Books, you will find some suggestions of books in series that are recommended for each grade level. Have fun reading this summer! 


Blog | English

Love Soccer? Here Are Some Great Books!

by Miriam Downey 22. June 2014 11:38

It looks like the United States is finally getting "fusbol" or soccer fever. About time, I say! There are parties and gatherings all over to watch the World Cup, and for the first time, Americans are really interested and excited. When my daughter-in-law was in Israel on business last week, she watched a World Cup soccer game on a big screen at the beach. A student of mine is hurrying home to Jeddah, Saudi, Arabia, to watch the games with his friends on the beach there, as well.

In most countries of the world, every child plays soccer wherever they can--fields, vacant lots, or in the street. If you don't know much about the rules of soccer, Scholastic News recently had an article worth reading that explains the game and the growth of the sport. You can find it here.

So, in honor of the World Cup, here are some soccer books that are appropriate for young readers. I've divided them into two groups--fiction and non-fiction. You can find them at your library or local bookstore.



Soccer for Fun! by Kenn Goin. Soccer rules, soccer skills, and soccer history.

For the Love of Soccer! by Pele and Frank Morrison. The story of Brazilian soccer star, Pele.

Soccer Hour by Carol Nevius. A photographic essay that explains soccer terms.

Young Pele: Soccer's First Star by Lesa Cline-Ransome. A picture book biography.

The Kingfisher Soccer Encyclopedia by Clive Gifford. Everything you want to know about soccer.


Winners Never Quit! by Mia Hamm and Carol Thompson. The girls in the story learn to accept losing. A message from the soccer great, Mia Hamm.

Goal! by Mina Javaherbin. Soccer in south Africa told through the experiences of young players in the townships.

Hope for Haiti by Jesse Joshua Watson. Soccer in Haiti.

Goal by Robert Burleigh. A prose poem that describes the action during a soccer game.

Wonder Goal! by Michael Foreman. A boy dreams about scoring a goal in the World Cup.


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Blog | English

Books for Teenagers in Honor of Memorial Day

by Miriam Downey 21. May 2014 10:46

Sometimes in the midst of the start of the summer season, we forget that Memorial Day is a day of remembrance. It began as a holiday called Decoration Day after the Civil War when the graves of soldiers from both the South and the North were decorated with flags. In the 20th century, the holiday remained, and the country called it Memorial Day and responded by commemorating the men and women who died in all the wars fought by the United States. Honoring the war dead is an important part of the American heritage.

I recently read a book about two graduates of the U.S. Naval academy who were best friends. One became a Marine office and the other a Navy Seal. One was killed in Afghanistan and the other in Iraq. They are buried beside each other at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. The book is called Brothers Forever by Silio and Manion. It is appropriate for teenagers.

Here is a sampling of the best war books appropriate for grades 6-12. Readers will learn American history and get an insight into the effect of war on the psyche of our young men and women.

The War for Independence (1775=1782)

Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. Set in Boston prior to and during the outbreak of the American Revolution. Newbery Medal.

My Brother Sam is Dead by Christopher and James Lincoln Collier. A realistic novel about the effects of the Revolution on one family.

April Morning by Howard Fast. The Battle of Lexington through the eyes of a 15-year-old soldier.

1776 by David McCullough. Factual book about one year during the War for Independence.

Civil War (1861-1865)

The River Between Us by Richard Peck. The Pruitt family helps two mysterious young women who came from New Orleans to Illinois during the war.

Soldier's Heart by Gary Paulson. Charley experiences the physical horrors and mental anguish of the Civil War.

Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt. A classic story of the Civil War.

Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. The most famous Civil War novel for teenagers.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. The Civil War through the eyes of a southern belle.

World War I (1914-1918)

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. The experiences of a group of young Germans fighting and suffering during the last days of the war.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway. The story of the Italian Campaign by one of America's most famous authors.

Winged Victory by Victor Yeates. A classic description of aerial combat and the futility of war.

A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin. An old man tells a younger companion about how he became a soldier, a hero, a prisoner of war, and a deserter.

World War II (1939-1945)

Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac. A novel about the Navajo Marines during World War II.

A Boy at War: A Novel of Pearl Harbor by Harry Mazer. The attack on Pearl Harbor through the eyes of a young Hawaiian boy.

Postcards from No Man's Land by Aiden Chambers. Alternates between two stories from the European front during the war.

Chinese Cinderella and the Secret Dragon Society by Adeline Yen Mah. The American liberation of China from the Japanese.

Vietnam War (1954-1975)

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien is a collection of stories about a platoon of American soldiers.

The Wall by Eve Bunting. Although it is a picture book, it is a poignant look at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC.

Voices from Vietnam by Barry Denenberg. Personal narratives from the Vietnam War.

Jesse by Gary Soto. A Mexican American family is affected by the Vietnam War.

The Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (2001-present)

Something Like Normal by Trish Doller. Travis returns to the US as a damaged soldier.

Off to War: Voices of Soldiers' Children by Deborah Ellis. Interviews with children whose parents have been deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq.

Saving the Baghdad Zoo: A True Story of Hope and Heroes by Halls and Sumner. A photo essay about how the zoo animals in Baghdad were saved.


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Farley Mowat: Canada's Nature Writer

by Miriam Downey 9. May 2014 12:04

Farley Mowat, who died this week at age 92, was a prolific Canadian nature writer. His most famous book was Never Cry Wolf which was made into a Disney movie. Mowat is an often overlooked writer of the 20th century, but an author any middle grade and teenaged reader should read--especially if he/she is interested in nature.

I first got acquainted with Mowat with his hilarious childhood memoir about his dog, Mutt. The book is called The Dog Who Wouldn't Be, and it tells the story of the world's greatest dog. Mowat grew up in the 1930s on the Saskatchewan prairie. Each story about Mutt is laugh-out-loud funny. My mother read it to us on a family trip when I was a teenager, and my dad had to pull over to the side of the road because he was laughing so hard.

Another very funny memoir is Owls in the Family. It is a story about three boys who rescue a couple of owls and learn about friendship, responsibility, and respect for nature. This book is a ton of fun. Mowat also wrote The Boat Who Wouldn't Float, which is his tale of taking an old boat from Newfoundland to Lake Ontario. A delightful book for readers of all ages.              


A more serious nature book is Never Cry Wolf. Although it is not a scientific study of wolves, it is compelling because Mowat emphasizes how misunderstood they are. He advocates that they have a right to exist, and that they have an essential place in the wilderness food chain.The movie based on this book is terrific and well worth finding.

The final book I would recommend that would be of particular interest to older children is A Whale for the Killing. Mowat expresses his outrage at the injustice done by killing a beached fin whale on the Newfoundland coast.

Many have called Farley Mowat a "hero of Canadian literature," and he was a fierce advocate for wildlife, the environment, and the aboriginal peoples of Northern Canada and Alaska. Your nature-loving children will love his books.

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