Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Read Loud and Clear!

Celebrate your children's right to read during this week's Virtual Read-Out.

Video yourself reading from their favorite challenged book, then upload the recording to the Banned Books Week channel on YouTube.

You can also watch videos of authors, celebrities and people just like you reading from their favorites.

Banned Books Week (Sept 24-Oct. 1) was launched in 1982 in response to a spike in movements to censor books in schools, bookstores and libraries.

Here are just a dozen of the many children's books that have come under fire over the years for being inappropriate.

They are also some of the most beloved books, or at least very popular, and some won the highest awards in literature.

Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

A Caldecott winner criticized as scary and cruel.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

James and the Giant Peach by Road Dahl

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

A LIght in the Attic by Shel Silverstein

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Where's Waldo by Martin Hanford

Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer

The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

A challenge to literature is an attempt by a group of people to ban a book from a library or school curriculum, or restrict access to that book. Among the objections: that a book is sexually explicit, has offensive language, is unsuited to an age group, or contains occult themes, violence, homosexual themes or a particular religious viewpoint.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Love Waves

Written and illustrated by Rosemary Wells
Candlewick, 2011
$15.99, ages 3-7, 32 pages

Ribbons of love drift across the sky from Mommy and Daddy to Little Bunny in this sweet, reassuring tale by the beloved creator of the Max and Ruby stories.

Each day Mommy and Daddy take turns going to work and sending "love waves," tender thoughts blown on a breeze, to their little bunny back home.

Like memories of things said so many times before, the waves remind Little Bunny that no matter where his parents go, their hearts are always with him.

"Be brave," Mommy tells Little Bunny as she kneels down to hug him goodbye in the morning, then waves goodbye from the sidewalk. Up above at the apartment window in Daddy's arms, Little Bunny waves with one paw as the other clings to Daddy's neck.

"As I leave, I see you wave. / I have to go where I must be…" she calls back.

At the cafe where she works, serving cookies, cakes and tea, Mommy is distracted by thoughts of her little bunny. She wonders what he's up to -- "Swinging high above the trees? / Eating honey with your peas?" -- and even thinks for moment that she sees him outside.

But it's not her bunny pattering by the cafe window in a slicker. It's "someone else, / racing off on someone else's feet." At her first chance to serve a customer outside, Mommy sends love waves through the air, and Wells poetry too twirls and dances.

"Around the world, around the sun, / they fly a thousand miles or one," she writes, as swirls of kisses in metallic sea green swoosh across the pages and Mommy prepares to return home for the day.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Shel, Is That Really You?

It's like hearing from a friend you never thought you'd see again.

The late great Shel Silverstein, the genius behind Where the Sidewalk Ends, returns in a posthumous collection of never-before-published poems just released from HarperCollins.

Every Thing On It, out yesterday ($19.99, 208 pages), contains 145 illustrated poems that are signature Shel: off-the-cuff silly, wonderfully matter-of-fact, and in a few sparkling entries, self-effacing and poignant.

Silverstein's genuineness comes through in ever line, reminding us why we've adored his work. He was a dreamer and a kid at heart. He wasn't afraid to let it all out, even the wackiest of thoughts, and say things as they were (Woulda-Coulda-Shoulda and God's Wheel).

He made us feel great about trying (Listen to the Mustn'ts) and he got what kids were about. He gave them a voice when they felt unheard (The Little Boy and The Old Man) and even acted the rapscallion, playing off perceived injustices (Remote-a-Dad).

There wasn't anything, it would seem, he stayed away from, and as this poem in his new collection shows, he wasn't even averse to laughing at the craft he held dear: 

A lizzard in a blizzard
Got a snowflake in the gizzard
And nothing else much happened, I'm afraid,
But lizard rhymed with blizzard
And blizzard rhymed with gizzard
And that, my dear, is why most poems are made.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Back-to-School 2011

from Elise Primavera's Louise the Big Cheese
Summer's out, school's in. The days of sleeping late and sort of reading are over.

It's time to set alarms and use those brains. Yay!

OK, so maybe the kids aren't that rah-rah -- not yet.

If your kids are like ours, they're a little sleepy and a little anxious.

So this year, I've selected books to pep them up. The idea is to give them books that will excite them about school and build up their confidence in learning.

I've created 12 themes that speak to kids. Among them: "I Get It!" (books that simplify the complex stuff), "Log It" (books to help with reading logs) and "Go Boys Go!" (books to get boys reading more).

Each of the themes (which are also the titles of the posts) appear below as live links, but you can also scroll down the main page to read posts or jump around.

Most of the books are new this year; a few aren't out just yet, but I've put their release dates in bold near the title so you know when to look for them.

Finally, relax and enjoy. And a toast: here's to all of our kids moving upward and onward with a skip and smile.

1. Don't Worry, Be Happy. Three books to help kids relax and enjoy school.
2. Want to Sit Together? Three books to turn classmates into friends.
3. I Can Read! Three books for kids who are raring to read or reluctant to get started.
4. I Know This Kid. Four school stories kids can relate to.
5. History 101. Four books that take the dull out of history.
6. Write This! Two books and a game to inspire kids to create stories.
7. I Get It Now!  Four books that simplify the hard stuff.
8. I Like How You Think. Three books that encourage creative thinking.
9. Log It. Ten books to help fill reading logs.
10. Go Boys Go! Three books to get reluctant boys to read.
11. Don't Forget Girls! Two novels about strong girls doing the best they can.
12. Truth Be Told. Four books that make real life fun to read about.

1. Don't Worry, Be Happy.

Help kids look at school from the funny side in the first two picture books and walk to school in wonder in the last.
Ten Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break If You Want to Survive the School Bus, by John Grandits, illustrated by Michael Allen Austin, Clarion, $16.99, ages 4-8, 32 pages. Kyle has no choice but to swallow his worries and climb up the school bus. It's his first time on one and he's going to have face it alone, now that his big brother James is walking to school. Lucky thing James has armed Kyle with a list of dos and don'ts and some cheeky advice, "Just think of what I'd do and try to act like me." But when Kyle accidentally breaks every rule his brother gave him, including talking to a bully, he learns the most important lesson of all: never, absolutely never pay attention to your big brother's rules for the bus. Here's a fun, empowering story to inspire your child to skip up the steps of the bus (and maybe even sit in the first row).

Louise the Big Cheese and the Back-To-School Smarty-Pants, by Elise Primavera, illustrated by Diane Goode, A Paula Wiseman Book, $16.99, ages 5 and up, 40 pages.  Louise wants to be a smarty pants like her big sister and get straight As. But with a taskmistress for a second grade teacher, it's not looking good. If only a gorilla would grab up her teacher and run away with her. Then one day it seems like her wish could come true. Her teacher is absent. But now the substitute is giving everyone in class an A and suddenly an A doesn't feel that special. On top of that, the substitute is letting Louise get away with sloppy work. Could it be that Louise likes to be pushed to do better -- and may actually miss her teacher? Here's a book that shows that it's how hard you try that counts. Don't miss the endpapers for a parade of famous smarty pants. (Uh, Madonna, what are you doing there?)

A Few Blocks, written and illustrated by Cybele Young, Groundwood, $18.95, ages 4-8, 48 pages. Ferdie doesn't want to go to school, "not now, maybe never." But with a little help from big sister Viola, a walk to school becomes a magical adventure. With every block, Viola spurs him on with imaginative play. First Viola suggests Ferdie's coat is a superfast cape and they pretend to soar toward school. But when Ferdie gets tired, he plunks down and doesn't want to go any further. That's when Viola spots a leaf in the gutter. Look, Ferdie, it's a pirate ship! Soon they're braving fierce storms across another block. But then the leaf slips away and Ferdie throws himself on the grass sobbing. So Viola hands him a piece of cardboard shaped like a knight's shield and asks him to save her from a dragon. But by the time Ferdie frees her, Viola's too worn out to walk the last block. Could Ferdie imagine something to give them both the oomph to walk into school? Everything in Ferdie's fantasy world is cut from cityscape, giving readers the sensation of being in the real world and imaginary one at once.The boy's stead is cut out from a street corner scene and birds are cut from drawings of city signs. Then each of those details is pieced into collages that stream across the page, gentle coaxing the kids to school and readers with them.

2. Want to Sit Together?

Here are three books about finding friends and fitting in:
The Gingerbread Man Loose in School, written by Laura Murray, illustrated by Mike Lowery, $16.99, Putnam, ages 4-8, 32 pages. A gingerbread man hops off his cooling pan and races after the class that baked him in this bouncy tale about the importance of belonging. When the teacher calls, "Recess," no one grabs the gingerbread man, so he runs as fast as he can to catch up with the kids, only to get stuck to a ball, lose a toe and land inside a lunch bag. Will this zippy little cookie ever find his class and feel like one of the gang? After one read aloud, students will be clamoring to bake up their own class pet and fit him with Starlight Mint hat. Slipped into the back cover, a folded poster for your own smart cookie. The message here? Sometimes all it takes to feel a part of a group is running up to it and joining in.
I'm Here, by Peter H. Reynolds, Atheneum, $15.99, ages 4-8, 32 pages. A boy sits alone on a playground far from other children and feels like no one knows he's there. "They are there. I am here," he says with a longing look their way. The children's playful voices are "splashes upon splashes of sound," but all the boy can hear is "Boom. Boom." He tries to assure himself that at least he knows he's there, even if the other children don't seem to. Then a gentle breeze pats his head, a tumbling leaf lands for a visit and piece of paper glides to him on a lazy stream of air, rocking this way and that, slowly down, before landing at his knee. "How did you find me?" the boy asks the paper, his eyes glistening. He knows a playground is not where a paper wants to be, so he folds it into an airplane and launches it into the air. Maybe now the paper will get to where it wants to be -- and maybe, if he climbs aboard it, the boy will get there to. This sweet, touching book shows that making a little step forward can change everything.

I Love People, created by Francoize Boucher, Kane Miller, $14.99 (paperback), ages 9 and up, 120 pages. Here's a fun activity book from France that seems to say: Don't sweat it if you don't always know how to act with friends -- just do your best and let my pages help you. All readers need to get started are: "1. A small very big heart, 2. A full pencil case and 3. A taste for adventure." Boucher starts with a simple exercise; she asks readers to add 0s to the quote, "The m_re y_u l_ve people, the m_re beautiful y_ur life will be!" and then offers up social scenarios for readers to think about. For example, "Are you always ready to meet new people?" and "What's the difference between: 1. Loving something that's alive and 2. Loving an object?" There's even a page of phrases to help readers make up with a friend, including "I Wish We Weren't Mad at Each Other." Some of the other topics: how to deal with jealousy, how to share, how to help others and how to be a good person (Is it's ever OK to do to others as they've done to you? Boucher asks.) Cute, light-hearted, and full of great advice, this is the book to get a child off on the right foot (er sneaker). Fans of this might also like Boucher's I Love Words.

3. I Can Read!

Charm new words right out of your child with two clever readers and a picture book to spur them on.

Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking (Level 2), written and illustrated by Philippe Coudray, Toon Books, $12.95, ages 4-8, 32 pages. In this adorable book of comic gags, a loopy bear looks at life from the far side. Benjamin Bear is a problem-solver, and no matter what life throws at him, he works it out in an endearing, offbeat way. In one strip, Benjamin gets lost in a maze, but feels lucky that at least he has his apple with him. And indeed it is a lucky thing for soon ants wander through the maze to the apple and provide him a trail out. In another, Benjamin is too nervous to fly a glider off a cliff so he frees a dog from a gate so it will chase him off the edge. Benjamin never misses a beat, and he's as clever as he is silly. When he happens upon a sliver of moon in the park, he assumes that the moon must be hungry since he's skinny. So, he offers him fruit to make him full. Every page is a new cartoon with four to seven panels. Some panels have conversation bubbles with short sentences and sound words, others are wordless. Here and there, a rabbit friend hops into a comic to bounce off humor or to keep him company.  Readers will be drawn to Benjamin's silly, matter-of-fact approach to problem-solving and to how comfortable he is in his own fur.

Should I Share My Ice Cream? (An Elephant and Piggie book), written and illustrated by Mo Willems, Hyperion, $8.99, ages 4-8, 64 pages. Elephant is giddy with anticipation because he just bought himself an ice cream cone. But then he realizes he didn't get an ice cream for his best friend Piggie and he's stumped about what to do. Should he share his "awesome, yummy, sweet, super, great, tasty, nice, cool" cone with Piggie? Hmm, that's a tough one, especially now that Elephant is ogling it and looping his trunk around the cone like a scarf. There are, after all, some really good reasons for not sharing, he tells himself, trying to sound convincing. Like the possibility that Piggie won't like this flavor and the fact that Piggie isn't even there right now! But just as Elephant is about dive in and eat it, tender thoughts of his friend sneak up on him and he freezes: Suppose Piggie is somewhere all alone feeling sad? OK, now Elephant just has to find her and give her some of his ice cream. But has he waited too long? Fifteen books into the series and Elephant and Piggie are as irresistible as ever. Coming Oct. 4: Happy Pig Day!

I Will Not Read This Book, by Cece Meng, illustrated by Joy Ang, Clarion, $16.99 (hardback), ages 4-8, 32 pages. How do you spur a reluctant reader to read? Try giving him a book about exactly how he feels. In this charming picture book, a boy lists all the things he imagines his mom might do to make him read. Every punishment is outrageous and more far-fetched than the last, reflecting how worked up he's getting. First, the boy imagines his mom hanging him upside down by one toe. Soon he's got her dangling him off a cliff in a lightning storm while a monkey tickles his foot and a dragon blows smoke in his eyes.  "I will not read this book," he insists, before replaying all of scenarios he imagined before then adding one more. But suppose while he's hanging there, a speeding train barrels toward him and he sneezes and his mom drops him? What then? Well, let's say mom reaches out to catch him then offers to read with him. Would reading be so scary then? Here's a book that captures all the angst of child struggling to read and in one vicarious purge, lets out all of the worry and fear, and makes it safe to try.

4. I Know This Kid

Four stories kids can relate to no matter what school or century they're in.
Two are by a master of school stories, one is by a newcomer who writes like she's written them for years and another is from an acclaimed writer-illustrator team.
Troublemaker, by Andrew Clements, Atheneum, $16.99, ages 8-12, 160 pages, 2011. Clayton Hensley thinks the more trouble he gets into at school, the prouder his older brother Mitchell will be. After all, Mitchell was a big problem when he was in school and now he's even gone to jail (for mouthing off at judge). Clayton's sure his own latest infraction at school, drawing a picture of the principal as a jackass, will tickle Mitchell to no end. After all, it's as fearless as anything Mitchell ever did in school and it's clever too. But when Mitchell returns home after serving time, he doesn't sound like himself. Jail was scary, he says; he's done messing up and he's not going to let Clayton ruin his life either. He tells Clayton it's time to do things the smart way; he's even got a plan to do just that. But first Clayton's going to have to trust Mitchell. And by trust, that means change in ways Clayton never imagined. But can he? Will acting "goody-goody" be too much for Clayton? Will he be happy not goofing off? Clements has an amazing ability to make readers want to root for any character, no matter how wrongly they behave or how mean they act. From page 1, readers are drawn to Clayton, despite his smart-alecky disdain for others. And as he embarks on Mitchell's plan to reform his behavior, they cheer him on and even stand by him when he lapses. This is a book every principal should have stacked up in the office to hand out to kids who've lost their way. A joy to read, it's an empowering book for troubled kids, and eye-opening one for anyone who knows who the troublemakers are but doesn't really know them.

Fear Itself (Book 2, Benjamin Pratt & the Keepers School), by Andrew Clements, illustrated by Adam Stower, Atheneum, $14.99, ages 7-10, 240 pages, 2011. Benjamin Pratt and his friend Jill have just 24 days to stop a developer from ripping down their old seaside school to make way for a theme park. But with Jill getting discouraged about how to stop it and a new shifty-eyed janitor watching their every move, what chance do they have? After all, they are just kids. Well, be that as it may be, Ben isn't about to give up. He's a Keeper of the School now, a title passed down to him by the school's janitor with his last, dying breath. That makes Ben the school's secret caretaker, the one person who can save it from being destroyed. But in order to stop the demolition, Ben will have to do what no janitor has done before: search out five safeguards that were hidden in the school by its Civil War founder - and quickly too. And while he's at it, he'd be wise to think like an old sea captain, sneak a document out of the library, tease a tiger and steal a rusty tool box. This is the kind of series that turns nonreaders into readers: a fantastic, easy-to-read story that they won't want to put down and they will hate to see come to an end. (Luckily, we don't have too just yet. Book 3, The Whites of Their Eyes, is due out Jan. 3.)

Calli Be Gold, by Michele Weber Hurwitz, Wendy Lamb, $15.99, ages 9-12, 208 pages, 2011. Eleven-year-old Calli Gold is the only "quiet" in a family of "louds" and it's making her feel like being herself is not enough. There's an implied pressure in her family to be front-and-center and dominate a sport or skill. As Calli puts it, the Gold way is to "shout out who they are and what they do." Older brother Alex is a basketball star and her moody older sister Becca is supposed to be great at synchronized skating -- and Calli? Mom and Dad are always volunteering her for classes to help her find her talent, but nothing ever clicks. Every night at dinner Dad asks the kids to report their "daily accomplishment" and Calli doesn't know what to say. Then one day Calli's class at school begins a peer program with younger kids and Calli discovers something she's really good at, coaxing a shy second-grader named Noah out of his shell. But Mom and Dad don't seem to recognize how great a skill that is. And Calli is feeling small and unheard. Here, she finally has something great to share -- she and Noah have designed a booth for the school's Friendship Fair -- but Mom and Dad can't squeeze in a hour to come and see it. That's because Becca has a big skating competition and Alex's game is crucial, Mom says. Could Calli teach everyone in her family a thing or two? Hurwitz shows that a sad situation doesn't have to leave you glum. Calli is a charming, buoyant heroine, and Hurwitz's writing is so light and fun that readers will find themselves emboldened by her story every step (and page) of the way.

Hornbooks and Inkwells, by Verla Kay, Illustrated by S. D. Schindler, G. P. Putnam's Sons, $16.99, ages 4-8, 32 pages. Two brothers bristle, bicker and get into mischief as they learn to read in this bouncy 18th Century tale. Peter and John Paul are having a hard time knuckling down and doing their schoolwork in their one-room school house. But with the help of a stern schoolmaster who thwacks his stick at them, grabs their ears and even detains them in neck yokes, these wily boys might just learn something yet. Kay's spare, lively rhymes (what she calls "cryptic rhymes" -- short, descriptive verses with hidden meaning) and Schindler's humorous folk art make this a hoot to read. Readers will be charmed by the ways of old, the quills and lesson paddles (hornbooks), and especially the games children played at recess: walking on stilts and rolling clay marbles. But they'll also be thanking their lucky stars that yokes are a thing of the past and they don't have to run out into the cold to an outhouse. If you like this gem, check out Kay and Schindler's other historical picture books, such as Whatever Happened to the Pony Express? and Covered Wagons, Bumpy Trails. Schindler is also the illustrator of the Newbery Honor winning novel Whittington, the retelling of the English folktale Dick Whittington and His Cat, by Alan Armstrong.

5. History 101

Don't Know Much About History? Your kids will after reading these! (And it won't be painful either.)
Americapedia: Taking the Dumb Out of Freedom, by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Daniel Ehrenhaft and Andisheh Nouraee, Walker & Company, $24.99 (hdbk), $16.99 (pbk), 12 and up, 240 pages.  A parody of the Pledge of Allegiance on this book's cover sums up what's inside: "One book, Under 300 Pages -- With Knowledge and Nonsense for All." But don't be mistaken. Though funny and clever, this primer ("citizen's manual") isn't messing around. By the time kids finish it, they'll have a basic grasp of U.S. civics, economics, foreign affairs, and the role of religion in politics; and be up-to-date on Supreme Court rulings on issues from stem cell research to abortion. (They'll just be laughing as they get there.) The authors write in a cheeky fashion to keep things light, with lots of silly pictures and captions. There are pictures of baby monkeys in a section about economics and an image of deli sausages "linking" Hussein to Bin Laden in one about terrorism. This is a must for any student with "U.S. History" on their syllabus or who just wants to know what's been going on out there -- whether it's with the health care debate or the first Continental Congress. The idea: make it fun and they will learn -- and maybe even form their own opinions. "Pick Your Change!" the authors encourage at the end -- find an issue that speaks to you and decide what you think.

Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea and Air, written by Stewart Ross, illustrated by Stephen Biesty, Candlewick, $19.99, ages 9-12, 96 pages. Hoist the mizzen sails, release the ballast! One read through this artful history book and readers will feel like they've explored the world from land, sea and sky. Inside, vivid stories and detailed cutaways recreate the voyages of real-life explorers: Pytheas who sailed the Arctic Circle without even a compass in 340 B.C., the Apollo 11 crew that landed on the moon in 1969 and 12 more amazing explorers from Marco Polo Sir Edmund Hillary. Every chapter features unfolding diagrams that show the workers and parts of vessels in ink and watercolor, all meticulously rendered. Readers see cross-sections of Mary Kingsley's African river steamer (everything from the wheel inside a paddle box to a guy stoking a firebox) and Auguste Piccard's gondola as it embarks on a voyage into the stratosphere. Biesty (illustrator of the acclaimed Incredible Cross-Sections written by Richard Platt) combines technological detail and atmospheric drawing to bring readers into an explorer's experience. Readers get a sense of the dangers of the journey, and the explorer's fearlessness and fortitude. This one's for any child wishing they could hitch a ride on history.
How the Sphinx Got to the Museum, written and illustrated by Jessie Hartland, Blue Apple Books, $17.99, ages 4-8, 40 pages. A smashed sphinx is pulled from the earth and pieced back together thousands of years after an attempt to erase it from memory in this colorful, cleverly told story. The sphinx, which now sits in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, is one of many pieces of art that was ordered by pharaoh Hatshepsut to laud her achievements, then defaced and buried after her death for reasons historians can only speculate about. Hartland's tale traces the sphinx from Hatshepsut to the sculptor who carved it, the priests who honored it and an heir who defaced it (her stepson). Then Hartland meets up with the archaeologist who uncovered it, the government agency that released it for display and the movers who trucked it to New York. Next, it's off to the curator, conservators, riggers, a registrar, a retouch artist, a photographer, the docent telling this story and finally you, the reader (and museum visitor). Hartland makes the mystery behind this legendary statue irresistible with whimsical drawings that lead you around the page and repetitive storytelling. After each new person is introduced, she goes back through the list of those who played an earlier part in the sphinx's story -- each time highlighting their job title in a unique way ("Artist" is written on a paint palette, "Curator" is penned on lined paper). If every historic tale was told in such an entertaining way, no one would ever dismiss the past as dull.

6. Write This!

Two books and a game to turn your kids into storytellers -- maybe even get them to write stories down.

The Exquisite Corpse Adventure: A Progressive Story Game Played by 20 Celebrated Authors and Illustrators, Candlewick, $17.99. Get ready to laugh yourself silly, and not just at this story but at all of the famous writers who wriggled in their seats while writing it. In this funny collaboration by 20 top talents in children's books, author Jon Scieszka sets up a wild scenario for a story, then asks fellow authors and illustrators to run with it. With each chapter, a new author-illustrator team picks up the story from where another team left it.  As the teams wrangle with themes that are almost too silly to put together, they try to get in a doozy of a plot twist before their chapter ends. You can almost hear them tease, "Now what are you going to do?" as they pass the story on. Scieszka begins the story with a cliff-hanger that calls for a quick response, not only from the story's heroes but the authors who have to write the heroes out of immediate danger. Here's where the book starts: Two twins have just run away from the circus after receiving a mysterious birthday card from their parents, whom they thought were dead. In the letter, the parents urge twins Nancy and Joe, 11, to run out into the world and look for clues that will lead them to parts of a top-secret robot, known as "The Exquisite Corpse." But as they get started, the twins find themselves on a train set to explode if it crosses a bridge just up ahead. Thanks to Katherine Patterson they do escape alive, only to learn in Kate DiCamillo's chapter that a clown from their circus set them up and is about to juggle another bomb. By the time Susan Cooper takes over the story, the twins are being chased by a dancing pig. Could the circus they've run away from be trying to hunt them down?  Originally published on the READ.gov LIbrary of Congress website, this hilarious experiment might just inspire your kids to start a progressive story of their own.
Tales from the Haunted House (Storyworld, Create a Story Kit), by John & Caitlin Matthews, Templar Books, $9.99, 2011. With Halloween creeping closer, here's a terrific way to tap into your children's imagination: a kit for making up ghoulish stories. Tale from the Haunted House is the fifth entry in a clever game series that gets kids to create stories without them feeling pressure to do so. Inside each kit is a deck of 28 cards, each with a mood-setting scene on one side and questions about possible plots on the other. Children select whichever card they like, then take turns imagining what might be happening in it. The first player begins the story, then from there, all of the players direct where it will go, adding their own details and plot twists as their turn comes along. The more climactic the plot and the more abruptly it changes, the more exciting and silly the game gets. Players can latch onto a detail in one of the pictures or a question to get their ideas rolling. Here's just a sample: On one side of a card titled, "The Friendly Ghost," players see a jolly-looking ghost waving hello to a girl as other children run away. On the opposite side, the authors ask, "Why has the friendly ghost appeared?" Other cards show bats flying in a belfry and a monster hunter weighed down by his contraptions (among them, a metal ghost detector and vacuum strapped to his back). And my favorite? A card with a boy having a nightmare in a bed shaped like a horse's skeleton in mid gallop. (Every card is so beautifully illustrated, you may be tempted like I was to string them across a child's room with clothespins.) Final thoughts? Storyworld can be played alone, but it's great fun played in a group, and if allowed, it could go on for hours. Every kit comes with a booklet explaining different ways to play the game, yet players are heartily encouraged to come up with their own rules. Author Phillip Pullman called this series "ingenious" and I agree. Even if children don't like to write or struggle to read, they'll be clamoring to get in a plot twister. And once they try one kit, they'll just have to get more. Eventually they'll be mixing kits for a thoroughly wacky game.
In Front of My House, written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc, Kids Can Press, $18.95, 2010. In this adorable import, a child develops a story inspired by things she sees and in the end discovers she's back to where she started. The child, which we quickly assume is a girl, describes details of where she lives that lead her into her house, then under her bed where her imagination takes flight. Both spontaneous in tone and circular, the story begins in front of the girl's house, "on a little hill, behind a brown fence, under a big oak tree." There in front of the house sits a rosebush and on it is a little bird. Above the bird is a window and through it, her room. Inside is a bed and under it, "Whew! Nothing at all." But next to the nothing? An old sock. And under it? A book of fairy tales, where a princess lives and a dragon, and behind it, a frog with a crown -- her prince charming waiting to be kissed. The frog sits on lily pad -- on a pond, where a bear is fishing. Behind the bear is a bush, then a rabbit, then a whole family of rabbits. Oh no! Is that the Big Bad Wolf creeping up behind them? Could fairytale characters be in his belly? Luckily, a hunter is not far behind. But now the girl is looking beyond the hunter to a forest and a mountain rising above it. Next, she's peeking into a dark cave at the tip-top of the mountain and doing all kinds of exciting things. She's bumping into scary creatures, soaring into space, traveling down to the sea with a shooting star, meeting pirates, passing through a storm, and soon, visiting a zoo inside a city. And just beyond that? She's returning to her house on a hill. Translated from French to English, this delightful first book by Dubuc shows how wondrous it is when a child's exploration leads her into a story that's as unfiltered as she is.

7. I Get It Now!

Simplify the tough stuff AND make it fun to learn with these four series or books.
Basher Basics and Science, created by Basher, written by Dan Green or Mary Budzik, Kingfisher, $12.99-14.99 (hardbacks), $7.99-8.99 (paperbacks), ages 9-12, 64 pages. Don't know a cosine from a tangent? Get the scoop on algebra, anatomy and more right from the source in Basher's hip reference series. In every book, terms speak on their own behalf, defining who they are and what they do. Take "Function" from Algebra & Geometry: Anything But Square!: "I'm an operator, a hustler, and a mathematical string puller. I work the numbers, taking one value and chaining it into another." Each term has its own unique way of getting its message across. For instance, "Square Root," also in the algebra book, is a self-proclaimed scamp, the mathematical opposite of square. "I swing from my tail over a number to undo a Square's multiplication." With every definition comes a playful graphic: a plump, happy figure that represents each term. In Human Body: A Book With Guts, readers meet "Heart." He's a guy who loves a good workout (he pumps nonstop), so he wears a sweat band. He's also at the center of things, so in either hand, he holds arrow flags. One directs blood to the lungs to get more oxygen, the other sends it into the body for cells to lap it up. This is one of those series that can turn things around for a child and make it all make sense. There's even a folded poster in the back cover to pull a subject together. The series is now up to 9 books. Among the new releases: Grammar:The Bill of Rights and Music: Hit the Right Note. Check out Basher's website here for free games.

Feel the Force! (Super Science), written by Tom Adams, illustrations by Thomas Flintham, Templar, $18.99, ages 7-11, 20 pages.  Released Sept. 13! Kids use forces of their own making to learn about the forces of physics in this wonderful interactive pop-up book. Readers pull, push, flip, turn and lift tabs to learn about air resistance, upthrust, pressure and more. They also watch 3-D paper models rise off the page as they explore the roles of gravity, shadows and electricity. On a two-page spread about pressure, a mustachioed illusionist rises from the page on a bed on paper nails; then with the pull of a tab, readers release a stream of paper water from a squirter. On a spread about magnetism, a wheel turns to show that opposite poles attract each other and a switch causes a paper car to rise off a junk pile. At the end of the book, readers learn there are still a lot of unanswered questions in physics, such as how the universe began and whether time travel is possible.That's when the author coaxes them to learn more about the subject and search for their own answers. What we need, he writes, are a few good physicists to come up the ranks and figure this stuff out. "Are you interested?"

Mathemagic! Number Tricks, written by Lynda Colgan, illustrated by Jane Kurisu, Kids Can Press, $16.95, ages 9-12, 40 pages. In a quest to prove that math isn't the bad guy, Colgan shares nine number tricks that readers can play on friends and family -- from multiplying with their fingers to divining secret numbers on cards and dice. Along the way, Colgan sneaks in her own trick: she gets math to stick in readers' heads just by showing how fun it can be. Among her mathemagic feats: shortcuts to remembering the 9s and 6s times tables and long division, and a clever way to double numbers without a calculator. Some of the math terms explored include complementary numbers, prime factors, expanded notations and the binary number system. Each chapter details a different mathemagic, beginning with step-by-step instructions and tips for success, then concludes with an explanation of how it works. Straight-forward lessons and simple diagrams make it fun -- even for kids who sigh at the thought of math.

The Odyssey: A Graphic Novel, based on Homer's epic poem, written and illustrated by Gareth Hinds, Candlewick, $24.99 (hardback), $14.99 (paperback), 2010. Even if your teens laughed it up watching "Homer's Odyssey" on The Simpsons, they're probably not inclined to pick up the ancient tale of hero Odysseus by Greek poet Homer. The title alone suggests something epic and indeed it is a very long poem, and complex -- so much so, it can be hard to keep people, places and events straight. But suppose a graphic wizard like Hinds (creator of Beowulf, Bearskin: A Grimm Tale) comes along and reinvents it as a graphic story? Would your teens open it then? Leave this one in their room and see what happens. Who knows? They might just be pulled into a world of literature they never knew they could understand. In this masterly adaptation, Hinds brings clarity and drama to the complex story of Odysseus, hero of the Trojan War, with lavish comics, conversation bubbles and spare, everyday prose.For another clever interpretation, check out Sam Ita's The Odyssey: A Pop-Up Book, due out from Sterling on Sept. 6 ($26.95, ages 4 and up, 8 pages)

8. I Like How You Think.

Encourage your children to run with an idea and see where it will take them!
The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse, written and illustrated by Eric Carle, Philomel, $17.99, ages 4-8, 32 pages, 2011. Due out Oct. 4.  From the beloved creator of The Very Hungry Caterpillar comes a joyful celebration of artistic expression. Inspired by German painter Franz Marc, Carle's story depicts a boy painting animals in colors that don't occur in nature: a lion that's green, a polar bear that's black, a donkey with polka-dots and eventually a horse that's blue. The blue horse, like the one on the cover, is a tribute to Marc's famous and controversial 1911 work Blue Horse I.  Marc believed that color had emotional meaning and he wasn't afraid to use it in unconventional ways. And here, Carle beautifully echoes that idea, showing readers that they don't have to follow every rule of art: Embrace what you see in your imagination, he seems to say, and be true to yourself. Carle makes his point with such joie de vivre that readers will feel energized to get out there and paint just as their heart desires. Also encouraging, every picture in the book looks like a child could paint it: animal shapes are simple collages and fur looks as if it were textured with fingers or the hard ends of paintbrushes. Brilliantly simple, this one's a pat on the back to any young artist who yearns to do things differently.
Boy Wonders, written and illustrated by Calef Brown, Atheneum, $16.99, ages 4-8, 40 pages, 2011. In this spirited, fun book, the creator of Flamingos on the Roof  captures a boy's eagerness to understand the world. From one page to the next, the boy wonders aloud why things in the world are just so, and makes leaps of logic as he reasons through questions in nonsensical ways. He also gets readers excited about playing with words and asking questions of their own. In the first spread, Brown zooms in on the boy's face staring back at readers: "Are you ever perplexed? " the boy beseeches. "Completely vexed? / Do you have questions? / Queries? / Odd Theories?" Well yes, you say to yourself, of course!  And from there on, a stream of funny questions gushes out of the boy, suggesting how quickly ideas spring from curiosity. On one page the boy inquires, "Do paper plates / and two-by-fours / remember being trees?" On another, he asks a brain-twister. "If I, as the class clown, / am given a paper crown / as a trophy for being goofy, / have I, alas, / been clowned by the class?" So what do you do when you have all these questions? Well, says the boy, you ask more questions! "Any suggestions?" he asks in the final line. With whimsical illustrations and silly, clever rhymes, Brown once again pulls us in like a high-energy ringmaster. His pace is so frenetic and exciting, readers almost feel like they don't have time to take a breath. And by the last page? Synapses are popping like kernels in a frying pan.

Beautiful Oops, written and illustrated by Barney Saltzberg, Workman, $11.95, ages 3 and up, 28 pages, 2010. Celebrate imperfection and the wisdom of mistakes in this standout book that's sure to become a staple in school art rooms. The title and the cover say it all. There, a brush drips paint onto the U in the title word "Beautiful" and pencil mark shows through the ink Os in "Oops." One look at this book and parents will let out a collective, happy sigh. Finally! A book that glorifies imperfection and puts it in the hands of kids. Beautiful Oops embraces all the unintended scribbles, wrinkles, smears and drips kids at one time or another make, and teaches them not to look back. No-no-no. As readers turn pages, look through holes and lift flaps, they see mistakes transform into opportunities and realize that art doesn't have to go as they planned. A tear on one page becomes the mouth of a crocodile on the the next. On another page, a crumpled wad of paper becomes the body of a sheep. For any child who's collapsed in a heap after making a mistake, this is their saving grace -- just the thing to help them bounce back and recharge their confidence.

9. Log It!

Need help filling nightly reading logs? Try these: Ten books kids will love and teachers will be thrilled they read. The first seven were just released; the last three are due out later this fall.

City of Orphans, by Avi, illustrated by Greg Ruth, Atheneum, $16.99, ages 10-14, 368 pages. With the help of a homeless urchin and an eccentric lawyer, a 13-year-old newsboy scrambles to prove his sister innocent of a crime she didn't commit, in this exciting story set in the dangerous streets of New York in 1893. Maks Geless has just four days to clear his sister Emma of charges of stealing from the glamorous Waldorf Hotel, and free her from the notoriously harsh "Tomb" prison. But he'll have to watch his back. The Pug Ugly Gang is plotting to control newsies on the lower East Side and its ruthless leader has singled him out.

The Flint Heart, by Katherine Paterson and John Patterson, illustrated by John Rocco, Candlewick, ages 7-12, 304 pages. Charles and sister Unity try to rescue their father from the dark influence of a Stone Age amulet with the help of enchanted creatures in this wry retelling of Eden Phillpott's 1910 fantasy. This charmer is written by the author of The Bridge to Terabithia and her husband, and illustrated by the creator of Moondust.  Even before it was out, film makers were clamoring for screen rights (Bedrock Studios acquired them last spring and is teaming with a company run by the Patersons' son to write the screenplay).

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, by Jonathan Auxier, Amulet, $16.95, ages 10 and up, 400 pages. A blind 10-year-old orphan schooled in a life of thievery steals a box from a mysterious traveling haberdasher containing three pairs of magical eyes. When he tries the first pair, he's suddenly transported to a hidden island where he's given a quest: to rescue a people in need from the dangerous Vanished Kingdom. With the help of a loyal sidekick who's been turned into a horse-cat creature, Peter Nimble embarks on a fantastical journey to discover his true destiny.

The Bridge to Never Land, by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Disney-Hyperion, $18.99, ages 9-12, 448 pages. Aidan and Sarah Cooper discover a mysterious coded document in a secret compartment of their father's English desk that seems to be referring to the Starcatcher series, Barry and Pearson's best-selling series about the origin of Peter Pan. As they begin to decipher its codes, they embark on a quest that convinces them that Peter Pan is not fiction after all. In fact, the battle between good and evil is still going on, and they've become part of it. Worse yet, a being capable of taking any form will stop at nothing to get what it wants from them.

Lucky for Good (Book 3 in the Lucky trilogy), by Susan Patron, illustrated by Erin McGuire, Atheneum, $16.99, ages 8-12, 224 pages. In this final book in Patron's beloved Hard Pan trilogy, 11-year-old Lucky Trimble has just settled into a comfortable life with her adoptive French mother Brigitte in Hard Pan, when uncertainties strike again. Miles' mom has returned from prison and has forbidden him from reading about dinosaurs, and now a county health inspector is shutting down Brigitte's restaurant. It'll take all of the good folks of Hard Pan, along with a rolling cabin, a stairway of mouse bones and her Higher Power to see the positive in it all. And in the end, Lucky will discover that she can cope with just about anything if she has to. The first book, The Higher Power of Lucky, won the Newbery Award.

The Unwanteds, by Lisa McMann, Aladdin, $16.99, ages 8-12, 400 pages. When 13-year-old Alex is separated from his identical twin Aaron and declared an Unwanted, he expects to be put death by the cruel and controlling rulers of Quill. The rulers fear creativity and at the age of 13, order any child with artistic leaning is be purged from society. But as Alex arrives at a "death farm" to be eliminated, he discovers that a magician has created a hidden world to save condemned children like himself. The world, Artime, is nothing like drab, colorless Quill; here there are talking statues and creativity is considered not only a gift, but a weapon. McMann is also author of the Wake trilogy.

The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale, by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright, drawings by Barry Moser, Peachtree, $16.95, ages 9-12, 256 pages. Skilley, a tomcat, is tired of dodging fishwives' brooms and carriage wheels, so he comes up with a scheme to take up residence in a British pub patronized by the famous writer Charles Dickens. Once inside, a mouse-resident discovers that Skilley has a scandalous secret, and gets Skilley to make a pact with him to protect the local mouse population. The two become allies, and along with a raven named Maldwyn, become drawn into a mystery involving a tyrannical cook, a stranger in the attic and an evil tomcat. From the author of the acclaimed picture book, 14 Cows for America, comes a charming ode to Dickens.

The Midnight Zoo, by Sonya Hartnett, illustrated by Andrea Offermann, Candlewick,  $16.99, ages 9-12, 208 pages. Released Sept. 13. While fleeing from a German attack on their encampment during World War II, Andrej and younger brother Tomas discover a hidden wonder, a zoo filled with creatures in need of hope. From the acclaimed author of The Silver Donkey comes a magical, moving fable about war, redemption and what it means to be free.

The Unforgotten Coat, by Frank Cottrell Boyce, Candlewick, $15.99, ages 9-12, 112 pages. Released Sept. 13.  When two Mongolian brothers inexplicably appear one morning in Julie's class in Liverpool, one appoints her their "Good Guide," a nomadic tradition that makes her responsible for welcoming them into their new home. But will Julie be able to protect them from vanishing? From the author of the Carnegie Medal-winning Millions comes a funny, moving novella about immigration.

A Web of Air (the sequel to Fever Crumb), by Phillip Reeve, Scholastic, $17.99, ages 10 and up, 304 pages. Released Oct. 1. After fleeing war-torn London and her troubled past two years ago, Fever Crumb, now 16, is working as a member of the Lyceum, a traveling barge-theater, and caring for orphans Ruan and Fern. Then one day the barge-theater arrives in a faraway corner of a ruined world, the city of Maysa, and her life of respite turns to one of excitement, urgency and hidden treachery. There she meets a handsome, brilliant orphan boy named Arlo who draws her into a dangerous race to build the first flying machine.

10. Go Boys Go!

This list is dedicated to all those boys who aren't sure they like to read -- but chances are just haven't found the right book.

Thriller (Volume 2 of Guys Read), edited by Jon Sciezka, with illustrations by Brett Helquist, Walden Pond Press, $16.99, ages 8-12, 288 pages. Here's a book for any boy who likes to imagine himself tempting danger or getting out of a bind, but doesn't necessarily want to do any such thing. The latest in Sciezka's brilliant effort to tailor books to reluctant boy readers, Thriller contains 10 bite-size stories (the longest is 42 pages) about gripping situations that readers don't find themselves in every day (but kind of wish they did -- kind of. ) And what's incredible is that every one is written by a leading author of thrillers -- names you recognize by the last name alone, such as Haddix, Horowitz and Patterson. The stories are about as different from each other as you can imagine in one book, but each one grips hold of you and pulls you in. There's the one about a boy who gets thrown over the edge of a twelve-story building, another about a boy trying to rescue his dad from animal smugglers ("pet mafia") while being chased by a komodo dragon, and one about a dead boy who's haunting a house, but isn't half as scary as the thugs upstairs. Readers wander in and out of lives that are fictional, but at times seem like they could be real, like the 14-year-old Somalian boy who gets thrown into a life of piracy after foreigners poison his family's fishing waters. If your boys like this, don't miss the first in the Guys Read series Funny Business, short stories by humorous children's authors. For more great boy titles, check out Sciezka's Guys Read website here.

3:15 Season One: Things That Go Bump In the Night, by Patrick Carman, Scholastic, $12.99, ages 9-12, 176 pages. It may be a little early for terrifying tales -- Halloween is still almost two months away -- but this interactive book is worth getting now. Why? Because it's about as boy friendly as a book can get. For one, It's a horror thriller, and for two, it encourages readers to get on the computer between chapters. The book is built around an exciting online concept based on the time 3:15. That time is significant by itself, but also because of what the numbers on either side of the colon represent, according to the book's fictional narrator Paul Chandler. First,  3:15 a.m. is when things might go bump in the night, so it suits a book of short horror stories. The 3 by itself refers to what readers do in the book: They listen, read and watch. At the beginning of every chapter is a website address and password for readers to go online and listen to an audio that teases a story, the "listen" part. Then it's time to read the chapter. That should take about 15 minutes, estimates Carman, hence the meaning of 15 in the time. Then at the end of the chapter, readers "watch" the conclusion. They're presented with a new code at the same address that takes them to an online video of how it all ends. Having said all of this, it's easy to lose track of the fact that there are stories going on here and not just a fun way of experiencing a book. But all you need to know about the book is this: the kids in it are about to make some grave mistakes. (Gulp.) For Carman fans, a fun sidenote -- the chapter "Night on the Dredge" is set in the world of his best-selling series thriller, Skeleton Creek.

Flat Broke (and other novellas), by Gary Paulsen, Wendy Lamb Books, ages 9-12, 128 pages. Paulsen is best known for his gripping Newbery Honor-winning survival novel Hatchet, but he's also come out with lighter tales that have just the right mix of high jinks and humor to snag reluctant boy readers. His latest gem, Flat Broke, is about teenage Kevin, a wannabe mogul, who overcame his knack for lying in Paulsen's book Liar, Liar, and is now about to face another round of mayhem and misunderstanding. As a result of all the lying he did in the first book, Kevin, 14, has lost his allowance, weekend job and babysitting money. And now his parents are divorcing and arguing about money. Without cash flow, he wonders how he'll ever win over Tina, "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World"? His solution: come up with some get-rich-quick schemes -- run some poker games and rent out his sister as stylist. But when things get messy, will Kevin have the business savvy to get himself out of trouble? Other great novellas by Paulsen, who the New York Times called "one of the best-loved writers alive," include Masters of Disaster about Henry, a 12-year-old boy who masterminds wild acts of derring-do, and Lawn Boy and Lawn Boy Returns, about a teen who invests his lawn mowing earnings in the stock market. The Lawn Boy books, in particular, use lingo that you might have to explain (like "day-trading" and "capital growth"), but the writing is breezy and fun, and the characters are, well, characters. In other words, they do crazy stuff that boys will think is pretty cool.

11. Don't Forget Girls!

Pull in close, these two novels are about as sweet as they come. Both are about girls with big hearts who never give up no matter how tough life gets. Just the books to inspire girl readers to stand up for themselves and be proud of who they are.
R My Name is Rachel, by Patricia Reilly Giff, Wendy Lamb, $15.99, pages. Try as she might, Rachel can't stop thinking about her troubles. Pop's lost his job at the bank, he's rail-thin from worry, and now he's got devastating news for Rachel, 12, and her sister Cassie, 10, and brother Joey, 11. They're moving away from the city to an old farm -- away from Miss Mitzi with her light-up-the-world smile. Miss Mitzi runs a floral shop and she's been a comfort to Rachel with her mother passed away. Although Miss Mitzi and Pop are smitten with each other, Pop's too proud about money to invite her along, no matter how much Rachel urges him on. The morning they leave, Rachel tries to be strong; she plays the "A My Name is Alice" game by herself to get her mind off things. All she has to do is concentrate on the alphabet and choose any word that starts with the letter she's on. But even the alphabet game can't distract her now. With the Great Depression bearing down, it's like someone "opened a plug and everyone's money went down the drain" and left folks with little to count on. When Rachel's family arrives at the farm, all run-down, things only feel more unsteady. A snow storm keeps Pop from getting the job that brought them there. The school is closed (a terrible, aching sight for Rachel who loves to soak up learning). She and Cassie can't seem to agree on anything. And now Pop has to go away to find work and there's no telling when he'll be back. It's up to Rachel to look out for the farm, and Cassie and Joey, but then something horrible happens: Cassie runs away and all the rent money disappears. Could ferns crowding a stream by their house lead them all to the end of a rainbow? Told through Rachel's eyes and the letters she and Miss Mitzi write to each other, this sweet, sweet book leaves readers feeling like their hearts could float right out of their chests. I know I was gliding through the rest of my day after reading it.

The Trouble with May Amelia (the sequel to the Newbery Honor book Our Only May Amelia), by Jennifer L. Holm, Simon & Schuster, $15.99, ages 9-12, 224 pages.  May Amelia Jackson may be the only girl in a family of seven boys, but she's got more "sisu" than any of them. That's the word Finnish immigrants use to mean guts and courage -- and it's the one thing families living along Washington's Nasel River in 1900 need in good supply. But the thing is, Pappa thinks she's downright stupid; he's always spitting mad at her for making mistakes and telling her he'd rather have one boy than a dozen May Amelias. But May Amelia knows it's just his bitter tongue talking and wishes she could show him she's not all trouble. Then a man with big ideas comes to see Pappa and May Amelia gets her chance. Pappa asks May Amelia to translate the man's English into Finn: The man wants Pappa to mortgage their farm and invest in a scheme to turn the land along the Nasel into a prosperous town. Pappa is taken in by the man's promise of wealth and invests, and to May Amelia's delight, praises her for helping him out. "You were the best crop we ever put in," he tells her. But then the worst thing possible happens and they lose their farm, and it's May Amelia whom Pappa blames. He tells her he no longer wants to see her again. Even "Best Brother" Wilbert doesn't defend her. And now dear Momma's having to work in the oyster cannery, and Papa and her brothers are risking their lives logging trees. Where's big brother Matti when she needs him? Will she ever be able to make amends? Based on a scam that Holmes real-life great-grandfather got lured into in 1890, this followup is as unforgettable as Holm's first book. After listening to May Amelia's lilting narration and watching her try so hard to win over her father, they're sure to love her even more.